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Friday, November 18, 2011

Clipper Card Transition of BART High Value Discount (HVD) Tickets is Poorly Thought Out

BART Gate & Clipper Card

If you are a regular commuter of BART and use High Value Discount (HVD) tickets to save a little money on your trips, you are aware the classic magnetic strip tickets will be going away at the end of the year to be a Clipper only product.

But while you may think, "wow, Clipper will make it so easier!" Ha! Time for a reality check.

The old way to buy HVDs:
  • Any BART ticket sales window at major stations. Accepts cash and commuter benefit checks.
  • Vendors around the Bay Area, including some grocery stores. Accepts cash and sometimes commuter benefit checks.
  • Mail-in tickets to BART sales office. Personal checks and commuter benefit checks accepted.

The Clipper way to buy HVDs:
  • A Clipper card user must register their personal credit/debit card, or use a commuter benefit debit card. Once registered, the user must sign-up for autoload where the card will have $32 in HVD value, and when it dips below the $10 threshold, the card will be automatically replenished with $32 more HVD dollars.

For more information about the HVD transition, click here.

For some of you, this new method might be an okay option to charge your personal credit/debit card to automatically purchase HVD value for BART. But if you like buying your HVDs in cash, you'd be grumpy too.

For those who uses commuter benefits, your options are SEVERELY LIMITED. Here's how it sucks for all of us:
  • Commuter benefit checks/vouchers cannot be claimed for HVDs.
  • You must use a commuter benefit debit card. Some of you have told me your employer doesn't give you one, and you only get vouchers. Basically, you are screwed.
  • You can only use autoload only. If you use a commuter debit card, you must be very strict on your BART spending, otherwise your card can get blocked if you don't have sufficient funds on your commuter debit card.
  • If you still want to use vouchers or a debit card without the stupid rules about autoload, you can only claim them for e-cash (universal Clipper cash fund), but you will NOT receive the 6.25% HVD discount.

Now you know why this really sucks.

As a long time blogger writing about Clipper, I highly DO NOT recommend Clipper's autoload program. It has a bad reputation and if for some reason your card gets blocked (even by accident), your card is unusable for a number of days until the system can resolve it.

For me, I'm very uncomfortable about giving out my credit card number to Clipper. For the fellow wary folks out there, there needs to be better options for all of us to get BART HVDs on Clipper, regardless if you use commuter benefits or just like paying cash to your favorite grocery store for the magnetic stripe card. MTC has said in the past that making other options to obtain HVDs is cost prohibitive, but I think it's very necessary to gain the public's trust in the program.

Here's my recommendations BART, Clipper, and MTC should do to make it easier for all for this Clipper card transition:
  1. HVDs remain available with autoload.
  2. Passengers can purchase HVDs without the autoload commitment at any Clipper ticketing machine (including Muni metro's), BART ticketing machines, and all Clipper card vendors.
  3. Passengers have the right to purchase a single HVD with cash at any location selling Clipper.
  4. Passengers have the right to use their commuter benefit voucher to buy a HVD at Clipper vendors that are willing to accept them.
  5. Passengers have the right to use their commuter benefit card to purchase a HVD at any self-service Clipper card machine, Muni metro ticket machine, and any BART ticketing machine.

If BART is willing to accept this idea instead, I'd say, run with it:
  • Since seniors, disabled, and youth card users automatically gets their discount without the need to have a separate BART pool of funding (they use their regular e-cash), why don't extend the idea to adult Clipper card users by giving every person using a Clipper card a 6.26% discount? By doing it this way, MTC, BART, and Clipper doesn't have to spend millions on reprogramming every single ticketing machine, vendor machine, and rewriting software; they just rewrite the BART fare table by subtracting 6.25%.

What's your opinion? Leave a comment.


BBnet3000 said...

If anything simply buying more than $45 or $64 (whatever the HVD amount is) in fares should give you the discount, like on the NYC subway (except they have steeper discounts, the last time i was there, such as $25 for $20).

Ive been one of the people who has mentioned this in the comments. I bank a few commuter vouchers while taking the HVD, and then i turn off autoload and use the voucher ecash at face value.

It would be nice if i got the HVD on the voucher. Clipper card has been way too limited and old-fashioned from the start.

thielges said...

Here's another new unrelated Clipper headache on Caltrain: Previously Stanford football fans could make use of the convenient "Stanford" stop near the stadium. But if you're paying your fare via Clipper then you have to get off at Palo Alto instead and either walk or take a bus shuttle through dense game day traffic to the stadium. The reason is probably that there's no Clipper terminal at the lightly used Stanford platform.

While this inconvenience only affects a small number of passengers it is yet another case where Clipper has made using transit more difficult.

"Using a computer should be easier than not using a computer" - Ted Nelson

Anonymous said...

It will get even better January 1 next year unless Congress adjusts the pre-tax transit benefit amount. As of now. starting January 1, you will only be able to put aside $125 per month for pre-tax transit. If you load this on a debit card, and sign up for autoload using one of these cards, there's a good chance you'll spend more than $125 if you commute on BART everyday and have your Clipper account suspended. I'm sticking with HVD tickets, even if they become harder to find, until they come up with a solution that actually makes sense.

Greg said...

The funny thing is I complained to the MTC about this, and got a nice response where they basically said "Thanks for complaining, but we aren't doing anything. If we sold HVD tickets other than autoload, that would cause the fare gates to be slower."

Yes, that's what they said. No, I have no idea how that could possibly be true (the gates already have to check for *at least* 4 purses - HVD 60, HVD 30, Fastpass, and Cash, surely adding one more wouldn't add any perceptible delay) and that is the apparent reason they are requiring Autoload. I wouldn't care if it were possible to buy HVD value through an addfare machine (which was dismissed as cost-prohibitive) or through the website (which would somehow make the faregates slow, even though I assume it would add to the same purses as autoload...)

Sure, it's only 6.25%, but it's 6.25% that we are entitled to for buying fares in advance, in a large amount. We should be able to get it without being forced into Autoload and losing the ability to pay with transit benefits.

Anonymous said...

It seems like maybe BART will continue selling HVD paper tickets after all? Just not at most retail locations -- only at certain stations (that have My Transit Plus and/or ticket exchange booths). BART's 12/8 news item on their website says, "If you get transit benefits through your employer, you can continue buying high value discount tickets at the locations listed above. For other options, contact your transit benefits provider. For your convenience it is time to get a Clipper card -- paper discount tickets will be mostly phased out, other than the exceptions outlined above, after Dec. 31, 2011." And the Clipper website says, "After December 31, High Value, Red, and Green discount tickets won't be available at most retailers."

Larry Rosenstein said...

I signed up for a BART HVD through Clipper Direct, which is the transit program offered by my company. The initial signup was easy, but I ran into several problems later.

First, you can't pay for a BART trip with a combination of a HVD ticket and e-cash. Currently, I have $2.50 left on my HVD ticket that's useless until February. I expected this, since it also happened when I purchased a HVD ticket using autoload, but it's still dumb. (I could combine a paper HVD ticket with other tickets, so why not e-tickets?)

The bigger problem came when I tried to increase my order from 1 to 2 HVD tickets. Once I figured out the right place (always challenging with the Clipper web site), I ran into a catch-22.

There's no option for changing the number of tickets; you can only cancel the order entirely. After doing that, I wasn't able to order 2 tickets because you can't order a type of ticket when there's a pending deletion for it. Even after going back the next morning the change was still pending.

I thought I was stuck, until I realized that I could order one $60 HVD instead of 2 $45 tickets. That worked because they are different products, although it wasn't exactly what I wanted. (The deadline for changes is the 14th, so I couldn't wait to see if the pending status got cleared.)

The problem then was that I had to change my cash order for the month. Of course, you can't modify the amount while my previous change was pending. So I had to cancel the first change, which left my account with a negative balance. But then I was able to fix that, and fingers-crossed it will all work next month.

All in all, it was another frustrating fight with the Clipper web site.

Anonymous said...

I ordered both a $48 and a $64 HVD ticket through my employer's commuter program, just to find out after being stranded at a BART station that only the $48 had been loaded into the Clipper card, as Clipper doesn't allow combining HVD tickets from different denominations!

I think this is dishonest to say the least, as Clipper allows to go through orders they know cannot be honored!