MTC starts work on Clipper 2.0 – will it fulfill promise of integrated regional fares?

At the February Caltrain board meeting, marketing lead Rita Haskin gave a presentation about a regional project that has the potential to improve fare coordination in the Bay Area.  The regional contract for the Clipper electronic payment system expires in 2019, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which manages the Clipper system is starting a process to gather requirements for the next-generation system.  This could be an opportunity for the next generation of Clipper to be closer to the vision of integrated fares and transfers for the region – if the region’s transit riders speak up for better integration.

The requirements for the next-generation system are expected to be gathered this year, creating a “request for proposals” from vendors, with a decision to be made by the end of 2016, and the new system to be implemented before the new system goes live in 2019.  According to the timeline, that’s just 9-10 months from now to define the new system.

Clipper 2.0 timeline

While the vision for the Clipper system is to provide “seamless transit travel in the San Francisco Bay Area”, the reality falls short of this vision.   Clipper does provide a single payment card for the major Bay Area transit services. But in its initial implementation, it does very little to provide integrated fares – instead, each service has its own fare structure. Transfers, where they exist, are worked out directly between each pair of transit agencies.

Also, Clipper provides no help in integrating schedules across transit services. While the Clipper system gathers vast amounts of data regarding transit use across transit agencies, which could potentially be useful in planning tighter transfers by identifying connections with high current and potential ridership, MTC does not allow the data to be analyzed for the purpose of improving transfers. Each transit agency gets access only to its own data, not to data about the same rider once the rider makes a transfer. For example, Caltrain and VTA would both benefit from data about when riders transfer between Caltrain and VTA light rail in Mountain View.

According to Haskin, Caltrain and SamTrans are looking at a narrower range of issues to improve with the next-generation system, to address some of the frustrations that Caltrain users have with Clipper.   Caltrain would like to provide more venues for getting and loading a card, more flexibility to be able to test and add new features, and a more cost-effective system.  The reason that SamTrans did not institute a Clipper-based transfer when they ended the (poorly-designed) paper-based BART transfer program was because it costs too much to add bi-directional transfer features using Clipper.

The fundamental lack of integration in fares and transfers affect all Bay Area transit users, not only Caltrain.  Not only that, there are some basic equity issues that affect Bay Area transit.  Train riders (BART and Caltrain) with monthly passes get transfer credit when they use a connecting bus, but users with bus passes don’t get any credit when they transfer to the train. This fare design hurts lower-income riders, in cost and travel time.

It will be important for riders to make our voices heard.  Would you be interested in seeing Clipper 2.0 provide much more robust regional fare and schedule integration?