Metro Fail: Taps For A TAP Card

Way back near the end of the aughts — July of 2009 to be more exact — is when my disenchantment with Metro’s TAP cards began, producing two posts, linked below should you be interested in what a pain in the ass it was:

The card’s usage on various bus and rail lines in the interim since had been entirely without incident, until yesterday when I biked downtown to 7th Street to take my first trip on the shiny new Expo Line. The thrill at riding fresh rails into the westside was somewhat buzzkilled when I went to purchase my one-way ticket with my TAP card only to have the machine tell me that it had “expired,” and suggesting I visit a Metro customer service center for assistance.

Though I’m predisposed to some pretty elaborate grousing displays, I kept my outward petulance to a minimum and instead fished out the $1.50 needed for the fare. With ticket in hand I boarded the appropriate train, deciding that I’d bike back up to the Metro customer office on the corner of La Brea and Wilshire to have a representative answer me as to why the fuck does a damn TAP card still loaded with about $13 of my own money expire?

Short answer: So Metro can rip off TAP card-holding riders every three years.

Longer answer after the jump. Oh yeah: and it turns out the card hadn’t expired yet.

Inside the service center I recapped the morning’s festivities to the rep behind the bullet-resistant glass and handed him my dead TAP card, which he verified was indeed, dead. I asked him the cause of its sudden demise and he said they expire every three years. I asked why and he just shrugged seemingly confident that was an entirely appropriate and complete response (which for Metro’s oxymoronic “customer service” it was).

I asked him why wasn’t I sent some notification prior to the card’s expiration so that I might avoid being surprised at the ticket machine and he said somewhat wide-eyed “Oh, I don’t think they do that.”

Of course “they” don’t. That would make sense. That would be helpful. How completely silly of me.

“Can this card be reanimated?”


Then what do I have to do to get a TAP card that’s not dead.”

“I can do that for you,” he said. “It’ll be two dollars.”

“Wait, what?”

“Two dollars.”

“Ah,” I sigh. “And lemme guess: in three years I’ll have to come back to see you and pay another $2 to get a new card.”


“Just between you and me person to person: you do understand that totally sucks right?”

Again with the departmentally authorized shrugging, augmented this time with just a wee bit of shiteating grin.

“I mean, if you want to rip me off me for a fee every three years, am I crazy to imagine it would be more efficient to deduct it from active cards that have a standing balance, rather than just kill them?”

For a split second the rep flashed a glimmer of recognition at such a common sense solution, but the shiteating grin came back and chased it away.

“Seriously. Could you imagine if my bank charged me a fee every time my debit card expired — and then didn’t notify me ahead of time and made me go into a branch to get a new one?”

“But we’re not a bank.”

Now it was my turn to nod both in resignation and awe at his failure to grasp my point. As I fished a five-dollar bill out of my wallet, it dawned on me that I had money left on the dead card and wondered if he could transfer it to the new card (knowing full well the answer was going to be nyet).

“No. We’re not able to do that.”

“So did I just involuntarily make a donation in that amount to the Metro Uncharitable Trust. He brightened at being able to give me the good news that I had not and could proceed to the TAP courtesy phone against the wall by the entrance and make a request for a refund in the form of a check that would be sent to the address associated with the card.

“You mean the address where they wouldn’t send a courtesy notice?” He nodded. “They won’t do that, but they’ll devote the resources needed to having a check authorized, issued, signed, sealed and mailed to me?” Again with the nodding.

That struck me as almost bureaucratically adorable.

“So I’ve just paid two bucks for what’s essentially a new dead TAP card — unless I add more money to it now?”

I half expected him to tell me he couldn’t add funds either, but instead surprised me: “That’s right,” he said.

But I decided I’d given enough money to the MTA on this day and headed over to the TAP courtesy phone to navigate my way to a snail mail refund from my dead card. After making my way through the voicemail menu, a real person said he could help me with that. But it was only after going through the verification motions did the voice somewhat offhandedly mention that should I get a new TAP card he could transfer the amount from the old card to it.

“I have the new card, but that’s totally contradicting what the other rep told me just now.”

“What did he tell you?”

“That a transfer between cards isn’t an option. That the only way to get my money is via a check through the mail.”

“No sir. We can do that for you.”

I looked up at the ceiling.

“By chance, are you familiar with the ass-elbow analogy? Because Metro always seems to find a way to show me it doesn’t have a clue which is which. It’s like they’re proud about it.”

Silence, then: “Sir, if you’ll read the number off the new card I can process the transfer. But just so you know, the money won’t be available for anywhere from 24 to 72 hours.”

Of course it won’t, I thought. I continued searching the ceiling while toying with the idea of having a check processed, cut and shipped  just to symbolically make Metro have to work/pay something for their idiotic failings. But I’ve no doubt such internal expenditures would so be used to drive the TAP card fee up in the future, so instead I just began reading off the digits.

UPDATE (11:42 a.m.): So I went to the website to see if the new card had been put into the system yet. I clicked on the My Account link and then the My Cards link. The good news is it had. The painfully laughable news is that my old “expired” card? Ha! According to the data there it’s still valid for four months until September 2, 2012. Here’s the screengrab (biggably clickable):

Since I never reported the card lost or stolen I have absolutely no idea why there are Ys in the Lost/Stolen and Report Lost Successful boxes other than that’s how the MTA is getting away with murdering the card so prematurely.

13 thoughts on “Metro Fail: Taps For A TAP Card”

  1. My question is, would you even put up with this shit if not for the fact that it makes fodder for your blogging activities? I know I sure as hell wouldn’t (and don’t). And they wonder why public transportation ridership is so damn low.

  2. I just looked at your update. One has to wonder if there isn’t a VERY cynical algorithm built into the thing that counts on the fact that large numbers of people will fail to deal with the bureaucracy necessary to get a refund if it is for a small enough amount, such that it is profitable to kill an old card with some remaining balance, but not too much. Maybe they just arbitrarily kill cards that have a balance below X and are within Y weeks of card expiry – perhaps with Y computed based on the rate of consumption. That’s the kind of thing I’d expect a bank to do these days, so why not Metro?

  3. You sound like you’re up for a fight. The class won’t get much, but this is perfect for a class action lawsuit. Mta knows what the card values are, which ones have ‘expired’ and where these cardholders live. That’s a whole lotta nutella refunds. Sue me with a help of a lawyer. If you structure it right, you could get a bigger cut too. Bureaucracy like this just pisses me off and they need a good spanking.

    1. Not true. MTA doesn’t know a damned thing about most TAP cardholders. They certainly don’t know anything about me. You just pay for it at the store and they load it up. Nothing else.

      1. Not quite “not true,” Slev. For unregistered TAP cardholders such as yourself, yes, the MTA knows little about you specifically. But I’m sure there’s a healthy number who, like me, have created accounts on the website and supplied their personal contact info.

  4. Props for taking it out on someone who has NOTHING to do with the decision. People like you are great.

    1. Nah, Slev. It’s people like you who are great. Because yep, I really “took it out” on the rep, whose job just so happens to involve directly interacting with people — a percentage of whom are negatively impacted by the ridiculous decisions being made. Next time I’ll ask to speak to the MTA CEO directly and then hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

  5. “No. We’re not able to do that.”

    WHY? You would think a completely digital paper-less system with RFID technology would be easier and more flexible than a paper ticket system.

    I can’t imagine why you would EVER put your money on a TAP card. See, I can give my money to someone else. I can do it in a variety of ways, including just handing over cash. When I put the money on the TAP card, you take away that ability from your money. Now it’s non-transferable for completely arbitrary reasons (though I don’t see any reason given).

    I’m a transit advocate, but if the day ever comes that I cannot ride Metro without putting money on a TAP card, I won’t be using the system (oh, don’t worry, we pay for the system whether we use it or not).

    1. I’m with you Spokker. That $13 that was finally transferred to my new card from my dead one, is the last I’ll be committing to it (and now I’m wishing I had gotten a check sent to me). Prior to the TAP card’s arrival I was all about the convenience of tokens, and that’s the way I’ll roll from now on. When the MTA phases those out as a payment option they’ll phase me out.

  6. You think you’ve got it bad with fare cards the MTA or “the Authority” as they prefer to call thems selves just bull dozed down a mature palm tree and a mature spruce, and other shrubs and foliage 15 feet from the front yard of my home. They then laid asphalt and I now have one of the worlds largest parking lots (with no landscaping) ever constructed in the center of a middle class West Los Angeles neighborhood. The wealthier people a few blocks down still have their trees and no parking lot. The Mayor is a total crook and rip off artist that has broken every law in the books with complete impunity.

  7. If Metro truly is — according to what it says on their red/purple line rail cars — “America’s Best”, then why the hell can’t they manage their TAP programme just like the Bay Area’s Clipper Card? Multiple agencies — including commuter rail carriers — accept it with no problem. Why must things in Los Angeles always be “different” from what makes sense?

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