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.

  • Erik Griswold

    “The overall costs of staffing the gates and supporting this overall initiative are not known at this time.”


    And remember kiddies, the gates have never been tested at Los Angeles Union Station nor were the tests at the other Subway stations done in a non-coercive and/or scientific manner, despite what Uncle Zev might have told you.

  • John K

    “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.”

    they need PAPER TAP at all TMVs.  If I leave my TAP at home for whatever reason, I shouldn’t be forced to buy a new plastic card.  One time/spontaneous riders shouldn’t be forced to buy a plastic card that expires.   

  • Tony

    Hopefully part of the conversion is not making City of LA residents pay 3-4 times more to ride Metrolink than to ride a Metro line, especially when Metro refuses to serve those people in the first place.

    Not sure why they decided that Metrolink doesn’t deserve the same subsidy as metro lines, maybe for the same reasons they decided that those people shouldn’t be served by the LACMTA they pay into.

  • zstern

     I’m fine without the paper cards but allow for a deposit refund for the plastic TAP cards.  i.e. if you forget your card, you buy a new one, and deposit it back in the TVM at the end of your trip and you get your tap money back.  This is how it is done in Singapore and it is seamless.

  • Davistrain

    I haven’t seen any recent statistics, but there used to be a blogger who would remind us periodically that the percentage of LA Metro employees who use the “sponsor’s product” is somewhere in the mid-single-digits.

  • Carlos

    I ride the expo line every day and in the past two weeks Sheriffs made frequent checks of TAP cards. Out of the four or five times they checked me, every rider paid their fare and used their TAP card. Its been a tough transition, but when they do lock the gates, everyone will have a TAP card to get through them. 

    The metrolink problem is a big issue. There seems to be a problem with either changing out the metrolink TVMs with new ones that can issue TAP cards, or putting the regional fare system that metrolink uses on the TAP cards. 

    It is a solution worth solving because I have never been witness to a fare check without someone trying to evade the fare until these past two weeks. So TAP seems to be working without the gates locked. 

  • Dudeinho

    So why doesnt Metrolink implement TAP?

  • Anonymous

     Metrolink riders are subsidized about $20 per trip on average. I’m not sure where your coming from saying Metro Rail riders are subsidized more than Metrolink.

  • Erik Griswold

    A minimum of 150 non-Cubic TVMs to modify to begin with.  Lack of confidence in the fare clearing-house that Metro is running is one rumor.  There are other reasons.

  • tmtrains

    Are there Metrolink to Metro Rail transfer points outside of Union Station?  The need to upgrade all Metrolink TVMs to spit out TAPs is likely the roadblock for SCRRA moving to TAP (as well as watching Metro’s bumbling deployment of it…)  Remember, Metro bus drivers will continue to do the visual inspection of Metrolink tickets/passes, so it may work even if it’s only Union Station.  Now what will a Metrolink passenger do if they don’t have their TAP and need to get to Union Station using Metro Rail?

  • Putting in gates has been and will continue to be an expensive boondoggle.  According to Metro’s own statistics, the gates won’t even pay for themselves over 30 years.  Will someone please remind me why we spent 10s of millions of dollars giving money to a defense contractor to just shuffle money around?  Fare evasion will continue to happen and fare evasion could be dealt with by making abusers purchase a yearly pass.  

  • Tony

    Subsidy goals for Metrolink is 1/2, for Metro it is 2/3.  Each currently under-performs the goal but Metrolink riders pay a lot more for a trip then Metro would charge.

  • jessica

    I believe your thinking of Browne and her awesome busblog – I think the # she found thru her research were that 1% – 3% of Metro staff use the system.

  • PC

    Hey, I know that this Metro/Metrolink interoperability thing with the locked turnstiles is a huge, huge headache, and that the proposed solutions are expensive, cumbersome and inefficient. But those turnstiles are important! We need them to….um….er…..ummm….

  • I ride Metrolink into Union Station on the Antelope Valley line on an occasional basis, like to the National Women’s Bicycling Summit on a round-trip weekday paper ticket and to CicLAvia last weekend on a paper weekend pass.  

    My Metrolink ticket is supposed to be my transfer to get on the Gold Line, Red Line, etc.  These last 2 times I round down to Union Station and got on the Gold Line or Red Line, I wasn’t asked for my ticket before I got on, but was asked for it when I got off.  

    I’ve asked what will happen when the gates are closed and been told that I’ll just need to wait for some Metro personnel to open the gate for me to get through.

    From the article above and the discussion, I’m completely confused as to how this Metrolink to Metro transfer is going to work in future. Unless I get a job in LA, I’m not going to ever be buying a Metrolink pass of any kind.  I’ll just be buying a round trip one-day ticket or a weekend pass.  How is this going to work for me?  Am I going to need to buy a TAP card?  Will I just need to put a day pass on it every time I go down to LA?

  • Erik Griswold

    These turnstiles are proving to be the undoing of much, including the idea that use of public transportation in Southern California, something that is vital for the economic survival of the region in the face of ever increasing car costs, should be easy and encouraged.  

    Why no one in a position to stop their deployment now is not speaking out to stop this endless idiocy and increasing expense is telling of their true priorities.  

    Perhaps I should head down to One Gateway and offer them a bridge in Brroklyn?

  • Erik Griswold

    A little math, the tickets will cost Metrolink $639,000 to cover their 40,000 daily customers. 

    That means Metrolink is paying nearly $16 per passenger to implement this?  That’s nuts.

  • marcotico

     I liked Browne too, and she has been absent from her blog, but she was always a bomb-thrower.  Her analysis was flawed because it looked at total commute of all employees, so 1) it counts all the employees who work at bus yards and not just at downtown, and 2) it means 1%-3% predominantly use Metro.  No analysis of employees who might drive 3 days a  week and take transit the other two, and no mention of whether “Metro” refers to just the rail or the rail and bus.

  • Erik Griswold

    Basically, Metrolink is giving up one days worth of revenue to acquiesce to Zev Yaroslavsky’s frustrations with the poorly planned implementation of the turnstile debacle.  

    That’s one day of cash flow, while still having to provide service, pay salary and pay for fuel.

    And these are turnstiles which have not been scientifically proven to reduce the very little fare-dodging that occurs on Los Angeles Metro, and will possibly move what aggressive (determined, willful) fare-dodging there is to the bus routes, leading to increased assaults on bus operators.And did we forget that the paper TAP tickets make the entire system more open to hackers?!

  • Bermiller

    What you probably dont know is that Metro gave Metrolink over 1M to fund in the transition to TAP and gating. But thats not what they spent it on…

  • calwatch

    While I would expect someone at a Metrolink booth at Union Station to hand out paper TAP day passes to anyone who presents a Metrolink ticket (and seven of them for someone who have seven day passes), there are other transfer locations. For example, the Green Line at Norwalk gets a lot of Metrolink riders headed towards the airport or to the El Segundo commercial area. 

  • Erik Griswold

    It is data available through the AQMD.

  • 4) Metrolink could migrate to TAP, hopefully with funding from Metro. I wouldn’t be averse to the LA card going region-wide, and COASTER already uses Clipper without too much fanfare.

    And, of course, the sensible solution is that 5) Metro could admit that the whole faregate thing is an unmitigated failure and leave the gates unlocked.

  • Anonymous

     Well, maybe the fact that TAP was such an obviously botched mess in the first place encouraged Metrolink not to adopt it….

  • Ubrayj02

    OCCUPY TAP. If nothing else, the body lice and fleas from protestors might drive this horrible fare scheme away.

  • Ubrayj02

     We did it to shuffle money around. TAP meant new job openings for some nice, college educated, people who now own loverly homes in Tustin and Walnut that they commute to in their new sedans.

    This whole program is like a bourgeois Price Is Right, and the lucky contestants get the house, the car, the jet skis, and get to stick the rest of us with the bill.

  • Ubrayj02

     I do appreciate a good groin check in the morning when trying to make it through a turnstile.

  • Erik Griswold

    Or better yet, remove them while they still have value on the used market.

  • Erik Griswold

    COASTER and NCTD uses San Diego’s “Compass” actually but both Compass, Clipper and TAP are Cubic RFID card products. (As is the coming Translink Compass Card in Vancouver, just to make things confusing.)

    RFID cards are one thing.  Locked Turnstiles that are solely dependent on only the RFID card is another.

    Remember that none of the transit facilities in greater San Diego (where the SD Compass is used) use faregates or turnstiles.  

    The turnstiles and faregates on BART and MUNI in the Bay Area (home of Clipper) are all staffed by humans who can over-ride them.  

    This rush to implement an RFID card at the same time as turnstiles are being added to UN-staffed LA Metro stations is what is bringing about a customer and public-relations disaster.


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