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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis February 10, 2012
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Metro Introduces Visa-TAP and Visa-TAP for Access: Pre-Paid Debit Cards for the Unbanked and ADA Paratransit Customers
BY JANE MATSUMOTO, Deputy Executive Officer, Regional TAP Operation, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Los Angeles, CA, and F SCOTT JEWELL, Deputy Executive Director, Administration, Access Services, El Monte, CA

Two major public transportation providers in southern California—the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and Access Services (Access)—joined together last year to launch a revolutionary electronic payment card that provides a valuable financial services product to under-banked and paratransit customers.

Under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy, Metro operates the third largest public transit system in the country with 1.5 million boardings a day. It also is the regional transportation planning entity responsible for implementing the county’s multimodal transportation system.

Access, led by Executive Director Shelly Verrinder, is a local public entity that provides Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit on behalf of the county’s 45 public fixed route operators, both bus and rail.

Visa-TAP and Visa-TAP for Access
The innovative Visa-TAP and Visa-TAP for Access fare technology and payment media are being introduced to the transit community for the first time in the form of a prepaid debit card. These co-branded cards, targeted at public transit users with specific consumer needs, help remove barriers to mobility while also offering additional voluntary end-user benefits.

The Visa-TAP card addresses the community of riders who do not have traditional banking relationships with commercial financial institutions such as banks or credit unions. The Visa-TAP card for Access was introduced to serve persons with disabilities who use ADA paratransit.

Public transportation customers without access to traditional financial institutions and products may pay huge fees for cashing paychecks and paying bills. (This community spends on average $800 per year just for financial services such as check cashing and purchasing money orders.) Their total reliance on cash means they must carry cash if they want to use public transit, to buy passes and have exact change for fares. For people without debit bank cards, simple things like bill paying, online shopping, or renting a DVD are impossible.

The VISA-TAP for Access is a multi-functional product that, first and foremost, was issued to serve as rider identification for qualified riders of the ADA paratransit system in Los Angeles County. The card also contains a TAP smart chip that allows Access riders to ride free on fixed route systems as part of Access’ Free Fare program. The card allows for significantly enhanced reporting and fraud prevention, since it is much harder to duplicate than the legacy rider ID card.

Additionally, Access partnered with ReadyCARD to add the functionality of a prepaid Visa® to the card. This gives riders the option of loading money on the card: to pay for a ride on Access instead of using tokens or coupons, to pay at their favorite stores, shop online or over the phone, or pay bills without money orders.

Use of the new TAP card has been impressive, with more than 30,000 cards issued in the last three months of 2011. In December 2011 alone, passengers took more than 486,000 boardings using the card on our Free Fare partners.

Earning Recognition
These solutions have already garnered awards. The Los Angeles Chapter of WTS honored Metro and Access with the Innovative Transportation Solutions Award for implementing the Visa-TAP program.

In addition, the five-judge panel for the 2012 Paybefore Awards recently selected the VISA-TAP for Access Prepaid Card as one of the three winners in the Best Government-Funded Prepaid Program category. These awards are presented in 20 categories by Paybefore, which provides publications for the global prepaid community.

As fare payment technology evolves, Los Angeles County will continue to work to address customers who can easily be overlooked. Innovation combined with social responsibility is how we see fare technology evolving for customers in southern California.

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