“We take the issue of customer privacy very seriously on all things we do from Clipper, to FasTrak, to 511,” said Randy Rentschler, director legislation and public affairs for the MTC. “For this reason customers can buy and use Clipper cards completely anonymously. Many thousands of others use Clipper and travel in complete anonymity by simply loading cash and/or passes onto their cards without registering [their card on the Clipper website].”
Rentschler was responding to concerns raised by Alameda resident and commuter Karen Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was also concerned about what she called a hidden Oakland/Alameda to San Francisco ferry fare increase, when the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) implemented Clipper.
She told Action Alameda News, “you used to be able to buy a 20-ticket book for $90, which was $4.50 each way. When they went to Clipper, it went up to $4.75 each way and there was no hearing. No other transit agency had a hidden fare increase when they went to Clipper.”
WETA implemented Clipper in 2012, and, separately, implemented a fare increase this summer.
Zimmerman had reached out to Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s office for help digging into the 2012 coupon book fare increase, but a staffer there provided information only on the most recent fare increase hearings this year.
With the continued adoption of Clipper, WETA has phased out coupon books, and provides a 25 percent discount on one-way fares for riders that use Clipper over a cash fare.
That discount comes at the expense, however, of privacy, at least for Clipper card users that register their card with the Clipper website and re-charge the card with credit card payments. The website records personally identifying information and locations of Clipper card scans.
“I don’t like Clipper,” Zimmerman said. “It’s just another loss of privacy – that card tracks you wherever you use it.”
It’s unclear how a rider would re-charge their Clipper card with cash on the ferry. The Clipper website indicates that users may add value in person, “at participating retailers, participating transit agencies’ ticket vending machines and ticket offices, Clipper Customer Service Centers, and Clipper Add Value Machines.” The website indicates six participating retail locations in Alameda.
In a lengthy e-mail, Rentschler told Action Alameda News that Clipper users should update their cards with cash payments if they aren’t convinced that the additional information he offered, below, provides adequate peace of mind.
- Participating transit agencies for the purpose of operating and managing Clipper – customer service.
- Persons or entities contracting with the Clipper program solely for the purpose of operating and managing Clipper; and
- In order to comply with laws or legal processes served on MTC or Clipper contractors.
It is worth noting that state law provides significant privacy protection as well. The FAQ section on the Clipper website addresses questions of privacy directly and notes that for the period from January 1, 2015 through June 30, 2015, Clipper received one request for information from law enforcement. MTC was required to withhold the requested information due to the statutory requirements of California Streets & Highways Code Section 31490, which became effective on January 1, 2014 with respect to electronic transit fare collection systems. Clipper was also served with one search warrant and one notice of good cause statement. Information was released in both cases.
Customer PII may only be used by MTC to perform necessary account management activities. Customers who wish to use Clipper anonymously may do so by not registering their cards.
Summing up I would say, given the state of information sharing, use of computers, etc., privacy matters are no doubt a very big deal in 2015, we get that. Clipper has plenty of options for those who what to opt out, and for those who want the convenience and security of registering their card, I suspect Clipper is the very least of their privacy concerns.
A media contact for WETA had not responded to an e-mail inquiry by press time.