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Caltrain's Draconian Clipper Enforcement Leaves Riders Stranded 

Wednesday, Jul 27 2011

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.

To read the source document, visit

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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