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Posts from the "TAP" Category

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Free TAP Cards, DASH Rides, for Downtown City Employees

Now here’s a government perk I can get behind.

Late last month, the Mayor’s Office announced that city employees who work in or near the city’s core will be given a TAP card with an unlimited amount of rides on the Downtown DASH bus system run by LADOT. The TAP cards will replace fare tokens that are made available to city staff.

While the cards will not have funds pre-loaded to ride on Metro or other bus services, those purses can be added through the Tap To Go website.

While this is hardly earth-shattering news, there are a couple of reasons that this change is a good sign for both the city and Metro.

First, it seems that every time someone writes about TAP, there is more bad news about the beleaguered transit passes long-term rollout. For a change, this is good news. Literally thousands of new TAP customers will be instantly created and will be able to experience some of the versatility of the card with separate purses for LADOT and Metro.

Second, it’s always a good idea to make it easier for people to choose transit for making local trips. Dana Gabbard, one of the steering committee members for the Southern California Transit Advocates, explains. Read more…

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Your Metrolink “System-Wide” Weekend Pass May Not work on Metro. Here Is What to Do.

One of the best transportation bargains on offer in Southern California is the Metrolink’s Weekend Day Pass. The agency, offers a ticket on Saturdays and Sundays that allows the holder to ride anywhere on Metrolink’s service, albeit reduced from weekday offerings, for just $10.

It’s so popular that beginning two weeks ago, Metrolink began to run out of the special stock it is issues tickets on, stranding customers connecting to the Red and Purple Lines at Union Station at turnstiles that do not open. Metro does not have any staff present down in the Subway’s fare mezzanine to assist.

Metrolink Ticket without TAP RFID Chip

Click on the image to see if full sized.

Like all Metrolink tickets and passes, this one also includes a free transfer to “most connecting transit.” In the past year, as what I refer to as “Metro’s Turnstile Fetish” finally came to a climax. Dates were set for gate latching. Rather than ripping out and returning the turnstiles which had sat in free-spin mode for close to four years, a solution was found to allow Metrolink passengers to retain their long-held right to freely transfer, and be able to open the “latched” turnstiles now found at all the Subway (Red/Purple Line) stations.

This came in the form of a Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) chip, compatible with Metro’s TAP fare system, which was imbedded in each Metrolink ticket that had as its destination Los Angeles County.

But, with recent changes to their fare structure, Metrolink has begun to run out of ticket stock with the embedded chip and persons buying Weekend Passes. This has led to Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) dispensing tickets that do not have the ability to open the turnstiles at any of the Subway stations, even though those TVMs do not ask which county the purchaser intends to travel to when the Weekend Day Pass is purchased.

Because there is no guidance on either Metrolink’s or Metro’s websites on this matter, and my e-mails to Metrolink’s Director of Public Affairs were not returned, if you get one of these tickets, as shown above, you will need to speak to Metrolink Customer Service Personnel at Union Station who will assist you with obtaining fare media that can open the turnstiles.

This may take a bit of time, for in my experience, these individuals roam the platforms and the station tunnels and are not necessarily in one spot at all times. And the Metrolink Customer Service Windows located at both ends of the station have not been open on weekends. Read more…

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A Peek at the TAP Regional Rollout, and the Future for TAP Automatic Transfers

(Note: Anyone wondering about Dana’s adventures on the Coast Starlight can find updates with pictures on Streetsblog LITE. – DN)

Last week a presentation was made to the municipal operators of Los Angeles County about the mobile validators to be rolled out in the next year and a half that will finally facilitate TAP being a truly regional smartcard across all the major providers. This will allow agencies without TAP enabled fareboxes to just add the validator and be TAP enabled. I am especially happy at the real time transaction aspect and auto calculated transfers.

And apparently Santa Monica Big Blue Bus will be dead last to come on board for TAP. Note in the document its entry on the page titled “NEW Upcoming Regional Partners” lacks detail on how many validators BBB needs, merely notes “Accept EZ Pass”.

Big Blue sometimes goes its own way. It is noteworthy among L.A. County operators for NOT accepting Metrolink fare media for transferring.

Meanwhile, I also sought an answer for a question that has been brought up by Streetsblog readers.

In the comments to my latest post on TAP Joe B asks “Does this mean we’ll get fare capping and automatic transfers?”

I queried David Sutton who oversees the TAP program for Metro and he has some illuminating information of the status of these two issues: Read more…

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Metro Considers Moving TAP Service Center to In-House

Metro is in the midst of addressing one of the last Transit Access Pass bugaboos beyond the fixes I described previously: the rather poor quality of service provided by Xerox, the vendor staffing the Regional TAP Service Center.

At the Metro Board Executive Management Committee meeting on Thursday they will consider an extension of the contract with Xerox to facilitate a transition to having the Center be in-house staffed by Metro employees represented by the Transportation Communications Union (TCU).

This is good news. Not that everything will be peachy keen even with this change. Alex Vickers’ comment to my previous post I think brings up a very important point in re gating:

Closing the turnstiles is still going to be a complete nightmare… was held up for 5 minutes the other day trying to get through the turnstiles and almost missed my train. It’s difficult to deal with the huge rush of an entire train of people unloading and the stations weren’t designed to deal with two way traffic. Union Station is going to be a complete C.F

Another commenter, who wishes to remain anonymous because of business with Metro, explains why this could be a good move for customers.

This helps fix one of the biggest complaints about the TAP program, which is the poor customer service. By bringing this in house hopefully you will have staff at MTA Customer Service Centers actually helping passengers with the card instead of directing them to the phone booth where they sit on hold for over half an hour.

Oh, yeah… Read more…

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TAP final solution in sight!

We are on the last lap approaching the end of my long exertions as self-appointed chief TAP (Transit Access Pass) watchdog for our region, my friends. This long troubled program has finally unequivocally turned the corner and is fast approaching victory lane. Kudos and plaudits from all quarters are raining down on David Sutton who laist recently dubbed “the guy at Metro in charge of TAP operations.” Sutton built on the yeomen effort mounted by Matt Raymond (until recently Metro’s Chief Communications Officer) who first was handed the unenviable task of fixing TAP after the TAPucrats who labored ten years and spent millions in creating TAP mishandled it in such egregious fashion that one feels as if Raymond was one day handed a broom and told to tidy up the mess left behind by the elephant herd that TAP had become. We now have an actual date for the gate latching that feels real (June 2013) AND promised expansion that will fulfill the long promised potential of the technology (from 9 agencies to 24) in the next 12 months. Who’d have thunk it?

This all of course thanks to the last piece of the puzzle recently falling into place with a solution being found for the vexing problem of how to give Metrolink riders the ability to get through locked Red/Purple Line station gates.

The report being presented at the Metro Board Executive Management Committee meeting today is mostly full of administrative tidying up about staffing and consultants but does have some juicy details worthy of excerpting:

In response to the Board adopted motion to latch Metro Rail station gates, Metro has developed a plan to begin latching in June 2013. In order to meet this deadline, preparation must be done before June 2013 to ensure that access to rail stations for all existing customers is maintained. Closed Caption Television (CCTV) cameras and telephones located by the gates are being installed. Patrons requiring assistance will be able to utilize these telephones to gain assistance from personnel located at the Rail Operations Control (ROC) through a live voice connection. ROC personnel must be trained to address all the different patron issues (i.e. gating and TAP card issues) . Gate Latching tests are currently underway, with testing of the Wilshire/Normandie, Wilshire/Western, and North Hollywood stations already completed. The results of these station tests show that the CCTV cameras and telephones have been successful in assisting customers through the gates.

TAP is expanding to include fifteen (15) additional transit operators in the next twelve months. These include: Metrolink, Torrance, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Burbank, Redondo Beach, La Mirada, County of Los Angeles, LAWA, Monterey Park, Glendale, Santa Fe Springs, Palos Verdes, Pasadena, and Whittier. TAP is nearly tripling in size, expanding from nine (9) operators to twenty-four (24) operators, to include TAP equipment in over 500 more buses throughout the region bringing us closer to providing a truly universal fare system for our customers.

Good news isn’t as exciting as bad news but as a rider I am happy that we have at last arrived at the long promised (but often hard to believe it would ever happen) happy ending!

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Eyes on the “Street”: TapToGo Is Down

(UPDATE: From the comments section, Steve Hymon from The Source writes: We belatedly got a post up at 12:45 today on the blog. For anyone reading, passes can still be purchased at https://secure.taptogo.net. Note the S after the http.!)

Alert reader, and Streetsblog LA Editorial Board Member, Joel Epstein notices that the website TapToGo.net is down and has been “for several days.”

At this point, Metro has yet to publicly acknowledge the troubled transit card’s troubled website. However, with the end of the month coming tomorrow, it might be a good time to reload your card at a machine if your card isn’t automatically reloaded at the start of the month. If TapToGo isn’t back, the lines tomorrow and Friday could be rather long.

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Metro Diary: Three Trains, a Tourist, Some Eager-Beaver Sheriffs, and a Former Foster Child…All in the Space of an Hour

The Willowbrook Station, looking South. (photo: sahra)

Whenever I travel in and out of LAX, I do my best to Metro my way there.

It requires a forty-minute walk, three trains, and an airport shuttle ride for me to go one way. But, it’s cheap and, remarkably, it all goes down in less than two hours. And, it is never dull.

For one, I get to watch new arrivals stumble their way through the TAP machine at Aviation.

This time, it was a lawyer from Toronto who hung back from the crowd that lunged for the single TAP machine near the elevator, where we were dropped off.

I hadn’t actually taken a look at this ticket-vending machine (TVM) before because I always reach the platform via the stairs at the east end of the station, where the shuttles usually stop. This TVM had none of the semi-helpful maps and informational posters (if you are an English speaker) present by the base of the stairs.

The lawyer hoped that watching other people go through the motions, he’d figure it out.

He didn’t.

He reassured me later that he would have gotten the hang of it with a little more time. He rides public transit a lot, he said.

Having watched him try to navigate the system, I wasn’t so sure.

He was going to have to take three trains (Green, Blue, Purple) and maybe a bus in order to get himself close to LACMA, and didn’t realize that meant that he would need to pay several separate fares. That part wasn’t in the directions his friend had sent him.

He stared at the screen and looked back at the directions on his phone. Buy a card or add a fare? He looked at me.

It dawned on me that while Metro has made it somewhat easier for frequent riders to navigate the system with recent changes to the menus, those shortcuts may make it more challenging for newbies.

As found during a recent Metro-run focus group, people don’t look at the information on or around the machine itself, they focus on the screen and the menus, assuming those will provide answers at some point. It would therefore make sense if the first screen greeting users also had a static list of fun, helpful tips such as “Each Train Requires a Separate Fare!” “ALWAYS Touch Your Card to the Blue TAP Circles at the Turnstiles or Validators Before Boarding!” or “Seniors Get Discounts!” It would also help if the “help” option was, instead, an interactive “information” option that took you to a list of things you could get more specific information about, such as transfers, fares, maps, passes, basic how-to stuff, timetables, and so forth (instead of the achingly slow and not particularly helpful scrolling screen it is now).

Things got fun at the Rosa Parks station, where we descended into the bottleneck that is the stairs to the Blue Line Platform to find a couple of Sheriffs waiting for us. They checked everyone that came through, making people anxious because the delay meant they were going to miss the train or buses they could see waiting below. At least they didn’t have the canines with them. Read more…

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Touring Metro’s “Lab” with David Sutton, Director of TAP Operations

Metro's "lab," where engineers test out adjustments and improvements to fare-collection machinery. (photo: sahra)

“Did you TAP your card?” I asked my friend.

“Yeah, I did it over there,” he pointed, annoyed, at the ticket machine where he had just added money to his card.

“But you didn’t TAP it,” I said, indicating the validator confronting us as we stepped up onto the Blue Line platform at the Washington/Grand stop.

He looked at me like I was crazy. As an occasional Metro rider, he figured he knew what he was doing.

“I did,” he protested. “Look…” he waved the receipt indicating he had just put $5 on the card.

“All you did was refill it,” I explained. “You have to TAP it again here so that it deducts the fare.”

Skeptical, he approached the machine.

It was nearly midnight and we were tired. I think he figured that if he humored me, he could prove me wrong and get me to stop acting like the TAP police.

“Oh,” his eyes widened when it deducted $1.50. “Thank you…”

I explained that if he had tapped the card at the machine and a fare had been deducted, it wouldn’t deduct the fare a second time (within a seven-minute period). Then I took a hard left at Dorkylandia and started talking about some of the changes Metro was making to the machines’ signage and software to reflect the shift to the TAP card and make navigation of the TAP system more user-friendly.

His eyes glazed over.

He was an occasional rider and the intricacies of the TAP system were not really his cup of tea.

But it is precisely the occasional rider who seems to have the most difficulty navigating the system. They are the ones most likely to buy and refill their TAP cards at the station just before they board (instead of refilling at a grocery store, for example) and thus most likely be confused about how to navigate the machines or when and where to TAP their card.

Given the number of complaints the changeover to TAP has generated, it would seem natural to expect that Metro would jump on making the system more intuitive as quickly as possible. And they have, David Sutton, Director TAP Operations tells me, but change takes time.

To help me understand how the process works he offered me a tour of the “lab” Metro uses to test out its machines.

I gasped when we walked into the lab. It felt like I had entered the Metro equivalent of NORAD and I imagined Metro employees playing war games. Or maybe tracking Santa as he tapped his way through L.A. Read more…

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More Local Agencies Dealing with TAP, But Metrolink Remains Elusive and a Surfliner Update

Here are updates on two issues I have been paying close attention to: TAP and the LOSSAN takeover of the Surfliner.

With no fanfare several of the Los Angeles County municipal bus operators (including Foothill and Santa Monica Big Blue Bus) as of November 1st are providing paper TAP cards when patrons purchase transfers to continue their trip via Metro Rail. This resolves one of the outstanding issues that was blocking the locking of the gates at the Red/Purple Line stations.

Steve Hymon at The Source reports at last week’s Metro Board Executive Management Committee meeting the committee members gave a chilly reception to option 2 which would involve discontinuing Metrolink fare media including free transfers to Metro bus and rail service. I imagine the full Board when it meets next month will give a similar thumbs down to that idea. Which leaves the Metrolink ticket machine conversion option the only viable one on the table.

My reading of the minutes of the Oct. 12th Metrolink Board meeting (pp. 13-15 of the Nov. 16th agenda packet) is that they are rather unhappy at the position Metro’s handling of TAP and the gating has put them in. Even the Metro representative sounds a tad defensive and uncomfortable.

At least after I previously lamented the lack of details about how much having selected Metrolink ticket machines converted to issue TAP cards would cost Metrolink the Nov. 16th Metrolink Board agenda (which can be accessed by the link in the preceding paragraph) has two items, #7 & #8, that provide those details.

Forgive me but WOW!!! We are talking MILLIONS, kids. Be still my heart! Read more…

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TAP Solution for Metrolink 2.0

My last Metro Transit Access Pass (TAP) related post detailed the vexing situation regarding TAP and Metrolink’s patrons and the ongoing inability of Metro and Metrolink to find a means for Metrolink riders to be able to pass through the Red and Purple Line station gates after they are locked. I couldn’t hide my incredulity that after all these years of dancing around this situation the solution being proposed involved temporary paper TAP cards being distributed by hand to Metrolink patrons daily for three months after which temporary plastic 30-day TAP cards would be provided by Metro for distribution to Metrolink’s riders who purchase a monthly pass.

As my follow-up post noted, this well intentioned but rather cumbersome solution was rejected by Metrolink’s Board which informed its staff that efforts should instead be made to find a more permanent solution and a request be made to Metro that it delay the locking of the gates until that more permanent solution can be found. Scott Johnson, Assistant Public Affairs Officer at Metrolink, stated the situation at that point stood as constituting “an ongoing collaboration” between the two agencies. Also that “No definitive timetable has been established” And “… The issue will continue to be discussed through internal meetings, alongside public committee and board meetings”.

Thursday at the Metro Board Executive Management Committee meeting the new solutions will be debated.

I guess one solace is with either of the options being considered the Los Angeles County municipal carriers will still honor Metrolink fare media for transfer, which would include the LADOT DASH buses that ply the streets of downtown Los Angeles and which many Metrolink riders already avail themselves of (and maybe even many more will hereafter if they have to face in the alternative paying an extra charge to ride the subway). Read more…