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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why a Senior Muni Rider Was Fined $100 for Fare Evasion

 Three Generations of Transit Cards (TransLink Pilot, TransLink, and Clipper)

KPIX (CBS San Francisco) and the Consumerist reported about a senior Muni passenger who was fined $100 for fare evasion and also lost his appeal which cost him an extra $25.

Read articles from KPIX and the Consumerist.

The senior claimed he boarded a crowded metro train and had to get his hand through the crowd to tag his senior Clipper card.  When he exited the train, fare inspectors was waiting to check passengers and when scanning his card with their reader, they noticed he didn't tag his card and had a balance of 70 cents remaining.

Both the Consumerist and KPIX are giving sides towards the senior passenger saying a rule in Clipper's policy allows the card to go into the negative balance if the card has at least one cent on the card.

And while there's a lot of people siding with the passenger, when I read the stories, there's some missing details and that needs to be addressed.

Here's what I see to be problems:

Low Balance Means Different Clipper Vehicle Reader Reaction
If you have a Clipper card with a low balance, the Clipper card reader will give two beeps in different tones and the reader's color lights will illuminate the yellow and green lights.  The problem is the story reported that the passenger claims he tagged his card and "heard a beep."

But here's the clue there's a problem, he only heard a "beep" not "two beeps" as per policy.  With only 70 cents left on the card, the two beeps indicates valid fare transaction, but needs to replenish the card.

The Negative Balance Policy
The articles claim his card had 70 cents, five cents short of the 75 cent fare.  But if the passenger tagged his card, it should have deducted it from his card and left him with a negative five cent balance.  The fare inspector's reader would have said "YES" because even though the card was in the negative, the purchased ride is still valid.

But, the fare inspector wrote the citation because it wasn't due his card was five cents short, it was because the inspector's card reader said "NO" indicating he never tagged his Clipper card.

How the inspector's reader works:
When an inspector scans a card, the first thing that shows up on his/her screen is the words "yes" or "no."  When it says "yes" the card was scanned (even if it went negative).  When it says "NO" it shows up as suspect and the inspector does a further review of the card's history and determines if the passenger has some valid use of the card (e.g. Muni pass loaded) or not valid (e.g. not paying).

He Didn't Truly Confirm His Card Was Scanned
The KPIX story states he had to "reach between people" to get to the card reader and believed he tagged his card and heard the beep sound.  The problem with this is, he didn't visually confirm it.  Maybe another passenger was tagging his card while he was doing the reach around.

When the inspector checked his card, the senior said to the reporter that the inspector told him the card did not have any money deducted.  Inspectors have readers that can read the history/data on the card, such as when was it last used, the balance left, any passes on the card, etc.

You should only be confident that your Clipper card was tagged properly when you visually and hear the following:
  1. See the green light (or green and yellow when low balance)
  2. Read the text in the screen confirming the tag.
  3. Hear the single beep (or two beeps if low balance)
The passenger didn't see it, so he assumed.

His Appeal Failed, Where's the Evidence?
He appealed to Muni to cancel his $100 fare evasion citation and lost, but the article never mentioned if he ever reviewed his Clipper card transaction/history report.  This report is available to each registered cardholder that logs into the Clipper card's website.  It's one of the nice perks about Clipper, if you truly believe you tagged your card and you get accused of not doing so, that transaction report will save your butt.  It's unlike parking tickets because a corrupt parking cop can claim you parked a foot in the red zone, but you don't have decent evidence that you didn't; taking a photo of your car would not work that well because it could be assumed you backed the car out of the red zone and snapped the photo.

If the history report showed he did properly tag his Clipper card at that time and date, that is sufficient evidence for Muni to admit to the error on their end and void the citation.

Akit's Opinion
The last statement about the history report would have solved everything.  KPIX and the Consumerist should have asked the elderly passenger to show them his transaction report to prove he actually did tag his card.  But without providing that documentation, we are left to assume that Muni is the bad guys based on the way the article was written and broadcasted on TV.

Being that I'm one of the foremost experts regarding Clipper and doesn't work for any public transportation agency, I can tell you that while there's a sobbing story of a senior citizen getting a $100 ticket, I've poked a bunch of holes into the situation.  Until proven otherwise with a history report, he's responsible for paying the fine.

Next time news agencies, DO A BETTER JOB and gather the facts.


Mario said...

The state of journalism is very poor. I noticed exactly the same problem reading those articles, and knew that they didn't do their job. Thanks for clarifying the facts.

Al said...

I have been using translink/clipper for a while. I have only problem one time and that was on the 71 line. The driver did not be leave me when I told him that I did tagged my card on the reader. He told me to tag it again and when I did the screen said that it was already processed travel denied. Now that I have a phone that can read the clipper card. I have proof saying that it went thou. and it even tells me the time and date.

Anonymous said...

It's just too complicated unless you are some sort of commuter-pro (which you yourself are).
I get uneasy at the very thought of being caught for fare evasion - which to me is very much a crime. Consider the weight of that to those of us who do not knowingly commit crimes but are uncomfortable with uniformed authority figures. A bad situation can arise because I make a mistake with a system that beeps or beeps twice or fails to beep and/or lights up some color or other and which depends on a card which I could only read at a fare machine... That situation is: I am faced with a uniformed cop (They're cops to me) who informs me that I just committed a crime. Oh, and I don't have a spare $100 - even if, as happened to my wife, the $100 is restored after several months.
That's why I only ride BART in SF.