TAP Cards: How to make them truly smart
March 5, 2012 9 Comments
As Metro begins moving toward a locked-turnstile system on its rail lines, TAP cards are going to be even more important. It’s going to be in Metro’s best interest to convince users to make the switch from paper tickets to TAP, and it’s going to be in the users’ best interests to do so. Still, there are a few things that can make TAP cards even better. They call them “smart,” but right now there’s not a lot smart about the cards, so here’s how I think the system can be improved: Make them automatically convert to 1-day, 7-day, and 20-day passes when the card’s use hits a certain price threshold.
Now, I can’t say I came up with this idea on my own, as I’ve heard it talked about by various people, but it’s worth writing down.
My card says “Smart. Simple. Secure.” on it, but out of those three things, I think it really only succeeds at being secure. I’m not sure what makes the card smart… it deducts $1.50 every time I tap it, which is more repetitive than smart. And sure, it’s simpler than buying a ticket every time I ride, but using TAP makes me think ahead and wonder if I will use it enough each day or month to justify buying a pass, or if I should just use pre-loaded funds. Predicting my travel patterns for a day, let alone the whole month, is rarely simple.
Currently, I use the Metro just barely enough to make a 30-day pass not worth it most months, though, at times I have spent over $75 in a single month. The problem is, I don’t always know 30 days in advance when I will do that. With a little software engineering, Metro could convert the TAP system to be truly smart, adapting to the amount of use and converting automatically to a pass as needed.
It should simply stop deducting funds from a card once $5 has been spent per day, $20 within a 7-day period, or $75 within 30 days. All TAP cards will work on a stored-value basis, and no passes would need to be bought ahead of time.
For example, within a single day…
The first ride will cost $1.50
The second ride will cost $1.50 — for a total of $3
The third ride will cost $1.50 — for a total of $4.50
The fourth ride will cost $0.50 — for a total of $5 (the current cost of a day pass)
The fifth, sixth, and more rides will cost $0 — for a total of $5 (the current cost of a day pass)
The most a card will be charged in a single day is $5 — the cost of a day pass. The next day, the first tap will again deduct $1.50 from the card. Similarly, once a card has been charged $75 within a 30-day period, it will stop being charged for subsequent taps within that period — effectively becoming a 30-day pass.
The only complication would be if someone were to TAP multiple people in with a single card, but this is not currently possible on the Metro system. In other cities, you can swipe a card three times for three people to enter the transit system, but in LA, the TAP cards will only register one TAP within a certain period of time at a station.
This software change, to effectively make all TAP cards smart by limiting the charges to the prices of passes within the respective time periods, will encourage transit riders to switch to TAP, knowing they will never be overcharged for making an unexpected detour or running another errand.
Simply put money on the card, use it as much as you want, and know you’re always getting the best deal.