Reader Mail: A Tale of Clipper Card Woe

A reader wrote in via the SF Gate Transit Blog about a tale of extreme woe with Clipper Customer Service. It is the precise reason I have held out so long with my paper passes, hassles and all. In addition to many clipper readers having busted clocks, now we hear of this (and it’s not as uncommon as you might think).

I don’t know if you’ve heard from other readers about issues with Clipper Card, but I have been dealing with their customer service department for the past few days, and I am extremely disappointed. I’m sure others have similar experiences. Here’s my situation:
I loaded my wife’s clipper card with a Muni-only monthly pass on 8/31/10 using my debit card online. The charge went through on 9/1/10, as reflected on my bank statement. My wife used the card as normal without an issue until Friday 9/17/10. Her monthly pass was deactivated.
I spoke with customer service on Saturday 9/18/10. They informed me that “when their system tried to autoload the card, my bank denied the charge so they cancelled the pass.” I honestly don’t know why their system would do this. I put the pass on the card as a one-time purchase, not an autoload. And they never notified us of the cancellation. The clipper card is registered, they have our phone numbers and email addresses. We didn’t hear a thing.
I explained to the customer service rep that they already charged me $60 and they should reinstate the pass. They asked me to fax a copy of my bank statement showing the charge, which I did on Saturday 9/18/10. Apparently they keep no record of online purchases in their system. I called back on Monday 9/20/10 to confirm the receipt of the fax and to check the status of the pass reinstatement. I was put on hold for several minutes while the rep I spoke to tried to contact the original rep I talked to. No dice. She asked for my phone number and told me she would call me back. She never called back. I called again on Tuesday 9/21/10. This time the rep seemed to be more helpful and said that it showed that the system showed that the pass would become active by Midnight on 9/22/10. The rep also informed me she would call me back by 10 a.m. to discuss reimbursement for the fares we’ve had to pay since they deactivated the card. The pass did not work this morning (9/22). I’ve received no call as of yet.
I called back and was told today (9/22) that the fax never got through (I’m looking at the “transmission successful” confirmation form) and I’d have to re fax the materials, but this particular rep would be leaving at
3 p.m. so if I couldn’t fax it before then, I couldn’t be helped until tomorrow. Now I am just going to try to pursue a refund. We shall see how it turns out, but I’m not hopeful. I can’t believe how awful the customer
service has been.
This new system is flawed, both from a human and technical perspective. The system cancels passes, apparently acting on it’s own devices. Their customer service reps don’t seem to know how to serve customers. I was glad to be an early adopter, it seemed like such a convenience. But after my experience, I feel it’s a shame we are being forced to use this system. I’m sure there will be thousands of people in my situation in the coming months. With such failures in customer service, I sincerely doubt they’re going to get it together in time.

There seems to be several issues here. One is training of the CSRs you get on the phone – I’ve had simliar problems with people telling me information that is simply wrong wrong wrong, and ending up paying more “fees” in the process. There is also the issue of having a poor customer service line and “privatizing” most of this witih places like Walgreen’s, which have varying levels of experience with the Clipper system (the other day I had the problem of not being able to buy one because they sold “too many” of them) and then of course there’s the $30 million failgates.
People are tired of hearing excuses, especially when we’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars and yet somehow, despite the exact same technology working just fine elsewhere, when you get to the San Francisco Bay Area, nothing works.
If we have a tidal wave of fare collection fail next month, I don’t plan on retweeting the fails, I plan on turning off the Internet.

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4 Responses to Reader Mail: A Tale of Clipper Card Woe

  1. david vartanoff says:

    My experiences w/ clipper CS have been totally frustrating. With one exception Walgreens has been flawless, and when they sell me a pass it is instantly usable unlike Clipper which takes 72 to 96 hours to “load” the card.

  2. anonymouse says:

    The problem is that they figured “hey, the technology works elsewhere, how hard could it be?” Well guess what? The “technology” part, installing the readers and getting them to read the cards, is actually not the hard part! The much harder part is the software and customer service and bureaucracy aspects of it. All the VTA buses and light rail stations have had the readers installed by early June, and I’ve even used Translink (as it was then) successfully on a VTA bus. But the readers on the buses now have special custom-made Clipper reader covers covering the readers and allegedly will continue to do so until January. It’s not a technical issue, but one of extending the software to support the VTA’s fare system and of bureaucracy getting the money that the MTC collects back to the VTA. And those are apparently harder than the MTC expected and take longer too.

  3. sdg says:

    Do you have any idea how to contact someone NOT in Customer Service at Clipper Card? I have been calling them 1-2x a week to try to resolve an ongoing issue with my Clipper Card. Today I nearly got a citation on the Caltrain, even though I have a monthly pass. There’s a complete disconnect with how Clipper Card is used and how the system was set up. I would love some suggestions on who is the appropriate authority to discuss this with, since Clipper Card is not particularly helpful.

  4. MrEricSir says:

    10+ years of “testing” and we have so little to show for it.
    At some point, you just have to bite the bullet and go to small claims court.

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