Muni pressures cash riders toward Clipper

Officials at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are stepping up their efforts to wean Muni riders off paying cash for single rides, and instead get a Clipper card or use the transit agency’s MuniMobile app.

Muni riders still paying with cash starting on Jan. 1, 2017 will be charged an extra $0.25 increase for single rides, an incentive to switch over to the Clipper card or use MuniMobile because the single-ride fare will remain at $2.25 for Clipper and app users.

A factor in getting more riders away from cash and coins is the time it takes for buses to process payments. Buses spend 10 to 15 percent of the time processing cash fares, said Diana Hammons, SFMTA’s revenue manager. The transit agency also spends approximately $9 million a year to collect the cash from fareboxes, which includes staff to empty the fareboxes and security to transport the cash.

Muni riders, though, have said they have found it hard to find a retailer in The City to purchase or reload a Clipper card, said Hammons.

According to a Metropolitan Transportation Commission map of current Clipper retailers, some neighborhoods only have a few locations. Visitacion Valley has just one, and the Bayview/Hunters-Point has four. Downtown and the Financial District together have about 30 Clipper card retailers.

The SFMTA is working with the MTC, which administers the Clipper card program, to add more locations in The City for Muni riders to buy and reload their Clipper card.

Hammons said the transit agency is focusing on working with larger retailers such as Safeway and CVS Pharmacy as potential Clipper card retailers.

The SFMTA has also sent out letters to neighborhood merchant associations to see if retailers have interest in providing a spot for Muni riders to buy and reload a Clipper card, said Hammons at Friday’s SFMTA’s Policy and Governance meeting:

“We’ll be walking around if that doesn’t work.”

John Coté, strategic communications manager for the SFMTA, said the transit agency will begin a marketing campaign to inform riders about the upcoming fare changes and to target cash-paying riders.

“We are taking a page from the playbook that we used during the rollout of the free Muni programs where we had workshops at a number of community centers, senior centers, other organizations.”

He said the transit agency received great feedback from community groups who said the transit agency’s outreach was effective and helpful.

The transit agency plans to partner with community groups such as the Senior and Disabled Action organization, the Self-Help for the Elderly and Chinatown’s tenant association to help spread the word about fare changes and free Muni programs. Coté said ambassadors and staff plan to deploy staff along routes with higher rates of cash fares for outreach.

According to transit agency documents, about 12 to 14 percent of Muni riders still pay with cash or with limited-use tickets.

Then there’s the transit agency’s mobile app MuniMobile where Muni riders can pay for a single-ride fare instantly.

Candace Sue, director of communications and marketing for the SFMTA, said the app was important for riders who are not able keep $3 or more on a Clipper card or who are unable to use the Clipper card website.

MuniMobile also does not require a credit card and riders can link to a PayPal account instead, which allows users to link a bank account to pay for transactions.

Sue also said it was important for the transit agency to reach to Muni riders who fall in the gap of not qualifying for any of free Muni programs, but  are still not well off financially.

SFMTA board Director Joél Ramos said it was important for the transit agency to explain to riders the benefits and importance of getting a Clipper card:

“As we’re thinking about doing this outreach, I think it’s important to help people understand the value both that they’re getting as customer but then we also as a public agency are also getting when people do get on Clipper.”