Reader Mail: TAP, TOD, transit apps and more

It’s been a while since we’ve featured the emails we get from our readers and since our last roundup we’ve received a lot of feedback on some big issues we’ve been covering.

Our lengthy post answering some of the most common TAP card related questions is one issue that sparked some interest amongst our readers.

Matt N. writes to us with concerns about the TAP website, referencing this statement from our post, “Metro officials say revisions to the website are underway and hope to have them online by the end of 2010. One suggestion from Fred and I make it easier to quickly find a list of fare products and prices.”

Just a quick note about the article about TAP cards – very informative by the way! But in regards to the statement I copied above and making the TAP website easier, I just want to say that I am a person who has bought a monthly paper pass for the last three years and only recently gave thought to changing over to TAP; the deciding reason was that my wallet was stolen last month and obviously, the paper pass cannot be replaced, which made me wish I had a TAP card, which could have solved the problem.

I usually order the paper passes on the Metro website, on which paper passes are available for purchase starting on the 5th of each month. This month, on Monday the 7th, I went to buy my normal pass and decided to check out the TAP website. I figured it would be a more secure way to buy my pass and since I knew paper passes were being phased out, I thought it was smart.

When I bought my new TAP card and monthly pass online, I didn’t notice that it was month-specific. I thought it would be on the same timeline as the Metro website’s paper passes (monthly passes available on the 5th day of the prior month and until about the 17th), but found nothing confirming that. The passes were designated as “monthly” but not month-specific. And so I wondered if maybe the TAP card would activate when first used (for instance, it would remain open until I used it on July 1st, and then activate specifically for July).

After I ordered the card and the pass, my confirmation email included this statement (which was not on the website):

“Please note that orders placed prior to the 24th of the month will receive fare product for the current month. Orders placed after the 25th of the month will receive fare product for the following month.”

This, of course, would have been valuable to know before ordering….

P.S. And only because I’m in the mood to complain (LOVE The Source! not such a fan of the TAP website now though), the end of this story will likely be me tossing my new TAP card out. After calling customer service to explain the sixty-four dollar mistake, I was only told that all sales are final and, even though I already have a paper pass for June, they told me I was out of luck. I’d say right now, paper passes are definitely the way to go.

Daniel G. has another TAP website related question:
My comment is about the TAP card Website. I have a Disabled TAP Card  ($14.00), I can’t load it online because the TAP website only has the regular monthly passes. It would be nice if I had the option to load my Disabled monthly pass online. Do you foresee it coming? Other than that the TAP card is easy to use.
We’ll be sure to pass these issues on to TAP staff who can address this issue as they update the TAP website.
Ron B. writes to us with concerns about how TAP and EZ Transit Passes will play together – if at all:
Today, I read your blog on “answers to your questions about TAP.”  Your blog caught my attention because I use the EZ Transit Pass. Plus, I have been seeing all the fare gates at various Green line stations.  Your blog did not address how the MTA plans to accommodate EZ Transit Pass users.  Especially, since all the carriers that accept the EZ Transit pass do not have a tap card.  Will the EZ transit pass be converted to TAP? Or, will the MTA issue a paper tap card along with the current EZ transit pass to ensure that EZ transit pass users can enter through the fare gates with no problems? Your insight is greatly appreciated.
Good question. We will pass it along to the powers-that-be and try to get an answer.

Here are some comments on the TAP story from Facebook:

I am happy with the responses…at least they know its a pretty bad set up now and fixes are in the works…cash purse please…My 2 cents…check out the Starbucks Car App on iPhone and see if you can create the same structure…you can load cash instantly and refresh balances in addition to paying with your iPhone! It is a pretty awesome app!
-John M.
Steve, you didn’t tell the whole truth about Foothill and TAP. Yes they still accept it but basically they are fed up with LA Metro’s and Cubic’s incompetence: And this project has taken 10 years already?
-Erik G.

Idea: why doesn’t metro create a bar-code on the paper ticket which can also be used on the tap system or since they can’t really do that create a separate turnstile for those who use paper tickets but use a bar-code or thumbprint scanning device which allows visitors access into the turnstiles. The technology exists already and is used in most major theme parks when renting lockers or granting access into a park. Its just an idea.
-Robert M.

I am wondering if they understand and take responsibility for the sluggish roll out and obvious stumbling blocks? Why weren’t answers to these questions figured out before this system was selected and before it was implemented?
-Bryan J.

In response to a string of columns in the L.A. Times asking for a more unified transit system, Mayor Villaraigosa presented a motion to the Metro Board that calls for a true regional trip planner that is easily accessible from all browsers – especially mobile ones.

This is the kind of idea Karl F. can get behind:

This is great news! Thanks for publishing this. I rode Metro last week to commute to downtown from the valley, and although the total price wasn’t any more expensive, it is definitely a hassle to need to buy a full fare when transferring from Metro rail to local bus service and vice versa (the bus driver couldn’t even tell me why this was the case). Coordination between existing Metro services and other agencies in the county to provide more accessible and convenient service is an EXCELLENT idea. In New York my rail ticket got me on all local buses for free, and that made the system so approachable it was practically impossible not to use it.

I’m debating trying to commute to work (Metro Rapid to Big Blue Bus) but would appreciate more help from the MTA in understanding and executing that trip, particularly since it’s cross-agency. Not that I can’t figure out the trip planner, but it is dated and inconvenient. As a new smartphone owner (Android), seeing the Mayor put mobile transit access as a priority for the region is a huge step in the right direction. That accessibility would definitely give me the courage to walk out the door and jump on a bus knowing I could find my connections and get the correct arrival/departure times from MTA on my phone.

Metro let cyclists ride for free on Bike to Work Day, however as Sam E. notes, not everyone was aware of this:
It’s great to have a free fare during BIKE WEEK, however, it would have been better if you had publicized this event especially on the live platform screens starting a week ago.  I ride my bike to Metro No. Hollywood Station just about everyday and it wasn’t until I bought my fare yesterday (Thurs.) that a Sheriff’s Deputy told me that it was Free Bike Week. I told other Bikers as they were buying their tickets about this event and they didn’t believe me.

One of our out-of-state readers, Mike M., recently  took a bike tour of L.A. and wanted to share his findings with fellow Source readers:

I noticed you linked to a post I wrote about riding in L.A. Thanks for doing that. I wanted to also let you know I just posted a new report with video and a lot of photos from a ride with several local cyclists. It was such a fun time.

Here is the post:

In May I had the chance to check out the new Hollywood and Vine Transit Oriented Development courtesy of the Urban Land Institute. John M. noticed that one of the positive improvements to the transit plaza that I mentioned is no longer in service:

A few weeks ago, while spotlighting the improvements Hollywood and Vine, you pointed out that this station had public restrooms. I was just there today, and the restrooms are closed with signs saying they will be closed indefinitely. My question is: who provides maintenance for these restrooms: Metro or the W? And when can we expect these restrooms to be reopened?

I went back down to the Hollywood/Vine Red Line Station and yes indeed, the restrooms are indeed locked and all signage has been removed.
A recent roundup of the currently available L.A. transit apps garnered some feedback from tech hungry readers. Karl F. observes some issues with the transit data in the apps he uses:
Thank you for your write up on LA transit apps. As a new smartphone user, this is very helpful. I do have one issue I’ve encountered that I’d like to bring to your attention.
I use Android (HTC Incredible, 2.1), and recently used AnyStop to help plan a trip. Overall, the experiene was positive, but I did notice something: lots of your stations in Los Angeles are only listed one way. For example, on the local 183 route in the Valley, most of the stops are only listed with times on the west running bus to the Galleria. This makes it tricky for a guy like me, who is trying to take that bus east in the morning to catch the subway at the end of the line. Without that data, the app doesn’t do me much good.
What makes it doubly frustrating is on the in-app map, the other station shows up on the Google layer but not as a green flag. A lot of these stations have the east direction data listed twice, which leads me to believe it’s loading that set twice instead of loading the opposite set as well… I also noticed this is the same for the Red Line subway downtown, which only shows times for the North Hollywood subway running west/north, not the Union Station subway running east/south. I got a response from the developer when I inquired about this, and they said it was an issue with the way they are getting the data for LA Metro, but I wasn’t sure if it was with how they were processing it or how you were providing it.
Either way, more streamlined and intuitive options for Android would be appreciated… Real-time would be huge, as the schedules only get you so far, and what’s the point of having a GPS-enabled cell phone if the data is the same as a printed schedule?  I’ll check out the other apps you recommend, but real-time data and internet access in the subways will go a long way to help make Metro a truly modern and mobile-friendly transit system.
And Eric B. notes that whiles apps can be useful for trip planning, the lack of real time data still makes it a gamble as to whether or not buses will show up as scheduled:
As a new iPad user I’m excited to try some of these apps, so thanks for the review.  I used Google Maps directions last night to get home from Hollywood late at night. The App worked great. Only problem is that it doesn’t make the buses run on time.  A 15 minute late 217 bus caused us to miss our transfer and get home late after waiting on the curb for a total of 45 minutes. Any word when Metro will release real-time bus GPS or schedule data to these app developers?
The good news is that Metro is working on getting a real time arrival system together. In March they put out a Request for Proposals for potential vendors, which we reported. The proposals have come in and now staff are weighing their options, hopefully to come to a decision soon. After that we’ll probably have some more news to report, but it will likely still be some time before real time data is available. It’s coming though.
Mark Elliot, Editor of the planning blog Tribuni Plebis came across our story on Blue Line safety from a pedestrian’s perspective and wrote us with this thoughtful letter:

I’m just coming to this post a bit late, but wanted to say that I appreciated the perspective offered here – that of the pedestrian – as well as the overall constructively critical approach to the problems that are suggested by accidental pedestrian deaths and injuries.

It seems like the Los Angeles region is in its adolescence with regard to mass transit. The problems that the post uncovered (crossings unfriendly to pedestrians, for example) suggest to me that we’re still figuring how out how to plan for transit as we make some sort of an unsteady evolution away from car-is-king. Like a gangly teenager, perhaps, we’re growing quickly, but maybe too quickly to make sense of it just yet.

I’ve found that this plays out at the local level with some discomfort. The increase in density favored by the Mayor on transit corridors has some neighborhoods up in arms over 6 story buildings where there had been single-story shops. Progressive parking policies (fewer spots) in already traffic-choked places has neighbors on edge too.

In Germany, as in other European places, people have a wholly different perspective on all of it, which is that of a pedestrian. It’s baked in for everybody. So while the systems are better designed to avoid injury, the public is also more attuned to the dangers too, and everybody recognizes autos as a privilege worth paying a lot for.

Our region is indeed undergoing a belated transformation. We can learn from the design missteps (however small that they may be) and can improve the system, and that’s the good news. We can adapt with flexibility how we conceive these systems.

The bad news is that people are much slower to evolve. The post reminded me that responsibility is shared.

Hopefully soon we’ll reach a tipping point and learn to regard transportation infrastructure as not an threat to local quality-of-life, but as an add-on; and crossings not an obstacle to hurdle but rather a danger to prudently regard.

Reader Hans L. worries for pedestrian safety around Expo Line construction sites:
The Expo Line construction site at the new Wye junction with the Blue Line is quite an impressive sight … on the north side of the intersection of Washington and Flower. Lots of cool new tracks, frogs, and massive soon-to-be-buried electrical ground conductors are exposed. Truly neat. But the south side of the intersection is an embarrassing, dangerous mess. So much construction detritus is piled up in the middle of the street that there is no room to cross Flower. This stuff is being stored behind a fence that completely blocks any safe pedestrian path along the south side of Washington at the signal. This stuff is being stored in the crosswalk! It’s a dangerous mess.
I watched dozens of pedestrians step into the eastbound Washington traffic lanes to get between Figueroa Street and the L.A. Trade College and Grand station. Dangerous.

Metro should be shamed into clearing that crosswalk of its own mess.

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