Caltrain's Draconian Clipper Enforcement Leaves Riders Stranded

Caltrain has a new policy for riders stuck with malfunctioning Clipper cards: Tell it to the judge.

A crew advisory fired off to the line's conductors and leaked to SF Weekly absolves Caltrain of any responsibility for the technical glitches that may short-circuit paying customers' cards. Woebegotten riders are offered two options after failing a fare inspection: Get off or get cited. "Passengers need a functioning Clipper Card with the appropriate value. There are no exceptions," the June 28 missive reads. "You will explain to the passenger that they will need to get off with their belongings or stay on the train and receive a citation, no exceptions."

This, says Rita Haskin, Caltrain's executive officer of customer service and marketing, ensures "everybody plays by the same rules." And so it does: Callous fare-evaders and hapless Clipper-holders who've paid — and can prove it — are treated the same.

Daily rider Ted Greenwald says his card was blocked after Clipper billed him at the prior monthly rate and then attempted to collect a slightly greater amount after a recent fare hike. He printed out his voluminous correspondences with customer service and even brought along his receipts — but was told by Caltrain conductors that this would be an "exception." Get off or get cited. Rider Tracy Stimpson's card was blocked after she claimed Clipper was double-billing her and had Visa reverse the charges. This occurred prior to Caltrain's new policy; Stimpson twice daily explained the situation to conductors on her San Jose to San Francisco roundtrip. Under the line's status quo, however, "I'd be racking up tickets every single day. I'd end up in small claims court."

Treating frustrated riders like criminals is a policy not everyone at Caltrain is thrilled about. "Our customers put out a lot of money," says David Chow, the line's ticket and vending machine manager. "If it's not working because of a design issue or how we handle it, that's just not good. These aren't fare-evaders — they're regular riders."

Caltrain's new policy isn't being pushed by the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and isn't being duplicated by other agencies. Muni's policy regarding malfunctioning Clipper cards, incidentally, is to let everyone aboard — especially if they have proof of payment. It's an interesting peek into organizational philosophies. Rather than treat regular riders as fare-evaders as Caltrain does, Muni treats fare-evaders like regular riders. Which is more ideal depends upon whether your Clipper card is functioning.

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My Voice Nation Help

Caltrain's implementation of Clipper is just a total wreck. They should go on the same route as Golden Gate Transit.

Prior to Clipper/TransLink, Golden Gate had two options of paying: cash or discount ride tickets giving riders specific zone coverage (almost like Caltrain), but they didn't have a monthly pass.

When TransLink's pilot program came around, instead of having TL sell multi zone electronic ride books, Golden Gate agreed to only accept electronic cash on the card and give the same percentage discount as their discount paper ride books. This meant no more worrying about expiring ticket books, and buying multiple zone books to cover the zones you ride; it was just simplified. This benefited everyone, including infrequent users and tourists who got a nice discount and incentive to ride GGT and GGF.

Caltrain is just a total mess. Clipper's implementation meant the agency kept the 8-ride tickets with plenty of rules and limitations on how far one can travel. There is also awkward rules on the use of 8-rides and monthly passes that just makes it silly.

Here's a simple suggestion for Caltrain, follow Golden Gate's way:Eliminate the 8-ride tickets and make card users pay Clipper e-cash with the same percentage discount offered on the 8-rides. They could eliminate monthly passes and give the same discount, or modify the rules so a passenger who spends more than a specific amount within a specific time period will automatically "earn" a pass, thereby free rides for the remainder of the month.

Update: I cracked some numbers, the discount for using 8-ride tickets is 15%. By using my idea, all e-cash paying customers w/their Clipper cards automatically gets a 15% ride discount.


Given Caltrain's woes, you think they'd be doing things to help the paying riders, not screw them over.

Overall this is a Clipper failure. Millions spent, a decade to implement and the MTC's continued bumbling causes problems for all agencies. Someone needs to pay for this mistake.

and I agree with Akit - don't use the autoload feature - it's a total screw up - just load it at the Walgreen's if one is near by!

David  Vartanoff
David Vartanoff

Time to fire everyone who signed off on this policy. Punishing your customers/taxpayers because you can't make your own systems function is grounds for immediate termination without severance pay.We need a Federal Judge with backbone to explain to Caltrain and others the phrase "legal tender for all debts public and private"


I blog a heck of a lot about Clipper and reading what's going on with Caltrain is shocking and it sucks.

A tip for you Clipper card users, NEVER sign-up for autoload or monthly automatic loading of passes or 8-rides with your commuter benefits agency. If autoload messes up (examples: denied credit card charge, glitch in system, etc.) you are screwed. If your monthly pass isn't loaded on-time to your Clipper card when using automatic loading through a commuter benefit agency, you also get screwed.

What's the best way to make sure you get your pass or 8-ride book loaded on your card and available for use INSTANTLY? Go to Walgreens locations that handles Clipper transactions, visit a transit agency ticketing office, any Clipper self-service machine at any SF Muni metro underground station, or the customer service offices at Embarcadero BART and Bay Crossings at the Ferry Building.

Remember, you can stack up to three 8-rides on your card at one time (a total of 24 rides). For monthly passes, you can buy as early as the 16th of the month and it will be ready to go on the first day of the new month.


Unfortunately, Walgreen's doesn't accept my commuter benefits debit card. And there aren't necessarily Walgreens near all of the stations either. Too bad that it's no longer possible to buy a Caltrain pass at any Caltrain station.

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