Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

BART and Clipper Have a “Dirty Little Secret”

Posted by Roobs on November 11, 2010

Clipper Cards as Credit Cards.

This has been floating around the Bay Area and transportation-focused blogosphere for a few days and I am no exception.  Why?  Because it’s funny.

The Bay Area transportation system has been ripe with logistical problems for travelers in the past.  Multiple transit agencies operate around the Bay Area with different fare-collection methods.  BART, SF Muni, AC Transit and Caltrain all have their own fare system and collect via their own tickets.  In the past you would have to walk around with multiple tickets filled with money if you needed to transfer from system to system.

Well, to solve that, all these agencies agreed to go with a single card called “Clipper”–referencing the Clipper ships that used to be in the SF Bay.  It’s basically a prepaid card that can be used at all transit agencies turnstyles.  As clipper advertises: “All your transportation in one card”.  And it’s true and it works decently well…. until now.

You can scam it.  That’s right.  You can scam clipper and pay less for a transit ride than you’re supposed to.   Now I am not suggesting that you should go out and try to scam BART or other transit agencies out of your fare.  Someone has to pay for this and its usually you.  Transit agencies are cash-strapped and service cuts are abound.  Plus, the more people scam, the more the need (and justification) BART and other agencies have to raise fares to compensate for free-riders.

Nevertheless, I will leave the rest of my post to the good people at SF Streetsblog to explain how the scam works.  Meanwhile, enjoy the All-American Rejects song, “Dirty Little Secret” as appropriate background music for your reading pleasure.

From SF Streetsblog:

Here’s how the scam works, and mind you it is especially effective on BART, where you don’t have fare inspectors or conductors to check your Clipper card and catch you. At any retailer or vending machine that sells Clipper, load the minimum $2 dollars on a new Clipper card. Buy a bunch of them this way, if you like. Pay cash and do it at a Muni Metro vending machine in downtown San Francisco if you really don’t want to be traceable. Then ride BART where ever you desire and you will never have to pay more than $2.

Let’s take Civic Center to the San Francisco Airport, a trip I made over the weekend to see if the scam worked as a Streetsblog tipster had suggested. I bought two $2 cards at the vending machine, paying $4 in cash. When I tagged into the system at the fare gate, the card had a $2 value. I rode to SFO, a trip that should have cost me $8.10. When I tagged out at the International Terminal fare gates, instead of an “Insufficient Fare” warning, which I would have seen had I been using a $2 traditional BART fare card, my Clipper card subtracted $6.10, leaving me with a balance of $3.90 of someone else’s money.

After completing my return trip to Civic Center with my other $2 Clipper card, I ended up with $16.20 worth of BART rides for $4. If I had entered BART at one of the terminus stations, like Pittsburgh Bay Point, and traveled to SFO round-trip, I could have gamed BART for $21.80.

Because the cards still register the negative balance, and I would have to pay that down before I could add a positive balance to the card upon re-loading it, the smart thing to do would be to throw away the cards. At a cost of $2 per card to manufacture, I’m essentially paying for the privilege of adding two pretty blue cards to the landfill.

What a steal!

Read the full post at SF!


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