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Caltrain set to make monthly pass zone extension tickets paperless

Trains wait on tracks 5 and 6 for passengers at the Caltrain Station in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, July 18, 2019. Business leaders and transportation officials are putting together a sales tax ballot measure for next year that would generate billions for transportation infrastructure in the Bay Area. Top on their wish list is the downtown extension of Caltrain, with a tunnel running from the Mission Bay Area to the Transbay Terminal.
Trains wait on tracks 5 and 6 for passengers at the Caltrain Station in San Francisco. | Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images | Source: Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Caltrain monthly pass holders may be familiar with the byzantine practice of purchasing paper tickets for travel through additional zones—but if a new plan is adopted, that may become a thing of the past.

SamTrans, the San Mateo County transit agency that runs Caltrain, has proposed ditching paper tickets and applying the extra zone charges directly to rider’s Clipper cards—this would make fare payments effectively paperless for Clipper users.

“Clipper customers would be fully paperless for fare media. There is still paper for monthly parking passes,” said SamTrans spokesperson Dan Lieberman in an email.

The change would only apply to monthly pass holders. A monthly pass can only be used with a Clipper card and allows riders to pay a flat fee upfront for unlimited trips along certain zones of Caltrain’s track for a month, with pricing tiers based on how far along the Peninsula they travel, which SamTrans divides into zones.

The cheapest pass, at $76.80, will get a rider from San Francisco to San Bruno, but any trips beyond that require paying for a Zone Upgrade Ticket, which is valid for four hours and is only valid for a one-way trip—these are currently paper but would become paperless if the new plan is approved.

There are six pricing tiers for monthly passes, with passes valid for longer unlimited monthly trips being more expensive. | Courtesy SamTrans

Caltrain said the reason for the change was to make riding more convenient and flexible for riders, but that they will keep paper Zone Extension tickets because there are still customers who buy paper tickets, mostly people who do not regularly use Caltrain.

“We do not want to get rid of all paper tickets at this time as it reduces valuable fare payment options for our customers,” Liberman said in an email.

The Caltrain Board will vote on the planned shift to paperless zone extension tickets for monthly riders on Dec. 1.

The Caltrain line is split into six zones, with a one zone ticket costing around $76 and a six zone pass costing nearly $350. A trip beyond the zones a monthly pass is valid for incurs an extra charge. | Courtesy SamTrans

Garrett Leahy can be reached at