Transportation headlines, Thursday, Aug. 15

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Transportation Headlines online newspaper, which you can also access via email subscription (visit the newspaper site) or RSS feed.

Pedaling to work on a bike superhighway (New York Times)

It's not exactly a freeway — it's more a elaborate bike lane that manages to travel through several different jurisdictions to connect Copenhagen to its 'burbs. Good idea — unless you really like sharrows and bike lanes built in the gutter.

Expo Line rolling steadily toward Santa Monica (Santa Monica Lookout)

The story focuses on the stretch of tracks that will run down the middle of Colorado Avenue between 5th and 17th. The middle of the street will be cordoned off for work and traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction with no street parking. It's happening, people. And I'm looking forward to taking the train one day to Fritto Misto for the gnocchi with basil pesto sauce.

Metro's TAP problem — bus driver training (TransitWatch LA)

The post is about a complaint that is not uncommon: bus operators not knowing how to deduct a day pass from stored value on a TAP card. Metro is implementing a new training program for bus operators to help with this.


22 replies

  1. “However, the current implementation isn’t conducive to letting people use their own NFC writers; there’s just too much fraud potential.”

    Really? You think Metro’s reluctance to just issue NFC cards to the public is fraud concerns? You already see personal NFC card readers/writers being used by the public over in Asia.

    NFC writers aren’t this space age technology thing that’s so expensive that only government and approved contracters can have. It’s just a USB card reader/writer that anyone can buy off the internet for $30. And most likely these days, people already have one equipped on their smartphones.

    Wouldn’t you think if fraudsters were so dedicated to go after transit cards they would’ve done so by now? Do you really think scammers and fraudsters are going to spend their time and money on trying to rip off transit cards? It’s not like TAP can be used to load up $1000 and go on a shopping spree at BestBuy. It’s a transit card that can only be used to only ride Metro and Metro only.

    Fraudsters aren’t going to go after transit cards. What good is stealing money from a TAP card from something that can only be used to ride mass transit? Look ma’ I hacked into Metro, loaded up $500 into TAP with my NFC card reader/writer and yippee now I could ride the bus for free!

    Umm, no. Fraudsters go after VISA cards, Mastercards, American Expresses and Discover cards which can be used anywhere. Why would fraudsters waste their time and energy in hacking into TAP when they can just easily skim off an American Express card? Skimming a magnetic stripe credit card that can be used anywhere from 7-Eleven to BestBuy is far easier and more attractive than a transit contactless card which is practically only used to ride public transit.

    The only reason Metro doesn’t want to sell NFC card readers/writers to the public is because they know it gives them one less of an advantage to secure tax funds. As a government agency who is reliant on taxpayer funds, It’s easier for them to say “we need millions of taxpayers dollars to install TVMs because they cost a lot of money” rather than say “it’s cheaper for taxpayers to just sell the darn USB NFC card readers/writers to the public and let them do it at home.”

  2. As others have mentioned, Clipper supports fare capping on VTA using a Day Pass Accumulator. This is completely divorced from the amount of e-cash stored on the card. When you tap in, your transaction is either approved or denied. The card readers give visual (colored lights plus alphanumeric display) and auditory feedback (one beep for success; two beeps, with the second at a higher pitch, for low balance warning; three beeps for failure). Additional funds can be added at TVMs, a vast network of retail locations, online (with some caveats), or via preauthorized autoload.

    How can a transit agency make it convenient for everyone (including low-income passengers) to add cash value to their cards in small increments? How can they incentivize semi-frequent customers who don’t benefit from pass products? Houston’s METRO [] solved both problems. They put mini vending machines (“BBRs”) in the back of all their local buses. And for every 50 paid rides, passengers earn five free ones. This encourages cash-paying residents to adopt METRO Q Cards, but still gyps tourists. (Contrast with Boston [], which offers fare discounts on every trip if you use a CharlieCard.)

    Seriously, whatever problems people have (or think they might have) with TAP, someone else has already “been there, done that.” However, the current implementation isn’t conducive to letting people use their own NFC writers; there’s just too much fraud potential.

  3. Transit Watch LA,

    “Why not offer Auto-loading when the TAP balance falls below $5.00. I would gladly take that service. I am sure that feature is available from Cubics.”

    It is available. Both ClipperCard up in the Bay Area and London Oyster rely on the same exact Cubic System as Metro. And they both have automatic reloads when it falls to a certain amount:



    If anything, it could be just a simple tick mark somewhere in TAP software that Metro has yet to turn on.

  4. A whole lot of lame excuses as usual to not get anything done if you ask me. What does implementing a cap system have to do with all the concerns Sutton makes?

    It’ll still be the same. People can still load up whatever amount they want, it doesn’t have to be $80, it could just be $10. Sutton tries to scare off people by say “patrons would have to either put a large stored value amount, say the price of a monthly pass, $80 on their card ”

    Umm no? This is how people will react:

    I don’t know how much I’m going to ride, I’ll just fill it up with $10 and see how it goes.

    On the first day I rode the system up to the daily cap of $5.00. Now I have $5.00 left in the card. Hmm should I put more in, or not? Well I don’t think I will be using Metro for a while, I’ll just leave the $5.00 in the TAP card so I can use it the next time around.

    Flash forward several months later, and I need to use the bus again. I forgot how much was in this TAP card. I check online, oh yeah I still have $5.00 left. That’s fine for another day’s worth. No worries.

    And I ride it again for that day, knowing all my travels on Metro will be equal to or less than $5.00.

    Fast forward several months later, my car breaks down and I know I have to Go Metro until my car gets fixed. I’ll then put in $20 into the card and let the system figure it out, knowing that if I use less, it’ll use only what I need and have money left over for future use, and if I use more, it’ll be capped off at $20 for 7 days.

    And Metro is worried people will get upset about this? No, a vast majority of Metro riders will embrace this with open arms because it makes thing easier for everyone, casual and frequent transit riders alike. Casual riders will just load up whatever amount they want and save the money up for their next ride. Frequent riders will just buy passes as they do today. See, there’s no big difference.

  5. Transit Watch LA,

    I agree with you that David Sutton’s explanation is vague at best. In his article, he states:

    “Patrons would have to either put a large stored value amount, say the price of a monthly pass, $80 on their card and draw down from that or else they may not reach the cap. Otherwise they would have to constantly reload small increments meaning many more trips to the sales vendor or the TAP vending machines.”

    I don’t know, but from my POV, it’s easier for me to just load up whatever amount I want into the TAP card, forget about it, and have the system figure it out automatically rather than making me “figure out in advance” on whether I need a single ride, day pass, weekly pass, or monthly pass.

    Once is fixed, which Metro is saying it’s “coming soon,” people can load cash value at home without even going to the TVMs or trekking over to Ralphs just to load the darn card.

    The new will allow the function for anyone to load up whatever amount they want in the comfort of their own home. Even better would be like the system they use up north where the ClipperCard as well as London which allows automatic reloads from a debit or credit card whenever it reaches down to a certain set amount.

    With new TAP cards having expiration of ten years, one time load of $100 that will last 10 years is nothing, even for casual Metro riders like myself and more than likely I’ll use up $100 in 10 years.

    And if it happens that I get down to say $4.00 somewhere along the line, the system will automatically figure out to reload another $20 automatically straight from my linked debit or credit card.

    The system should be easy. Load up money onto TAP card, draw it down. Automatic reloads. Automatic fare adjustments. Automatic caps. Everything is possible today, there’s no need for us to be stuck with 20th century ideas which makes life more confusing for all.

  6. Steve his quote makes no sense. In any case you need to make sure you have enough to cover the fare that you are using the TAP card for. If I take two rides I need to make sure I have at least $3.00 on my TAP card. If I want a day pass I need to make sure I have $5.00 on my card. He mentions adding value will require many trips to a vending machine or TAP re-seller to reload the TAP card but fails to mention you can add a stored valued from the Web site (yes the site is terrible but if you have to use it?) like I just added $20.00 to my account. Also brings up an issue of auto loading. Why not offer Auto-loading when the TAP balance falls below $5.00. I would gladly take that service. I am sure that feature is available from Cubics.

    It is short sighted if the only issue of capping is users will have to monitor their balance as we have to do anyway. Logically if you have to monitor balances in any scenario, would it make sense to make the process as easy as possible. No driver training and users would not have to determine how many rides they may take in order to justify a pre-purchase of a day pass. My opinion is that metro will lose revenue on the capping program because its clear they don’t really want to sell day passes.

  7. Oscar Hernández

    “Anyone that deals with customers should be trained and have the knowledge to answer/guide people on the TAP system”

    True, but all of that flies out the window because bus drivers are union members. Their union contract states that they are paid to drive the bus safely, not operate the TAP farebox, memorize confusing button functions, and undergo annual training to be like a cashier at the same time while driving the bus.

    Now if you make the bus drivers undergo annual training and make them like cashiers, when their union agreement contract comes up, they will ask for more raises and better benefits because it’s an additional job they have to do in addition to driving the bus safely. “We now have to do extra work because we now have to push some buttons on the farebox machine while keeping an eye out for fare evaders, operate the back door for those who are getting off, as well as driving the bus safely and watching out for pedestrians and bicyclists. I want a pay raise.” That’s how unions work.

    And who pays for these increase costs for union contracts? Taxpayers. Who pays for the annual training of bus drivers? Taxpayers. Metro isn’t a for-profit corporation, it’s a taxpayer subsidized government agency. So if their union asks for more pay raises and benefits because they now have to operate the TAP farebox to do something like transferring cash value to a daily pass, who pays for it? We do.

    And it’s not like Metro is facing a good relationship with their unions today either. Union strike is just over the horizon holding up billions in dollars in federal funding.

    If Metro and taxpayers wants to avoid this mess, the most simplest of all solutions is to let the TAP machine do it automatically without the need of the bus driver doing anything. And all the problems go away with the daily cap system. Then bus drivers can still focus on being bus drivers and they will not have any leverage when their union contracts negotiations come up.

    • I think David’s extensive quote neatly sums up the issues involved.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  8. @Steve Hymon and @Transit Watch LA – So what is Metro’s answer this? You alluded to it in your comment, but I’m curious to what their official response is.

    Fare capping should be expected. But, training any Metro employee especially for those that interact with costumers like bus drivers do should also be expected. I think some of these comments are completely missing the point. Yes, of course their priority should be driving the bus, but as a bus driver, you are a Metro employee AND representative. Anyone that deals with customers should be trained and have the knowledge to answer/guide people on the TAP system, since it is one of the main ways to board a bus.

  9. problemes should be solve. Transportation systen should be easy and for this suitable actions are needed. I think drivers should gine the training to get the skills since they run the bus and TAP problem should be solve soon.
    Quebec shipping services

  10. Metro should look into putting in a daily cap system. It’s the simplest answer to this problem.

  11. Santa Clara VTA, on a multi agency system similar to Metro’s TAP, has implemented fare capping in an intuitive manner: This shouldn’t be that hard. This also prevents the day pass from activating when it is not desired – I store multiple day passes on one card, and stored value on another card, because if I only make one or two trips that day on the card with the day pass, it will use the day pass even though I may have wanted it to use stored value, unless on rail I buy one of those “one ride” fares.

  12. Commenters make a good point about the daily cap and letting the system do the work. I understand metro has an explanation for that but they should certainly look further into getting a daily cap in place. I do commend the source for a least shining some light on this issue.

  13. Why does Metro always have to choose the path that is more expensive to taxpayers?

    Everyone who can do math can simulate in their heads that a computerized daily cap system upgrade is cheaper than teaching bus drivers new tricks. And we have 4000+ bus drivers to teach in addition for their skill to drive the bus safely.

    The training cost of 4000 bus drivers to act as human fare vending machines who may or may not see this every day and potential to lose memory on how to do it would require annual trainings year after year is too costly.

    Compare that with the cost of a one-time computer software upgrade to the TAP system so it can do a daily cap system all the time, every time without the hassle of speaking to the bus driver, clogging up the line behind you, all the while crossing your fingers that the bus driver remembered his/her training on how to do it.

    It’s a no brainer. It’s cheaper in the long run to implement a daily cap system. Metro should really stop playing games trying out old and costly ideas that don’t work and get the ball rolling on something that works for the better convenience of passengers.

    Just like Bob Thomas said, there’s a reason why they’re called “Smart Cards.” Use it to the full potential. Why is this city so backward and anti-technology in everything?

    • Ah, the dangers of following links from site to site! Luckily the article is eminently timeless!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  14. What the “TransitWatch LA” article demonstrates is that, as usual, Metro has the solution backward. Instead of training bus drivers to do something than driving a bus, the TAP card should be programmed so that the user doesn’t have to switch between stored value and day passes. The user should TAP a one-way fare until the day pass cost is reached and the card should then stop deducting money. That’s why they call them “Smart Cards.”

  15. And another thing, this has been said many times by many folks here throughout the years. Why not just have a daily cap system? Is it really that hard to do? London uses the exact same Cubic system as ours and they have a daily cap system.

    If I have $20.00 on my TAP card and if I ride it through the system in any given day, it should cap off at $5.00 for the day. $1.50 + $1.50 + $1.50 + and the final bus or train will only deduct $0.50 at the $5.00 daily cap.

    Again, once you have a daily cap system in place, you have zero need for bus driver interaction.

    if you make things too confusing and more frustrating, people will not ride Metro. We had bus driver training on TAP for years and nothing changed. What makes you guys think this time around it’ll work? Simplify.

  16. We don’t need a bus driver training program for TAP. Bus drivers are not cashiers, they are their to drive the bus safely. You don’t want to overwhelm them with more work than they need to. Furthermore, this is just going to make their unions end up asking for more concessions because they are doing more work, which further burdens taxpayers.

    All you need to do is fix TAP so absolutely zero bus driver interaction is needed at all. It’s really simple:

    1. Fix TAP problems ASAP

    2. Get the upgraded running ASAP

    3. Sell the USB contactless card readers to the public so they can load up cash-value or day pass at the comfort of their own home, with their own computer, 24/7. Those contactless card readers are not space age stuff. It’s literally just a $10-40 usb card reader.

    4. Do automatic deduction for transfers between agencies so no bus driver interaction is needed like “please deduct so-and-so because I’m going from Muni-to-Metro/Metro-to-Muni.” All you need is fix TAP so upon TAP-in, the card reader on the bus or turnstiles looks at the previous TAP data stored on the card reader to automatically deduct the correct value. If data stored on the card says Culver City Bus, and when the next TAP is Metro, it deducts $0.40 instead of $1.50.

    Walla. No more bus driver interaction for TAP needed. Bus drivers should only focus on driving the bus safely. You don’t want to overwhelm them with additional cashier job function which require more training and distracts them from their primary job function.