I’ve lived in Marin County for about six months now, and I’ve taken Golden Gate Transit practically every day. There has been plenty to complain about:
- Comically slow boarding and alighting.
- Drivers who don’t know their routes, and no automated stop announcements to help you.
- Poor signage, even at major transfer points like the San Rafael Transit Center.
- Many stops don’t have shelters.
- Freeway bus pads don’t have crosswalks.
This list could go on and on (for a good primer on Golden Gate Transit’s overall suckitude, check out this blog post from The Greater Marin). But out of the many problems I’ve encounter on their buses practically every day, one has been eating away at me lately more than any other: I’m tired of seeing the Clipper “Christmas lights”, and I’m not going to take it anymore.
Some background on Clipper
Clipper is the Bay Area’s smart fare card – it works on most major buses, trains, and ferries throughout the Bay Area, including BART, Caltrain, Muni, and Golden Gate Transit. I’ve been using since 2010. It is very convenient, and on routes where it is widely used, it really can speed up boarding dramatically – just tag and take a seat. On a few select agencies who have distance-based fares like Golden Gate Transit, you also need to “tag off” so that your card will be charged the correct fare. Because of this, most GGT buses have Clipper readers at both the front and back doors.
Clipper Christmas lights: not festive, just annoying
For some absurd reason, Golden Gate Transit’s policies actually seem to allow the drivers to keep the rear-door devices switched off the majority of the time – when they are turned off or otherwise not functioning, they display the “Christmas lights” shown at right. The result is that, at a major stop, the Clipper user has to go against the flow of people exiting at the rear door just to tag off.
Even more absurd is that Golden Gate Transit’s policies actually encourage the driver to keep the rear-door closed at most stops. Here’s what the agency’s Twitter account told me recently:
“We prefer customers tag on & off at the front card reader to ensure they pay the correct fare. / Rear doors are used primarily for disabled passengers or at stops where it is absolutely safe to do so (driver discretion).”
Golden Gate Bus (@GoldenGateBus)
February 25, 2013 (in two tweets)
Never once have I had a driver check when I tag off to “ensure” that I “pay the correct fare.” It seems likely this policy is an attempt to decrease the possibility of someone tagging on at the front and tagging off at the back well before there stop to ensure the lowest fare. I think the possibility of fare evasion is no excuse to treat all Clipper customers like this. So why do they have those readers there in the first place? I asked @GoldenGateBus:
“Thanks for your question. We have card readers in the back of our buses for our disabled passengers to tag off and on.”
Golden Gate Bus (@GoldenGateBus)
February 25, 2013
As many GGT buses have wheelchairs lifts that operate from the rear door, these readers are there so that wheelchair-bound Clipper users can tag on and off according to the agency. Even though this “policy” kind of sounds like bunk, let’s just assume that is how GGT wants it all to function. As a daily rider of the system, I can tell you that even when someone in a wheelchair boards at the rear door, the driver doesn’t make the rear-reader operative. I’ve never seen that happen – I have seen the driver take the person’s Clipper card to the front to tag on for them many times.
What should happen
Clipper is a tremendous asset to the region, and Golden Gate Transit is privileged to be able to provide access to it for its customers. Some transit systems in the region haven’t been able to come online and accept Clipper yet, in part because of the limited availability of readers like the underutilized ones at the back doors of GGT buses. GGT owes it to the region to use these devices like they were meant to be used.
Golden Gate Transit must institute a reasonable Clipper policy – the readers should be turned on at the back doors at all times, just as they are at the front. This will speed up boarding and alighting and maybe even encourage more people to get Clipper cards. If they aren’t willing to agree to these terms, and they truly insist on having these devices turned off more than 90 percent of the time, then the agency needs to surrender the devices back to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission so that they can be given to another agency that doesn’t currently take Clipper (I suggest a few possibilities in this tweet).
If you ride GGT, I encourage you to tweet @GoldenGateBus every time you see a shut-off reader using the hashtag #ClipperGate, and include a picture of the “Christmas lights” if you can. Since the folks at GGT don’t seem to ever ride their own vehicles, it is up to us to show them how their policy negatively affects the riders who use Clipper and underutilizes these valuable regional transportation assets.