Click photo to enlarge
The Clipper card stand at the BART/Caltrain station in Millbrae, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 13, 2010.

Q The insane fare collection practices in the Bay Area are just going to discourage casual users from using public transit at all. The Clipper card is difficult to use for a casual user. Add to that many of these card readers are unreliable. Caltrain is so confusing that even experienced riders have problems.

Ron Scheinhaus

A Yes, some do. And to help all riders, Caltrain has released a "How to Ride" video to better understand the Caltrain system. I suggest taking a peek, as Caltrain requires that riders purchase a ticket before boarding or risk receiving an expensive citation that can run nearly $300.

Go to Caltrain.com/howtoride and give me some feedback on the video.

Q I was reading your column about the poor retired teacher who got a $103 ticket for an unscanned Clipper card on Muni when she tried paying a 75-cent fare. You mention that the "most common reason for a Clipper card not to go through" is because someone "may have not uploaded funds onto (their) card."

As a near daily VTA rider, I have to call bull on this. I think that some 25 percent of swipes result in the horrible two-beep failure. A second (or sometimes third or even fourth or fifth) swipe will almost always work. Until the reliability of the swipe can be fixed, I have to say that mercy should be given to those like Gary Fong's wife.

Curtis Shimamoto

A I agree, but so far no mercy has been shown Mrs. Fong.

 

Q This is in response to the column and the letter from Gary Fong. Since he and his wife both have Clipper cards, they need to log onto their accounts and print out the card activity for that time period for both of them. It will show if Mrs. Fong's card was charged or not. If it was charged, then the card reader on the bus malfunctioned.

Gail Gayer

Bay Point

A Thanks for the tip. Transit officials say it is possible that a rider might tag the card too quickly or not get a good angle when scanning the card. In cases where a person tags with the Clipper card in a wallet, other cards like a building access pass in the wallet could interfere with the Clipper card reader deducting the fare.

So locate the Clipper card reader at the entrance of the train or bus, fare gates or station and hold the card flat against the Clipper logo until you hear a single beep, see the green light or until the "OK" appears on the BART fare gate. If the reader beeps three times and displays a red light or the fare gate does not open, the fare has not been read.

Q You correctly stated that FasTrak will send an email notice if your account is going inactive due to nonuse. Can you please get the Clipper card administrators to do the same thing? I ride Caltrain infrequently. Last time I tried to ride, it wouldn't accept my card, and it never sent me a notification that it was going inactive.

Sue Kayton

Menlo Park

A I'm not certain why your card was not accepted, but regional transit officials say clipper accounts do not go inactive due to nonuse. Adult, senior and youth cards are valid for 20 years although some discount cards have a shorter expiration date (2 to 3 years generally). This expiration date is printed on the card.

While cash value never expires on a Clipper card, passes and Caltrain 8-ride tickets do expire. Caltrain riders must carry a minimum balance of $1.25 to use Clipper to pay their fare.

Q Why does Caltrain require a balance of $1.25 for an 8-ride ticket?

Terence Curtis

A If Caltrain riders forget to tag off when they get off the train, they are automatically charged the maximum amount of single adult cash fare from San Francisco to Gilroy: $12.75. The requirement to have $1.25 on the card ensures that Caltrain will collect some money for the ride.

Follow Gary Richards at Twitter.com/mrroadshow, look for him at Facebook.com/mr.roadshow or contact him at mrroadshow@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5335.