In Which The TAP Card Saga I Previously Ranted About Comes To A Successful (If Ultimately Doomed) Conclusion

TAP.

Not Smart. Not Simple. Secure? One can hope!

A few days ago I railed about how patently stupidious it is trying to get a new Transit Access Pass (TAP) card for use on Metro buses and trains. As I left that first post, I had been told by a TAP customer service representative that the only place I could obtain a TAP card and load it with a  cash amount (as opposed to an expiration-driven monthly pass for $62) was Union Station.

It just so happened that on Tuesday I found myself at Union Station to catch the No. 439 bus to work and decided to see if that was indeed the case. Sure enough and to no real surprise, it wasn’t. The clerk at the counter there parroted the TAP rep.

“But,” I countered, “on the TAP website it says that a card can be used to store cash value!”

“Metro isn’t set up to do that,” she answered.

“Will it ever be?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Doesn’t that strike you as the lamest most ironic thing ever in the history of mass transportation and fare management to offer an access pass that people can’t use?”

She just smiled and apologized from behind her tinted bulletproof glass.

I could do nothing else but walk away resigned that passengers such as myself for whom monthly passes are cost-inefficient, were basically assed-out of the TAP game.

But! Later that evening instead of taking the 439 home from work, I charted a course that included the No. 6 Culver City bus up Sepulveda to the MTA’s No. 4 on Santa Monica Boulevard. And in the course of checking the No. 6’s schedule online, low and behold and hallelujah, I found mention that Culver City sells TAP cards with a cash amount of the card-holders choosing. Easy peazy.

Sure as shit, on my bike ride in to work this morning I stopped at Culver City Hall and in a manner of a few minutes, I became the owner of a TAP card loaded up with $20 — but I was immediately more skeptical of my acquisition than proud. Because when I told the clerk who assisted me that Metro doesn’t allow cash loading and only sets up TAPs with monthly passes, he solemnly sounded an ominous warning.

“Looks like we’ll be getting rid of the cash option soon and going to passes-only as well!” he said.

“Why?”

“I guess there’s more money in it,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

I almost told him to keep the card, but he said that the changover wouldn’t happen for “another six months or so,” so I continued the transaction, if somewhat harumphantly.

And in the aftermath, while I’m infinitely impressed that itsty-bitsy Culver City totally powned Los Angeles by being able to get me what I wanted with no hassles or run-arounds, at the same time I now possess a piece of plastic that could be obsolete in six months (if that), unless someone at TAP and Metro gets their shit together and realizes they suck.

I’m entirely dumbfounded that there isn’t anyone at any of the involved organizations and municipalities that hasn’t raised a hand in a meeting at some point and said something like “Uh, why does it have to be passes-only? Why can’t we give customers something called ‘options’ and allow them either to add a monthly pass if that’s what they want or load in a set cash amount? And why can’t it be done online, ya dim-bulb bureaucrats!?”

Silly me, that would be common sense.

11 Replies to “In Which The TAP Card Saga I Previously Ranted About Comes To A Successful (If Ultimately Doomed) Conclusion”

  1. oh no!! i use Culver cities tap card. it saved me many times. Metro does not have a clue about what they are doing. gahh.

  2. I have been told that Metro will be adding the cash value option down the road. Not sure why they could not have done that from day one, but I don’t think it is true that it is not in the plan.

  3. I can buy a stored value card using cash at any train stop in Chicago. Isn’t NYC the same? Why do we always have to be third-class?

  4. Another thing you can’t do with TAP is add zones for an express. I had my TAP card. A monthly. I tried to add a zone onto my pass. There is no way to add a zone onto a TAP card via the vending machine once you’re already purchased a day, weekly or monthly fare. Now since I have a TAP card. I don’t carry small bills. If the driver decides to push the issue, you won’t be able to get on, but I have never ever had a driver push an issue with me on an express. They rarely make me pay the extra zone costs even if I don’t have my TAP. I’ve written the express from Pedro to downtown on just the 1.25 fare. (One of the benefits of being very nice to the drivers when everyone else is pretty horrible, I find asking the driver if he or she has had a nice day goes along with making them forgive things, like the incompetency of the agency that they have this misfortune of working for.)

    So if you might be on an express you should probably carry some dollars and quarters just in case you get a driver who is into rules, but most of them understand you can’t add a zone via a tap and don’t push the issue.

    Browne

  5. As a non-car owner, I’m a bit of a public transit veteran – albeit as a car-pooler, not an MTA savant. Like Will, I do not use transit enough to make a weekly or monthly pass worth it. I do use it a few times a month and thought that a TAP card might make a lighter-weight addition to my wallet than a handful of tokens. Specifically, I have a couple of cello lessons a month. The lessons themselves are in Sherman Oaks and I’m coming from Hollywood. The most time-efficient route would be bus/train/bus each way – if I didn’t have the giant cello to drag around, it would be walk/train/bus, but .75 mile is a bit long for me to haul the beast – and so on this particular day last month I decided a day pass would be the most economical. I wound up having lunch with a friend, which made the first trip simply one bus ride. Even so, I thought day pass was the way to go. Denying my friend’s offer to drop me off at my lesson (see! I am independent! This public transit thing is easier than you think!) I haul my fiberglass case up the steep bus steps, present my $5 bill and get an annoyed look from the bus driver. Where was my TAP card? he asks. I stare at him blankly and tell him I need a day pass and he informs me that buses have stopped selling them and that I’d have to go to a subway station to purchase one. Since I’m normally a subway rider, I had no idea they were phasing out day-passes on buses. I stand there for a minute while I explain that I don’t have $1.25 exact change. I think the appearance of the shiny Darth Vader looking case gave him a hint of compassion, because he just rolled his eyes and waved me on. Which was nice, but I’d rather not be a deadbeat, you know?

    And this is how the MTA is supposed to get more riders? Present itself as a tourist-friendly car alternative? Tokens or a TAP card can’t be purchased in every 7-11, or even every Ralphs. Some skeezy looking liquor stores or check-cashing places might have them, but you’re taking your chances. The grocery stores I’ve been to keep them at the Service desk and won’t sell them during certain hours. And of course, the TAP card is virtually useless if you don’t need to take at least two trips a day for a week. I will also be loading up on tokens just so I can take the bus – or scheduling cello lessons so that my roommate can take me, or my teacher can come to my home, but if the MTA really wants public transit to work, they’d put up TAP vending machines at every grocery and convenience store and allow you to store money rather than passes on it. Otherwise, no one who has access to a car will ever ride the bus.

  6. I really don’t get how the MTA could screw this up so badly.

    I mean, I’ve seen what the SUICA can do. same basic technology as the TAP card, except 10 times more powerful than TAP. take the subway? use SUICA. take a train? use SUICA. take a bus, any bus, anywhere? SUICA can handle it. need a daypass? SUICA. monthly pass? SUICA. want to load the Yen equivalent of $20, $30, $40 onto the card? no problem. SUICA even works at the convenience store where you buy gum. no, I’m not kidding. and they have a cute mascot to boot.

    here in Los Angeles, meanwhile, the MTA can’t seem to figure out something basic like value-added debit cards and the muni operators are acting like a bunch of technophobes.

  7. Yes, this is EXACTLY my issue with TAP. I walk pretty much everywhere, but if I do need to take the bus or subway, say, the 720 down Wilshire and back, I don’t need a Day Pass and would love to be able to not worry about carrying change or dollars. Thanks for highlighting this. Would love to see what Metro’s official response is.

  8. And nerdycellist’s example of getting on the bus without having purchased a TAP card prior pretty much sums up what is wrong with this TAP rollout.

    How the HELL is a tourist supposed to use our public transit system if they, say, take a taxi from LAX to their hotel in West Hollywood, then hop on a bus and ask for a Day Pass with a five dollar bill?

  9. I agree!

    I am a recent Metro / bus rider, and have used the TAP card from my first rides. First, I bought the weekly TAP, then realized, I was using the bus/Metro regularily enough, so now I re-up monthly at the $62 rate. i.e. about $2/day.

    I have witnessed the tourist, or a family of 4 tourist, that boarded in Hollywood and “Dad’ had 4 $5 bills and asked to have 4 Day Passes. The driver explained the routine to them, then just waved them all on-board. No Charge. No collection of fees!

    So, I guess, to short-circuit the system, just carry a $5 and ask for a day pass. Seems like they will more than likely wave you on without collecting any $.

  10. At my behest Ken Ruben, resident of Culver City and very involved with local bus and rail issues, contacted Samantha Blackshire of Culver CityBus about the comments on TAP by the clerk at their city hall reported here. Ms. Blackshire responded that this was was a mis-statement by the clerk, and kindly gave her consent to my posting her statement regarding it:

    I would like to clarify any miscommunications that were conveyed by our City Treasurer’s office. At this time we have no plans to discontinue our TAP stored value cards. We are not nor have we ever had a pass. The only pass we accept is EZ.

    Ironically I had a meeting with key staff from the City Treasurer’s office yesterday to discuss TAP and the Rider Relief Program. I will touch base with them to make certain that everyone issuing TAP cards fully understand our role as a participant in TAP.

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