TAP improvements proposed by Metro staff

First, some good news: A number of changes are in the works for Metro ticket machines.

Among them: allowing customers to purchase stored value amounts of $3 (for those taking round-trips), new messaging on the machines to help customers make their first purchase, as well as some minor changes in the way fares are described in order to make it easier to understand.

In addition, several other notable changes are proposed by Metro staff as part of a contract modification with Cubic, the vendor that provides TAP equipment (The taptogo.net website is overseen by another vendor, Xerox, and there are talks scheduled about updating that). Many of these changes involve issues with TAP raised by both Source readers and the media.

Among the improvements proposed in the Metro staff report:

• Simplify TVM screens to make them more user-friendly.

• Update and clarify the existing “Help” options and directions.

• Incorporate up to six languages in addition to the existing English and Spanish options currently provided.

• Enable the purchase of multiple rides on a single TAP card and/or the purchase of multiple TAP cards in a single cash/credit card transaction for families and groups. (Note to readers: TAP cards can hold up to eight single rides. The issue here is that the machines currently require customers to buy a single ride and then start over with a new transaction in order to buy a second single ride — i.e. the equivalent of a round-trip purchase for those using one bus or train to get somewhere and back).

• Install an additional TVM [ticket vending machine] next to the Metro Customer Center in the East Portal at Union Station to help expedite customer purchases and provide service when the center is closed, as well as an additional TVM at the Culver City station.

Another proposal: relocate some of the standing TAP validators in rail stations to more convenient places to help traffic flow better through the stations.

Here’s the staff report:

TAP contract modification

29 replies

  1. Good news, especially about the $3 option being added. When you say the card can hold 8 single rides… what does that actually mean? Because a “ride” is just $1.50 of value, no? And I know cards can hold more than $12. You’re not saying I can use the TAP card for multiple RIDERS, I assume, so I don’t know what multiple RIDES would mean…

    I hope the “transfer” validators at 7th Street will see some additional ones added, especially on the Blue/Expo Platform 1 Side. When those trains empty and everyone is heading downstairs, there’s a major backup at the validators.

    I’m looking forward to a website update, and hopefully a mobile app so I can add a pass/value to the TAP as I go.

    • Correct — can hold eight single rides of $1.50 value. For example, I recently loaded two single rides on a new card I purchased (old one was residing in the laundry basket) and I had to add each as an individual transaction. Which is pain and takes time at the ticket machines.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. Doesn’t it just add money to stored value when you do that? Because the cards can hold far greater than 8 x $1.50 of value…

    For example, you can add $20 or $75 to the card. I guess I’m just not understanding the difference… do you mean it will limit you to $12 on a card if you add it all in $1.50 transactions, rather than a larger amount at once?

    • It’s a way to make it easier for new customers to simply pay the cost of a single ride or round-trip without having to do the math or add more stored value than they intend to use.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  3. This “single ride” thing is just going to make matters more confusing and complicated. It should be one rider, one card. Absolutely more languages need to be there to avoid a Title VI issue – it should be in the same languages that Metro publishes its brochures in.

    Also, the validators need to be moved in place for the Red/Blue transfer – while the incidence of people tapping at the boxes by the staircase is higher than it was a year ago, there is still no signage telling people that transferring customers need to tap there. The same goes for Red/Purple transfers at Wilshire and Vermont. Finally, this neglects putting TVMs on the Silver Line, where even if the existing pay on bus regime continued, placing TVMs would greatly speed passenger boarding since no cash transactions would need to occur on the bus.

  4. They need to make it easier to pay for a pass on the Tap cards. I had this happen to me.
    I had $4 balance on the TAP card. I wanted to buy a one day pass for $5, instead of the TAP card taking out the $4 and then me paying $1 cash. I had to cancel the transaction, add $1.50, since that’s the lowest amount they accept, and then buy the day pass. How stupid is that?

  5. I see that nothing is done to the biggest complaint: the 3 year expiration on the TAP cards. Get rid of it!!!

  6. Why can’t Metro install validators along the Orange Line. We still need to load cash in the tap cards first (with extra loading fees) before we can buy the Metrolink (Amtrak) tickets at the machines. Since Metro is the rightful landlord of the Union Station, why can’t Metro nudge other agencies to accept and to validate the tap cards?

  7. So is there a difference between adding a “ride” to a card, and adding $1.50 in stored value? If so, why?

  8. Any improvements are good, but for stored-value cards I’m still looking for automatic fare capping at day pass or week pass rates. Why should I have to analyze my potential rides to decide if I should pay by the ride or wait at a TVM to add a day pass?

  9. I think the phrase “…… TAP cards can hold up to eight single rides” is indeed confusing. If I remember it right reading somewhere on the Source before, the correct way to put it is …. a TAP card can hold up to 8 passes at a time, and it can be any combinations of day-pass, 7-day passes, and/or 30-day pass, and the card knows to use the passes one by one. And that is in addition to having stored value in the card.

    My suggestion on the TVM ..… why not let us use the existing keypad of (or directly on the screen of) the TVM to choose the dollar amount of stored value to be loaded to the card (instead of the set menu of values)?

  10. On most other regions’ smartcards, a “ride” is not the same as cash. It’s more like a nonrefundable admission ticket, valid only for a single transit operator. These are typically sold as a “ride book” or “discounted bag of tokens” (e.g. purchase 10 single-ride fares at once, and save 20% on the lot). They’re popular among people who aren’t good matches for pass products. Stored rides may or may not have an expiration date. Purchases made prior to a fare increase lock in the old price. The maximum number of rides a card can hold is typically 24 to 40 — eight is unusually low.

    Here’s what happens when a passenger taps in: If there’s a valid pass, use that. If not, does a transfer apply? Otherwise, if a ride is available, consume one. Deduct full cash value only as a last resort. (The idea is to charge the passenger the lowest possible price for each transaction.)

    Everything being proposed is straightforward except for “use of multiple fares on one card for group travel.” Look to New York City for guidance (Metrocards were designed to allow up to four people to travel together), but this is really asking for trouble. Limited-use tickets may be a more practical solution, particularly if they’re offered without card acquisition fees.

  11. I am certainly also looking forward to the taptogo.net improvements. I hope there will be, for example, option to use PayPal and the ability to flexibly add, rename, and remove TAP cards (such as expired, lost, damaged, even abandoned cards), similar to how Starbucks cards online access works.

  12. There are 2 big issues which I have run into recently with TAP on Metro:

    1. Bus Operators who don’t know how to load a Day Pass or a Muni Transfer onto a TAP Card using the available cash from the TAP Card. I know it works because there are a few operators who have been trained properly in loading a Day Pass but most have not. The operators seem to want to validate my card which when I tap takes off the $1.50 fare and then they tell me I do not have enough money on it for a day pass. When I show them the receipt which shows I have more than enough on the TAP Card for a day pass. they get surprised and blame the machine. As for the Muni Transfer, I have not come across an operator who didn’t insist I pay cash for the transfer.

    2. Senior Fares. I frequently come across befuddled seniors, at Expo Line stations, who are trying to find how to buy a Senior Day Pass without a Senior TAP Card . I have not found a way to do it. You can buy a single ride ticket for a non Senior TAP card, Which is buried in the menus on the TVMs but then the Senior must buy a new ticket at each station they transfer at. So, the senior must go outside the gates load a new senior ticket and come back in and wait for their train. Not an easy plan for a lot of seniors.

    Metro might want to consider a TAP Beta Testing/Secret User program which would help identify problems and look for solutions. Even though it’s not my job, I would love to teach the operators how to load a DayPass/Muni Transfer onto my TAP, if only I knew how to use the Fare Console.

    Just a thought…..

  13. FACEPALM

    What is it with Metro’s love affair with trying to reinvent the wheel?

    Look, it’s this simple: GET RID OF THE EXPIRATION DATE. This is top priority and it solves all problems.

    Pre load whatever amount you want and forget about it. Keep tapping in until value reaches zero. No worry or hassle about expiration date. Whatever amount you put in is yours today and the value remaining is still yours tomorrow and ten years from now if any balance is left. Simple as that. End of story.

  14. Mattapoisett_in_LA — I too would love to be part of a Beta/Secret User group not just for TAP, but other practical Metro issues. I got an email once about being part of one of their focus groups, but I apparently didn’t qualify because I ride so often (daily) and they were specifically looking for non-frequent riders.

    It’d be great to have a group of regular riders, who know the ins-and-outs of the system, but also look at if from a user perspective rather than a designer/installer/planner/operator perspective. I know there’s some Advisory Councils, but not sure if these really accomplish the on-the-ground, in-the-field, regular user type of feedback you’re getting at.

  15. Mattapoisett_in_LA,

    1. This is a simple fix. All Metro needs to do is implement a Day Pass cap. Fill up $20, keep tapping in, until reaches maximum Day Pass rate. 1st to 3rd tap keeps deducting $1.50, but the 4th tap will only deduct $0.50 and every tap after that is considered paid for as it reached the day pass rate of $5.00. Nothing for bus drivers to do, all of it is done with a simple programming fix on the server end. Too bad Metro has no brains how to do this when London’s Oyster card can (and they use the same card, system, and manufacturer as TAP).

    2. Same thing. Load up cash value onto Senior TAP card, keeps deducting $0.55 for 1-3rd rides, 4th ride deducts only $0.15 and locks it in at the senior day pass rate of $1.80.

    See, the rest of the world already figured it out. Metro, on the other hand, just keeps reinventing the wheel and fails miserably at it.

  16. Jason L.

    “My suggestion on the TVM ..… why not let us use the existing keypad of (or directly on the screen of) the TVM to choose the dollar amount of stored value to be loaded to the card (instead of the set menu of values)?”

    So Metro can keep whatever value remaining on the card to fund their system.

    See it’s in Metro’s benefit to provide choices of set amounts instead of letting the person enter in an exact amount through the keypad.

    If you’re only provided with choices of $5.00, $10.00, or $20.00, so you put in $5.00.

    You use the system 3 times and the balance remaining is $0.50. Since you can’t put in $1.00 only to make up for another ride or put in a $0.50 to use it up for a ride on the Culver City Bus, that $0.50 is stuck there until expiration.

    After three years, you’re just going to say, meh it’s only $0.50 I’m not going to bother with getting it back. But Metro figures many many people will do that and they get to pocket all the $0.50s that are remaining on the expired card for their benefit.

  17. I second MarkB’s comments. I’m still looking for automatic fare capping at day pass rates. Particularly if all my rides are taken on Metro rail or bus, I would think it would be fairly simple to stop deducting from stored value once the day pass rate is reached. This would really simplify taking Metro.

  18. Stephen P. I Agree with your sentiment, a cap would be wonderful but I have heard Matt Raymond [Head of Metro’s TAP program] say that the fare structure that TAP has to deal with between Metro and the Munis is so complicated it would not be possible to implement capping or Automatic Metro to Muni Transfers. Hence I would prefer Bus Operators have the training to deal with what should be a mundane transaction. Also remember, fare machines on the Buses are not connected to the database. They only have their database updated approximately once a day. This is why it can take up to 48 hours for funds and passes purchased through TAP website to make it to the card if you only use the bus. If it is not available now I can only imagine how much it would cost to connect each Validator Wirelessly to the database.

    In Contrast SF Muni which is a much smaller system has their validators connected to the Clipper Database which is why they can do things like timed tickets which are valid for 2 hours. But it takes 2-5 seconds for the TAP to work on the SF muni Buses.

    The Senior Fare is a trickier issue. Loading Senior Day Passes I believe requires a Senior TAP Card. Casual riding Seniors are not likely to have this. There is no information at the Expo Line stations I frequent about how to apply and there is no one to help. The Seniors I’ve encountered think it is enormous trouble to apply, especially since they are at the station already looking to get a Senior Day Pass. I agree there should be a slight barrier to getting a Discounted TAP Card [Age Verification etc] but this requires jumping through significant hoops.

  19. “fare structure that TAP has to deal with between Metro and the Munis is so complicated it would not be possible to implement capping or Automatic Metro to Muni Transfers.”

    This is the reason why we should just abandon the whole concept of flat rate fares and a great example how things can get so ugly and messed up due to lack of cooperation and standardization.

    The way things are now, it only makes things so confusing to get anything right to utilize the full potential of TAP. Culver City Bus is $1.00 per ride, a transfer to another Culver City Bus costs $0.25 extra but costs $0.40 if the transfer is to Metro, Metro is $1.50 per ride, no transfers to another Metro Bus but $0.35 to transfer to municipal lines, Metrolink is distance based fares….so much confusion!

    Every transit agency should just be locked up in a single room and agree to standardize. They need to sit down together and never be let out of the room until they come up with how much a mile costs on public transit and they all need to agree to use distance based fares. It’s the only way to fix things right.

  20. “Also remember, fare machines on the Buses are not connected to the database. They only have their database updated approximately once a day. This is why it can take up to 48 hours for funds and passes purchased through TAP website to make it to the card if you only use the bus.”

    What is often overlooked is that TAP cards themselves have read/write/store capability. This allows for transactions to be done purely offline without the need of a constantly hooked up database.

    If you tap-in directly onto a TAP validator, you can write and store data onto the TAP card at that instant. If you can store data onto the TAP card, TAP validator can read and analyze it at that instant at the next tap.

    Let’s do it on paper to illustrate there’s no need for a database hookup.

    1. You get onboard Metro and you give me a piece of paper for receipt purposes.
    2. Thanks for riding Metro. Please pay $1.50. I then write down “Metro Bus $1.50” on the piece of paper you gave me and hand it back to you.
    3. You get off at your destination.

    4. You get on board another Metro bus and give me the paper again.
    5. Thanks for riding Metro. I see from the paper you gave me that you rode Metro twice today. Please pay $1.50. I then write down “Metro Bus $1.50” on the piece of paper you gave me and hand it back to you.
    6. You get off at your destination.

    7. You get on board another Metro bus and give me the paper again.
    8. Thanks for riding Metro. I see from the paper you gave me that you rode Metro three times today. Please pay $1.50. I then write down “Metro Bus $1.50” on the piece of paper you gave me and hand it back to you.
    9. You get off at your destination.

    10. You get on board another Metro bus and give me the paper again.
    11. Thanks for riding Metro. I see from the paper this is your fourth trip on Metro today. You only need to pay $0.50 now. I then write down “Metro Bus $0.50: Day pass cap” on the piece of paper you gave me and hand it back to you.
    12. You get off at your destination.

    13. You get on board another Metro bus and give me the paper again.
    14. Thanks for riding Metro. I see from the paper that you reached your daily pass cap. You don’t have to pay and I then write down “Metro Bus $0.00: Day pass cap” on the piece of paper you gave me and hand it back to you.
    15. You get off at your destination.

    All of this can be done totally offline using the read/write/store capability of the TAP card itself. The TAP validator machine just checks what’s written and stored into the TAP card to check what trips you’ve taken in the past today.

    The whole concept is so easy that bus drivers need to do absolutely nothing. Everything can be done completely offline utilizing the read/write/store capability of the TAP cards themselves.

  21. @Mattapoisett_in_LA:
    You confirm my belief that TAP was designed to be easy for the agency, not to be easy for the users. Raymond’s assertion that it’s not possible to design an algorithm that calculates and deducts cash passes and transfers translates to English as “not my problem.”

    There have been times I’ve defended Metro’s operations against tea-party-type comments, but I consider TAP’s implementation to be beyond the event horizon of botched.

  22. You can start by issuing free Senior TAP cards to any senior who qualifies. That is what happens in Foothill Transit territory – Senior ID cards are free to anyone who asks, the employee takes your picture right there and you get a temporary one on the spot, and a permanent one mailed to you a few weeks later. Instead, with Metro, you have to fill out the application, pay for photos to be taken in some photo booth more suited for teenage girl friend shots, and and then pay Metro again to turn in the application. I would strongly urge anyone in Metro territory to go take the Silver Line to El Monte and get a senior card there with no fuss.

  23. I just ordered my first Senior tap card and what you are put through is almost unbelievable. First, you have to fill out a form to request a card, you also have to send a picture of yourself, full face like on your drivers license. In addition, you need to send a copy of your drivers license or ID card. Then your picture has to be on certain paper or they will not accept it; if that happens, you have to pay three dollars to have your picture taken in a photo machine booth behind Metro Customer Service at Union Station. The steps needed to be taken in order to receive a tap card for a senior or disabled individual is unreal!

  24. Richard B,

    What did you expect from Metro? They are not in the customer service business. They are a government agency. You don’t expect easy pickings with anything dealing with government bureaucracy (obtaining a copy of your birth certificate, obtaining a Passport, getting Social Security, sending taxes to the IRS, etc.). Metro is no different.

  25. It seems most bus drivers don’t know how to handle loading a day pass on cards with stored values. Each time, they either tell me try it in the next bus, or argue with me the day pass is loaded (it isn’t). This is frustrating. Today, after 4 trys I went out of my way to a Red Line station and used a TVM to load a day pass. Please, train your drivers to handle this. I’d like to include more buses on my repertoire of travels, but cases like this just stops me and makes me choose rail only instead.