Updated 11:04…The TAP Day Pass Solution That Snuck Beneath Our Radar (and a peek at Metro’s latest plans for the rail station gates)

One of the glaring gaffes of the original design of the TAP (Transit Access Pass) program is it didn’t take into account the need to allow day passes to be issued on board buses without patrons already possessing TAP cards. Bus operators were provided TAP cards to issue to patrons needing to buy day passes only during the initial campaign for TAP day pass conversion March 15, 2009-April 11, 2009. Somehow the TAPucrats thought giving out TAP cards for a single month would suffice to address the need for bus users to possess cards when they wanted to buy a day pass. This of course ignored occasional users, tourists and others who no one would reasonably expect to have a TAP card with them prior to boarding.

Slowly the short-sighted inadequacies of the foregoing assumptions created discontent among patrons and the operators until the problem could no longer be ignored by Metro management. In early 2010 Metro quietly implemented a work around procedure for converting a Metro-to-Muni transfer into a day pass when a passenger puts money in the farebox but does not tell the operator they lack the plastic card until afterwards (see pages 3-4 of attachment D of this TAP/gating update presented at the Feb. 18, 2010 Metro Board Executive Management and Audit Committee meeting.

And the long-term solution? Until recently it was supposed to be paper TAP cards with embedded chips issued to bus operators that are capable of having day passes loaded onto them for up to 30 days. Only one problem–when Metro management belatedly sought input from the drivers about this idea the response was quite negative as indicated in this TAP/gating update presented at the May 19, 2011 Metro Board Executive Management and Audit Committee meeting. Drivers felt having paper TAP cards would just create customer confusion. The TAPucrats concluded “Therefore if an on-board Day Pass is reinstated, TAP Operations will explore options for implementing the pass through a permanent plastic TAP card instead of using limited use media that may become a source of customer disputes”.

Guess what? In conjunction with launching the cost reduction of day passes to $5 last month Metro did indeed start making available TAP cards for loading day passes onto to bus operators as part of a six month pilot program. The best explanation is in a Metro news release posted on the Mid City West Community Council’s website (and strangely is nowhere to be found on the Metro website).

And has Metro ballyhooed this significant developement? Actually, no. This page on the agency website (revised in July) mentions it in passing, ditto this posting on The Source. The take ones mentioning it on board buses (headlined “We’re a cheap date”) bury the news and emphasize instead the day pass cost reduction, much in the manner of this news release on the Metro website. The TAP/gating update being presented at this month’s Metro Board Operations Committee meeting lists it merely as a milestone completed among many
others of equal significance (see p.6).

And of course the proof is in the implementation. How well has the new procedure been communicated to bus operators? Are they being issued TAP cards? I’d appreciate anyone reading this who has witnessed an operator have a TAP card at the ready to load a day pass onto for a patron who lacked one post a comment describing what you saw. Also whether you have spotted a driver still making use of the transfer work-around. Or even drivers professing to have no remedy at all (and thus seemingly signifying that the word is
indeed not getting out).

And of course we can expect many more bumps on the road to TAP being fully rolled out. What fun!

(Update:This morning I actually witnessed a bus operator sell a TAP card and load a day pass on it during my commute to work. And what I saw raised some further concerns. It was on Metro’s line 200 on Alvarado southbound at 3rd Street. As that bus carries a heavy load during morning rush on that portion of the route the driver could only quote the $6 price without further explanation and have the patron hastily feed the money into the farebox after which the driver handed over the card. As we were about to hit another heavy activity stop (6th Street) there was no time to explain that a dollar of the cost paid for the card, or that the card is reusable including for the $5 day pass. I’d suggest drivers have some sort of explanatory literature they could hand out when selling TAP cards with details about the pilot program, but that is impractical as frankly bus operators already have way too many distractions to deal with along with safely operating their vehicle, like seniors and the disabled who try to pay just twenty-five cents during weekday rush hour and have to be told from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. the senior/disabled fare is fifty five cents. Maybe at least Metro’s Marketing Dept. could produce a take one flyer solely devoted to explaining the pilot program to inform patrons what is happening.

I’d like to acknowledge the assistance of SO.CA.TA Director and San Pedro resident J.K. Drummond who made me aware of this program’s implementation plus provided some of the details of the outreach for it (such as it is). – Dana)

BTW, if you took a careful look at the aforementioned TAP/gating update being presented at the Operations Committee this week it includes some interesting peeks at the latest plans of Metro staff to have the gating of the rail stations move foward, excerpts of which I present below — I am very curious if they will really go forward with this next month…

*Staff has developed an implementation plan to test locking gates that will quantify the numbers of transfers and non-TAP fare media presented at the selected test stations.

*Four stations have been identified as test environments for gate locking. These stations have one entrances and limited external transfer activity. These stations are: Hollywood/Western; Vermont Beverly, Wilshire/Normandie and Wilshire/Western.

*The approach includes notifying patrons in advance of testing; providing Metrolink and EZ Transit Pass patrons with TAP-enabled fare media alternatives and converting the Ticket Vending Machines to TAP-only Operations.

*Testing would commence in October with a target goal of expanding a lockedgate environment throughout the Metro Red and Purple Lines in 2012.

  • If I buy a day pass on board, do I get charged for the Tap card as well? Maybe Tap is different but I remember that Clipper Cards cost BART/Muni a good 2 bucks a pop, so using them for one day might not be terribly cost effective.

  • The solution for the Metrolink problem is obvious- get Metrolink to implement TAP. First of all, it’d allow LA Metro to lock the gates (which seems to be their fetish, for whatever reason) and still allow Metrolink patrons through. Secondly, and more importantly for me, it’d serve as an impetus for getting all of the connecting transit systems out in the ‘burbs on to TAP. Imagine one transit fare card from Banning to Ventura!

    Caltrain and Coaster both implement smart cards on commuter rail, so it can be done.

  • Dan W.

    I’m surprised that no one has pointed this out, but moving from monthly to thirty-day passes is actually a revenue increase mechanism for Metro.

    12 monthly passes at $75 = $900 per year per rider.

    However, twelve 30-day passes a year leaves a five day overlap each year, which is 1/6 of a month.

    So, with 365 days in a year with 30 day passes means the average need to buy 12.16 passes a year  = $912.50 annually per rider over time.

    So essentially riders are trading “flexibility” in buying a 30-day/monthly pass for the cost of an extra $12.50 on average a year.

    This is not a criticism, per say, but an observation.

  • Anonymous

    I’m pretty sure Clipper Cards are free if you’re loading them with money. fyi. At least I never paid for mine.

  • Dana Gabbard

    You are charged $1 for the card, for a total of $6

  • Dana Gabbard

    Nice idea but much like the munis in L.A. County the transit systems in adjacent counties keenly guard their sovereignty; plus they have implemented their own fare systems that are not TAP compatable (a la Long Beach and Santa Monica). There is no transit czar who could compel such a solution.

  • Dan W.

    I’d like to see a system such as in London, where you can ride any form of transit — commuter rail, heavy rail, light rail, streetcar, express bus, local bus within the zone(s) of the pass.

  • Clipper cards are indeed free to users; the $2 I mentioned is the cost to produce them. It came up as an issue when people were using Clipper Cards only once as a way to get $2 rides around BART (in particular, to get to SFO, which is quite expensive).

  • Anonymous

    I “TAPucrats”!  Fantastic!  

    Thanks Dana!!

  • Anonymous

    Ask Foothill Transit how well that went over when they adopted TAP.  
    First, TAP/CUBIC/LA Metro gave them the wrong hand-held devices.  
    Then there were reports that TAP was not distributing funds to FT as it should have.
    Whatever, it Eff-ed up the SilverStreak service because FT can no longer offer all-door boarding for TAP card holders.

    In your scenario, Justin, who pays for the replacement of all the (Scheidt&Bachmann?) SCRRA/Metrolink TVMs with CUBIC ones that can distribute the TAP cards.  

    P.S. Cubic and S&B aren’t exactly the best of friends:
    http://www.winston.com/index.cfm?contentID=154&itemID=3812

  • Anonymous

    These RFID cards cost no more than 35¢ when bought in bulk.

  • Dan W.

    Does anyone know how those of us who use Regional EZ Passes are going to be able to access metrorail when they start locking gates in October? 

  • Anonymous

    GOOOOOOD Question!

    I have seen TAP cards that are designed to have an “EZ Pass” sticker added to them in a LA Metro Staff TAP update.

    Can you tell us, Dan W.. from what agency you purchase your EZPass from?

  • Anonymous

    Those six days can also be absorbed by holidays, weekends, vacations, PTO, etc.  

    (Yes, I do know there are persons forced by this economy to work 7 days a week, 365 a year.)

  • TAPman – lots of us actually go to places to do things besides work. I use Metro on the weekends more than on weekdays. You’re still getting lass than you used to.

  • Anonymous

    Still looking for that non-English version of taptogo.net!

    And I am still wondering how a person with no use of their arms (there are more than a few using LA Metro) will be able to tap their TAP card.

    I guess Art Leahy is going to staff the turnstiled stations after all?

  • Anonymous

    Dan at Big BlueCollapseThe reason Big Blue Bus and several other municiple operators are not on the TAP program is because there is a problem with the system that does not allow BBB to get paid for the ride if a TAP card is used. We will join TAP if this issue is resolved http://la.streetsblog.org/2010/09/30/action-alert-get-the-big-blue-bus-on-google-transit/

  • Both Metrolink and the muni bus lines ought to accept the inevitable and get on board TAP.   Suica is accepted on rail and bus systems far beyond Tokyo; the Clipper card is accepted throughout the Bay Area.
    Why not a regional smart card for all Southern California?

    Local agency provincialism is doing nothing to help, even though they’re more than happy to send their bus riders to the nearest Metro Rail station.

  • Irwinc

    It seems like there are really several different issues that interplay here.

    1. TAP card is not widely available for purchase. Why is it that TAP card is only sold at shady looking check cashing places and not at every freaking 7-Eleven and Starbucks in town? Metro has failed spectacularly in making sure people have easy access to purchase TAP card. I know you can order one from the internet but that means you are only reaching the people already using TAP card. Imagine if you can pick one up at Costco (pre-loaded with $50) for $40?

    2. There is zero awareness of TAP card outside of regular transit users. People who only use transit occasionally have never heard of it. How about an actual media campaign to actually educate people and raise awareness?

    3. The lack of single day EZ Pass. The day pass only works on Metro, which is fine and all. But the real value of TAP card won’t be realized until there is a single day EZ Pass option. Leave aside the fact that Metrolink or Big Blue Bus won’t get paid (that’s different point), the Metro day pass is only limited use for commuters that has to switch agency. The single day EZ Pass is also going to be necessary if we want to preserve the existing free transfers to buses from Metrolink.

    4. The supposed “technical” issue that prevents municipal agencies from getting their fare. I know this is the excuse BBB and others are using to resist TAP card. It speaks more to the dysfunction of our transit system more than anything but basically, I refuse to believe that this is a *real* problem. I don’t doubt this issue exists right now… but it is not a “technical” problem. It’s a bureaucratic one. Cubic is the technology provider… Metro can make them solve this problem if Metro really wants to. The problem is there is nothing to gain from Metro’s perspective. NO ONE IS TAKING OWNERSHIP OF THIS PROBLEM. Period. There MUST be a way to tell if you tap in on a BBB Rapid 7 vs. Metro 720. The real problem is Metro throwing up their hands and say this is a “technological” problem and do nothing.

  • Dana Gabbard

    A lot of the problem is trust. Having Metro in dual roles as provider and doling out the funding (a consequence of the shotgun wedding of RTD and the County Commission in 1993) sows suspicion among many key players.

  • Dana Gabbard

    The May update does indeed show they are contemplating having the tunstiles staffed. That will blow a giant hole in the financial promises made early in the process…

  • Anonymous

    And where is the map of all these TAP selling locations?

    On-line only!

    Ooops/#TAPfail!

  • Anonymous

    TAP is one of the biggest FAILS I have ever seen.  I would argue they haven’t saved a single dime since it was implemented. It has simply caused confusion and anxiety to travelers.  They still have the sheriffs doing spot checks.  Now they want to have the gates manned?  What a waste of money. They were losing less when a few people failed to pay fares.  The gates are ridiculous.  Ever tried walking through the tiny set of gates at either Universal City or Hollywood/Highland when a trainload of passengers has just arrived?  It’s mass confusion and chaos watching people try to navigate in and out of the turnstyles.  There simply isn’t enough room for that many people to enter an exit all at once. The disabled/bicycle gate is ALWAYS the one that is packed. Try getting through there with a bike when that mass of humanity is pushing through both ways.  I have only one question to the LA METRO when they came up with this design…”What the F*@K were you thinking?”

  • Barrier systems are definitely the way to go. It’s not a “few” people who don’t pay, sometimes it feels like I’m the only chump who pays fare. Also, while I’m all for homeless rights, it’s a bit annoying when the train seems like a portable homeless shelter.

  • The dude abides

    TAP should have followed the model in London. They should have purchased gates that accepted both paper and tap media to handle the transition period. In addition the should price tap fares cheaper than cash to encourage TAP penetration. Metro should have worked with metro link to issue tickets that these machines can read.

    Of course London has an advantage because their smart card system is used by all services.

    But it really is not that difficult.

  • The reason the turnstiles were introduced is because corporate america loves selling the government useless things.

    Option 1: Spend 20 million (example) on good wages for inspectors to roam the system, check fares, answer question, look for trouble, etc. Add jobs + boost local economy.

    Option 2) Spend 20 million on machines. Have all the money fly out of the city, out of the state, and out of the country. Have no professionals monitoring the trains for trouble or answering questions. And then pay for years of proprietary maintenance and parts.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly Jass.

  • Dan W.

    I buy my Metro EZPass online at metro.net

  • Beau

    Of course Metro does not want to advertise that they are finally selling TAP cards on buses. if they did, then they would also be advertising that up until now they screwed over thousands of users by failing to do so.

    It would be a little like going into work and proclaiming, “Hey, fellas, I brushed my teeth for the first time today!” It’s good that you’re finally taking care of that, but isn’t that the sort of thing you should have taken care of years ago?

  • Mark Mathguy

    I mean Big Blue Bus participates in EZ but it’s unfair that it honors EZ passes but not Metrolink fare media, which this is the only cons of Metrolink fare media as EZ passes.

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