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


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 replies

  1. 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.)

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

    • Hi Georgia;

      Yes, the card is reloadable. You can register it online at 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. 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?

    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?

    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.

  7. 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.

    • 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

  8. Steve Hymon,

    I think it’s both #5 and #6. TAP cards deduct $1.50 at the gates before we board the train which is after #2 which O. Singh mentioned. We don’t do #5 and #6 doesn’t occur with our cards.

    What the previous poster mentioned was a tap-out process similar to the Oyster Card for London or how the Octopus Card works in Hong Kong, which I assume is how the Delhi Metro works as well. We don’t have that. We just tap-in and we DON’T tap-out.

    • Hi CJ;

      The reason there is no tap out is that Metro charges by the ride, not by distance. So there is no need to tap out at this time.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  9. Georgia,

    I know! Even Delhi Metro operates like that. It’s such a simple concept that I don’t know why Metro screws up so badly on this.

    1. Load whatever amount you wish to load into card
    2. Tap when going through gate
    3. Board and ride train
    4. Arrive at destination
    5. Tap when going out of gate
    6. Fare automatically deducted from card

    The concept is so simple that any tourist or anyone unfamiliar with the system can do this.

    Yet in LA, we screw this up so badly. It just amazes me why people are even paying taxes to such an inept agency who can’t even get something as basic as this right.

    • Hi O. Singh;

      With the exception of number six, you just described the TAP system for Metro here in L.A. County. As a longtime owner of a TAP card and someone who has been running this blog for a while, I think it’s fair to say that the main issue with TAP here is that many people find the instructions on the ticket machine confusing and the online website is equally puzzling for many users. Once money is loaded on the card, TAP is pretty easy to use. The other obvious issue has been the latching of the gates at rail stations, but that also involves some other issues, ranging from ADA compliance to station staffing to the lack of TAP at other transit agencies.

      I don’t mean to be an apologist for TAP and we’ve certainly hosted quite a bit of debate and criticism here. But let’s also be honest about the real issues.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  10. Love the idea of the card being able to convert to a day pass. It might not be the easiest idea to explain if it gets implemented, but it would make life awesome.

  11. The machines aren’t the problem; it is that there are so few machines where you can purchase cards or refill them, unless you are one of the happy, happy few along a light rail line. It’s really too bad that having dismantled one mass transit system after WWII the city has done it again: we now have a handful of transportation corridors, organized around the light rail, that leave vast numbers of public transit riders in the cold. What a shameful legacy for Villaraigosa.

  12. I’m an infrequent rider and I’m totally confused about reloadable TAP cards. As far as I could tell, at the machine, if I wanted a truly reloadable one I had to buy one of the permanent ones that cost $75. It doesn’t make it clear if the one off TAP card that you pay a dollar for is reloadable or not. As far as I could tell I was buying a one day plastic card that was just going to go into the trash at the end of the day, rather than a paper ticket that would be biodegradable. I’d be a far more frequent rider if I didn’t have to fork out $75 to get a permanent one and then have to add money onto it ON TOP of having paid the $75.
    I traveled to Britain quite a bit and their system is so much easier and logical. Their turnstile system reads both the paper tickets and the plastic Oyster card. The paper tickets are sent through a slot, the bar code is read and then the turnstile is released. The first time I boarded one of our Metrorail trains I thought it was completely laughable that we didn’t have a system like that.

  13. -Agree with others that the user should be able to place whatever denomination they want on the card. People use the cash value in different amounts for the discounted fares, when using the cash value on other transportation lines, etc.
    -There should be some charts, at minimum, possibly some maps with some sample routes with the associated cost to make it obvious to people what must be paid to transfer. It would also be nice to have the current prices for basic fares posted or displayed on a monitor instead of people having to figure it out only once they get to the machine.
    -It would be REALLY nice to allow ppl to load $5 on the TAP card and on their 4th tap of the day, get only a deduction of 50cents with an automatic conversion to a day pass from one way tickets.
    -Make it obvious how the TAP cards work in the case of multiple ticket purchases, especially for infrequent riders wanting to buy multiple tickets. From my personal experience, they don’t understand each person needs to pay an extra $1 for a TAP card for only a couple uses. They often just want to put the money for everyone’s tickets on one card.
    -From what I recall, the one way ticket was marked as a pass, which is confusing.
    -It might be nice to have a “quick” menu vs. a walk through the steps menu. I’d like to be able to just go to a menu, enter how much I want added to the card, tap and be done if I rode with some regularity. If I don’t know what on earth I’m doing, it might be nice to be asked in a more logical manner (i.e. how many people are you purchasing tickets for? each person needs their own tap card. How many do you need to purchase? what kinds of tickets do you want? etc.)

  14. There needs to be a clear statement saying when TAP cards expire and there should be a clear message that states how one can get their money back if they have funds left in their TAP cards when they expire.

  15. The machines at the Civic Center and at Sunset/Vermont couldn’t read my credit card. It works everywhere else! I emailed my complaint–didn’t even get an auto respond!

  16. The designers of the TAP cards and how they operate should just visit the Delhi Metro which is where I’m originally from.

    The Delhi Metro card is much more easier to understand in multiple languages than TAP and we have to deal with 21 million people with many different languages living in the Delhi Metro area proper.

    I don’t know how they can screw something up so badly as this. It’s simple, load up money, tap. At the destination, tap again. Money deducted. If money gets low, load up more money.

    What is it that makes it so difficult to get this done right? The whole failure of the TAP system just reiterates that either Metro doesn’t know how to run a transit or that people working for Metro are just simply that intellectually challenged. Worse, I’m afraid that it could be both.

  17. I’m with Joyce on the $1.50 annoyance.

    You’re only given denomination options instead of punching in whatever amount you want to load up. You already have a keypad there to enter in PIN numbers for debit card holders, why should it be restricted to the selections provided?

    Just do this:

    How much you want to load onto your TAP card, please enter amount you wish to load with the keypad.

    That way you can load up $1.50, $3.50, even down to the penny if you wanted to.

  18. i’m sure this has been brought up before, but the machines need to make it possible to load money onto TAP cards in units of $1.50. right now, you can put on 5$ or 10$, btu after 3 rides, a card with 5$ will have fifty cents left. the available options are annoying to deal with.

  19. My husband and I have used Expo several times to go downtown and to Pasadena from Culver City. Each time, there has been a clump of people in front of the TAP vending machines studying the screen to determine the option that applies to their travel needs. People don’t know what a TAP card is as opposed to just paying fare, and it seems to me that there are too many fare options, plus people don’t realize that they may have to transfer at least once to get to their destinations. Metro’s design department is terrific, and I am confident they will come up with a solution. My suggestion is the following:

    Then add one of the following fares or pay cash:

    One way
    Regular – $1.50
    Student/senior/disabled discount – $____
    Round trip
    Regular – $3.00
    Student/senior/disabled discount – $____
    (Day Pass should be revived)
    Regular –
    Student/senior/disabled discount
    Weekly or Monthly Pass
    Regular –
    Student/senior/disabled discount

    Add a bold notice that riders may have to transfer to get to their destinations, and clear instructions next to vending machines on when/how to do so. Voila!

  20. I’m one of the infrequent users (I live in Canada – I just like the blog and all things LA), and I admit I just don’t get the TAP thing. We bought our daypasses on TAP from the Silver Line operator – it seemed incredibly clunky as he had to take a package out of his shirt pocket, take off the wrapper, peel off two passes, and introduce them to Mr. Farebox. Didn’t make us popular with the folks behind us in the line. I dont’ imagine a vending machine at Artesia would survive very long but there’s got to be another solution. It would be cool if the farebox dispensed passes, but of course Metro don’t do transfers.

    By the way, has fare integration with Metrolink happened? Don’t much like their vending machines, but liked the fact the ticket was also a Metro daypass, a fact that will come to a crashing end when the gates are locked.

  21. Irwin,

    I agree the system is confusing. In the examples you described, most inexperienced riders will also not be able to figure out that when factoring in the return travel, it’s better to buy a day pass for $5.00. But I guess Metro doesn’t want people to know that. LOL

    Then you also have the problem of system unfairness being more visible. For example, if you make the fares show up to the destination, it will make it more visible that a person traveling on the Green Line from Redondo Beach to Norwalk will get by with just $1.50, but another person who needs a shorter ride and gets on at Avalon and transfers to the Blue Line to Compton ends up paying $3.00.

  22. That’s right @Justin Rose Metro buses still accept cash and will continue to do so.

  23. I just did this a week ago at Hollywood & Highland. I remember being moderately confused when given the choice, on two separate screens, of buying the TAP card pre-loaded with one ride for $2.50, or the TAP card by itself for $1, and buying the ride separately for $1.50. Or something like that. But really, it was no big deal. I just visited Melbourne, Australia, and I tell you, you have to buy your TAP equivalents at 7-11’s and such, for $6 each! So this is much easier and more convenient!

    MTA buses aren’t going to start requiring a TAP card in lieu of paying with cash, are they? I believe right now they accept both.

  24. Fare must be displayed, but more importantly, total fare to destination, not just fare for the line.

    For example, someone trying to get to LA Live hotels from Aviation station should be informed the fare is $3.00, not $1.50. Similarly, if someone is trying to visit Pasadena from Culver City, the TVM should be show that the fare is $4.50, not $1.50.

  25. @Septemeber Nine: They didn’t leave out infrequent users, they ONLY talked to infrequent users.

    @Eric P. Scott: While BART may have produced a cutesy comic book, their TVM system is INCREDIBLE difficult for infrequent users to understand. I’ve visited SF many times, and have a good understanding of transit procedures in general. Two weeks ago, I spent about 15 minutes helping people buy BART tickets at the airport because nobody could figure out how to use the machine. As soon as anyone recognized that I knew what I was doing, I was hounded for help over and over and over. Finally had to tear myself away, but thought maybe I should have put on a public tutorial first. The distance-based fare system makes it even harder, because different people all had to add different amounts to get to where they wanted.

  26. Thanks for all of your feedback! Metro Creative Services is using clever design techniques to solve many of these problems in the new screens. It is great to hear new suggestions and ideas.

  27. How about posting images of these mock-ups on the Metro website or on The Source so that everyone can see the new design and give feedback.

  28. One obvious thing that needs to be changed is the fares need to be posted. My wife and her friends, who are not regular riders, took the Blue Line from Long Beach to LA Live the other evening for an event and they were baffled by the fact that the fares were not posted at the TVMs. They had no ideas how much money to put on their newly-purchased TAP cards.

    They also said more route/station diagrams in the cars would have been helpful. If we want more people to ride we have to make the system approachable. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

  29. Cannot seem to post my comment with this news WP update.

    It’s hard to see what button one is pushing – i know TAP is working on nextgen touch screen interfaces that will minimise the looking around to see what letter to tap –


    perhaps if the screens were angled 15˚ instead of being 90˚ they would be more user friendly also and perhaps the interface can be more iOS look and feel, have next train status so users don’t have to squint for the plasma near the turnstiles. Have an area for tourists and How To videos, perhaps under EX transit there can be a way some FAQs for Metrolink and Foothill transit.

  30. It’s hard to see what button one is pushing – i know TAP is working on nextgen touch screen interfaces that will minimise the looking around to see what letter to tap – perhaps if the screens were angled 15˚ instead of being 90˚ they would be more user friendly also and perhaps the interface can be more iOS look and feel, have next train status so users don’t have to squint for the plasma near the turnstiles. Have an area for tourists and How To videos, perhaps under EX transit there can be a way some FAQs for Metrolink and Foothill transit.

    Just by the look and feel of this it seems much easier to use and this was done in 10 minutes…

  31. Really? They left out infrequent users?

    How dumb can Metro get? Has Metro forgotten that LA is one of the biggest tourist cities in the world who brings billions into our city every year? Tourists are the biggest infrequent users that will be using Metro when the go around the city so that’s the group they need to consider the most!

    Seriously, people working for Metro must be the dumbest people on the planet. No wonder our public transit sucks, the people working for them are total idiots! They all need to have their pays slashed because I’m not paying increased taxes for their incompetence.

  32. Still does not make it clear which choices are for a pass, and what that pass is valid on.

    And this is your key problem LA Metro; You have not defined what the blue card does well enough.

  33. If I recall correctly, the fact that a one-use ticket is accessed from the “Pass” menu. I assume that a pass is always multi-use.

  34. Oh thank God. I’m a semi regular rider and I still have difficulty with those machines. It’s hard to tell which buttons line up with the on-screen options.

  35. It’s about time. I’ve helped several tourists and local riders trying to go from Long Beach Transit Center to Downtown LA. But here is the worst part, the machines at both stations, especially at Long beach Transit Center breakdown or stop taking coins too often. Plus people forget to tap there card after adding value because those machines are isolated from the vending machines. The result, people get unnecessary citations. So if this the future, Metro really needs to put extra effort on redesigning the entire system and make it efficient, reliable and universally accessible.

  36. Absolutely, tourists and first timers. Can’t keep track of all the people I have helped before.. Now if we can just get Metrolink on board TAP. And the Flyaway buses.

  37. Other transit agencies have already conducted this exercise; ask your peers what worked (and what didn’t) for them. You don’t need to wait for the next APTA conference. Learn from their experience, and try not to repeat their costly mistakes. Be sure to document your process, so others can have an opportunity to benefit as well.

    Good ideas can come from anywhere. If you want to learn how to take a difficult concept, and make it understandable for the general public, go visit a science museum — they excel at that sort of thing.

    Consider creating a TVM simulator (e.g. an interactive web page) where people can “test drive” your interface before facing the real thing.

    Steal from the best: Check out BART’s “LEARN BART! Your Guide to Ride!” — a gentle introduction to riding their system, presented in comic book form.

  38. Steve, Southern California Transit Advocates is working on having a field trip to the TAP Lab soon. Trust me, we are FREQUENT users and are glad Mr. Sutton (in charge of TAP) is working to give us a chance to give input…

  39. I use to use the metro frequently and rode again this winter break and found it hard to purchase a pass. TAP cards should be come more efficient because some of the TAP cards that my friends used were deemed expired by the machine when the card had monetary value and was not yet expired. Also, the people who were surveyed should be more diverse; that is the people who are surveyed should be frequent and infrequent riders, especially since most revenue is from frequent riders and the survey does not reflect that. As that does not represent the population of people who use METRO

  40. I’m sure the new design will be better, as most of Metro’s design studio work is…

    But I wish focus groups would include both frequent and infrequent users. I took the survey to see if I could be included in this group, and was deemed ineligible because I’m an infrequent rider.

    Appealing to infrequent riders is NECESSARY, but I believe that MOST riders are actually frequent riders and Metro should get their opinions as well. The best system will work well for both, while recognizing that they may have different abilities to navigate and needs or uses for the system. A system based only on feedback from infrequent riders will not necessarily be the best system (nor would one based solely on feedback from frequent riders).