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Transit Stories: Clipper’s Troublesome Secret, Revisited


The infamous Clipper Card still has a serious bug on some of its machines, most notably when a passenger travels between the East Bay and Marin County on Golden Gate Transit. However, as I discover the problem, it seems the real problem occurs in two scenarios: going from the East Bay back to Marin County involves an overcharge, and machines suddenly “fail” or turn themselves off while passengers are being loaded onto an East Bay-bound bus.

I’ve personally tried paying a part of my trip using my Clipper Card to see if the problem holds even though I travel within the same zone as I got off the East Bay bus (Routes 40 and 42). At around 5:40pm Friday, I boarded a Route 42 off to San Rafael from El Cerrito del Norte BART, doing the usual tag-on, tag-off using my Clipper card with no problem. Then, 50 minutes later, at 6:30pm, I boarded a Route 45K from San Rafael Transit Center to Northgate Mall in Terra Linda–still in San Rafael–when I discovered that I was charged $5.20 again for that trip even though that I basically rode within Zone 3 (San Rafael) after I crossed from Zone 7 (East Bay) to Zone 3. I did not cross over to another zone again after I boarded from San Rafael Transit Center (unlike Route 49, which crosses over to Zone 4 after Marinwood), and yet Clipper still charges me $5.20 for the trip instead of $3.40 as promised. Basically, for me, this means that there is a serious breach in the Clipper Card system that still needs to be addressed because it seems like commuters like me pay way more than the normal discounted fare, and it has continually ripped off many other innocent commuters who travel beyond San Rafael Transit Center to places like Mill Valley, Marin City, Fairfax, and Novato, in which one driver commented “so, you’re basically paying the fare from Novato to San Francisco?” (note: the discounted fare for the aforementioned trip happens to be $5.20 — 20% discount from the regular fare of $6.50)

In my opinion, Clipper has continually been cashing in money from thousands of commuters who rely on the commuter card every single day, and I believe that the flaws found in its Golden Gate Transit fare system shows the emerging problems when dealing with complex zone fares. A Clipper Card representative has called me recently to update on the status of my overcharging case, and they are still working on how to deal with the problem, in which when it is all said and done, they would give me a refund either by crediting it on my Clipper Card or through a check from them. But, I still want to address this problem because it seems like the real problem lies with the current system that provides the wrong fares for riders like me, making us pay $5.20 instead of $3.40 — nearly a $1.00 difference compared to paying in cash. And yet, whenever they’ll resolve that issue, we’ll just wait and see.

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