The latest Metrolink TAP solution

When you look over the list of 90 some posts I have contributed to this blog over the past few years, certain recurrent topics become apparent like the Wilshire bus lanes and the statewide bullet train project. Recently I have been quite involved in covering the effort by local agencies to assume management of the Pacific Surfliner intercity rail route.

And then, of course, there is Metro’s Transit Access Pass (TAP) and the associated rail station gating. I have written a lot about this, and in the process it has almost become an ongoing saga filled with triumphs and less than stellar moments. One ongoing motif has been the question of how Metrolink users would be given access to the Metro Rail system when the gates are locked. We have had some false starts over time as rumored solutions somehow faded into the murk, followed by periods of incoherence and regression.

Now we have the latest solution due to be presented to the Metrolink Board at its meeting on Friday.

Here are the highlights of the situation and solution:

The gates located at Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) are scheduled to be the last gates locked towards the end of the first quarter of next calendar year, 2013.

Metrolink staff worked very closely with Metro to identify an alternative ticketing technology solution that would enable Metrolink customers to transfer through the TAP activated gates. During this process, concerns arose regarding the durability of the chip-embedded paper solution for monthly pass holders.

Due to not having a permanent solution in place by December 2012, the following short term temporary option will be implemented:

1) Metro will provide Metrolink with temporary paper TAP cards for Metrolink riders who purchase one-way, roundtrip, seven-day and weekend fares at ticket vending machines. Cards will be distributed by hand to patrons daily until March 2013.

2) Metro will provide Metrolink with temporary plastic 30-day TAP cards for distribution to Metrolink’s riders who purchase a monthly pass. Cards will be distributed through Metrolink’s Corporate Pass Program, by hand at predetermined locations, on-line, and through US Mail.

The current Metrolink EZ transit pass paper ticket option that Metrolink customers currently use will no longer be usable through locked gates. The EZ transit pass paper ticket will continue to be visually inspected and accepted on Metro and Muni busses.

Of Metrolink’s 40,000 plus average weekday boarding’s, 68% are monthly pass holders (including corporate quick card users), 32% are one-way, round-trips and 7-day pass holders. Out of the 40,000 plus weekday boardings approximately 64% travel through Los Angeles Union Station.

My jaw dropped when reading that temporary paper TAP cards will be distributed by hand to Metrolink patrons daily until March 2013. And then every month thereafter for the foreseeable future temporary TAP cards will need to be provided to Metrolink monthly pass purchasers. 10+ years of TAP development and millions spent by Metro yet in the end these low tech/cumbersome solutions for our regional rail patrons are what the dire circumstances dictate? The mind reels. All this is estimated to cost Metrolink $639,000 (of which existing grant funding will cover $528,000).

3 alternatives are mentioned:

  • The Board could recommend that alternative solutions be evaluated
  • The Board could request a special meeting with Metro to delay the locking of the gates until a permanent solution is developed and proven
  • The Board could reject the above mentioned transfer solution and require passengers to purchase separate tickets to ride Metro

Given the timeline and Metro’s unrelenting zeal to close the gates ASAP I bet the stopgap solution will be accepted. Words fail me.