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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

One Less Step for Caltrain Monthly Pass Users using Clipper

I know a lot of you are griping about the complicated and sometimes pain in the ass process with using Clipper cards on Caltrain, and especially with monthly passes.

Caltrain Monthly Passes
A curious question was posted on Clipper's Facebook page by Henry about the tag-on and tag-off policy on the first day of travel for those using monthly passes by purchasing in-person vendors and self-service machines.

Clipper came back with a really amazing answer:
  • If you purchased your Caltrain monthly pass at an in-person vendor or a self-service machine, you DO NOT need to tag-on and off on the first day of travel for the new month.
Why? Same principle Clipper has been teaching us, in-person vendors and self-service machines loads it on the card immediately. This also resolves complications for those passengers whose first day of travel may go beyond their designated zones; they can now purchase a paper zone upgrade ticket while utilizing the zones loaded on their Clipper card.

However... if you utilize autoload, or purchased it online or phone, tagging on and off the first day of travel is still required in order to load the pass onto the card.

But, no matter which way you pay for a Clipper card, there must still be a minimum of $1.25 e-cash on the Clipper card at all times.

So Why is Caltrain & Clipper Still Encouraging Tagging-On and Off?
Both agencies still encourage the tactic because Caltrain on Clipper is already way too complicated. By telling everyone to do the tag-on and off steps, it makes it easier to market Clipper to everyone who uses monthly passes (regardless of how it was paid).

I write a lot, so here's the simple way to explain it:
  • Self service or vendor purchase of a Caltrain pass? No need to tag card on Caltrain.
  • Online, phone, or autoload? Yes.


Mark Taylor said...

I am skeptical of this *new* wrinkle. The Clipper site says you must tag on and off at month's start for the pass to be confirmed. When I tag off, it usually says "Pass Accepted, money refunded." Since I get my monthly pass at a vendor (no autoload or online), I would love having to skip the tag on and off bit. But I want to see it in writing from Clipper before I skip the step next month.

Akit said...


It's understandable to be skeptical. My source of info was from Clipper's official facebook page where Lisa, a rep of Clipper gave the answer. Here's the text of her answer:

I checked with Caltrain and here is their response:

1) Technically, if a monthly Caltrain pass is loaded from a retailer (like Walgreens), transit agency or self-serve machine, the card does not need to be tagged. However, if the m...onthly pass is purchased through the Clipper website, through Autoload, or by phone, then the card has to be tagged on and off in order to load the pass and verify the zones of the pass.

When Caltrain launched Clipper, all customers with a monthly pass have been instructed to tag on/tag off their first travel day of the month since it is critical that customer who have Autoload set up or order their passes online, by phone or through a transit benefit program (like WageWorks or Commuter Check) need to tag on and off to load their passes and we didn't want to add more confusion to an already complicated system.

No matter how or where you purchased your pass, the minimum $1.25 cash balance is required in order to use a Clipper card on Caltrain.

2) A monthly pass is zone specific (e.g. pass purchased for Zone 1 to Zone 4). If a customer’s first day of travel for the month is not from Zone 1 to Zone 4 (instead, travelling from Zone 1 to Zone 3), then the ride will be deducted from the cash balance on the card or the customer may purchase a paper ticket from the Caltrain Ticket Vending Machine for travel – one-way tickets or a Day Pass.

- Lisa

Mark Taylor said...


As always you prove correct on these things! ☺

On the way home, I spoke with a conductor I see regularly on the train. He confirmed exactly what the Clipper rep stated on Facebook. He did not know that if you purchase a monthly pass or 8-ride ticket from a vendor (and not from a Clipper customer center or one of those rare Clipper machines) that there was at least 24 hours (up to 48) because places like Walgreens only update Clipper once a day. However since you were told tag on and off on your first ride of the month, you likely got an error message if you were within that time period. Except as we have learned now it was an totally unnecessary step. The card was already loaded with the monthly pass and perfectly valid for travel between the zones purchased.

My guess is that they got a ton of complaints from Caltrain monthly holders who bought their passes on the first day of the month at Walgreens (or elsewhere) or other places (but not online, phone or autoload) and got the reject from the Clipper terminal. So they bought paper tickets for that ride to and from work/home. And likely due to that confusion some refunds had to be given.

There is also a new Caltrain directive that many conductors are not happy about. Outside of the commute hours and on some weekend trains, tickets and passes are being checked at San Francisco Station (and I guess San Jose as well) before you board the train. Which means longer load times as one or two conductors inspects tickets. On the trains they apologize that they have been instructed to check before boarding and that you may be asked to show your ticket again during the trip. It used to be up to the senior conductor to decide to check before boarding (a few did this in the pre-Clipper days so they did not check until Millbrae station or later).