Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Clipper Caltrain FAILBLOG #3

Caltrain has a multi-ride discount program called the "8 ride pass". This is a pretty good deal, the discount is pretty steep. In fact, it is perhaps too good - a rider must ride the train round trip 16 times per month in order for a Monthly Pass to be a better deal than the 8 ride tickets. Which pretty much means that if a rider works from home or drives to work once a month, they are better off with 8 ride tickets instead of passes. Caltrain would be better off in a future round of fare changes to increase the 8 ride prices more compared to the Monthly Pass. In this manner, they would collect more money and service more trips - a rider who has a Monthly Pass feels that they now have to "pay" to drive, whereas if they are on 8 ride tickets, driving costs money but saves them money on train fare. This makes the marginal cost of driving higher, and encourages people to become more loyal train riders. But I digress - this is about Clipper.

Recently I have been using 8 ride tickets using my Clipper Card. Normally I get a Monthly pass, but I had a month where we were out of town two weeks, so I did the math and decided to go with 8 ride tickets. This causes a bit of consternation because I need to use up my 8 ride tickets by the end of the month so that I can go back to using a Monthly Pass. This wasn't so bad in the days of paper tickets when I could sell my extra tickets - with the 8 ride on my Clipper Card it's much harder to transfer the extra rides.

I use 8 rides for zone 1-3 and zone 1-4, my two most common Caltrain trips. The 8 ride tickets are "autoloaded" from my Credit Card. I was working my zone 1-4 eight ride down to zero rides, so I could turn off the autoload and pay the one way fare if needed to end the month. Taking the train to Lawrence from SF one day, I tagged off at Lawrence and looked at the reader to see how many rides I had left. I figured I would have two or three rides left. I tagged the reader and saw this...


??? What happened? I had 2 rides left, but Clipper added another 8 rides to my card? Why? I asked Clipper and they said that the card does indeed autoload another 8 rides onto your card when your eight ride ticket gets down to 2 rides.

This is just stupid. The best I can guess is some brain surgeon at Caltrain or Clipper looked at it and said "Well, it will be more convenient for the user if we add more rides at 2 so they don't run out". Of course, this makes no sense - in order for the rider to use a ride, they have to access a Clipper Kiosk. And if they can access a Kiosk, they can have a ridebook added. The system should wait until the rider gets to zero rides, and THEN it should add 8 more rides.

At first glance, this really only impacts someone who is trying to bleed their rides down to zero, like I was. If I had just turned off the autoload as soon as I knew I didn't want to buy any more tickets, I would have been fine. Except for one thing.

Eight ride tickets expire. In 60 days.

By autoloading new rides when you still have 2 left, riders who ride occasionally are penalized by their tickets starting to expire before they really need to buy the tickets. Bogus.


Jason Shueh said...

I have this same issue as I'm an occasionally rider of the system (mainly in the summer). The auto load is convenient when I ride frequently but sucks when I forget to turn it off. I feel "rushed" to use up the remaining rides because they will expire.

Also the clipper card with 8 ride pack is useless when trying to ride further then your original zones. It's so confusing, I still don't quite know how it works if it works at all. So I avoid riding the train on the weekends because I don't want to pay full price and I don't want to buy a new 8 zone card for one trip!

Mikesonn said...

This shouldn't be a programming issue. These are all simple If Then statements. And I don't really see why your card has to be tagged in order to activate the pass you already purchased. We don't need to validate paper monthly passes.

Also, the fact that Clipper doesn't automatically figure the lowest possible fare is proof that transit in the bay area will always be a joke.

"Want to ride Caltrain with an 8-ride and a zone upgrade? Good luck figuring that out!" When they could easily deduct an 8 ride and tack on whatever amount of zone upgrade you need.

"Want to ride one less zone on your first day with a new monthly? Ha!" When they could easily do the computation to figure out that you stayed within your allowed zones of travel.

A joke. A sad cruel joke. And the 8 ride refresh with the expiration starting the minute they are loaded is criminal. That 8 ride shouldn't be activated (even if it is on your card) until the last of the previous 8 ride has been used. I'd even argue that it shouldn't start expiring until you used the first one of the new 8 ride.

Yokota Fritz said...

That 8 ride discount is pretty good. I just bought 8 rides all this last summer -- I'd Caltrain in the morning then bike back to San JOse every evening. Since I work from home at least once a week, that works out to about 15 train rides per month, or just one less than two 8 rides. That's a $54.75 savings over the 2-zone monthly pass I might otherwise buy.