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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Clipper to Expand to Smaller Agencies & 500K Transactions in One Day

The MTC's Operations Committee will be meeting on Friday, September 9th and will be talking about the Clipper card program. They didn't have a meeting in early August, therefore I'll be covering a lot of info provided in the publicly available documents posted on their website.

Based on their July 8th meeting minutes, here's some key points:
  1. Members of the MTC did a field trip to tour Clipper related facilities, including the new customer service locations, the Golden Gate Ferry's self-service machines, and a Muni yard where vehicles can get their updates.
  2. TransLink became Clipper in June 2010 and the program processed 2 million transactions a month. This has ballooned to 12.5 million transactions a month after just a year.
  3. Clipper intends to retrofit existing ticketing machines to also issue new Clipper cards. While the minutes didn't mention what agency that would be, it's likely going to be BART.
  4. Clipper wants to expand to the smaller agencies of the Bay Area, which are not part of the Clipper consortium at this time.
In item three to be discussed at the meeting, here's the highlights:
  1. On August 18th, Clipper hit an all time high with 502,000 transactions in just one day. But the average covering late July to late August was only 488,000 per day. In a recent video, the MTC admits their estimates was to reach 500K transactions sometime after Labor Day, not two weeks earlier.
  2. Muni has completed their mandatory transition of youth passes to Clipper only. For August, 7,345 was sold.
  3. Cable Car conductors now have the ability to deduct e-cash payment for rides, and update transactions when passengers purchases their Clipper media online, phone, or participates in autoload.
In item five of the meeting, here's highlights:
  1. The MTC was forced to do a Title VI assessment to see if the use of Clipper and pass transitions is negatively impacting minorities and the less fortunate.
  2. To make sure they are not discriminating, they have done some big projects, such as added multilingual services to customer phone centers, outreach by tabling, pamphlets in Chinese and Spanish, reviewed the authorized vendors and expanded as necessary to provide additional coverage, and continuing to waive the $5 card fee.
  3. It's a long multi page analysis I won't cover too much in detail, but it shows the deficiencies of the program and what MTC and Clipper will do to mitigate it.

Big news: Clipper wants to expand to the smaller transit agencies (Phase III)
In item three of the agenda, the report shows their plans to expand Clipper. Interestingly, all these smaller transit agencies combined only accounts for just 5% of the entire Bay Area's public transit usage.

Clipper is using the lessons they learned from the past several years of expanding the program to the big transit agencies as there was some huge problems back then: Significant increased cost, unique transfer policies for each agency, the transfer of "legacy" passes and tickets (this means, the rules of the paper passes is the same as Clipper), and other huge complications.

The goal of making the smaller agencies participate is to simplify the program. They will do it in these phases:
  1. The transit agencies will be divided into sectors, each covering the area they operate. There will be one just for the ferries, 101 corridor, East Bay, and Napa/Solano counties. It's like consolidation, but the transit agencies won't become one agency. By making it into sectors, when installation happens, the equipment will be installed at the same time for the whole sector, not just one agency, and a year later, another one.
  2. Clipper wants to standardize the fare structure, thereby making fares simple (local and express), the end of zones, simplified transfer policies, monthly passes (no more day and weekly passes) and many other ideas. The goal is to make it simple enough to understand how it works, reduce the operating costs of Clipper, and reduce the number of phone calls of confused patrons to Clipper customer service. Caltrain's rules are so complicated because they allowed "legacy" passes and 8-rides to work on Clipper, when a simpler structure such as an automatic 15% discount would have worked better.
  3. The MTC rated each sector to see how efficiently they can install the equipment and get it running. One problem they have is they don't have enough equipment to install on all the buses, thereby they will need to order new ones. They also looked at cost as doing such a project can be high. WETA (the folks who runs most of the ferries) agreed to pay for the project to get the ferry boats to accept Clipper, and they are recommended to be the first to get installation. As for the remaining three sectors, the MTC has a tough choice to decide what sector will go next. Some of the agencies have fareboxes that can accept RFID cards, thereby just a hardware and software upgrade reduces costs instead of ordering new Clipper equipment. Certain sectors are picked based on how often transit is used.
  4. It is highly likely the MTC will approve the ferry services to get Clipper first. If they don't install the equipment by January 2012, it will have a negative impact on the new Oakland/South SF service. Ferries will be the easiest to install because the equipment is installed at terminals, which means around two card readers per terminal.

Akit's Opinion
Reaching a goal of 500K is outstanding, but a lot of the credit goes to the mandatory transition from paper passes to Clipper only in just the past twelve months. Muni has been a big player in this as they have the highest number of transactions per day, and the integration of all passes (except Lifeline) is likely the largest contributor.

The Title VI report is huge, but when reading it, you'll understand why there's a lot of improvements needed by the folks at Clipper to assure that everyone gets fair access to the program, no matter your income, ethnicity, and language barriers.

Lastly, the expansion to the smaller agencies is going to be the final part to completing the Clipper network. They know, they don't want to screw-up like they did when the major agencies joined the consortium, that's why there's the idea of expanding by sectors, and using a better assessment of what they have available to make the transition easier.

One big criticism will be if the transit agencies will cooperate with changing their fare structures, passes, transfer agreements, and others. Although all the small agencies combined makes just 5% of all public transit usage in the Bay Area, transferring all the "legacy" fare products, passes, and transfer agreements will make Clipper even more complicated. By going with a streamlined and standard policies for all the small agencies, it will make it much easier to run Clipper at a lower cost, and better for the passengers. But simplifying could hurt the transit agencies financially, especially if they operate by a zone system, have complicated pass rules, and transfer policies with fellow agencies.

Clipper has thousands of fare structures, thousands of pass rules, and thousands of transfer policies, to which makes the transferring of all those legacy media to Clipper a huge laughing joke. Standardizing is the first step to making Clipper more customer friendly, and possibly a future unlimited use monthly pass valid on all Bay Area agencies.

Think about this, how many of you ride Caltrain and hate the fact that the old paper pass and 8-ride rules still apply to Clipper? Why just 8-rides instead of making it ten? Why tag-on and off? Why not just have a streamlined fare and pass structure? If you use AC Transit, why a 31-day pass when Muni and Samtrans uses a monthly pass? Complicated rules = complications with Clipper and headaches for passengers.

Clipper has learned their lesson and wants to make the system more simple for everyone to use. But they are only targeting the transit agencies remaining to participate. Why not also target the big transit agencies in the Bay Area to help simplify?

1 comment:

Jim said...

Regarding Muni, I wish they would just move the rest of their fare medias onto Clipper. Cable Car tickets, 1, 3, 7-day passports, Lifeline pass. Also, make Bart available as an add-on product for all the Muni fare media.