UC Berkeley senior Shashank Dholakia was ready to start using public transit again after finally getting vaccinated for COVID-19. Dholakia, a frequent user of his campus-issued “EZ Pass,” had been using AC Transit normally prior to the pandemic until a few days ago, when his card was suddenly declined.
Dholakia was caught off guard; he had placed a significant amount of money in his account, as before the pandemic hit, he used BART and AC Transit on a regular basis. After contacting UC Berkeley’s Parking and Transportation office, he was told that if his card was left unused for six months, it would have expired.
“I would use the Clipper Card daily either on busses, getting groceries or even going to class,” Dholakia said. “I was a fairly heavy public transit user before the pandemic.”
Darrell Owens is the vice chair of the East Bay Transit Riders Union, a union that represents public transit users in the Bay Area. Owens said he has heard of multiple student members in his organization experiencing similar situations.
Owens added that these incidents are examples of poor bureaucracy by the transit organizations that operate these programs. He added that besides instances such as Dholakia’s, these companies need to improve their rider communication in general as their current operation runs with “bad media outreach.”
“In the future we need better information systems by MTC and clippers because even now it’s hard to operate,” Owens said. “They need to have better software and apps. All students should have received notification.”
In relation to the issue of refunds, Owens noted that AC Transit recently faced a $40 million budget deficit. Issuing refunds to students is “the last thing” AC Transit may want to do, according to Owens.
While the Parking and Transportation office confirmed its six-month expiration policy in an email, the office’s website does not mention this. Instead, the website said in order to keep the card active, there must be a usage within the first six months after the card is first issued.
A guide posted to the Student EasyPass information page encouraged students to keep their cards for the “long-term,” adding that the cards remain active as long as you are a student, even upon return from breaks. This is the same information Dholakia found upon his own research, Dholakia said, adding that the Parking and Transportation office did not notify him of his account expiration.
“I was disappointed because Parking and Transit at Berkeley says they don’t refund any loss in money,” Dholakia said. “I lost a significant amount of money just for expiration, and I contacted Parking and Transport and they offered to update the card but not a refund.”