We recently asked readers to send us your questions about TAP, the electronic fare cards used by Metro and several other transit agencies in Los Angeles County. We received several dozen inquiries, which we boiled down to the questions below.
The answers were written by Fred and I, based on information conveyed to us by the Metro officials who run the TAP program that is overseen by Matt Raymond, Metro’s Chief Communication Officer.
Before we get started, a little perspective.
TAP currently records more than 15 million transactions per month. About two million TAP cards have been issued to transit riders in Los Angeles County in the past two year and Metro sells over $6 million of fares on TAP each month. Metro officials consider it a reliable system in “full revenue production.”
The TAP system is also clearly a work-in-progress. Your questions are a testament to that. For one, Metro is hopeful that more transit agencies will adopt the cards, a precursor to having a seamless transit system across sprawling Los Angeles County. There are some issues involving technology that still also must be resolved and some policy decisions to be made about the type of products available on TAP cards and when gates at some Metro rail stations will be locked.
Now, your questions:
Why isn’t there a cash purse available?
A cash purse is available on TAP with several transit agencies in L.A. County — Culver City, Montebello, Norwalk, Foothill, Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley. Each allows customers to put random amounts of cash on their cards, but this can only be done at their local agency stores. It’s still a limited operation because it’s a pilot program to see if the cash purse works. So far, Metro officials say it has been successful and there has been widespread interest in this feature.
Now it’s up to Metro and other agencies to decide when or if they want to begin the cash purse feature. This would permit the loading of cash onto the TAP card at Metro Customer Service Centers, retail stores that sell TAP cards, ticket machines at Metro Rail stations (and the Orange Line busway) and the taptogo.net website.
On the financial front, one key step that must be taken is to secure agreements that define when money loaded on the TAP card by customers actually reaches the transit agencies that accepted your TAP fares.
Another issue is how does Metro best check that riders using a cash purse with TAP actually paid their fare? When a customer has a paper ticket, a fare inspector can check the ticket for the correct date and time. A TAP card has no visual clue and that has led to concerns that with a cash purse, some people can abuse the system by carrying around empty TAP cards or not tapping their cards even though there’s value on them.
Why is that a problem? At this time, only some of Metro’s fare inspectors have handheld validators that can be used to check that a customer actually tapped their TAP card before riding. This is about to change, as Metro is phasing in a new type of validator that is actually a Nokia cellular device. These new validators use 3G technology (the same tech that makes surfing the web possible on smart phones) that is faster, smaller and more economical than the current non-cellular devices that are bulky, heavy and expensive.
Soon all fare inspectors will be carrying these new devices.
Which leads to the next question…
When will the fare gates be activated and why are they there if they aren’t going to be activated?
As many of you are surely aware, the gates that have been installed at some Metro rail stations have not yet been locked. But the TAP reader on them works and customers with TAP cards are required to TAP their cards before going through. Continue reading