There's a lot of heat coming towards Clipper these days, and that anger is coming from their Facebook page where many are arguing about the annoyances of the autoload program.
One person argues that it's another layer of annoying bureaucracy he has to mess with when making changes to his Clipper card account and reducing the amount being loaded for the next month due to a planned vacation. Another argues that his credit card has been rejected. And many others have been angry with the up to five day delay to switch their credit card accounts or their account has been blocked and will take days to get it fixed.
Going devil's advocate, there's no way to get around that five day delay. If someone wants to activate autoload when their pass expires or their e-cash balance gets low, that takes up to five days; when someone wants to alter or end autoload, that can also take up to five days. Even if someone's card gets blocked because of some funky autoload problem, that takes up to five days. That's a technical limit of Clipper because not all mobile Clipper readers (e.g. buses and Muni metro vehicles) may not get their update for a few days until they return to a yard that can connect to the Clipper server. Read more about the "five day rule."
But there's a very easy solution that can get you away from this entire wreck... just don't sign-up for autoload.
I've never been a fan of autoload, and with concern that my credit card could accidentally be rejected and my e-cash and pass (funded from pure cash or a different source) being suspended for days on end until the problem can be resolved, that's something I just don't want to touch. When you get into a problem with autoload, you have to mess with Clipper customer service, and that's just another layer of bureaucracy you need to fight with.
Here's what I do, and it works very smoothly without any hiccups throughout the time I've been using Clipper:
- Since I use commuter benefits, I only request for one of two options: Paper vouchers or a reusable debit card with the credit value reloaded to it every month.
- When using a paper voucher, I just go to an in-person retailer that accepts the vouchers and get it converted into e-cash or to a transit pass. When using a debit card, I go to a self-service machine and swipe the debit card to buy the e-cash or transit pass. Either way I pay for the e-cash or pass, it is available for use INSTANTLY or valid for the first day of travel for the new month.
- If I ever need to add additional e-cash value, I just go to a vendor or self service machine and just pay cash or use my personal credit card. It's still available instantly for usage.
About Commuter Benefits and What Your Choices Are:
If you use commuter benefits and instruct the company to automatically load it to your Clipper card, it's not worth the $2 monthly surcharge and the hassle of communicating with both your benefits company and Clipper when your e-cash or pass(es) does not get loaded on-time or goes missing.
If you went with automatic loading (via commuter benefits), you have to plan further in advance prior to the benefit company's deadline (around 15-20 days before the commuter benefits company sends the data to Clipper). If you decide to switch at the last minute (after the deadline), it would be up to Clipper if they will allow you to cancel the pass and get the e-cash value instead.
At least with a paper voucher or debit card, you are in full control of how you want to spend your commuter benefits and you get about 16 months to decide how to spend the amount (Commuter Check vouchers expires 16 months from date of issue); for example: If I go on a 10 day vacation, instead of using the voucher to get a pass, I'd instead ask for e-cash.
There are some challenges with not using autoload...
- If you use BART's high value tickets on Clipper, autoload is a mandatory option. The only way to go around is to go back to old school high value tickets. BART has a mail-in form you can use and you can pay with commuter vouchers, personal check, or combination of both.
- Since you don't have the ability to automatically reload e-cash upon reaching the balance threshold or a new pass on a monthly basis, you need to keep careful track of your e-cash balance or keep reminders to buy your new pass at an in-person vendor or self-service machine.
There's probably many of you who hasn't experienced any problems with autoload, and I congratulate you for being able to work within the system. One thing I've learned is that 99% of people will always be okay, but there's always that 1% who will yell, kick, and scream that their problems are bigger than the 1% out there, and when they do kick and scream, it's gets peoples' attention and it's worse than they are meant to believe.
My point is, if it works fine for you, keep doing what you are doing. This blog piece is to make it as hassle free as I can make it by avoiding the bureaucracy known as Clipper as much as possible. I use automated machines because they don't mess-up and I don't have to interact with possible human error at Walgreens. Plus, if my commuter benefits debit card gets rejected at the machine for some odd reason, at least my Clipper card isn't also going to be suspended; unlike others who uses autoload, gets their debit card rejected, and gets their Clipper card suspended.