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Sat, May

Whoa! A Sea Change in Metro’s TAP System

LA TRANSIT-In an earlier CityWatch article, I wrote at length on my frustrations in dealing with the TAP card, required by Metro for riders of Metro Rail-their subway and light rail lines. TAP can also be used on Metro buses and other bus lines in Southern California.  

The TAP card is similar to a gift card: money is put onto the card, but the purchases are instead transit fares deducted with each use. Money can be added to the card to allow continuous use. The card is swiped by the rider at kiosks at Metro Rail stations and bus fare boxes. If the kiosks are practicably and conveniently located at the stations, the swiping of the TAP card to pay fare is a good system. The TAP cards are read by Sheriffs who patrol Metro Rail to validate riders paid their fare.  

 

The frustrations started from many attempts to add money to the TAP card mostly through their website, and from the vending machines. It reached the boiling point when I could not purchase a new TAP card after my card expired.  

I wrote that the current TAP webpage looks and interfaces like a project from a high school computer class, and that is being unkind to high school students. After the article, I would get comments from others expressing sentiments near to mine in trying to navigate the TAP web site. 

There are also frustrations and confusion in trying to purchase a card or add money to an existing card at Metro Rail Stations TAP vending machines. Here too, I heard from a chorus of people with similar frustrations. The TAP system was systemically dysfunctional, and seemed endemic to Metro's disregard to the experiences of transit riders. 

Before the article was written, on a back burner was a large, simmering pot of years of frustration from using mass transit in the Los Angeles region, and Metro's operations which were more concerned with the building and engineering of running buses and trains than showing concern for the travails of us riding mass transit in Los Angeles County. The Metro transit system could be, and in instances remains, user unfriendly with too many deaf ears.  

The frustrations of the inability to purchase a new TAP card through the website brought the simmer to a full boil resulting in the previous article in CityWatch. 

I thought my article would be read by a small group, mostly the transit advocates of Southern California, and then slowly leak into the cyberspace ether and be forgotten. I truly thought Metro would again ignore one more complaint on their operations.  

After that article was published I was very surprised that the article remained in transit cyberspace terra firma, and was read by an expanding readership. I was even more surprised when David Sutton, Deputy Executive Officer, TAP, Metro, contacted me with a list of changes he implemented on the TAP system, and he invited me, and other transit writers and bloggers, for a meeting at Metro Headquarters to discuss TAP. This was a sea change in Metro's relationship to its riders. However, until the meetings, I was very skeptical Metro would listen or accomplish any meaningful changes.  

Since then I have attended three meetings with David Sutton, and other Metro executives and managers who have been gracious and understanding in the frustrations I and others face with the current TAP system. These frustrations are shared by Metro itself. The current management, from what I understand, did not implement the TAP system, but are left is the collateral damage. Their frustrations seem evident and true. They want a system which assists transit riders, and makes their jobs less stressful in dealing with the frustrations of transit riders. 

One meeting was with Metro management and officials of the private third party contracted by Metro for the website and customer service. Sutton and Metro, from my understanding, are leaning on the third party to try to clean up the website, as much as is possible within the framework and limits of the contract. 

Sutton and the managers in the meetings at Metro headquarters presented their prototypes for changes to the TAP vending machines and their ideas for a modern, functioning website. As is the case with governmental agencies, things move slowly. Metro must wait for the contract to expire before moving forward with a new website, and they must follow governmental rules and regulations in calling for bids, the submitting bids, the reviews, and then awarding the new contract. This is time consuming.  

Tweaks are being done to the website, and to the vending machines at the stations. The prototypes I saw for the new vending machine's interface are much more user friendly, and Sutton and Metro took serious the suggestions at the meetings from myself and others. 

This new attitude at Metro of paying more attention to the personal aspects of a transit system is very refreshing and encouraging. It remains to be seen on the follow-through of the intentions of Metro, but from my meetings, their intentions seem sincere, with the intent to make it better. I am now optimistic that changes to TAP will be forthcoming. The changes will not come soon enough, but that is because of the regulations and rules of a very large public agency.  

TAP may live up to its expectations, I certainly hope so.  

This does not mean that Metro is now free and clear, there are other areas of the rider's experience where Metro is lacking in execution, and I hope to address those someday.

 

(Matthew Hetz is a member of Los Angeles Council District 11 Transportation Advisory Committee, a bicycle rider since 1965, a driver since 1975 and a dedicated transit rider since 1992.)
-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 11 Issue 95

Pub: Nov 26, 2013