Friday, July 13, 2012

Caltrain - 4th and King Ticket Checks

Over the last few months Caltrain has started checking tickets at the entrance door at 4th and King prior to boarding. I had seen this in the past, but usually for off peak trains. Now, they are doing the checks throughout the peak of rush hour.

Personally, my Clipper card (Caltrain ticket) is buried in my wallet, which is buried in my backpack, somewhere. Since I have a reliable form of transportation (my bike) that has a variance in travel time from home to the station of roughly 2 minutes, I typically arrive shortly before departure, and if I have been lucky with the lights maybe I'll get a hot drink. So I head to the gates with my bike and my hot drink, and now I am fumbling into my backpack for my ticket, the same as the rest of the ridership heading towards the doors.

This leads to a long queue as people look for their tickets and are slowly processed by 2 conductors at the doorway, scanning Clipper cards with the slow hand held readers. The end result, lately has been that the trains have been departing 4th and King a few minutes late as passengers are processed and then scramble into the train.

There is an upside - this pretty much nips fare evasion in the bud. Which is a good thing, right? Thing is - fare evasion isn't a big problem for Caltrain - the ridership generally pays their fares. The riders *not* paying their fares are typically not Joe Commuter trying to save a few bucks, they are various n'eer do wells with much larger problems than paying a Caltrain fare and who, faced with the prospect of paying a fare would probably just not ride the train at all. And if we cite these folks (*if* they have a valid ID), they'll probably just bypass the court date, not pay the fine, and sort of slip into the ether. It's not like we're going to put anyone into San Quentin for a $5 Caltrain ticket.

I'm making an assertion on fare compliance - let's use the google machine to research this - here's an article regarding fare evasion on VTA that claims fare evasion on Caltrain is one tenth of one percent!

I have attended several JPB meetings over the years where the topic of service cuts has been discussed, usually this brings out someone whose station or train is up for elimination, and they propose that Caltrain do a better job of checking tickets in order to get more money to keep the trains running. The answer from CEO Mike Scanlon is always the same - fare evasion is very low.

Meanwhile, on-time performance in March of 2012 dipped to 92.6 percent. You tell me, what's a bigger problem - .1 percent fare evasion or 7.4% late trains?

And remember, the door checks are only at 4th and King. The conductors still need to perform on-board checks if they are to catch any fare evasion from passengers boarding at any of the stations down the line. While 4th and King may be the most popular station in the system, the other stations combined have substantially more boardings. I have had my ticket checked at the door, and then again on the train, probably 50% of the time.

I have heard anecdotes that conductors have claimed they have found that many customers had not tagged their card - but this is *always* on the first couple days of the month, when customers who have paid for Monthly passes have forgotten to activate their pass. Those customers don't have to tag on daily and they might forget on the first. In that instance, the door check is ensuring compliance with the technical parts of fare payment, but it isn't keeping people from evading fares - they have already paid. It would be simpler just to have one person on that day calling out to passengers to remember to tag on, without the time consuming scanning of cards of those who already have tagged on.

Caltrain needs to ditch the door check.

If you agree = send an email to Caltrain

1 comment:

djconnel said...

As a total scatter-brain, I actually like the checks. If I forget my clipper card, I get turned back at the door instead of asked for my ID (which I would also have probably forgotten, since I keep them together). A good chance door checks save me a $300 citation. They should waive the checks a minute before departure time to let everyone on (anyone who really wants to beat the system will just board @ 22 anyway).