Now that I think about this...
Caltrain is ending paper 8 ride tickets. They should just end *all* 8 ride tickets.
An 8 ride ticket gets the rider a 15% discount on their rides, when purchased in bulk. The simplest answer for Caltrain would be to just sell "Caltrain Cash" at a 15% discount. So for $17, you can get $20 in Caltrain value. Done. Tag on, tag off, pay the cash fare, same as anyone - but with discounted dollars.
With that, the Caltrain clipper system is greatly simplified. Buy a pass, or buy "Caltrain Cash". As it stands, I currently have 3 different 8 rides loaded onto my card, to cover my most likely trips. It was annoying to load them all because the Clipper readers can only "load" one product at a time.
This will really benefit riders - and Caltrain. Currently if I have a Zone 1-3 8 ride, I can't use it to ride from Zone 4-2, even though the cost of the ticket is the same. This is an artifact of the paper system - you couldn't buy a "3 zone ticket" because it wasn't clear where you got onto the train for citation purposes (with the Validators, in theory the Conductor could figure it out, but that's not very efficient). With a Clipper Card, all the tag reader needs to know is "Did you tag on". With the conductor issue solved, they can go to a seamless system.
This would greatly simplify the software on the Clipper end, and the user interface as well. It solves various issues like "Why can't I use a zone upgrade with my 8 ride" - because you effectively can.
This has the benefit to the rider of being able to get the volume discount even though they take an atypical trip. Right now, with my 1-3 8 ride, going from San Francisco to Sunnyvale is $5.53. But sometimes it might be more convenient for me to use Lawrence (zone 4) but since I don't have an 8 ride, the fare is $8.50. I'd be much more likely to take that extra zone if I automatically get to pay the discounted rate of $7.22.
In a perfect world, the "Caltrain cash" could be applicable to the purchase of a Monthly pass, allowing people to more easily move between 8-rides and passes for months where they ride more, and ones where they ride infrequently.
The $20 denomination is the same as a 1 zone 8 ride ticket now, but would allow riders who go longer distances to purchase volume tickets for fewer rides, allowing them to try out the system without as much commitment.
The only downside is that this would probably reduce the amount of "shrinkage" that Caltrain benefits from, but that should not be the goal of a ticketing system - Caltrain is not Bank of America, they are a public agency and nickel and diming should not be their strategy. But with a simpler, more user friendly system, they are likely to make up the shrinkage in increased ridership that comes from a happier ridership.
The monthly pass product needs to stay for now - because of the dearth of Clipper readers at the station.
California bike update January 2017
9 hours ago