Metro to redesign screen options on TAP card vending machines with feedback from focus groups

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Metro recently eliminated paper tickets in favor of TAP cards – the reusable card stores passes and money. This cuts down on waste and makes buying and validating tickets easier. It will also be necessary for entering the turnstiles at all Metro Rail Stations, which are scheduled to be latched later this year.

As part of this process, Metro is updating the software on its TAP vending machines (TVMs) to make it easier for customers to purchase and reload TAP cards.

Recent focus groups of infrequent rail riders were conducted by Metro Research for the TAP group in both English and Spanish. The participants found that the current TVMs are difficult to use for first-time Metro riders (think tourists and event-goers as well as new riders). Participants said that the initial screen had too many options and was confusing.  They also said it was not clear how much the fare cost and that a reduced fare for seniors and disabled riders was actually offered on the machines. They also said it wasn’t clear when they could travel at a reduced rate.

TAP instructional posters posted in direct proximity to the TVMs appeared to make no difference as focus group participants said they were solely focused on the machine and the transaction.

The focus groups also previewed a couple of alternatives for a redesigned TVM screen.  The mock-ups were designed by the award-winning Metro Creative Services staff.  The focus groups saw the new design flow as less confusing, more intuitive and more user-friendly than the current screens. Follow-up focus groups will interact with the new software once it is loaded onto test TVMs at Metro headquarters.

What do you like or dislike about our current ticket vending machines? What would you like to see changed about them?

49 thoughts on “Metro to redesign screen options on TAP card vending machines with feedback from focus groups

  1. Steve Hymon,

    OK, but I need to ask you this then. Is there any particular reason why we still charge per ride instead of per distance when TAP cards are capable of doing so?

    I mean, if one were to summarize all the complaints here, it comes down to end-user confusion.

    Sure, the basics are easy as you mentioned. Buy a TAP card, load cash, be done with it.

    But when you get into the details it’s chaos. Things like senior passes, student passes, discounts, unlimited ride passes, transfers, “am I better off paying loading the card with $20 and deduct it $1.50 every time I ride” or “would I better off using a Day Pass instead.”

    Or “I don’t know how much it’s going to cost me to get from point A to point B, is it $1.50 or is it $3.00 because it involves a transfer”

    Why can’t it automatically convert to a Day Pass after a cap is reached.

    Or what happens if I have money left and the card expires.

    Or “what if I have to transfer to a municipal line that uses/don’t uses TAP” “is it good on Metrolink” etc. etc.

    The specifics are too detailed, confusing, and complicated for anyone to memorize all this. It like you need a one inch thick manual how to use the system to get around L.A.

    Wouldn’t it be simpler to just scrap all these things that makes life more complicated for everyone, the end-user and Metro that has to deal with all these, and instead do “load up cash, tap in, tap out, charged by the distance?”

    I think life would be less complicated that way.

  2. To illustrate some examples, say if I loaded up $20 to my TAP card.

    If I go from Chinatown to Union Station, I tap in and that’s $1.50 right there for this single station ride.

    From Union Station I transfer to the Red Line over to 7th/Metro. That’s $1.50 right there for another short ride.

    Then from 7th/Metro I transfer to the Blue Line and go all the way to Long Beach. That’s $1.50 right there for this long ride.
    My total spent so far is $4.50 at this point.

    On my return trip I do it in reverse. It’s now another $4.50 getting my day total to $9.00.

    However, unless you understand the system, you don’t know that you could’ve just bought a Day Pass for $5.00 and saved yourself $4.00.

    Throw in things like transfers to municipal agencies like transfers to the Culver City Bus makes it more confusing. If I ride the Expo Line from 7th/Metro to Culver City and once I transfer to the Culver City Bus, is TAP going to deduct the full $1.00 which is the per ride fare for the Culver City Bus or does TAP know that I rode the Expo so that it only deducts $0.35 for the Metro-to-Muni transfer?
    http://www.metro.net/riding/fares/

    Do I have to tell the Culver City Bus driver that I rode the Expo Line? Does the bus driver have to something to the farebox to deduct only $0.35? How do I prove that I did ride the Expo Line if all I have is a TAP card?

    Same thing in reverse. I TAP $1.00 when I ride the Culver City Bus. I transfer to the Expo Line at Culver City Station to 7th/Metro. When I TAP at the gate, does TAP automatically deduct another $1.50, or does it know that it’s only supposed to deduct $0.40 for the inter-agency transfer from Culver City Bus to Metro?
    http://www.culvercity.org/en/Government/Transportation/Bus/BusFares.aspx

    Throw in senior citizen and student rates it gets even more complicated.

    See, it’s hardly “very easy” at all once you consider all these specific details. The basics you mentioned are easy. But the reality becomes very complicated that makes it hard for anyone to figure all of this out.

  3. I guess I was a little confusing, I was really asking a question as well about whether the $1.00 TAP card is reloadable. And if it’s reloadable is it only for the day of purchase?

  4. Hi CJ;

    Distance-based fares are discussed often by Source readers — some transit systems have embraced them, others simply charge per ride (like Metro) or allow a rider to use transit for a particular stretch of time. Metro has said the agency may move to distance-based fares in the future, but there’s no timetable for that, nor has a decision been made about going that route. I think one obstacle until recently was paper tickets — they were still commonly used on Metro Rail. It has only been in the past year that paper has been phased out in favor of a TAP environment, which is necessary before going with distance-based fares.

    I’m not so sure that distance-based fares mean that it will be easier to figure out the price of trips — finding the amount would likely require checking a zone map or fare chart. I do think that one of the stronger arguments for distance-based fares is that it would be a more fair system than the current one — at present, someone who rides a long way on a single bus or train line pays $1.50 whereas someone who may travel fewer miles but has to transfer, has to pay $3 or purchase a $5 day pass. Overall, Metro fares remain low compared to other major metro areas, but it could also be argued that within Metro’s system, there is a disincentive built in for people who must transfer.

    As for some of the other issues you mention, those are fair points. I am not intimately involved with TAP, nor do I know the limits of its technology to know what it can and can’t do. My own opinion as a former reporter, longtime TAP owner and as someone working for Metro is that it’s manageable — the card has made my transit life easier, although I certainly don’t think it’s a perfect system.

    Steve Hymon
    Editor, The Source

  5. Hi Georgia;

    Yes, the card is reloadable. You can register it online at taptogo.net and load it with a pass or stored value there or you could do it at the machine at the time of purchase.

    Steve Hymon
    Editor, The Source

  6. Steve Hymon,

    Well I hope Metro does consider moving us to simpler distance based fares because as it stands now, it is very complicated to figure things out once you factor in all these other details I mentioned.

    At the base level, it’s easy as you mentioned. But once you factor in discounted passes, transfer agreements within and with other agencies that may/may not use TAP, unlimited ride passes, which other people use, it starts to get confusing for anyone to memorize what’s the best deal. And I’m sure for the agency and bus drivers involved, it’s even more of a headache to keep up with this.

    As for how easy it would be for people to figure out because it will require a fare chart, well I think this doesn’t have to be that confusing. We live in the age of computers and smartphones. We have touchscreen iPads and Google Nexus 7s. On the TVM menu, it can be easily showing a system map of Metro Rail and touch padding “I want to go here” to station you want to go to and pops out how much it is to get there.

  7. The biggest annoyance with TAP is that the customer service center operated by Xerox/ACS only is open Monday to Friday from 8 to 5. This is absurd and should at least be extended to the same hours the Metro Customer Service Centers are open. In addition, the web site should allow for balance and expiration checks without having to register the card, and allow transfer to and from card balances for registered cards without the need to have a human assist. All this machine fixing does nothing if the bank doesn’t work well.

  8. They just need to do what London does. You just keep tapping your card all day long, and it will never charge you more than the cost of a day pass.

    Yes, I realize they’ll have to pony up some more cash to Cubic to add this “accumulator” function, but without it the system is way too confusing.

  9. I strongly agree with the idea of fare caps. Trying to figure out whether I’m better off paying-per-boarding or with a day pass is one of the most confusing things about the system. I would use Metro more frequently, and with greater peace of mind if I knew that the system would automatically calculate the most economical fare, and cap it at the day pass rate. Many other cities have this, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. (Bonus points if it can also cap me at the weekly and monthly pass rates, but that would be just a nice-to-have.)

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