Should You Pay When the Clipper Card Reader Is Broken? (update from MTA)

New Clipper Card and Carrying Case
Photo by AgentAkit

Update (12:45 p.m.): We just heard back from SFMTA. Apparently, when the machines are broken, drivers are not supposed to make cardholders pay, regardless of whether the rider has his/her Fast Pass loaded on the card. Here’s a document SFMTA says they sent to operators notifying them of this change in procedure:

So, in Lisa’s case (see “Original post,” below), the driver was wrong to ask her to pay. Maybe that driver didn’t get the memo, literally. It’s dated June 29, which was Tuesday, the day before Lisa’s incident.

Original post: What do Fast Pass holders do when Clipper readers don’t work? You’ve paid $70 or so for the Fast Pass, but should you still pay the $2 if the Clipper reader can’t read your card?

Muni rider and Clipper Card holder Lisa shares this story (excerpted):

I was trying to catch the 28 [Wednesday] morning around 6:30 a.m. at 19th Ave and Holloway and the translink readers on the bus were down. The driver tells me I have to pay cash fare when the reader is down and that’s policy. I tried to explain to her that that made no sense as I had a monthly pass and, therefore, had already paid regardless of the reader.She said no, it’s policy, that I had a translink card and not a pass. I said, I paid for a pass, your readers are always down, I ride everyday and no one has ever said this to me before. But she still said I had to pay. So, in the end, I refused to pay on principle, and the driver would not allow me to ride, despite having paid my $70 for my monthly pass. I was 20 minutes late to work. I should have just gotten on the back with the rest the fare dodgers.

We don’t see any information on the Clipper site about this situation (neither the FAQ page nor Clipper with specific transit agencies pages). And we can easily envision this situation happening with increasing frequency as more and more riders use Clipper with their Fast Pass loaded onto the card.

What do you think? How do you think this situation should be handled? Even better, has Clipper considered this situation and devised a fix for it?

We asked SFMTA and will update you as soon as we hear back.

Related: Akit has a post up today about Clipper/Fast Pass holders whose passes aren’t loading by the first of the month, and aren’t being given the 3-day “grace period.” Kinks, they abound!

36 comments

  • It’s a very good question on what to do when the reader is broken. I feel the operators can care less if that’s broken versus a broken farebox. They know if the cash farebox is broken, they have to get it fixed or get a new vehicle as Muni would lose hundreds or thousands of dollars.

    But just wait until the card goes mainstream when the passes goes electronic only. Then maybe Muni will pay more attention.

  • AlexJB

    In my mind, they need to be trained to treat clipper as cash. MUNI’s chosen to do away with paper passes and forcing the use of clipper. So if the clipper machine is broken, that’s the same as if the cashbox were broken. It’s not fair to force riders to revert to cash.

    IMHO, this is part of the same stupidity that has MUNI turnstiles requiring coins, but MUNI not providing change machines in many stations (go to the BART machine, press H for each dollar, blahblahablah).

    Only a city agency would make it so frikkin hard for people to pay them, and then blame/penalize the customer.

  • steve

    this hasn’t happened yet, but i know it will eventually, and it makes me so mad to even think about it.

  • I encountered a broken Translink reader recently on the F and the operator just let me on. I too use the card for my FastPass.

    I know it’s been talked about in the past that buses would switch to POP at some point and allow all-door boarding just like the Metro – perhaps phasing out paper passes in October will expedite that process.

  • Charging people for a monthly pass that they’re holding in their hand is ridiculous.

    Muni has treated TransLink/Clipper like a toy for a decade now, it’s time to either get real or write off the entire thing and remove it.

  • ken y

    I’ve had different experiences on the few times I’ve boarded a bus with a broken Translink/Clipper reader. Some drivers will just let me on, other drivers will ask for the fare in cash. I’m of the opinion that a broken Clipper reader should be treated like a broken fare box, and that riders should be allowed on if they show a Clipper or Translink card.

    Part of why I use the Clipper card is for the convenience – I don’t always have a convenient $2 with me, but I always have the Clipper card. If MUNI loses revenue because of broken readers, I don’t want to be pressured for a broken reader when it’s Clipper or whoever MUNI uses to service the readers who should be pressured by MUNI because they either supplied faulty equipment, unreliable equipment or unreliable service/maintenance.

  • Beau Lebens

    I’ve already encountered this a few times, even without paying for a monthly pass. If I have invested the time and cognitive switch to a new system, which they are in the process of making a required transaction method, then I see this as a “Stupidity Tax” for them. If this is to be their system, then they need to get it right. In the meantime, if it’s down, then they can count another $2 every time I get on the bus for free as a cost of getting that system right.

  • geoff goss

    Since the card should show that you have a fast pass, when the fare inspector inspects it (they have a card reader for this), tapping the card reader when you enter the bus shouldn’t even be required. I dont understand why you would need to authorize something that is good for the whole month, and is unlimited.

    Are fare inspectors even going to be able to check an entire L train full of passengers with clipper cards when everyone starts using it?

  • cmvh

    As I read this, I was thinking about the hand-held readers that the fare inspectors have when they check your cards at the stations; how come the drivers can’t have one in the event their reader is broken (I’m assuming they could scan you to charge as well as just scan from them)? If they could also do it by hand from their seat it wouldn’t necessarily be that different from the time it takes for the cash-to-transfer exchange normally seen on the Metro/bus, and then they don’t have to charge people with passes when the reader is broken.

    On a separate note, I’ve had problems with a lot of aspects of Clipper – the addfare machines, refunds via customer service, and broken readers, and I’m kinda concerned about BART phasing EZ Rider (something that never had problems) and Muni phasing out paper passes for this; anyone else concerned that the volume of new users might be too much for Clipper at some point given the problems they’re having?

  • JC

    While Clipper/TL was doing it’s trial run, this may have made some (not much but some) sense. But, now that we’re facing the changeover whereby a HUGE percentage of daily riders will be compelled to ditch paper passes, retaining this practice of paying cash makes zero sense. It’s the equivalent of the fare box being broken today.

    Beau is right. Changing the practice creates an incentive for them to fix the readers. Retaining the practice creates a strong incentive for them not to fix and even break readers. Each rider with a pass who pays $2 is being, in effect, double charged for that ride.

  • Apl

    From the Clipper FAQ (https://www.clippercard.com/ClipperWeb/faq.do):

    “What happens if the card reader can’t read my card for some reason?

    It’s a good idea to keep a little extra cash on hand in the event that your card doesn’t work. Unfortunately, transit agencies cannot give free rides when a Clipper card doesn’t work.”

    Totally asinine, but that’s Bay Area transit for you. What’s even worse is if your card breaks or stops working. You have to mail it in to Clipper so they can test it and mail you a new one if needed–which they say can take as many as five working days. Even if you buy a new card at a Walgreens, you can’t call Clipper and have your pass transferred to the new card over the phone (only e-Cash).

    As for a broken reader, one thing I suggest is trying an alternate reader if the one in front is broken (and if the driver will cooperate). I’ve often found that on the Metro trains, readers on one end of the train may not work but the readers on the other end will.

  • Jim

    If you ever encounter a broken reader, just report it as a complaint at: https://www.clippercard.com/ClipperWeb/contactUs.do. Provide the bus number, route, and day of occurrence.

    Reporting a broken reader to 311 is pointless since they will direct you to Clipper anyways.

    However, if you want to be diligent and do come across a driver who is telling you to pay up, get their four-digit operator number, that’s normally on a patch on their sleeve, and report them to 311.

    Seems like 3 out of 4 readers I come across are typically broken or turned off but I have yet to come across a driver who believes they’re “just doing their job”.

  • They published that notice on June 29th?

    I’ve been blogging for Muni to treat Clipper/TL readers just like cash fareboxes since April 8th!!!!!

    http://www.akit.org/2010/04/muni-needs-to-treat-malfunctioning.html

    • Looks like they (finally) listened to you, Akit.

      RECAPTCHA: other bubbling

      • JC

        And to think that I was going to take credit for it.

      • Now the bigger question is, since drivers are supposed to let them go, how should passengers encounter fare inspectors?

        Those with valid passes should be okay because the handheld readers can view the “products” and see a valid pass, but they may still cite people for failure to tag.

        As for e-cash customers, that’s a different story.

        • Do fare inspectors’ Clipper readers have the ability to “tag,” or simply to verify whether riders have tagged already?

        • That’s a good question for the SFMTA to answer. In my experience, they just check if the card was tagged or not.

          • SFMTA confirms that the mobile readers that fare inspectors carry only have the ability to read cards, not to “tag” or debit from them. We’ll pick this issue back up next Tuesday. Have a great weekend, everyone! And thanks for reading Muni Diaries.

        • geoff goss

          Why would tagging even matter if you have a fast pass?

        • It would matter for boarding buses since the driver could kick passengers off or call the cops for failure to pay.

          But for the metro, people should still tag.

          Just to point out: For Caltrain monthly pass users, they only need to tag for their first journey into their new month and that’s it (no more tagging card required). The conductor’s card reader will say the valid zones the passenger is allowed to travel, regardless if the conductor did it the first day, the 15th, or the last day.

        • geoff goss

          ‘It would matter for boarding buses since the driver could kick passengers off or call the cops for failure to pay.’

          How is having a monthly pass on your card a failure to pay? Your statement means: you need to tag because you need to tag

  • @Geoff, I’m interested in e-cash riders now, not Fast Pass holders. I asked SFMTA whether fare inspectors’ machines can “tag” or only verify tags, and am awaiting their response. I’ll post once I hear from them.

  • EMo

    I’m curious… When a reader on a bus is not working, is it always obvious? I’m wondering how a driver is supposed to know the reader is not working correctly. Different people have different products on their cards (Fastpass vs. e-cash vs. both), so perhaps it would work for one person and not the next.

  • Al

    When I was on the 71 inbound and a Fare inspector got on the bus and scanned my card all that it showed was a “OK” in green. When I was testing the system with Bart and a station agent scanned my card it said “Yes” in Green. And to answer the question about the Fare inspectors.

    I see no reason why you would be fined when riding the bus with a broken card reader.

    • Al: It might be a non-issue on the bus since the inspector can simply visually inspect it is a broken reader.

      But let’s assume its the metro where most of the inspectors hang-out at the gates instead of the platform. How can you prove to them the vehicle’s card reader is broken when they can’t investigate?

  • Roger A

    I have money on my card for a reason – so I dont spend the $2 in my pocket on something to drink or a snack. Even if I did have $2 in my pocket and money on my Clipper/Translink card, Im certainly not going to pay MUNI for their defective box. Clipper is officially active, so if their machine doesnt work, I treat it like a free ride. Why should I pay when hundreds of others sneak on the back door and evade fare?

    Sometimes I PRAY the Clipper readers dont work so I dont have to pay the last few dollars – its happened so often in a week, I pretty much never paid for a ride.

  • joe

    Muni did previously state on their website that Translink users are required to pay cash fare if the card or reader was not functioning. It was removed recently, however.

  • Daishin

    I encourage you all to pay absolutely nothing to Muni at any time because that’s exactly what this transit system is worth to the citizens of San Francisco: NOTHING.

  • Scott

    Someone asked why you have to tag your clipper card when you have a monthly fast pass on it. I agree that you shouldn’t have to for the streetcars, but there are at least three ways you prove you’ve paid for your ride, so it’s different for each.

    1. Entering a fare gate underground. 2. Proving you’ve have a pass to a driver when entering a bus. 3. Getting checked by a fare inspector.

    Obviously, you have to tag to get in for #1.

    For #2, everyone is supposed to go by the driver and pay or provide proof of payment, even though lots of people fare evade by going through the back door. I’ve seen drivers who even tell people to go in that way so they can load the bus faster at busy stops, but from what I understand they’re really not supposed to allow back-door boarding. You’re validated to the driver with your clipper card (when the reader is working) because it makes a single loud beep. If your tag is unsuccessful it makes 3 short beeps. If you don’t tag on a bus, all a driver knows is that you maybe have a clipper card, not whether it’s valid or your fare was paid. I’ve never seen fare inspectors on buses. If their readers are broken, you should get on free with a clipper/translink card since the broken reader is their problem, not mine as a rider.

    As far as fare inspectors go, I think those that have an unexpired muni pass on their card (monthly, weekly,3-day, etc) should always scan as valid, whether it was recently tagged or not. I don’t really don’t see why you have to tag on a streetcar. Maybe they do this to get better ridership stats, but they’re way off already with the rampant fare evasion already.

  • Steven

    I’ve been wondering about this for the longest time: if you’re not supposed to board through the back door, why is there a Clipper reader back there?

  • Sean

    Thanks for the scan! The next driver to demand fare when my clipper card doesn’t work will certainly get this one.

  • yves

    clipper card sucks!!

    Yesterday mine stopped working, nobody felt responsible and nobody solved my problem at powell station. After calling clipper card I have to report the card as a lost stolen, and while I am waiting for a new card, which it takes 2 or 3 days, this might be an extra of 20 dollars, plus the 70 that I already paid.

    RATS is the word I feel like using right now.

  • Michal K

    . I call the customer support today and ask them WTF is going on ? and the lady tells me that my card shows the Value of 0$ when I know for fact ( my bank statement ) that I loaded 70$ ( adult monthly fast pass ) on my card for this month + the fact that I was able to ride the BUS and BART for 21 days to get to school … SO I ask the lady to explain this to me … and after 30 seconds of her glaring at the computer screen she tells me that my card has 0$ value … At this point I think the lady thinks that I am bat shit crazy or something so I ask that she let me speak to somebody who is more competent then she is … cause obviously the idiots that they hire there can’t comprehend the word I say … She puts me on hold for 30 sec after which she comes back and tells me that my card value is …………………………. 0$ ! NEVER EVER HAVE I BEEN SO PISSED OFF AS TODAY and I will RAISE HELL AND NAIL THOSE IDIOTS TO THE WALL !

    • Michal K

      FULL PASSAGE THE ONE ABOVE MISSES THE FIRST FEW SENTENCES !

      Pissed off like hell today … so on 4/21 my clipper card works perfectly fine I ride BART to school and come back the same usual route BART to Montgomery and then 38L to 20th Avenue . ON 22nd I had a job interview ( which I was almost late for ) as I get on the bus my clipper card does not work … So I took a cab and made the interview just in time . I call the customer support today and ask them WTF is going on ? and the lady tells me that my card shows the Value of 0$ when I know for fact ( my bank statement ) that I loaded 70$ ( adult monthly fast pass ) on my card for this month + the fact that I was able to ride the BUS and BART for 21 days to get to school … SO I ask the lady to explain this to me … and after 30 seconds of her glaring at the computer screen she tells me that my card has 0$ value … At this point I think the lady thinks that I am bat shit crazy or something so I ask that she let me speak to somebody who is more competent then she is … cause obviously the idiots that they hire there can’t comprehend the word I say … She puts me on hold for 30 sec after which she comes back and tells me that my card value is …………………………. 0$ ! NEVER EVER HAVE I BEEN SO PISSED OFF AS TODAY and I will RAISE HELL AND NAIL THOSE IDIOTS TO THE WALL !

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