Clipper Card BART scams

Bernadette's picture

Today's edition of The Examiner has an article about the Clipper Card scam that has been affecting the BART system lately.

Apparently, the BART system is losing money because the Clipper Card program allows people to pay the minimum value to get onto BART but don't have to pay the difference between the minimum value and the actual trip "until the next time the user refilled the card," which won't necessarily happen.

What I find troubling is the fact that BART finds the loss of money so insignificant that they aren't going to do anything about it. Now, as a student, I do sometimes feel that BART is expensive and can easily see how people can be tempted to cheat the system. However, I appreciate the service that they provide and therefore want to pay for the services to help keep BART running. With that in mind, I think that any and all losses in revenue, little or not, are still dollars that could otherwise help the system run more trains more frequently and possibly even longer (maybe even 24/7!) in the long run. Therefore, BART should be concerned, especially in a time when services such as MUNI and AC Transit have to make (sometimes negative) changes to meet budget needs.

Even worse, because of this expose, more people will know how the scam works and might try it out themselves. Then again, if that does happen, maybe BART will see the higher and higher loss they are taking and actually do something about it.

bobbyh's picture


I read the same article with perhaps even more outrage as Bernadette.  So after all of BART's planning, all of the preparation for the new Clipper card (that took forever by the way!), all the money spent on the machines, the infrastructure etc., you mean to tell me that they KNEW that people could cheat the system so easily and they still moved forward with it?!  They also knew about the fact that people could just wave their hand in front of the new Muni turnstiles and it will open without paying....and they still spent all that money to install them and have not fixed the issue!  Shouldn't we expect more from our government, shouldn't we expect better management of our hard earned tax dollars, shouldn't we ALL be outraged that a bureaucracy that begs for more money all the time is so flippant when it comes to losing our money? 

I mean, its one thing to be incompetent or to simply not know about how money is being lost, but to know about it and do nothing is just wholly unacceptable.  This should either be resolved now, or we need to start firing those involved in the planning and roll out of this.  Unacceptable.

Bernadette's picture

Bigger than BART revenue. BART's accountability to Bay Area

What I didn't consider at the time of my original post is that it is not only a BART money loss (and therefore loss in funds to help improve the system itself) problem, but it is also a loss in revenue that can go towards the Bay Area's cities, too!

I don't know everything about how the transportation monopoly system works in a city, but the fact that BART (rather than some other company) is THE Bay Area Rapid Transit system should mean service and monetary accountability toward the cities served! It is up to the Bay Area cities to crack down on this and make sure that they are getting their investments' worth of service and improvements.

Eric Jaye's picture

Not so much of a scam perhaps

I would have agreed that this is kind of a scam - until it worked in my favor. Late for a ferry Friday night my Clipper Card showed a negative balance. Golden Gate Ferry agent just waived me through and said "please pay when you get a chance." I paid right away when we landed. 

Seemed more like an old-world kindness than a scam. 

Eric Jaye's picture

News today on this topic

Per your post - EX reports amount of loss today from Clipper Card.

BART/Clipper have proposed fix - a $5 minimum purchase on Clipper. This seems to create other problems, like the many folks who are just looking to buy a single ride. 

The saga continues. 

Juan Carlos Sanchez's picture

Clipper Card Readers and MUNI

So BART lost $170,000 from the Clipper Card loophole...I wonder how much money MUNI has lost from Clipper readers not wokring on buses.

I take the 1 California home each night and, in my experience, I get a free ride about once every other week because the reader is not working. This is good for me but very troubling for an agency that is resorting to parking tickets to fix their budget deficit.

MUNI: fix your Clipper Card readers to raise money before you turn San Francisco into a parking trap.

Bernadette's picture

Clipper Card Scam and the Parking Ticket Petition

I agree with Juan Carlos. We should fix the huge holes in revenue (Clipper Card problem, Prop 13, etc) before we create more charges for San Franciscans.

Ben Shore's picture

Re: Card Readers on MUNI

As a relatively new MUNI rider, my monthly Clipper card ($60 is a pretty good deal, considering) has worked really well so far. But I ran into the issue that Juan Carlos described for the first time the other day. The reader was broken and the driver simply let everyone on without swiping. Old world kindness? Perhaps. It seemed to me a lack of caring on the side of the driver - which in turn seemed like an extension of a lack of care on MTA's side.

That was furthered when, a few days later, I went to swipe my Clipper card only to realize that I hadn't paid for February yet. My card was denied for insufficient funds, but the driver didn't care - they didn't request that I pay or tell me to get off or anything, even though I know that they saw my card was denied. I paid the $2.00 for the fare, of course and went to re-fill my card that afternoon. But where does this sense of apathy come from? MUNI and MTA always seem to be reporting budget deficits and yet many people are getting a free ride - at least occasionally. Seems like things need to be tightened up.

Helpful in a jam - Caltrain

Sometimes the money just DOESN'T load onto the Clipper card in time for your ride because the Internet portal takes forever. The error, or shall we say, the opportunity of the Clipper card or an operator letting you on when you have not enough money or a negative balance sometimes is, as Eric said, an old world kindness. I was able to ride Caltrain down because the card allowed me to go over and have a -$8 amount on my card. Sometimes these things work out OK.

SystemGuy's picture

The real outrage

BART addressed the problem of negative balances three decades ago. This is why there are ADDFARE machines inside the paid zone. The issue is that they were betting the problem would be smaller than the cost of retrofitting the ADDFARE machines. They bet wrong, but rather than admit the mistake they're doubling down with the $5 minimum. It won't solve the problem, though it will reduce it somewhat.

The ADDFARE retrofit, while expensive, is a one-time deal. The underpayment issue is an ongoing one that will continue to drain funds until it is fixed. This should be a no-brainer, except for one thing.

Clipper doesn't have instant crediting. And that's the problem BART can't fix. It's inexcusable that a region known for the technological expertise of its citizens is unable to offer instant crediting on the cards.

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137