"Akit is the man. He knows Clipper." (spenta)
"It’s a fantastic blog for any San Franciscan."
"Your blog is always on point, and well researched!" (Nina Decker)
"Everyone's favorite volunteer public policy consultant..." (Eve Batey, SF Appeal)
"You are doing a great job keeping on top of Translink stuff. Keep up the good work!"
(Greg Dewar, N Judah Chronicles)
"...I don't even bother subscribing anywhere else for my local public transportation info. You have it all..."
(Empowered Follower)
"If anyone at City Hall wants to make public transit better for all San Franciscans, it would be wise to follow Akit religiously...
or, better yet, give him a job."
(Brock Keeling, SFist)

Friday, September 2, 2011

No Need to Scan Your Clipper Card Bare Naked

With a lot of people using their Clipper cards, especially on Muni, people are getting the hang of properly tagging their card (not swiping it!) and many are getting used to finding their local vendor to handle purchasing their monthly passes.

While I haven't heard many complaints as of late, I have noticed a more casual observation when people use it to board buses, trains, and enter the metro stations.

Did you know you do not need to tag your Clipper card bare?

Unlike the paper fast pass which must be visually shown to an operator or inserted into a fare gate, there's no need to take it out of your wallet or even keep it in a clear plastic sleeve anymore. As long as you place your wallet, purse, backpack, or any other place holding your blue Clipper card and it's not too far away from the surface of your personal item, the scanner will be able to read through the surfaces to identify your card and handle your transaction.

Even for me, I place my card behind five plastic cards and a small wad of cash, and it still reads perfectly on all card readers, including BART and Muni's fare gates.

But... there are some things that could go wrong:
  • Clipper cards cannot read if the card is scanned while you have: Tin foil (tin foil helmets, the government can't read my thoughts), RFID shielded wallet or product, or if you have another contactless card nearby. Not all contactless cards operate on the same radio frequency as a Clipper card, so you may not have to be concerned, but it's all trial and error.
  • Always remember, one card at a time (especially true if you travel as a group or bringing your kids along). You can't stack two Clipper cards on top of each other, scan them, and expect two confirmations.
  • Sometimes, pulling out your wallet to scan your card is not the best idea as it may be a risk to get robbed or tell a pickpocket where your wallet is located. One option is to buy a super cheap wallet at some discount store and use that as your Clipper card holder, and stow it away in a coat pocket.

I recommend not pulling your Clipper card out and tagging it 'bare' because I feel you put your card at an increased risk of causing damage to the internal data chip and antenna that communicates with Clipper card equipment. As I mentioned before, bending the Clipper card can damage it and render it useless, and nobody wants to hassle getting a replacement. There's a lot of ways you can inadvertently bend your Clipper card and damage it when done 'bare,' from slapping it hard to a card reader to constantly inserting and removing it from your wallet when boarding buses.

By keeping the card in a place where it won't be removed as often, such as a wallet or pass holder, you reduce the risk of damaging the card because you just hold your wallet, purse, etc. to the scanner to read it. For me, by sandwiching my Clipper card between my employee ID and health care plan membership card, there's very little risk of damaging the Clipper card because it makes it nearly impossible to inadvertently bend the card. If you plan to use a dummy wallet to not let criminals find out where you hide your wallet, find some useless plastic cards in your home, like a grocery store card or a gift card with no value.

Normally when I travel, I use this device from Identity Stronghold (see photo) which makes it easy to use my Clipper card by attaching it to my belt and it has a reel to extend it a few feet. It makes it easy to see for fare inspectors, and it's also RFID shielded when kept in the closed position; when I need to scan the card, I squeeze the tabs on the top of the card to expose it just momentarily while it's being scanned.


BBnet3000 said...

For some reason my girlfriends card wallet keeps her clipper card from tagging correctly (iirc it always says "See agent" if she tags with the wallet), so she has to pull it out.

A vast majority of people i see riding BART tag it bare though, far more than probably have to. I tag through many plastic cards (usually the clipper card is towards the back in my card-wallet, so half the time presumably its tagging through one or two cards, and half the time its tagging through a whole bunch, since the orientation is random.

Devin said...

Watching my fellow BART commuters I'd say that more than two thirds of rush-hour clipper/translink users don't take the card out of whatever they keep it in. I think the most common exceptions I see are people using the paper MIFARE Ultralight-based cards. Likewise, SFMTA's fare inspectors are totally accustomed to doing card scans of wallets &c. I keep thinking that the next inspection I'll just leave it in my pocket and have them scan my ass, but don't want them to get ideas about what data they could gather if they ramp up the RF power.

Akit said...

BBnet3000: If your girlfriend's card has another RFID card in her wallet when scanned, that can cause errors.

Common cards would be: Door/security proximity cards, debit/credit cards (such as MasterCard's PayPass), passport cards, and others.

Sometimes the Clipper card has to be closer to the wallet's surface or as close as it can to scan at a Clipper reader for best results.

RPiffingtonshire said...

Good to know, because my green Translink card is looking like it's been to hell and back. If I don't need to take it out of my purse as often, that's good...

...but half the time when I ride the 29 in the am, the reader is down so I have to show the driver my card (they request it if the reader is down). So if you're using it on MUNI, it might not be a good idea to leave it in a place you can't get to quickly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Akit- where did you get the snazzy plastic card holder for the clipper card. I called them, but they say they don't issue them.