How We Roll, Tuesday, August 25

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The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles never get old! But that does lead me to wonder what the turtles are up to these days. All those years of eating pizza had to catch up to them one way or another, and there had to be a reason they were computer generated in last year’s attempted reboot of the franchise.

On a completely unrelated but more transit-oriented note, the long anticipated redesigned website is up and running.


The website for purchasing and reloading Metro fares online features a revamped design, easier navigation, and now the ability to apply for reduced fare TAP cards. The last point will be welcome news for seniors, disabled riders and students who qualify for reduced fares. Prior to the redesign, applicants could only apply in person at customer service centers. Feedback about the new design can be emailed to TAP customer service by clicking here.

Garcetti signs Vision Zero directive to end L.A. traffic deaths by 2025 (Streetsblog L.A.)

Streetsblog’s Joe Linton provides clarification and background on the Vision Zero directive L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti signed yesterday. The Vision Zero directive signed by the Mayor commits to achieve zero traffic fatalities in Los Angeles by 2025 with an interim goal of a 20 percent reduction in traffic deaths by 2017.

The directive signed yesterday also adds more city departments responsible for implementing the plan, which was previously only assigned to LADOT and the Department of City Planning, including the LAPD, LAFD, the Department of Public Works and LADWP.

For those who aren’t familiar with Vision Zero, Joe provides a description from the Los Angeles Vision Zero Alliance:

Vision Zero is a worldwide movement, started in Sweden, to eliminate all traffic deaths. While traditional traffic safety campaigns have focused on changing human behavior to reduce accident risks, Vision Zero takes a fundamentally different approach by instead putting the responsibility on government to manage the streets using evidence-based strategies to prevent fatalities and serious injuries. Vision Zero is data-driven, outcome-focused, and collaborative across agencies and departments.

Uber tests bus-style discounted “smart routes” (TechCrunch)

Uber is testing discounted rate “Smart Routes” for its UberPool service in San Francisco.

I like to say UberPool is the company’s “true” ride sharing service, because instead of providing point A to point B like its UberX service, UberPool allows drivers to pick up passengers who have also requested rides along the way. With rates only slightly above bus fares — depending on distance — and now the possibility of predetermined smart routes, the service begins to look like an on-demand public transit service, instead of just a first mile last mile solution.

The smart routes works by showing users “smart routes” highlighted in green on the pickup selection map within the app.  By selecting a pickup location along one of the routes, Uber gives users $1 dollar off the cost of the ride. The tradeoff is that the user may need to walk to a smart route location if they’re not already on it. It’s a cheaper ride for the user, but Uber drivers benefit too. Excerpt:

For drivers, Smart Routes allow for fewer time-wasting and gas-wasting detours. That means they can finish a set of UberPool rides quicker and pick up more fares, which earns them and Uber more money. In theory, getting riders to walk to Smart Routes would eventually let Uber profit, even after handing out discounts.

The smart routes feature ties into other experiments Uber is conducting, like its Perpetual Rides concept and Suggested Pick-Up Points. Uber’s competitor, Lyft, is also experimenting with similar ride arrangements.

So what’s the takeaway for public transit agencies on what appears — at least to me — to be the introduction of quite an appealing option for discretionary riders? Experiment and innovate. Unfortunately, it’s often tough for the typically risk-averse government agency to to do — a topic covered in this Wired article.

Train attack in Europe puts focus on vulnerability of U.S. rail (N.Y. Times)

After the thwarted attack on a passenger train in France last week, the N.Y. Times looks at the vulnerability of train systems in the U.S., giving examples specifically from Amtrak and WMATA in Washington D.C. There’s really nothing new the story is reporting, other than that train systems in the U.S. — and even Europe — don’t have armed officers patrolling or checking bags at each station like we’ve come to expect with air travel. The article notes that the two most common reasons this level of security is never reached are cost and resistance from passengers.

However, the article also says that the TSA has made rail security a priority and has created special security teams to specifically patrol train hubs and stations. In L.A., the Los Angeles County Sheriffs are always on patrol at Union Station and along the Metro system.

People were actually excited to drive down the Hollywood Freeway when it opened in 1950 (Curbed LA)

The L.A. City Clerk’s office released the above video harkening back to the glory days of car travel. The video documents the opening of a 2.5 mile stretch of Highway 101 between downtown and Silver Lake as vehicles wait like corralled racehorses for their turn on the new freeway.

With wide open roads like that, I can’t blame them for being excited at the time. Too bad the region then decided to collectively put all of its transit eggs in one basket (which was probably in the bucket seat of a Chevy Impala).

Follow Joe on Twitter @joseph_lem.

20 replies

  1. I would like to transfer over the remaining balance of my TAP card that’s about to expire soon to my newer TAP card that I already have and registered.

    One of the new features that you showed on the “new website coming soon” video was the ability to transfer funds on one card to another card online, as shown in your own Youtube video here at the 1:14 mark:

    I cannot find how to do this despite searching all over and checking the FAQs. Please show me where I can find this information?

    Or do I still have to do this and call customer service to do this?

    • Hi there,

      According to the folks at TAP. they’re still integrating all of the features. Today was the first day of launch, so they tell me this feature should be added in an upcoming update.


      Writer, The Source

      • “this feature should be added in an upcoming update.”

        Don’t get your hopes up though.

        If past history has shown, in Metro speak, this could literally mean another two years.

  2. I played around with the new website and found this to be one of the best features:

    Ability to load up whatever amount you want, down to the cent, instead of preset selections.

    This allows for more flexibility in topping up cash value into one’s card, especially when you have something like $3.25 remaining balance, but allowing the ability to add in $7.25 so as the total becomes $10.50, enough for six rides on Metro.

    But I would like it if the minimum top up requirement starting from $5.00 goes away.

    If I have $3.25 onto the card and only want two rides, i can choose to add only a quarter.
    If I have $3.25 onto the card and only want four rides, I can choose to add only $3.75.

    But stupid government website gives me an error message saying “The sum you are trying to add is invalid. You can add between $5 and $300.”

    I’m trying to add $0.25/$3.75 because I’m trying to make my TAP card balance $3.50/$7.00 you dumb schmuck! Oy vey.

    One of the banners also offers auto reloads which is a new feature as well. Downside? They want you to call customer service (groan) to get this up and running. Why they can’t just let me add a credit or debit card to my account, I have no idea. Probably yet one of those “it’s all in the name of security” BS again, despite there’s no problem of storing a credit card online on file for Metro ExpressLanes

    • Credit card processing fees tend to make small dollar amount transactions prohibitively expensive, private sector or public.

      • “prohibitively expensive”

        I can buy a two bottles of drinks ($2.22 + tax + CRV) at my 7-Eleven and use my credit or debit card to purchase it. I don’t see 7-Eleven batting an eye about it.

        I can pay for metered parking with my credit or debit card and these tend to be low value transactions as well. I don’t see Parking Enforcement batting an eye about it.

        Your argument fails.

        • Being testy doesn’t improve your argument. I was just at a convenience store that had a $10 credit card minimum, these are all just examples and not “proof” of anything. You could charge 1 penny on a credit card, but it would cost the vendor 10 to 25 cents, depending on their contract.

          The point is, it’s fiscally stronger for a merchant (in this case tap2go / metro) to discourage very small volume credit card purchases.

          There are great counter arguments for your examples as well.

          1. Parking meters by necessity have to allow low $ transactions, unless they want to force people to pay for 2 hours of parking even when they only want 15 minutes. That wouldn’t be popular. They probably also end up ahead by generating higher sales from people who didn’t previously carry change on them and would find a private lot to park in or free off-street parking. And they also reduce the need to spend money on meter workers as there is now less change to be collected.

          2. 7-Eleven is a huge national retailer that has probably negotiated better rates with their CC merchants. On top of that, as part of their franchise agreement they most likely prohibit CC minimums, as that is part of their competitive advantage over an “unbranded” convenience store. IE – you know what you’re going to get when you go into a 7-Eleven.

          So, yes theoretically you could load $.01 onto a tap card a 100 times to get to a dollar. But I’d rather Metro not waste money on processing fees, and instead invest that money into better service…

      • Jonah,

        Your rebuttals #1 and #2 already applies to Metro today.

        Metro’s own vending machine at the TVMs allows one to buy a single trip fare for $1.75 using a credit or debit card. If one has a senior card, the amount that can be loaded up can be as low as $0.35. And only $0.35 can be charged to a credit or debit card at the vending machines.

        Metro is a big government agency with a huge annual budget. It’s not your neighborhood no-name brand convenience store. If going by negotiating contract terms, they have the leverage they need to get a better deal and in fact, they do already since they allow people to buy low value fares at the vending machines.

  3. Additional suggestions:

    The remaining balance of each card is likely the most important information people want to see first, so if I can give you some website design advice, is to make this balance font larger and easier to see.

    You might want to add in a “transfer funds from one card to another” button to the right as some people may have two or more registered TAP cards. It should be easy as transferring funds from one account to another just like online banking.

    You guys really need to do something about this two day waiting period before funds are active BS. There’s really no reason why you need funds to be withheld for two days before it becomes active. As soon as the credit or debit card transaction goes through, funds should be available for immediate use. Is there any rationale reason why this is the case? You don’t have this issue with Metro ExpressLanes.

    • Metro folks mentioned this back in a 2010 The Source article:

      “2. Loading remotely by internet or phone requires a “waiting period” for the TAP purchase to be uploaded to the bus fare box, the rail station validators and ticket machines. The longest period can be 48 hours on the bus fleet, when the information is fed electronically to all of the bus fare boxes (which makes sense, as buses are out driving around all the time).

      Metro is investigating whether cell phone technology (the same 3G technology that is being phased into the portable validators) can be used to upload TAP data in a quicker fashion to bus fare boxes. But that has issues of its own, namely whether the cost of the air time and equipment is overwhelming. ”

      Note that was in 2010 and they were looking at 3G technology at that time when today everyone is using faster and cheaper 4G/LTE by now. Technology is moving faster than Metro than keep up and while they’re contemplating something, technology keeps improving at a faster and faster pace.

      Of course, the other solution Metro can take is just realize practically everyone with a smartphone has their own NFC card reader so that they can use the person’s own smartphone to activate the TAP card immediately after top off, or eliminate the use of TAP cards altogether and just the smartphone as the TAP card itself. That’s how it’s done over in Asia, where say, one can use their own smartphone to check and load their own Octopus Cards or even use the smartphone itself as an Octopus Card.

      • Yeah, I don’t buy that argument the least bit.

        I can easily provide an example of both the private sector and public sector utilizing 4G LTE wireless networks to give real time delivery updates. Just look at package deliveries of the USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL. The moment it arrives at your doorstep, it e-mails you that the package has arrived and was delivered. If you wait and see how the delivery people do it, they just scan the packages’ barcodes with their reader and you get a delivery message instantaneously via e-mail. By means of logic, those barcode readers that the delivery personnel are using are connected online and sending the data via 4G LTE.

        Uber and Lyft utilizes the same 4G LTE wireless technology as well as GPS to run their apps to let their drivers know where people need to be picked up, where they need to be dropped off, perhaps even pickup additional passengers along the way, all the while running Google Maps or Waze or whatever GPS navigation system as it’s being drive. That’s some serious data upsteam and downstream going on, all in a simple smartphone.

        And it’s not like the TAP card data of how much funds or what fare product was added isn’t this huge data either. It’s like few bits and bytes worth of data, not downloading some movie off of iTunes or Google Play.

        Metro with it’s $5.5 billion dollar annual budget can’t come up with a bidding contract with wireless networks like AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint or Verizon to bring in 4G LTE data to upgrade their TAP system to instantaneous real time updates to all their bus fleet? Metro’s bus fleet of 2,472 buses is not much compared to the fleet of USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL delivery vehicles and the number of Uber and Lyft drivers out there.

        And you’re absolutely correct that this whole thing can be done with everyone’s own personal NFC device that they already have today: their own personal smartphone. They can simply do something like “if you wish to have your TAP card’s funds updated for immediate use, please use our Metro app and follow the instructions for immediate funds/fare product activation.”

  4. RE View history section on website:

    IIRC, if someone managed to figure out how to work the previous website, one was able to see what bus or rail system or transit system they used in their trip history. Now all I see is “Device ID” which is incomprehensible to the user. Surely, there is a database somewhere that can cross reference Device ID with transit agency or bus line, so this should be an easy fix for Metro to do.

    Transaction type clearly states Tag on and Tag off, which means the system is in fact, capable of handling tap-in/tap-out. So now, Metro cannot make the excuse that it’s not possible because they don’t have the right system. And being so, there’s no excuse why Metrolink under distance based fares can’t go full TAP either.

    I don’t understand what “rides remaining” column means and I assume it’s not used that often and doesn’t apply to most people.

    • I just emailed TAP and provided feedback about the loss of the location information. I didn’t realize that other people even bothered with the History section to find out where they last TAPped in, but it’s good to know I’m not the only one who used this feature under the old interface. I would like to see this information again as it was displayed under the old interface.

      • It’s just like a credit card statement. People want to know their purchase, or in this case, their trip history. And it’s also a sure way to check that the automated system works and properly debit the correct fare amount, moreso if Metro decides to go distance based on their rail system or if whenever Metrolink might come onboard.

        In most other countries, they show this pretty nicely.

        Here’s a screenshot of a Suica trip history program on a Mac:
        Columns from left-to-right are: date of transaction, entry station, exit station, fare, balance, additional notes (i.e. merchandise, top ups, transit agency, etc.)

        And a Suica trip history app on an Android device:

    • I don’t ride every day, but after logging into the new site for first time I noticed the lack of trip / transaction history for my rides last month. Help request has been submitted and we’ll see if they are going to restore this data ‘eventually’.

      Yes, decoding the ‘Device ID’ into a comprehendible location would be good. Having the bus route / stop would be even better, rather that just ‘Division nn’.

  5. If one must debt ones credit card to add monies to their TAP Card why eliminate the middle man, just be allowed to TAP ones credit card instead.

    • Contactless credit cards are actually rare in the US because of the stupid American media overblowing the whole issue and playing into “oh no hackers can steal my credit card from a mile away” fears, neverminding the technical details that it’s not that easy to do and that people all over the world use them fine in subways and crowded spaces with nary any problems.

      Yeah, this was very popular back in the heyday of “contactless cards” are out to set out to destroy America!!! drum beating fears by the media.

      So much brain hurt… You can even Google up stuff like “how to make an aluminium foil wallet” to block RFID from government or would-be hackers to spy and steal your contactless cards which is as dumb as it gets on how stupid this country is.

      So for the most part, contactless credit cards are more commonly found outside of the US, with Canadian, European and Asia issued credit cards. But US issued credit cards, not so much and probably won’t make a comeback anytime soon thanks to the media.

      Heck, we barely just started moving toward EMV security chips (save your self from soiling your pants, these aren’t contactless cards, Google fact check it yourself) when the rest of the world were using them for over a decade.

      But your point is valid in another technology that’s widely available today: we can use Apple Pay and Google Wallet for this. And it’s one of the technological improvements Garcetti wants to make.

  6. Overall, I give the new TAP website a 4 out 5 stars. Nice job!

    Is it a drastic improvement from the previous website? Yes, it is, and it’s great. It’s easy to navigate, what I need is right there, and no confusing sections to choose from.

    It loses 1 star for some quirks though.

    For example, there’s this big button that says “reload my TAP card” and what I expect is that when I click on that button, some kind of popup that shows my TAP card (or a list of my TAP cards) to immediately enter in how much I want to add or what fare product to put in.

    Instead, it leads me to an instruction page that says I can do it online, via phone or any TAP vendor location. Dude, don’t you think if I’m already online, that it’s pretty much to be expected that I want to load value or a fare product online? You don’t need to be telling me that I can do this online, via phone, or at a TAP location. It’s an extraneous step and it can be one less annoying click that can go away.

    I agree that they need a place to store my credit or debit card information. Make it like Amazon where I can store my credit card info so that I don’t have to be searching for my wallet and whipping it out everytime I make a purchase. Make it so that I can store it one time and it’ll be there as my primary credit or debit card to charge. By doing so, it makes it much easier to do one-click shopping and reloads.

    On the list of TAP cards, it might be cool to show an image of those cards, especially with all the commemorative TAP cards that are being issued these days. Then it can avoid stuff like, oh dang, which TAP card corresponds to that number, is the classic blue one, the Union Station 75th anniversary one, or is it the Special Olympics one? If I can already see an image of the TAP card corresponding to that number, that would be great. I’m sure you have some kind of database for that, right, like TAP numbers so-and-so was a Special Olympics commemorative one or so.

    Yeah, the transfer balances to different card needs to be put live quickly. Some people do have those older 3 year expiry TAP cards and don’t want to get stuck with money that they can’t use and would like them transferred over to the newer longer lasting TAP cards. It’s also a great feature to have that when friends and family come over to visit, you can give them one of your TAP cards that you might have just lying around and just balance transfer some of the money into it so they don’t have to go buy a TAP card and go to some shady liquor store to load money onto it. Then they can just pay me whatever amount they used and I can check that out by looking at the TAP card history.

    Reading the comments above, it seems that this website is still pretty new and they still haven’t made some new features live yet. Here’s hoping to version 2.1 then and hopefully by then they get all the quirks ironed out to get 5 stars.

  7. Still too many clicks and pages just to get to the part that people want to see.

    1. Log in
    2. Choose “Reload my TAP card” or “Buy a new TAP card”
    3. Select either one, both redirects to the same exact page that says you can do it online, via phone, in person, or at Metro Rail stations
    4. And you have to click “Manage My Cards” under online
    5. Only then you get to your list of TAP cards page

    Step #3 is redundant + Step #4 is one click too many = user frustration

    These steps can be skipped over entirely, and should simple be:

    1. Log in
    2. Choose “Reload my TAP card” or “Buy a new TAP card”
    3. BAM! You’re at your list of TAP cards page or the section to purchase a TAP card

    Take a hint from Steve Jobs, “make it simple”