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...
10 RIDES LEFT
??? 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.