Monday, July 9, 2012

The TAPture!

As you may or may not know, The Militant loves using his TAP Card as his preferred fare media during his various transit journeys around his City. He's been rocking one since June of 2008!  All has been going well until one recent day when he TAPped his wallet against the TAP target on one of the Metro Rail turnstiles, and instead of the usual "Go" green screen, he got the red screen you see on the left:

Expired Card
Purchase New Card


As it turned out, there was a group of three other passengers after him who all TAPped and got the same screen.

Could this be?

It may or may not be...

The TAPture!

Now, The Militant, who was in quite a rush to get to his Downtown destination, either went back and bought a paper ticket or just illegally TAPped ahead on the unlocked turnstile and on to his train... Buuut all that is sort of irrelevant to the story. The whole point was...HIS TAP CARD EXPIRED.

Which is kind of odd, since the ticket vending machine, after TAPping to get the TAP Card Status, indicated that it expired on June 30, while the webiste, where he has his TAP card registered online, said that his card doesn't expire until early September 2012.


Of concern to The Militant was the fact that his expired TAP card still had about $7.50 in stored value. Could he transfer that balance to a new card, or is it gone forever?

The Militant called Metro's Customer Service number and tried to find out for himself. His terse response:

"Sir, we don't handle TAP card issues. You would have to call 866-TAPTOGO."

Alrighty then. So he called the other number and got someone who sounded much more satisfied with their job. She told The Militant that he could go to a Metro Customer Service Center, buy a new TAP card for $2, and have his $7.50 stored value transferred from the old card to the new card (it would take up to four days to transfer though...). It is not gone forever in to the ether of space and time.


Later that day, The Militant happened to be in close proximity to the Metro Customer Service Center at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall, so he merrily walked in with his TAP card and asked to have the old balance transferred to a new card.

"Umm, sir," the woman in the window said in her 'I Hate This Job' monotone Customer Service voice. "We cannot do this right now. You need to call TAP and have them send us a fax confirming that they have transferred the balance to your new card."

Whoa, hold it there. FAX?!?! WTF?!?!

Isn't the high-tech, 21st-century RFID-laden TAP card on the cutting edge of fare media technology? Why does one have to send a fax?!? WHO SENDS FAXES IN 2012?!?!

The fact that it was already 5 p.m. and the TAP center had already closed for the day didn't help things much.

The Militant asked Customer Service Drone Lady if he could just buy the TAP card for $2 and have the funds transferred later. She told him, "We can only sell you the card with a pass or stored value."

(The Militant only had $2 cash on him...)

"Can the balance be transferred online?" The Militant innocently asked.

"No," she replied.

Both The Militant and Customer Service Drone Lady briefly stared at each other with a, "I can't believe you're such a f'ing idiot" look on their faces.

The Militant told her, "The Militant had no idea this was so complicated."

"The Mill what?" Customer Service Drone Lady asked.

"Never mind," said The Militant, on his way out the door.

The next day, The Militant called up the TAP customer service line, where people sound much more happier and much more willing to help you out, and reiterated his dilemma.

Basically, all The Militant really had to do was buy another card at a Metro Rail ticket vending machine, pay $1.50 in stored value, and call the TAP customer service again, give his two TAP card numbers, and wait for the remaining $7.50 to transfer from the old card to the new one within four days.

The Militant had no idea this was so simple.

He asked the happy TAP lady if she worked for Metro.

"No, this is a call center, we work for TAP..."

Hmm, there is no such company as "TAP," but Militant research points to a San Diego-based company called Cubic Transportation Systems, which manufactures and operates similar contactless fare card systems around the world.

But The Militant was able to replace his TAP card after all.

The Militant took one for the team. Just to make things painfully simple, to avoid this mess, this is all you have to do when your card is within a couple months of expiring, in three easy steps:

1) Let the pass period expire or the stored value go down to $0.
2) Buy a new damn TAP card.
3) There is no Step 3!

Curious, The Militant compared his old TAP card (circa 2008; top) and his new one (circa 2012; bottom):

The older TAP card has a slightly more teal tint, whereas the older one has that "Expo Line" shade of light blue goin' on.

On the back, the differences are more pronounced; the older card has a bigger "TAP" logo and single column rules and regulations table. The new one has a smaller logo and a two-column table, with additional bullet points.

(Dude, was that being transit geek right there or WHAT?!)

So why do the cards expire in the first place? The Militant had a conversation with a fellow transit-using, technologically-literate Operative, who told him that the TAP cards have an RFID chip embedded near the edge of the card. Being a hardware device, the chip has to become obsolete over time so that the TAP system's software can eventually be upgraded with new features. So, it's assumed that with each generation of TAP cards, they embed a newer version of the RFID chip.

The Militant won't have to worry about updating his TAP card until July 2015 (according to the TAP card status feature at the station ticket machines)...or is that June 2016 (according to the website)?


calwatch said...

Actually, the TAP service center is run by ACS, a Xerox subsidiary. They are only open 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, but at least they are getting the hold times down and the friendliness up because their contract is up for renewal at the end of the year. There are those, such as myself, who have faulted the ACS people for having customer unfriendly hours, not speaking the diverse languages of Metro passengers, and being rude and unhelpful - look at the Better Business Bureau ratings on TAP. Once their contract is renewed, without close monitoring I expect the quality to slide back to the previous level.

By the way, look closely at the card, after the letters, and that is the year of manufacture. TAP cards will expire on June 30 four to five years after that date. I have an original 2007 card purchased from Culver City, when they first went TAP, that expired June 2011. I have an AX-10 series which expires June 2015.

Militant Angeleno said...

calwatch: Thanks for the info! So June 30 really was the date of the TAPture. He had checked the expiry date a few years ago and was given a date in early June of 2012.

The expiration date is still inconsistent though, according to both the ticket machines and the website.

Will Campbell said...

This is practically identical to the ordeal I endured with my hastily assassinated TAP card in May. Two months (and several contacts with Customer Disservice) later and the $13.25 balance on the old card has STILL not been transferred to the new one.

Militant Angeleno said...

Will: Sorry to hear that! But did you go ahead and use the card, or did you check the TAP status first? The Militant went to an unspecified Red Line station today and took his TAP card to one of the machines to check the TAP status...A message at the bottom of the screen read, "Stored value of $7.50 successfully loaded!" and suddenly he had $9.00 now. Might want to do that first before using it if you haven't done it already.

Collin1000 said...

Your post points out one of the biggest problems with TAP cards expiring: It's not the fact that they do expire (which is annoying) but the real problem is that they don't warn is when they are about to expire. The machine at the station, the website, and when they actually expire all appear to be three different dates. The net result is that, one morning, as you're rushing to catch a train, you go to TAP in and you're stuck. You've got no cash on you, so what do you do? A pretty easy solution here would be to have the turnstiles or machines warn you in advance - you tap in and it says "GO - Warning! Tap Card Expires in 27 days!" or something to that effect. Also, the process of transferring is a huge pain, I agree. If I have registered both my cards on their website, I don't see why I cannot move stored funds between the two.

Will Campbell said...

Yep MA, I simply tried to use the card . But when I called TAP's Customer Disservice afterward, I was told it had not been transferred and would take a minimum of four day. Will definitely do a status check first next time. And cross my fingers. And pray.

Cassie said...

I had heard about TAP cards expiring a while ago but never really gave it much thought. I get my pass-loaded TAP card from my employer (also has my photo on it). The good thing is that my employer DOES send you an email to let you know that your TAP is expiring and that when you buy your new pass, they'll mail you a new card (for free). I had already bought the new pass but it was nice that they sent out that email.

They should have some way to notify riders when their TAP cards are about to expire, but having it display on the screen (when you tap) would be a good idea. Anyone know if that would be too "expensive" to implement? They already tell you when your pass (monthly, weekly, etc) expires so it can't be too difficult?

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