LA Metro cars (Walter Cicchetti/

For LA transit, one payment system to rule them all

In Los Angeles, residents use one app to pay for bike share, another for Uber, yet another for parking and then a card for bus and rail. But after LA Metro implements its new TAPForce cloud architecture later this fall, riders will be able to pay for multiple ride services with one card.

LA residents currently pay for bus or rail trips with a transit access pass, or TAP, smartcard that they load with fare money then tap on a reader when on entering a bus or rail station. Data stays in the closed system, which also works great for transit because there's no latency that would slow down passengers paying their fares. Plus, there isn’t always a communications connection where riders travel, said Mark Kroncke, a partner at Invoke Technologies, a consultancy that helps cities implement fare-collection technologies.

Kroncke said the  system doesn’t work as well for transportation solutions like bike share and Uber, however. Vendors offering newer mobility solutions – ridesharing, last-mile or bike services --  “don’t want to have to put very expensive transit-type readers on each one of their vehicles,” he said in an interview.

The solution? The TAPForce cloud, a Salesforce-based system that will allow riders for pay for traditional public transportation as well as third-party transit options with the same wallet.

LA Metro had been using the Salesforce  customer relationship management platform to help it integrate its services across a vast network of internal and external agencies and transportation systems. Now the city is "building an account-based system that integrates pretty seamlessly with our existing TAP legacy system,"  Robin O’Hara, the deputy executive officer for TAP Technology Systems with LA Metro said in a recent webinar. The regional cloud-based system interfaces with the TAP backend to provide unified payment across multiple programs including LA Metro's transit system, she said.

Companies providing other transportation options use the Salesforce application programming interface to provide their payment requirements and customer data, but they have options on what to share with TAPForce.

“That’s the key,” Kroncke said. “These APIs are very modern and very well documented.”

Transportation providers can join the platform two ways. The first allows a vendor to accept TAP as a form of payment and is designed to be just as easy as setting up PayPal as a payment option for customers. Firms can also move all their customer data onto the TAPForce system through the APIs, Kroncke said. If vendors transfer all their customer data, the discounts LA Metro offers on traditional transit  -- for college students or senior citizens, for example --  can then be applied to bike share or other services.

These discounts also could be used to manage traffic, according to Robin O’Hara, the deputy executive officer for TAP Technology Systems with LA Metro. If there is a bad air quality day, the city can discount transit to encourage public transit ridership, O’Hara said.

Bringing more vendor options into the TAPForce cloud will also allow the unbanked to these services that traditionally require a credit or debit card. Users would print out a barcode and take it to any store that sells TAP cards -- CVS and 7Eleven locations in Los Angeles County -- and use the bar code to load cash onto their TAP account.  

Data on payment transactions could help future transportation planning. Part of the added functionality for the city will provided by Saleforce’s analytics tool, Einstein, which will help with digging through all the data they collect.  

"By doing the hybrid system -- as opposed to changing out the entire system and building from scratch -- we have we have basically done this for literally pennies on the dollar," O'Hara said.

The city also plans to launch an app next year that will allow customers to more easily add money to their account and do trip planning, O’Hara said.

The expanded TAP service will launch with Metro Bike Share, but the city expects to have multiple bike share companies on board by the end of the year, Kroncke said. The team rolling out TAPForce is  also in talks with MicroTransit, a pilot to provide on-call transit service to residents.

 “Once we build it we believe that they will come,” O’Hara said.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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