Wednesday, July 31, 2013

LA OBSERVED Links to CityWatch Post on How Difficult Metro Makes It to Buy a TAP Card

Kevin Roderick over at LA OBSERVED linked (it is the 4th post from the top) to a City Watch article I commented on yesterday explaining how difficult it is to use the fare machines at subway and light rail stations; and the article also addressed  how difficult Metro makes it to buy a TAP card anywhere.  First, here's the start of of the CityWatch story and then go to the link to read the rest of it.

The TAP Card, Discouraging Mass Transit One Card at a Time

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The TAP card (Transit Access Card) is now mandatory to ride light rail and subway on the Metro system. The card works by swiping it across a reader to deduct fare. It is also used at the farebox on buses for Metro, Culver City, Santa Clarita, Foothill and other bus lines, but not all. Santa Monica Bus does not accept the TAP card. Here the TAP card is superior to fumbling for change or a dollar bill for bus fare.  
At subway and light rail stations, the card is either swiped at a turnstile or at a free standing, short column, and when authorized, a readout gives the “Go” to proceed to the station waiting platform. The fare is deduction similar to a debit card. When the card works, it a system which is does what is expected. But when it’s bad, it’s very bad, and it is bad far too often. 
There are too many unneeded difficulties in using the card, and they are very large and very annoying. Two of most glaring are the purchase of the TAP card, and later adding more money to the card. My latest travails of a TAP card started when it was suddenly no longer accepted on Culver City buses. Thinking it could be their mistake or computer glitch, I tried to use the card on a Metro Bus, but it was also denied.  
I later learned that the cards are active for a limited time. Once the time is up, to the surprise of the transit rider, they are not accepted. There was no advance notice of this when purchased, nor later towards the expiration time. 
With an invalid TAP card, I attempted to purchase a new one. My first attempt was to go to the TAP website, something I had done many times to put more money on the card in exercised in frustration.  
The website for TAP is one of the most user unfriendly sites I’ve ever used. It is more than unfriendly, it is hostile in how little information is stated up front, how confusing and difficult it is to navigate within the website, and its overall amateurism. It looks and works like a beta version website for a high high school project, and that may be unkind to high school students. 
The site is a jumble of instructions which lead back upon themselves. For example, when I needed to put more money onto a card I already owned I would click on the “Replenish Your Tap” link, and I would just remain on the page, which has instructions on how to replenish the card: “Replenish Online Visit our secure Web site (I am already on your secure website.) and follow the simple check out process under Fare Products to reload a monthly pass or zone pass using your credit or debit card.”  
But I am already on the TAP website page to replenish the card, and each click to replenish leaves me on the same page. Why was I not immediately directed to a page to add money to the card? At the bottom of this text is a button, “Purchase Pass.” When replenishing a TAP card, the user already owns a pass. There is no need to purchase a new one.  
And that was just the beginning of his problems.  The rest of the story is here.  So I then commented about my experiences with the TAP card. 
The TAP machines in the subway stations are so badly physically designed (the buttons you push do not line up with their descriptions) and so confusingly worded it took me forever to be able to correctly add my monthly fare. And then - without warning- three times - my card had no more money on it - even though it was a week, 4 days and 3 days before the month I paid for was up.
That was then followed up by a number of other comments on-line - but starting this morning, I got far  more comments by direct email to me - all from transit advocates who didn't want to publicly criticize Metro on this issue - but who all of whom agreed that the machines are a nightmare until you finally figure out how to use them.

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