"Akit is the man. He knows Clipper." (spenta)
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"Everyone's favorite volunteer public policy consultant..." (Eve Batey, SF Appeal)
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(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)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pro Tip: Always Tag Your Clipper Card on Muni (Regardless if a Pass or Not)

I've likely said it a bunch of times on my blog, so let's wipe off the dust and take the cobwebs off and remind everyone...

Don't forget to tag your Clipper card on Muni!

Over the past couple of weeks, some news stories came up about people not tagging their Clipper card and either getting hassled by a fare inspector or getting a fat $100 ticket.

Several hours ago, Muni Diaries heard from the folks at Muni that anyone with a monthly pass isn't required to tag their card.

And at KRON Channel 4, Stanley Roberts (a.k.a. the guy who filmed the infamous elmo shirt rant) did a couple of video segments of fare evaders getting caught for not paying their Muni fare with Clipper and getting a big $100 ticket. (First video on top of blog entry, and second video on bottom of entry).

Clipper Monster Reader FAIL

We all should know by now, fare evasion is a bad thing to do, and sets a bad example to the rest of the public ("hey, monkey see, monkey do!"). I've mentioned it a few times back when the brand new Muni fare gates had a "glitch" in which people could use their hand to open the gates and gain free entry.

For those of you paying for Muni with the blue card using e-cash or an electronic token ridebook, tagging is mandatory every time you board. Don't do it, you'll eventually get caught.

Pro tip #1: Always tag your card correctly. Getting the error tone means you card is NOT VALIDATED! Don't swipe, hold and wait for confirmation.

But as Muni Diaries mentioned, what about monthly passes? Good point. Muni's policy is not to cite people, but the fare inspector has to sift through the data on your card to find out if you have a pass or not; and that means wasted time.

But this is only for the metro service. Not tagging on a bus or F-Market streetcar could get likely in trouble with the operator as passengers are supposed to board the front door and either pay cash, show the transfer, or tag their Clipper card.

Even then, tagging your card is highly encouraged; not just to avoid wasting time with an inspector, but it also helps Muni gather ridership data. When they do an assessment, they have hard proof to the state and federal government that the money they are receiving is not enough based on the ridership numbers.

They can also use the data to find out about usage patterns; say if at 9PM at night, there's a high volume of tagging on the 1-California line, that could indicate to Muni that an extra bus might be needed to run. But it could run negatively to help support reductions of service for a line as well.
Pro tip #2: If the metro train's card reader is not functioning, go to the other half of the car; the "A" car's Clipper card readers are independent from the "B" car's.
So always remember, tag your Clipper card or face the wrath of a notorious fare inspector...

Have a great Wednesday!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Updates: Clipper Card Acceptance on Ferries & Napa-Solano, Union City, & Marin Buses

Greetings everyone! Yes, I'm alive after not blogging as regularly as I should. Things have been quite busy in my personal life for the past few weeks, from going on a diet to joining a bowling league and practicing at the lanes with my co-workers.

Let's get on with Clipper card news:

The MTC's Operations Committee met on Friday, February 17th to discuss new matters about Clipper.

Next Phase of Clipper
Clipper's next step is to expand into the smaller transit agencies. In their minutes from their previous meeting, it is expected the Bay Area ferries will be joining the Clipper card family as early as April 2012. The month mentioned did not say if there's any testing time or exactly when it will be available for public use.

The next transit agencies to join Clipper will be the Napa-Solano group, Union City Transit, and Marin Transit. They were chosen because of the limited amount of Clipper equipment remaining in their arsenal, and their connectivity to other participating agencies using Clipper; for example, Union City Transit connects to BART and AC Transit, two major companies part of the Clipper consortium. Clipper expects equipment to be installed in the next 8-9 months, and should be ready for public use by March or April 2013.

In other Clipper card news
The committee is seeking to approve a contract amendment of $30,000 to the contractors running the Embarcadero station's Clipper card kiosk (this would raise their annual contract to $1,087,100). Statistically, that particular location is the top seller of Clipper card value (e-cash), and with their secondary location at the Ferry Building, has sold over 26,000 new Clipper cards (more than half are youth & senior cards), and replaced over 9,000 inoperable cards. The MTC is considering to give them more money to increase their staffing levels and expand their service hours.

Lastly, Clipper is asking the MTC to approve some changes to the operating rules of Clipper. It's a huge document to read over and I don't know exactly what they are changing. One interesting and particular rule in the operating rules is on page 27 about fees: Clipper can charge a passenger a $5 fee for every second failed Autoload funding source when it is declined.

Akit's Opinions
I think it's going to take some time for new agencies to join the Clipper consortium. You are at least looking at one year just to get the next fleet of buses up and running; as for the ferries, I'd expect them to get ready for public usage by around late Summer or early Fall 2012.

For the 30K additional to run the customer service kiosks with more service hours is a good thing. The lines themselves are long and they are quite popular for the incompetent people who doesn't realize a good number of the kiosk's functions can be done quickly at a self-service machine just feet away from the kiosk.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

50 Years of Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco"

Tony Bennett's legendary song about our city, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" will be played on many radio stations around San Francisco today at 12 Noon.

Can you actually believe it's been 50 years since it was first released? Even then, our city's favorite song, or for me, our unofficial city anthem is still played often around our city.

Did you actually know, I can sing the song pretty well? It's always a crowd pleaser when I go on a cruise and do some karaoke in front of a crowd. I even sing along when attending a home game and the SF Giants win the game just because it's our city's song.

I might rag on our city once in a while (especially Muni), but let's never forget about the song we love. So today, we pay tribute to a great song about our wonderful city.

Enjoy this Valentines Day!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hacking a Clipper Card? Easy and Cheap Solutions to Protect Yourself

There's been some word around that someone was able to hack a Clipper card.

I know how to hack a Clipper card, just give me a saw.

Actually, it's the other type of hack, some person was able to find how to exploit the Clipper card by being able to somehow get through the encryption and obtain the data. In the worst case scenario, someone could be able to use that data to make clone cards and either make fake card balances and passes to sell, or steal one's information and make a clone card (similar to someone skimming a credit card's magnetic stripe).

Am I concerned? Sure I am, but I'm protected like an electronically tested condom (which reminds me, time to visit Costco for an economy pack).

There's no fear in this; odds are very low that someone will skim your Clipper card and ride Muni free for the rest of the month. Even then, stealing the info and e-cash balance and trying to get cash back is really difficult: You have to prove to Clipper customer service that you are the registered user of the card. Also, if Clipper knows your card is funded or partially funded with commuter benefits (even just one cent), they are not allowed to cancel the card's balance and mail you a check.

If you are just paranoid, get your tin foil hats and learn about this: There are products on the market that is able to shield your Clipper card from people skimming information. You could wrap it in tin foil, that's a cheap option. There are sleeves that people can use to slip their card in to protect it. But the problem with a tin foil or sleeve shield is that you will have to pull your Clipper card out every time when you want to scan it.

One solution I suggest is what is shown in the picture on this blog post. I use a badge holder. This one I have from Identity Stronghold works fine, and I also added a retractable reel to it so I can hook it to my belt. What makes it easy is you don't have to remove the card to scan, you just squeeze the top of the card to open it, scan the card, and un-squeeze to protect the card. I tried the holder with it protected/secured and Clipper card readers doesn't even know the card is there, but with a little squeeze, the card can be read.

So really folks, there's nothing to really fear. You don't need a replacement card if they come out with the newest generation of cards that are more secure. When more secure measures comes out, hackers always try to outsmart it. But with sleeve or badge holder that is shielded, there's no way to electronically pickpocket you.