Ticket machines that dispense TAP cards and allow stored value are being tested

Metro’s TAP card made two giant strides forward in recent days, with testing now underway on two key features: the ability to buy a TAP card directly from a ticket vending machine and to load a set amount of cash on the card and have the cost of riding deducted as you go.

Metro quietly began testing a couple of weeks ago on a single ticket vending machine in the Union Station Red/Purple Line station. It didn’t take long for several Source readers and the PlusMetro blog to find the machine, which sits at the far right on the bank of ticket machines on the Vignes side of the station.

Readers of The Source have long been clamoring for the ability to load TAP cards with set amounts of cash — called “stored value. It has become a fairly common feature in some regions that also use electronic fare cards and has always been a goal of the TAP program here.

How does it work? Let’s say Joe Transit puts $20 on his card and wants to ride the Red Line from downtown to Hollywood. Joe would just tap his TAP card when entering the subway station and $1.50 — the price of a single-ride ticket — would be deducted. That means Joe doesn’t have to spend time dealing with getting a ticket from the machines.

One question we expect to get from readers: How will stored value work with day passes?

The answer: A TAP card can hold both day passes as well as stored value. So if you plan to ride four or more trips in a single day, load a day pass from the ticket machine or inform the bus driver and the TAP card reader will automatically default to use the day pass to cover the cost of your trips for the day. Also, if you have money stored on the card, you can use those funds to pay for the day pass at the machine or farebox.

Also being tested is another useful feature: A TAP card can be bought directly from the ticket vending machine for two dollars. Cards are currently available for purchase on the taptogo.net website, from Metro customer service centers and 400 outlets around L.A. County. Having them available from the ticket machines makes it easier for everyone — in particular, tourists — to get one the day they need one.

One note: even if you buy a TAP card from the machine, it’s still advisable to visit the taptogo.net website to register the card in your name in case it’s ever lost or damaged. Also, you don’t need to buy a new TAP card to take advantage of stored value — it will work on your existing card if you have one.

The ability to purchase TAP cards is being expanded to 22 ticket machines in Metro Rail stations across the county — the list is after the jump. The agency is also presently expanding the ability to add stored value to a TAP card to all ticket machines in the Metro Rail system.

Metro Blue Line 7th St/Metro Center (Blue) Figueroa St. Entrance Reg TAP
Metro Blue Line 7th St/Metro Center (Blue) Flower St. Entrance Reg TAP
Metro Blue Line Compton Single Entrance – (1) South Reg TAP
Metro Blue Line Del Amo East Side of Entrance – East Reg TAP
Metro Blue Line Florence Single Entrance – (1) South Reg TAP
Metro Blue Line Grand East Entrance – (2) Reg TAP
Metro Blue Line Imperial/Wilmington (Blue) East Entrance – (2) Reg TAP
Metro Blue Line Willow Single Entrance Station Reg TAP
Metro Gold Line Sierra Madre Villa Single Entrance – (1) South Reg TAP
Metro Gold Line Union Station (Gold) Single Entrance – West Side Reg TAP
Metro Green Line Norwalk East Plaza Reg TAP
Metro Red Line 7th St/Metro Center (Red) Hope St. Entrance Reg TAP
Metro Red Line Hollywood/Highland Single Array Reg TAP
Metro Red Line Hollywood/Vine Single Array Reg TAP
Metro Red Line North Hollywood (Red) Single Array Reg TAP
Metro Red Line Pershing Square South Entrance Reg TAP
Metro Red Line Union Station (Red) East Entrance Reg TAP
Metro Red Line Union Station (Red) West Entrance Reg TAP
Metro Red Line Universal City Single Array Reg TAP
Metro Red Line Vermont/Sunset Rotunda Entrance Reg TAP
Metro Red Line Westlake/MacArthur Park South Entrance Reg TAP
Metro Red Line Wilshire/Western Single Array Reg TAP

53 replies

  1. how long does the stored value last? I’d want to put a large amount on a tap card for the few trips i made every month.

  2. Why not just do daily price capping like the London Oyster Card? It would be extremely simple to trigger an automatic day pass once the pay as you go funds spent for the day reached $6. Or in the case of more expensive fares (Silver Line), once you had reached the $6 (or slightly higher for [dumb] zone fares) you would not pay more than that for the day. There are times when I don’t know if I will be taking a full 4 rides in a day, so I don’t want to buy a day pass first, but would like to know that if I do hit 4 or more rides, I wont be paying more than the day rate. Virtually every PAYG smart card transit system has price capping these days.

  3. Also, can I add, PLEASE roll this out to every ticket machine ASAP. Please no typically “Metro” testing period that drags on for months or years. Also, funds should be available to add online, and activated with a simple tap on a turnstile (again, how the London system works).

  4. You may be testing the ticket machines for TAP cards, but it is also screwing up the regular fares. For the last two days, when I purchased one-way tickets for a senior, I keep getting charged $.25, then $.55, then $.25 again, then $.55 – on the same machines!

  5. I agree with Reed’s first comment… For the occasional rider like me, the entire benefit of a TAP card would be that I don’t have to deal with a ticket vending machine at all when I ride. But if I have to do it anyway when I buy a day pass, what’s the point?

  6. senior fares
    the 25 cent fare is off peak only
    anytime after 9 am to 3pm
    anytime befoe that time is conider peak time and higher fare

  7. Ideally, you should be able to reload PAYG tap at any terminal that accepts tap… Including buses. The RFID chip in a Tap card is, I assume, able to store balance data. However, it is not able to connect to the Internet if, hopefully, online reloading of PAYG becomes a reality. In that case, you would have to tap at a networked ticket machine to activate the PAYG funds first, but then be able to use it at any tap terminal. I ride buses (to and from USC) only a few times a week, so if I could load $100 on to a tap card, and never have to deal with change, it would be a godsend.

  8. Any chance we’ll be given the option to do add value online via our TAP account? It would be much easier than having to use a machine every time a rider exhausts his/her value.

  9. Dispensable machines and cash purse? Yes, yes, yes! This is fantastic news for an occasional rider like me.

    I also vote for Reed’s comment. Daily price caps would really improve transit use.

    Keep the goood news coming!

  10. An automatic price cap for a day pass is the only practical way to make this work. Requiring people to stand in line to use the ticket machine to activate a day pass eliminates the supposed convenience of the Tap Card.

  11. Having used the Cash Value Tap Cards from Culver CityBus on Metro for years, are the Metro Bus drivers on the added Fare Lines (ie Express) been trained to take the extra zone fare from the cash purse on the card ? I had to teach (and annoy) many a 439 driver about how to get the extra fare from the card. Also can the intra-agency transfer fare be debited from the Cash Purse? I never figured that out.

  12. Yes, the “price cap” is the only logical way to go. Having to add a day pass would defeat the intended convenience of the TAP card. I’d think it would be a simple software issue…

  13. The automatic price cap would eliminate the ability for Metro to make extra profit from people who don’t know about or forget to purchase the day pass.

    And I’m sure the roll out of all of these features (including online reloading of stored value) will take 18-24 months. Look how long it’s taken them just to install TAP readers on buses and turnstiles, and at the obscene delays and cost overruns on the Expo line! Metro moves at a glacial pace, even for a government entity.

  14. Is there an implementation schedule for the machines listed for either the TAP card dispensing feature or the stored-value feature?

    Great news! Thanks.

  15. Nobody addressed the problem with access cards.Can they be used and how.They dont work on locked turnstiles.

  16. Put me down as another vote for automatic daily fare caps. TAP is made by the same company that provides the Oyster card in London. There is no reason why this is not happening here in LA.

    • Bernice, your existing TAP card may be used to add stored-value from an enabled ticket machine. No need to buy a new one – unless you’re like me and enjoy the novelty of seeing these machines actually dispense a card instead of a paper ticket.

      Fred Camino
      Contributor, The Source

  17. Thanks!

    I may get a new card from the machine just to have a backup, I am one of the few that use the metro to commute, daily, and can not afford to argue w/drivers should my card fail.

    (looking at you 761 driver!)

  18. Two gold line stops? One green line stop? What gives?

    Also: when?

    and price cap now, price cap forever.

  19. also, sorry to double post… but fred and steve: why aren’t you addressing all these price cap questions?

    • At this time, the TAP system won’t automatically buy riders a day pass if they take four or more rides on Metro a day — also known as “price capping.” However, riders can use cash stored on their TAP cards to buy a day pass when boarding a bus (ask the bus operator for a day pass) or from a ticket vending machine.

      Why no price capping? It’s a technical issue involving how a TAP card stores different amounts of money. Think of the side of the TAP card that holds cash as a single purse. Rides on all transit agencies are deducted from this one purse. In order to isolate Metro boardings, another purse would need to be created on the TAP card. And if other agencies wanted to do the same, they would also require their own purse. And that becomes tricky from a technical basis.

      Metro officials say the single best way to get to price capping is for all the transit agencies in L.A. County to agree on a regional day pass. There has, of course, been a lot of talk about a regional fare structure, but it has been difficult to accomplish, due in part to the fact that many agencies in the county have different fare structures that would have to be reconciled.

      Hope that answers your question,

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  20. There’s no response to price capping because, I’m cynical enough to agree with @Joe, a price cap would eliminate Metro’s ability to cash in on extra trips taken by those who make unplanned stops or don’t plan-out their entire day of travel in advance. Let’s face it, LA’s public transportation system is geared toward those who commute the same route every day, NOT for occasional riders. That’s why the TAP system, until now, has been available ONLY for long-term passes. Metro will eventually respond to price capping with the some ridiculous reason, like, “If we allowed price capping, then people will be able to pass tap cards to others after 4 uses, and allow companions FREE rides! The horrors!” or simply that “Price capping would be incompatible with express zone fares” or whatever. What a refreshing day it would be if a suggestion from Metro’s customers was actually listened to and implemented in less than 48 months (the time it has taken for cash purse on TAP to finally appear).

  21. @Steve: Thanks for finding an answer, although it was just as I expected. As many others have said, having to make the extra stop at a ticket machine for a day pass defeats the convenience, and having to buy a pass at all makes spontaneity more expensive. I simply don’t believe that Metro’s software engineers can’t figure out how to create a price capping feature on TAP. There is no need for a separate purse, simply a stored record on the RFID chip of how much was spent during a day. During the TAP process, if a reader detects a card has spent $6 for that day, it would simply no longer collect a fare. And the system has the ability to differentiate days, otherwise day passes wouldn’t work. I think plenty of us would be temporarily happy with price capping just on Metro services, until the regional fare system is established. But yes, you are right, as long as there is a mess of municipal operators in the country with separate fare structures, the TAP card is kind of a wasted technology.

  22. I disagree that TAP is wasted without price capping. I’ve had the cash purse through Culver City for some time now, but frequently ride with people who don’t. For days when I don’t need a day pass, it is massively better than not having it. My companions need to put money in the machine for every ride while I just TAP.

    For trips that will require a Day pass, yes, it does take a little longer, but it’s still actually less time than buying a ticket, because you don’t have to wait for the ticket to print. And, with the cash purse feature, you can actually pay for the Day Pass using money on the TAP card, so all you have to do is press the correct buttons and TAP twice, and you’re good to go. It still beats fumbling with money.

  23. (Dont’ tell anyone, but like Tobias, I have been using the Cash Purse on my Foothill Transit TAP card to ride LA Metro since Summer of 2009. Shhh!)

    Steve,

    Maybe there could be a “LA Metro-use-only” TAP card that would do the price-capping thing until the Regional Fare Policy is established?

  24. Nice! Now that this has started, my first request is to allow cash value to be added online.

    Second, “max price per day,” as everyone else has stated.

    Third, can we get some integration with vendors to accept TAP as a form of payment? Famima, I’m looking at you.

    Fourth, when are passes going to be valid for a set number of days, rather than being pinned to the calendar? For example, a tourist buys a monthly pass January 15th and then later realizes it’s not good for 30 days; it’s only good until January 31st.

    I know that with cash value, I will be buying fewer day passes, but I will be riding more because most of my trips are single rides down Wilshire and back, and I never like fumbling for change.

  25. I am a commuter check rider but I don’t ride often enough to warrant a weekly or monthly pass. Right now I use the cludge of buying day passes on tokens on the bus because the driver can’t figure out to use the TAP credit to activate a day pass. The tokens are purchased with commuter check credit. Hopefully they can train their drivers on this.

  26. @Steve

    So based on your explanation, the key to having TAP automatically cap daily fares at $6 is the introduction of 1-day EZ Pass?

    Having different fare structures on Muni bus lines is not and should not be an impediment to institute daily fare caps. It’s not a technical problem as you are describing. It is a bureaucratic one.

  27. Wow! I just added $10 to my TAP card at the Hope St. entrance of 7th/Metro. Suddenly, life has meaning. No more worrying about dollars and quarters. Since I previously used my TAP only when I needed a day pass, I’m now more inclined to jump on a train or bus. Perhaps it’s not financially logical–but “convenience” tends to make one feel more free. Ultimately, it’s all psychology.

    And, BTW, I still think a “fare cap” is one day’s work for Metro’s software people.

  28. One more thought: why isn’t Metro putting this TAP-value-added news up front on its home page? This is a big deal.

  29. I like Reed’s idea for an auto-capped at $6 system in place. I can’t wait for this “cash purse” to get fully released…it will make my life so much easier when my girlfriend is visiting!

    Additionally, wouldn’t it be great to have a terminal to tap when you’re transferring lines on metro rail so you don’t have to exit and re-enter? That has always bothered me about the current system.

  30. I also agree with Rich…we should be able to add value to TAP online. With that L.A. would have a legitimately modern fare processing system, even if the turnstiles stay locked for a while longer on Metro Rail.

  31. The cash purse option for TAP is long over due and it should’ve been implemented from the start; heck Culver City Bus has been using the cash purse option since inception.

    Yet again LA fails on how to properly implement this while everybody else does it right. Can’t you guys just bring people from Boston or Chicago to run the agency?

    Provide incentive for people to start using this over cash. Boston’s CharlieCard gives riders 15-50% discounts over T fares for people using cash. And the CharlieCard can be topped up online which is great as I can use my miles/points earning credit card.

    +1 on the daily capping system. If it suits you better, go ahead an introduce distance/zone based fares too. That’s what TAP is meant for.

  32. This is awesome, LA is still long way from Hong Kong octopus (http://www.octopus.com.hk/home/en/index.html) card setup but we are getting closer.

    I think 7/11 should accept TAP as well as other stores such as McDonalds, TacoBell, etc.

    I think that CAP LIMIT is not a problem.
    Depending on how much DATA can the CARD hold is the only limitation. While I do not know answer to that question. It would be very simple to write data on a card Time Date amount of purchase at which station. This information when placed on a card would look like this:
    09:14 AM 1/24/11 Hollywood/Highland
    for each and every trip taken on the same day user would be charged $1.50, CAP it at $6 which is 4 trips. If TAP was build to recognize each and every Transit System (which it is) then you know that user used METRO 4 times today. Then on 5th TAP first entry is erased, and no more data is added to the CARD but system does not charge user again, until 0:00 AM 1/25/11.

    VERY SIMPLE and this can be done. Better yet, we can remove AM/PM if we use military time.

  33. In Chicago, where the base fare was $2.25 a couple of years ago, your fare usage is tracked, automatically. I forgot that I wasn’t in Kans…Los Angeles, and loaded the card with $10 for a 4 bus/train trip, and just swiped it on fareboxes and turnstiles. When I tried to put another $10 on the card for another 4 bus/train trip. I found that I still had $5 on the card. Why? Because a transfer was $0.25, and the thing knew I had recently got off a train/bus!

  34. So the reason there’s no price cap is that the computers can’t figure out how to do it…

    If computers can’t figure it out, how do you expect riders to?

  35. I’m so pleased to see the cash purse; but – as any software engineer will tell you – programming in a multi-ride discount or a day pass cap is, for the most part, a simple fix.

    The noble (and poorly compensated) bloggers at TheSource, of course, aren’t able to make this happen – but Metro management needs to know that, despite a welcome improvement, it still offers a substandard product, and the “we don’t have the tech capability” excuse is really shameful, as well as a tacit admission of low competency.

  36. I think it’s really sad that Metro decided to purchase a TAP system that could only do day/monthly passes, and then had to kludge on the coin purse, and now is at a loss as to how to kludge on a fare cap as well. Wouldn’t it have been simpler to do a little research beforehand and buy a system that already has these features integrated into it?

  37. To be fair, though, most smart cards in the US don’t have fare caps equivalent to monthly passes. The San Diego Compass Card, which uses the same technology, has a kludge where the cost of the day pass is automatically deducted the first time you board that day. It should be easy to automatically calculate at the end of the day the correct fare and credit back the difference between the day pass fare and the cost of the actual rides taken.

    And why is there no TAP vending machine at the Aviation Green Line station, or at Silver Line stations? Those would be great places to catch the tourists and also sell day passes for the Silver Line, which has that annoying upcharge.

  38. these are such simple and obvious features that i cant believe it has taken this long to make this possible. That said, I am psyched! Thank you metro.

  39. The Clipper Card is currently accepted by six transit operators in the San Francisco Bay Area — about to be seven — all with wildly different fare schedules, and much more varied transfer agreements. Last month, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission Operations Committee approved a $450,000 change order for Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc. to implement a Day Pass Accumulator for VTA riders. Look at what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it, and I think you’ll agree that “price capping” is a solved problem.