The Experiment Gone Haywire – Being Car – Free Without Clipper

Sometimes, no matter how good something looks on paper, in the real world it just doesn’t work. Case study: my July experiment to pay cash only on Muni and BART. This idea started in late July, as I contemplated buying my monthly pass, and wondered “is this really worth spending money on?”
That’s because I realized that in July I realized I’d only be leaving my immediate neighborhood 2x a week, tops, and I often walk to most destinations near, and not so near, unless it’s raining. I was toying with the math a bit: If one went back and forth on a commute, $2 each way, twice a day, they’d spend $80/month (not counting whatever they did on the weekends). A basic Muni pass is $62, so in that scenario you’d save money (and get to board more often, ride the cable car, etc.)
However I figured that I’d save money by not buying a pass and either having cash, or load a few bucks on a Clipper if need be, since July was supposed to be a quiet month and I like walking to the Outer Sunset, Inner Richmond, etc. instead of taking the bus.
Oh, how this went horribly wrong.
1 week into this experiment, my dad died, which suddenly meant I was going all over the place – downtown, the peninsula, and so on – and almost immediately not having a pass became a world class pain in the backside. I was always scrambling for dollar bills, and buying BART cards. I almost gave up and bought the stupid monthly, but after 10 days in, I realized it would end up with me spending even more money than I already had. I wanted to load my Clipper, but often times I’d run out of money on it and there’s nowhere within the immediate vicinity of my home where I can reload (I walked to the Irving/22nd Walgreen’s at one point).
So, needless to say, this experiment went haywire. It did prove that the convenience of a Clipper pass (despite the cost) outweighs the pennies you save, and even a Clipper with, say, $20 in electronic cash loaded as a backup beats fishing for dollars at midnight.
The other thing it proved, however, is that if you’re not near a Walgreen’s or they’re not open, your options to reload your card are limited. You can either go downtown, or to Forest Hill, but in some areas, that’s not always a viable option. The retailers that used to sell Muni Fast Passes all said that there was no way they could afford to offer Clipper reloads, and while they made no money off the Fast Passes, it did bring in people who’d buy a pass, then stick around to buy other things.
It would have been nice if the SFMTA hadn’t paid for those two $800,000 kiosks they planted at Geary/Masonic and at the Powell St. Cable Car turnaround, and instead had more machines at places like UCSF, 9th/Irving, and other high traffic areas in the outer territories in the west and south of the City. But that wouldn’t have been as impressive at the press conference, now would it?

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3 Responses to The Experiment Gone Haywire – Being Car – Free Without Clipper

  1. @makfan says:

    I have been burned the other, too, where I bought a pass and then some business trip or something meant I didn’t ride transit that much (a Caltrain monthly is a hefty investment).
    I always have a Clipper card that has an eCash autoload on it. When it drops under $10, it loads $20. Problem solved, at least until you want to leave the area and it autoloads the last day you are in town. 🙂

  2. Caroline says:

    Is there a reason you are not reloading your card online?

  3. Greg Dewar says:

    As I said, this experiment turned out to be a really dumb idea. Even though I buy my passes now, I never buy them online because there is a lag between online reloading and being able to use them due to the nature of the bus clipper card terminals being updated ,etc so I just avoid it.
    Clipper has been a case study in how something was installed and worked in more complex jurisdictions became a multi year multi million dollar screw up that is only now starting to work (sort of).

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