Wednesday, Metro experimented with locking the gates at the North Hollywood Red Line station and unlike previous experiments with locking the gates, outside of an article on The Source, nobody seemed to notice. As with previous gate-locking experiments, there was little confusion among commuters. Most “Tapped” their way through the gate while those with paper or Metrolink tickets were aided by staff.
Based on a sharp reduction of email complaints about TAP, the program seems to finally be rolling smoothly with the only confusion still coming from bus drivers. Some drivers are still having trouble selling and properly charging TAP cards. Every couple of weeks, I receive an email complaining about TAP, and everytime, they come from a bus rider.
The most recent letter came from “KW”:
I get on the bus. There’s $5 in my hand, and $12 on my TAP card. “I’d like to buy a Day Pass please.” The driver gestures to the machine and can’t take my cash because there is more than $5 on the card already. I tap my card in good faith, assuming that $5 has been subtracted and that I am now good to go with a day pass. Several hours later, after zig-zagging round town running errands, I am horrified to find that my TAP card is now empty, with a full fare (no transfers) being deducted each time I got on a bus, and that I am stranded a couple of miles from home without any change (you can bet I’d spent that $5). Luckily, this all happened before dark and I was able to walk back in relative safety. It would have been an entirely different story a couple of hours later.
While this is a pretty awful story, the good news is that with her card number, Metro could fix the financial problem and refund KW’s money.
So I call the number on the back of the TAP card. A very weary customer service type tells me that no, there is no way to claim a refund, and it’s not her problem that Metro haven’t trained their bus drivers how to add a day pass to aTAP card. Apparently it happens a lot. There is no training schedule. No idea when the problem will be fixed, if ever. She has no interest in helping me or suggesting a workaround for this problem in future. Thank you and good bye.
Obviously, I’m pissed, because I spent $12 on bus fares when I only intended to spend $5. I’m also pissed because there is no way of preventing this ever happening again, other than walking to the subway station and buying a day pass at the machine – which adds considerably to my journey time.
I’d be pissed too! I talked to Matt Raymond, Metro’s Chief Communications Officer, who is directly overseeing the TAP program after the earlier rollout follies. Raymond responded that complaints about Metro’s bus drivers and TAP is way down because they have been trained in selling and charging TAP cards since we last checked in on the program back in February.
When forwarded KW’s letter, Raymond expressed confusion because the agent should have been able to help KW get a refund, and it should have taken about two minutes.
The good news for bus riders is that it is still possible to purchase TAP cards on the bus simply by buying a day pass. While the cards will only have one days value at the time, it’s a simple matter to either visit one of the Metro ticket counters or visit the TAP website  where you can load value on to the card. Raymond reminds us that going through the website takes a day for the value to load on to the card, but visiting a window does it immediately. He also says that the number of people buying TAP cards on the bus has gone down from several thousand a day to several hundred.
While Streetsblog has received a lot fewer complaints about TAP in recent months, its possible that the reduced number of complaints is because of fatigue not that the system is running smoother. Let me know your recent expereinces with TAP and Metro, has it been getting better?