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Saturday, January 14, 2012

The "Caltrain Screwjob" - End of 8-Rides Means 15% to 25% Fare Hike

Clipper Monster Reader FAIL

If you haven't read the news lately, Caltrain is proposing to do some changes to their fare structure.

Penalty for Paper Tickets
Essentially, it's going to a penalty on the people who buy paper tickets at their train stations. They are proposing passengers to pay an extra 25 cents per zone for one-way tickets, and 50 cents per zone for day passes. Another way of saying it, it's a 10% fare hike for paper ticket users.

However, Caltrain will not impose the additional fee on those who uses Clipper cards to pay for their rides (e-cash).

By operating on a different fare structure for cash vs. Clipper e-cash, it does cause one unique problem:
  • For those who rides more than two times in one day, Clipper e-cash does not give you a day pass; therefore if you ride three times with Clipper, you get charged three one-way rides.
  • At least with a paper day pass, you have to pay an extra 50 cent penalty per zone covered, but you get UNLIMITED rides within the zones covered.

End of 8-Rides
This is going to stir more controversy than the paper ticket hike.

I have argued the 8-ride system for Caltrain on Clipper is pretty much a stupid move, and I have suggested that all passengers who rides Caltrain using Clipper should get an across the board 15% discount on their train fares by paying for one-way rides with Clipper's universal e-cash purse.

Well, it didn't turn out the way I expected it.

Caltrain's proposal is to end 8-ride, therefore Clipper users can pay with e-cash for their single trip rides. But as mentioned from above, Caltrain's 25 cent per zone fee for paper ticket makes it sound like you will still receive a discount, but if you were to spend time and crunch the numbers, you are about to get very screwed over.

Caltrain's way of saying it on their website makes it sound cool the 8-rides will die a painful death, but you'll be paying more. Example:
  • A two zone 8-ride: $32.25
  • New Clipper only 2-zone one-way e-cash per ride: $4.75
  • Multiply new 2-zone Clipper one-way e-cash fare by eight: $38.
  • Divide 32.25 into 38, you get .849. A simple way of saying it, 8-ride passengers being converted to Clipper e-cash one way fares only will be paying for a 15% fare hike.
  • However, if an ex 8-rider uses Clipper, they won't pay the 25 cent per zone paper fee, but if the passenger switches completely to paper tickets only, it will be a 25% fare hike (15% hike for ending 8-ride, and 10% hike for the paper charge).

Akit's Opinion
Regarding the paper ticket fee (10% fare hike):
This begs the question, why hasn't Caltrain and Clipper devised a way to let people essentially 'earn' a day pass when they ride two one-way trips (a.k.a. "pass accumulator")? VTA is planning to do this in the near future where if a passenger rides their buses/trains a certain number of times, the rest of the rides for the remainder of the day is free.

Caltrain also has very few Clipper add value machines, they've only installed them in a few major stations. They refused to modify their paper ticket machines to handle the job, so now people will have to carefully monitor their Clipper e-cash balance, or consider autoload (which I don't recommend).

Regarding the end of 8-rides:
It's a screwjob for the 8-ride users as they lose their 15% off and pay the 'normal' cash fare like other Joes and Janes do today and when the proposal becomes reality. It's an even bigger screwjob for those who decides to skip Clipper completely and pay the paper ticket fare, therefore getting a 25% fare hike.

This ain't cool at all. They kicking their most loyal passengers in the butt, while their casual passengers get a break.

Caltrain's proposal is bad; whomever wrote it will sure get a lot of 8-riders angry. Here's how I would have handled it:
  1. Follow how Golden Gate Transit did it. Instead of raising fares, kill the 8-rides and give all Clipper card passengers an across the board 15% discount on one-way e-cash fares; this will compensate for the end of 8-rides. This attracts more ridership as people who infrequently ride it will notice a 15% discount for them too.
  2. Do not add 10% penalty for paper tickets.
  3. Start doing a transition every six months until you meet the goal you established; either reduce the 15% to 10%, or all fare categories gets a hike of 25 or 50 cents per zone.

By doing the three steps, it makes it sound much better by easing the pain of a hike, but they way they proposed it, it's like getting kicked in the nuts, then kicked in the face seconds later.

The "Caltrain Screwjob"
If you are wondering why I called it the "Caltrain Screwjob," it's similar to professional wrestling's infamous "Montreal Screwjob." You can read about it here.

If you feel upset that you'll be paying a 15% to 25% fare hike, I encourage you to complain to Caltrain. Their e-mail is: changes@caltrain.com or for alternate methods, click here. Make sure to call these changes the "Caltrain Screwjob" so they know Akit encouraged you to contact them and you stand beside him.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like the idea is to charge more for people going to ball games and the like for leisure, while sparing the core commuter set (monthly passes) from the pain. People in the middle lose out.

Yeah; I understand that Caltrain has no money, but this is a pretty lame way of trying to raise more of it.

And you're spot on that the Clipper system for Caltrain stinks. Automatic day-pass upgrades? Why, you'd need someone to program computers to pull that off, and this is California, nobody knows how to program computers here...

Anonymous said...


Can you tell me how long CalTrain gives you to tag OFF after your train has arrived?

If I forget to tag off, or there is a huge line at San Francisco station after a ride up from the peninsula, how long do I have to tag off, before I get charged the full price, or my late tag OFF is considered a new tag ON.

I have looked everywhere and this info is not available.

I did find that you have 15mins after tagON to cancel the ticket completely, but nothing about Tag OFF timing



Akit said...

You have four hours to complete your one-way journey when you tag-on. If it goes past four hours, you are charged the maximum fare.

If you tag-on and realize there's a train delay or choose to skip the ride for some other reason, you need to tag-off on the same card reader within 15 minutes to get a full refund.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much.
Why is that info so hard to find.

OH and I didn't know you had to tag off at the same reader to cancel. i thought it was the same station.

Thats not clear either. You could walk down the platform before finding the train was late etc.

Good Info. Needs more publicity.

Anonymous said...

There is a pass accumulator on Caltrain on Clipper assuming that you take the same zones for your travel twice.

When tagging off at the end of the second trip, the reader says "UPGRADE OK" and subsequent rides are then no longer charged.