Ride BART anywhere for $2

Clipper Card's Dirty Little Secret: Basically: you can get a card for $2 cash and can exit BART with it with as much as $10 owed. The reason they allow the cards to go negative is that they didn't want to spend the money to upgrade the "Add Fare" machines to work with Clipper.

Well done.

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18 Responses:

  1. justinmm2 says:

    This has been a hot issue for the DC Metro lately:
    http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/7015/wmata-presents-options-for-smartrip-negative-balances/

    Personally, I'm still baffled that there are still special cash-only "Exitfare" machines for adding value to the paper card you started the trip with. They apparently can't put regular fare dispensers inside the gates because they wouldn't work.

    Which to me says they designed a system that doesn't have a single "I've started a trip but haven't finished it" bit anywhere..

    • skreidle says:

      I was going to bring that up--in generalities, at least, nothing to link to.

      You can buy a SmarTrip card for $5+$5preloaded fare; one-way fares throughout the system range from about $1.40-$6. With paper or plastic card, you must have at least the minimum fare on the card to enter the system; paper cards will insist you add fare--cash only*--to leave the system, but plastic will let you go negative.

      * Seriously, what the hell. I can buy a paper farecard with cash or plastic, but the AddFare machines only take cash. At least they return all but the necessary additional fare.

      Oh, also, most stations don't have SmarTrip dispensers. The stations with parking garages do--and a good thing, because SmarTrip cards are mandatory to pay for parking. (Apparently there was too much internal loss with cash-based parking payment.)

      • fo0bar says:

        When I lived in the Bay Area, I found the concept of the AddFare machines baffling. Cash-only, exact change, standing on one leg. First of all, if you've went negative while in the system, you're likely to not have cash to use that machine.

        (What do you do if you go negative in the system and don't have the cash to get out? Do they have hidden lodging in one of the stations to live out the rest of your life?)

        (Answer: You walk through the emergency exit just like everyone else, tripping the alarm, and count on the gate agent not looking up from her book.)

        Anyway, every 2 weeks I used to buy a $59 card with the credit card machine (have they at least upgraded all the exterior machines to accept credit cards?), which would get me 14 $2.95 trips to/from work.

        • fo0bar says:

          Err, 20 total trips.

        • skreidle says:

          I've often wondered that myself--what happens if you have no cash to AddFare--but have yet to be forced to find out.

          The exterior machines as a mix of cash-only and cash-or-credit, and of pass-only or pass-or-SmarTrip. (All the SmarTrip-enabled machines accept cash or credit.)

        • stormgren says:

          (What do you do if you go negative in the system and don't have the cash to get out? Do they have hidden lodging in one of the stations to live out the rest of your life?)

          I believe that the Kingston Trio has the answer to that one.

  2. Troy Dawson says:

    it really hit me how BART was like how the USPS would do mass transit.

    Semi-Shittily.

    Japan didn't really have their act together when I was FOB there in 1992 -- the private lines still had manned ticket gates -- but when I left in 2000 everything was pretty efficient and it's only gotten more so now.

    • cryllius says:

      Japan didn't really have their act together when I was FOB there in 1992 -- the private lines still had manned ticket gates -- but when I left in 2000 everything was pretty efficient and it's only gotten more so now.

      Quite true in general, but you should see my private line. I live in a little town in Shizuoka and our private line has a mix of manned ticket gates at a few stations (no machines, anywhere) and train stops everywhere else, with no station at all. You put your fare in a receptacle by the "driver", just like on a bus. Incidentally, they keep a small fleet of steam locomotives running on this line for tourists.

      Even our JR station that the private line connects to shuts partway down at night. The ticket gates are off and you just leave your tickets in a box by the window. The electronic pass reader is still on, but if you have a problem or some kind of paper multi-ride pass then you just walk through like you own the place. If you are one of the rare people trying to leave the station late at night, then you just waltz through, get on the train, and then tell the next employee you see where you got on and pay then.

      It's still efficient though, considering the number of people it serves and how permissive the system is.

  3. giantlaser says:

    London uses a similar system, Oyster card. It can go negative as well. However:

    - Oyster won't let you enter without a certain minimum balance, usually just a zone-1 travel. This is about the same as the $2-minimum.
    - If you try to exit with a negative balance, you can't. There are top-up machines everywhere, and usually agents.
    - If you somehow don't complete the trip by tapping out, you are charged a maximum daily faire.
    - Did I mention a maximum daily faire? That's right. It's equal to about 3 transits of your largest range of travel. So if you rode the bus 3 times that day, you can ride for free after that.
    - New cards cost £3, plus whatever you want to put on them.

    And of course, I'm sure someone is bound to point out that the encryption scheme on them is broken. That hasn't led to widespread misbehaviour so far, however.

    • giantlaser says:

      And of course, the single biggest difference: the entire system is integrated (single billing, unlike say Muni and BART) and FAIR, meaning you can buy a "month pass" which means "30 days from today", not "until the end of the month, even if you buy it on the 10th, ha ha, sucker."

      • luminalflux says:

        Also those cards can be returned at a ticket office for a full refund of whatever is on the card plus the £3 deposit. I grab one at Heathrow on arrival and return it when I leave since it's so damn easy to use.

    • That's worth a few corrections. The penalty for an uncompleted journey (it times out, and the timeouts are published) is maximum Oyster single fare, ie they assume you went as far as possible and they don't apply any discounts.

      Negative balances are unavoidable if you want variable charges (£1.30 to £7.30) AND want to allow people to take local journeys on the same network without a large rolling balance.

      The cards notionally don't "cost" anything, there's a £3 deposit, you can bring the card back and get your deposit (maybe useful if you've come to London once and don't plan to return) but presumably if it had a negative balance they'd want you to pay that off...

      There aren't top-up machines on the journey. They'd be confusing anyway because while travelling you have ~£7 less balance. You are credited back when you exit. The barriers will let you exit (but of course not enter) with a negative balance.

      Fire safety rules prohibit the barriers being left running unsupervised, particularly at underground stations where crowd control is critical to safety. So either there will be someone watching who can help if you've lost the card, or the barriers will be open and you can walk out.

      Anyway, in theory you could get an Oyster for £5 with £2 balance, enter anywhere and leave at the extreme edge of the network, with a journey cost of £7.30 and the card left on negative balance. You've saved yourself £2.30 by going to this effort, assuming you wanted to go to Amersham for some reason.

    • Another feature, which I use all the time is auto-topup. When your balance gets under £5 (soon to be £8) they add an amount of your choice to the card, charged off your credit card so, minimal interactions with the ticket machines, always a win.

  4. moof says:

    Given that you used to be able to get a shuttle bus from Caltrain to SFO, and not have to pay the extra $3-$5 to BART to go two miles (or whatever it is), I'm not exactly shedding tears over BART being stupid.