It’s every San Francisco Municipal Railway rider’s dream, and it has come true: free entry onto any train at the Civic Center station with the wave of a hand.
“You beat the system!” a rider gasped when she witnessed the trick in action, her eyes almost as wide as her smile.
If a rider stands just outside the new Clipper card gate area – which resembles a horse racing starting gate – and reaches a hand briskly over the censors behind the left-hand door, both doors will slowly part.
San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency officials said the opening is a glitch that they have been aware of “for some time.”
The Clipper-compatible fare gates and card-loading vending machines were installed in the Civic Center station in August at the beginning of a system-wide equipment switch to support the regionally accepted Clipper card.
“When you’re replacing equipment like this for such a large system, you’re always going to find people who try to find ways to evade fares,” MTA spokesman Paul Rose said.
The agency is responding to the discovery of the hiccup by dispatching more fare inspectors to keep an eye out for people tricking the gates, and to ensure all Muni riders have paid the fare either with a Clipper card, a monthly fast pass, or monetary payment signified by a Proof-of-Payment voucher, Rose said.
“Fare inspectors are a good deterrent for people who are considering entering our fare gates without paying a fare,” Rose said.
A fare inspector at the Civic Center station today refused to comment on the issue other than to acknowledge its existence with a nod and to shake his head when asked if he’s caught anyone trying it yet.
Rose said he’d heard of several reports of fare jumpers attempting to use the newfound handout today who were immediately caught by fare inspectors.
The MTA is currently adhering to the increase in manpower as the best response to the glitch, but Rose said, “It’s too early to tell” if a permanent solution will be found and implemented.
Rose said the agency would also be deploying information ambassadors to help riders who are unfamiliar with Clipper cards learn how to operate the new system.
For now, employees who used to be confined to the tubular glass booths at Muni stations are undertaking part of that tutorial responsibility.
A Civic Center station agent who asked not to be named said that running back and forth between the booth at the entry gates and the new card loading machines around the corner makes his eight-hour shift go by faster.
“I’m no longer booth-bound, which I don’t really mind,” he said.
“It’s just going to be like that until people learn the new system.”
The station agent said the vending machines that are used to load money onto the Clipper cards have also exhibited glitches.
The machines apparently sometimes withdraw the specified amount of money from the rider’s bank account but fail to load it onto the Clipper card, he said.
But the agent has faith in the long-term effects of the system-wide changes.
“It’s a new system; it’s just going to take some time,” he said. “There are some glitches, but I think it’s going to be a better system when it’s all done.”
Kyveli Diener, Bay City News