Dumbarton Express and Clipper

Sorry to get hyperlocal on you again. If you don’t use transit in the SF South Bay and East Bay, feel free to ignore this post. If you’re with Facebook and will move to your new Menlo Park campus, though, pay attention: This stuff may be useful to you.

The Dumbarton (DB) Express runs between the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital, past the Palo Alto Transit Center and across the Bay to Newark to Union City BART. Fare is $4 for transbay trips, while a local fare of $2 is charged for trips that don’t cross the Bay. Your Caltrain monthly pass with at least two zones is also accepted as full transbay fare for the DB Express.

Now, Clipper Card is our regional transit “Smart Card” usable on seven different transit agencies. DB Express is operated by AC Transit, and all AC Transit buses (including the DB Express) are equipped with Clipper card readers.

Are you with me so far? Good, because the Clipper Card doesn’t understand it that well, and neither do all of the DB Express bus drivers.

If you want to pay local fare only with Clipper, you tell the driver and he punches a button on the dash. You also need to wait for something to sync up with the Clipper Reader. That $4 charge in the first highlighted line below is Clipper charging me the transbay fare after I swiped the card too early.
Clipper Card usage report
You’ll see I have a 2 zone Caltrain pass for February. Theoretically, that’s good for a ride on the DB Express. The second highlighted line shows that the theory doesn’t match reality: I was charged for local fare in spite of the Caltrain pass on Clipper. I’ll bug AC Transit and Clipper customer service about it and see if they’ll fix this (and yes, I hear your bitter laughter about this, Murph).

Final word of warning: all east WEST bound trips that begin anywhere in Menlo Park, Palo Alto or East Palo Alto can only be local trips, but the default fare for Clipper is still transbay.


  1. I’m confused, though I think Clipper is too.

    If you have a 2+ zone CalTrain pass, should all DBX trips be free? So you shouldn’t have been charged anything, then, right?

    And the issue of timing your card swipe after the driver presses the “local fare” button is a separate issue–but should be moot for you, right?

    And don’t you mean that all *westbound* trips on DBX starting in PA and EPA are inherently local?

    Btw, do you work in that Sun/Oracle complex by the west end of the Dumbarton Bridge? Is that remaining Sun/Oracle? I ask because the location sounds like the former Sun HQ that Facebook is supposed to be moving to.

  2. I’m an idiot — yes, you’re correct. That should be westbound instead of eastbound. I’ll fix it.

    Local fare is not moot — when I ride DB Express it’s to ride from the Oracle campus at the South Bay side of the Dumbarton Bridge to Palo Alto Caltrain. That’s a local ride.

    Yes, I’m at the Sun Quentin campus where Facebook signed a lease. Sun HQ was Santa Clara Agnews, which is where I’m moving to.

  3. So is a 2+ zone CalTrain pass supposed to get you a free local ride on DBX?

    What are your plans for getting to the new location?

  4. Yes, 2+ zone Caltrain is supposed to be free fare on DB Express. As you noticed, that part didn’t work in clipper.

    After the move, no more Caltrain for me. It’s a 6 mile bike ride from downtown SJ to the campus, most of it on the GRT.

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