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Friday, June 14, 2013

You Can Now Pay for Parking with a Clipper Card at Five SF Garages

There's a new and exciting development from the folks at the Clipper card program and the SFMTA.

You can now pay for parking with your Clipper card at five San Francisco/SFMTA operated public parking garages.*

But did you notice asterisk above?  There's some things you need to know before you go joy riding to the garage and using your card:

(1) The participating garages are: Japan Center, North Beach, Performing Arts, Moscone Center, and Mission Bartlett.

(2) When you enter the garage, retrieve your mag stripe parking ticket as usual.  When exiting the garage, there's no need to go to visit a pay station or attendant behind a bulletproof window; just drive to the exit gate, insert the ticket, and tag your Clipper card on the exit gate reader.

(3) In order for the Clipper card to pay for the parking, YOU MUST load Clipper's new cash fund to your card called "parking value."  From this point on, I'll nickname it "p-cash."  No p-cash on the card, you'll be stuck at the gate.

(4) You must have enough p-cash value on your card to pay the parking fee.  Unlike paying for transit rides, the system will not allow your p-cash value go negative.

(5) This parking program can only be used for pay-as-you-go parking.  You cannot use this to pay for monthly parking fees.

(6) You can load your p-cash by logging into your account on Clipper's website, calling customer service, or setting-up autoload.

So why the need for p-cash and not e-cash to pay for parking?
Since Clipper's e-cash fund (that is used to pay for public transit fares) can be funded from both pure cash loading and pre-tax commuter benefits (e.g. Commuter Check), the e-cash fund on your card cannot pay for any use of parking because it is illegal to pay for parking with commuter benefits.  Clipper has to assume that due to multiple ways to load your Clipper e-cash, the e-cash fund is toxic and unacceptable to use for other uses like parking, or in the future, to pay for groceries or snacks.

If you have a Commuter Check Card for parking, it may be possible to load p-cash onto your Clipper card.  You may face a hurdle because while that pre-tax benefit is dedicated to parking, Commuter Check may demand proof; how do you prove that your expenses for p-cash is actually going towards paying for parking to your job?  I don't know the answer to that.

Some advice...
  • If you get your ticket validated, sometimes the special devices they use to rubber stamp your ticket also includes a method to alter the magnetic stripe; this helps the self-service pay machines recognize the validated ticket, but sometimes the alteration to the magstripe doesn't work, such as Japantown's Sundance Kabuki Theater's.  Whenever you validate it, I suggest you should pay the parking fee at the cashier's booth instead of attempting to pay with Clipper.
  • If you are using the parking lot for a special discount for motorcycles, you should be paying at the cashier's window.  The exit gate and Clipper card reader can't identify if it's a car or motorcycle.
  • If you are to receive a special rate for early bird or something similar, the Clipper parking FAQ doesn't say if it will be properly applied or not.  It's better to pay at the cashier's window so at least you can ask questions and if necessary, argue/appeal to the attendant if the price you are to pay is wrong.
  • For the three I listed above, that's for special parking discounts.  If you are just paying for hourly parking with no discounts, then it's okay to pay for parking with the Clipper card.
  • If you need to get reimbursed for parking and need proof of payment, you shouldn't use Clipper.  I don't want to share my entire Clipper card history report to my employer to prove my parking costs.  In this case, pay at a self-service machine or cashier's booth and ask for a receipt. 
  • While I'm usually against autoload for Clipper, with the rules stating you can't let your p-cash go negative, thereby not being able to exit and have pissed-off drivers honking at you for backing out of the exit gate, this time, you should establish autoload for p-cash.

Akit's Opinions
Sounds like a smart idea to have Clipper accepted for parking, but how about FasTrak?  I've used it to pay for parking at the Long Term Lot at SFO, and it worked smoothly.  I didn't have to take a ticket from the entry gate, and when I was at the exit gate, it read my transceiver, spit out a receipt, and let me out of the lot.  Plus, it's voluntary; you just go on your FasTrak account online and opt-in or out for the program.  While FasTrack has a stored value, if the parking exceeds a certain established limit, it's charged directly to your credit card and doesn't deduct from you pre-funded pool.

Is it really that convenient to pay with my Clipper card for only five garages?  The only garage out of the five I use is the Japantown lot, and that's not very often.  At least with FasTrak, it's always mounted on my windshield and no need to yank my blue Clipper card from my wallet to pay.

I'm also wary of establishing a p-cash fund.  Why have a pool of p-cash on the card at all?  Why not have users just link a credit or debit card to the Clipper card, so when they tag their card at the gate, the parking fee will be charged directly to their personal credit card as one transaction?  Companies like Square and LevelUp doesn't ask users to load $30 in credit to buy food; they pay with their smartphone and their credit card is charged for that particular transaction.  Anyway, you can't load dollar bills onto the Clipper card's p-cash fund because the only methods are via online or telephone.

Even then, why doesn't the city garages get upgraded for people to pay for parking at the gate by inserting their parking ticket, then their credit card?  People can do this at some private garages like Pier 39 and at SFO garages.

I seriously question if I want to sign-up for the parking program on Clipper.

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