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:

Regarding automatic transfers being in the works Sutton responded “Yes, we are waiting for the rest of the municipal operators to come on TAP first. Should be something we can do in a year and a half or so”.

In re capping he states:

We are watching this for now, right now only London is starting to roll this out, and their patrons have been using stored value versus passes for many years. As with any new fare policy (especially in multi-agency regions like ours) there are a lot of considerations. For instance, while this seems like only an “upside” to patrons, as they no longer have to worry about buying the correct pass ahead of use, there is also a “downside”.

Patrons would have to either put a large stored value amount, say the price of a monthly pass, $80 on their card and draw down from that or else they may not reach the cap. Otherwise they would have to constantly reload small increments meaning many more trips to the sales vendor or the TAP vending machines. Also, Patrons may be compelled to constantly need to check their balance to be sure they do not fall below a level and miss being able to pay for a ride. With the purchase of a 30-day pass, a Patron knows they can ride carefree for 30 days. It makes a lot of sense and something I’d like us to consider doing here. I think our TAP users are ready or will be ready for it soon. Capping would require some formal study and CEO and Board approval of course. One benefit is that it would greatly simplify our TVMs as they would only sell stored value. I like the term “best fares” better but the new term in the industry is “capping”.

  • MarkB

    Sutton’s “downsides” to capping sound like concern trolling. Boo hoo, you’ll have to check your balance. How shocking!!! You’ll have to maintain a balance. Oh, the humanity!!!

    Fare capping serves a different purpose than a 30-day pass, and for a different audience. The daily rider doesn’t need capping because that person already buys a monthly pass; the occasional rider, for whom a monthly pass is wasted money, would benefit greatly from capping. Tourists would likely be another group to benefit greatly from capping, as it simplifies the entire fare process.

  • That’s what I was thinking: why are we contemplating fare-capping for monthly passes? The most frequent argument I’ve heard for fare-capping is the guessing you have to do at the beginning of the day re: whether to get a day pass or just pay the cash fare, because your plans for getting home may be uncertain (you might be catching a ride, staying overnight at a friend’s place, etc.) It seems like occasional riders would benefit the most from the elimination of this guesswork.

    Daily riders will have a better idea of their travel habits and will be better able to judge ahead of time whether it’s worthwhile to buy a monthly pass or not. My instinct is to say they’ll do fine without fare-capping, though I’m certainly open to hearing the perspective of someone who thinks they wouldn’t.

    Limiting fare-capping to day passes would circumvent the problem of needing to load large amounts of stored value onto the card. It would also be targeted to help out less frequent riders who have the least knowledge of the fare structure and are thus most prone to overpaying.

  • Joshua Nickel

    Big Blue Bus is getting new fareboxes starting in January that will allow them to start accepting the TAP card:

    http://www.smgov.net/departments/council/agendas/2012/20120612/2012%200612%203N.pdf

    http://busride.com/2012/11/big-blue-bus-goes-high-tech/

  • calwatch

    On Clipper, an even more convoluted system than Metro’s TAP, Santa Clara VTA does fare capping with their day pass, although they have a weird system where you can’t earn your way to an express pass.

  • Joe B

    It is misleading for Sutton to call attention to the “downsides” of fare capping without pointing out that these are also “downsides” of the current system. It’s like saying, “One downside of fare capping is that the buses will sometimes be late and you might have to stand.”

    Under both systems, if you want to “ride carefree” you need to put the price of the pass/cap onto the card. Or, under both systems, you can load smaller amounts multiple times, but then under both systems you need to pay attention to your balance. The difference is that with fare capping, if you choose to pre-load your card then you might have a balance left at the end of the month, and if you choose to pay full fare daily then at some point during the month you might not have to pay any more. These are both “upsides”, not “downsides”.

    There are no downsides of fare capping that do not also exist under the current system. I wish Sutton could be made to understand that.

  • calwatch

    Meanwhile, the Metro reality distortion field is in full effect as Sutton claims that TAP is the “largest, most successful smart-card implementation in North America.” Really? http://media.metro.net/board/Items/2013/07_july/20130729othersectorconferitem3.pdf

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