Public testing begins at Union Station on new screen prompts for Metro ticket machines

TVM picture

TVM old

Three Metro TAP vending machines at Union Station will show new screen prompts beginning today as part of a two-week test to see how the riding public likes the improvements.

As the images above demonstrate, the new screen prompts (top) are dramatically different than the current ones (bottom). In particular, it’s much easier for users to know which button they’re supposed to push when putting fares on their TAP cards.

The three TAP vending machines are in the following locations at Union Station: one is on the east mezzanine to the Red/Purple Line subway, one is on the west mezzanine to the Red/Purple Line subway and one is adjacent to the Metro Customer Center in Union Station’s East Portal. The machines with the new prompts have signage along the top indicating they’re different than the existing machines.

The new prompts are intended to make the machines easier to navigate, especially for new or infrequent Metro riders who may find some of the TAP jargon confusing. The new prompts will be tested for two weeks and if all goes well, Metro will then begin to install the updated screens on the 450 TAP vending machines throughout the Metro system.

If you have had the chance to try out the new screens, let us know what you think by commenting on this post or tweeting us on Metro’s general Twitter stream with the hashtag #newscreens.

Here’s a short video we made showing three sample transactions with the new screens, all involving putting fares on a new TAP card.

If you’re new to Metro and none of this is making sense, here’s a quick primer on our fare system: Metro riders use plastic reloadable “TAP” cards to pay fares on buses and trains. TAP cards can be loaded with daily, weekly or monthly passes or different amounts of cash from which the cost fares are deducted. TAP cards are available from purchase at TAP vending machines at all Metro Rail and Orange Line stations. They can be bought online here or at various outlets throughout L.A. County.

TAP cards cost $1 and can be reused for several years — they’re a very convenient way of paying fares instead of fumbling with cash and coins every time you ride. With a TAP card, you just tap the card on the farebox when boarding a bus or on the turnstile or validator at Metro Rail stations.

More on Metro fares and TAP can be found on the fare page of metro.net, including information on discounts for low-income, disabled and senior riders. TAP cards can also be purchased online at taptogo.net. Many other bus agencies around Los Angeles County now use TAP cards — here’s the list.

22 replies

  1. Is there a way to add a specific amount of value to cards (a la the NYC subway system value-add trick that’s been making the rounds online)? Using the pre-set amounts always leaves me with an odd balance.

    • Hi Socalliss;

      I think for now you have to go with one of the set amounts. But I’ll be happy to pass along your suggestion. I know for now Metro is trying to keep the ticket machines as simple as can be.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. Finally this is getting to be a Reality!! The New Easier to use Screens, this has been in the work for almost 2 Years Nice to See all the Meetings and Public input was Used to make the System Better and more user friendly

  3. Why did Metro choose Cubic’s non-touch screen fare vending machines? Are they easier to maintain or more reliable than the touch-screen versions (like those used by NYC Transit)? I know Chicago went with the same letter-button machines when the CTA switched over to Ventra tap cards, too. Just curious.

    • The problem with touchscreen is that the screens get worn over time and do not respond well to touch. The cheaper resistive touchscreens made by Diebold at the Bank of America ATMs require me to repeatedly touch the same area to receive an affirmed action. The more expensive capacitive touchscreens used by smartphones (Apple iPhones, Samsung Galaxy, etc) work based on the electrical signal from your finger to the touch sensor. They are more reliable to use, but come at a cost. Obviously, a non-touch screen will be far cheaper to deploy than a touchscreen. Unless, of course, METRO had the foresight to stuff a cheap iPad in every vending machine by default.

  4. It would be great if Metrolink jumps on board with the TAP card. Hopefully, the new CEO of Metrolink will agree.

  5. I noticed something new was happening at Union Station today. I didn’t have time to stop earlier this morning since I was on my way to work. But I’ll definitely stop and see how the new prompts function. But just a few comments from what I see in the article and from what I noticed this morning:

    (A) It appears as though only the screen prompts/user interface are different, is that correct? Was anything actually done to the machines? (It’s just my opinion, but I think the machines may need an upgrade too. While the METRO machines work better than the Metrolink machines, it’s still frustrating at times when the machine is broken or the machine won’t properly read Credit Cards or it refuses to take money for payment, especially early in the morning on the first day of the work week.)

    (B) Where is the “Other Languages” option on the new screen?

    (C) If the TAP cards are designed for use within the Metro system, what does the “Non-Metro Transfer” option offer? What’s the purpose?

    (D) Are the Metro Attendants, who are stationed at these vending machines, actually Metro employees or part of some local volunteer group? How much training did they receive to properly navigate through the new menus and answer any customer question? (I’m only curious because there have been times in the past where I’ve asked easy, basic questions to vending machine Attendants, and the information they provide is completely opposite of what the Metro Service representative states.)

    • Hi B Jams;

      Answers to your questions below from TAP staff:

      A) Yes, you are correct! The screens are new, but the TAP Vending Machines (TVMs) are still the same. New TVMs are expensive, and the new screens have been updated with an eye toward saving taxpayer dollars.

      B) The “Other Languages” screen is the first screen prompted once a patron begins using the TVM. For now, the TVM displays in English and Spanish. More language selections will become available 2016. If a patron bypasses the first screen by placing an existing TAP card over the target to reload, the screens default to English. If you look at the video in the post, you get a glimpse of the languages screen at the start of each transaction.

      C) The “Non-Metro Transfer” is a ticket available for patrons that are transferring from the Metro system to another municipal operator that accepts transfer tickets. The patron must have ridden the Metro system within 2 hours of purchasing the transfer.

      D) These attendants, or “blue-shirts” as we call them, are members of the same union as the customer agents. They are Metro employees who are given TAP card training.

      Hope that helps,

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • “New TVMs are expensive, and the new screens have been updated with an eye toward saving taxpayer dollars.”

        Yet still no touchscreen technology that has brighter screens and is being used in personal tablets that cost under $300 and being used in kids’ toys today that costs less than $50.

        • A tablet is one thing, a ticket machine that must sit in the elements and be used by many thousands of people over its lifespan is something different. Plus the expense of overhauling or replacing the existing the machines.

          Try the new machines and ask yourself if they really need touch screen technology or if the buttons are that much of an inconvenience. Or perhaps this is just criticism for the sake of leveling any kind of criticism.

          Steve Hymon
          Editor, The Source

      • “a ticket machine that must sit in the elements and be used by many thousands of people over its lifespan is something different.”

        Odd, Japan does it with touchscreens and they have a lot more riders than Metro, so that argument kinda makes it moot, doesn’t it?

      • They do have a point. Based on the technology available at the time the vending machines had to go into use is a big consideration. There may be inexpensive touch screens available today, but there is a big cost to replacing every vending machine in use. Two different models of vending machines with different interfaces confuses the ridership. It will be a nightmare to maintain and support. Consumer markets move rapidly while industrial grade products takes decades to churn sometimes…

  6. I agree with Socalliss. If you’re paying by credit or debit card, it’s not that complicated to add cash value in whatever amount you want using the keypad. If you want to add $14.75, it’s perfectly doable with the keypad or touchscreen and paying with a credit or debit card. There’s nothing wrong with putting in both preset values for cash users and adding an option to enter your own amount for credit/debit card users.

  7. There is another industry that has to deal with similar situation as Metro when it comes to upgrading terminals: the bank industry and their ATM machines. Much like TVMs, ATMs are also expensive, also have to deal with outdoor weather conditions and multiple people using them. And by far, banks have to deal with replacing far more ATMs across all of their bank branches across the nation compared to TVMs in a local area. However, banks are capable of upgrading their ATMs to touchscreen devices quickly. Why is that?

    • Several reasons.

      1. Banks make profit, Metro doesn’t. Whatever profit banks earn, they can use some of that to upgrade their ATM machines. Metro on the other hand, doesn’t make profit, so they have to do make best with what limited funds (tax dollars) they have in their budget.

      2. There are several ATM manufacturers, the two biggest being NCR and Diebold so there is competition between manufacturers to make ATMs cheaper. If Bank of America decides to change their ATM machines, they can make the manufacturers bid and Bank of America can choose which one offers the best bang for the buck. In contrast, there’s only one ticket machine manufacturer that I know of in the US, which is Cubic so they have a perfect monopoly to charge whatever they feel like.

      Using Google search, an ATM seems to cost about $15,000 max. How much does Cubic charge for their TVMs, I don’t know. But as far as I know, a ticket vending machine doesn’t have that much techno-gizmo wow in them today to be worth anywhere near $10,000; most of the stuff that a ticket machine can do, can be done on a decent smartphone with NFC capabilities.

    • > banks are capable of upgrading their ATMs to touchscreen devices quickly. Why is that? >

      Do you have a source for your statement? Or is this opinion?

      >