L.A. Metro TAP cards are now on iPhone and Apple Watch to limit contact amid pandemic

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A Metro rider touches his TAP card against a ticket vending machine in downtown Los Angeles. (Los Angeles Times)

A Metro rider touches his TAP card against a ticket vending machine in downtown Los Angeles. (Los Angeles Times)

Metro travelers with iPhones or Apple watches won’t need to use a physical TAP card to board trains or buses.

In a bid to make paying transit fares safer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Thursday launched the card on the Apple devices.

Riders can now hold their device near the TAP dial when boarding a bus or train and the fare is immediately validated. They won’t need to unlock their device or launch an app to use it, officials said.

People can load their cards with money directly from Apple Wallet or use the TAP LA app, and they won’t have to use a TAP vending machine or buy a card from a vendor limiting contact while the county continues to see widespread coronavirus transmission.

The new mobile TAP app is seen in the app store.
The new mobile TAP app is seen in the app store.

As of Wednesday, there were about 30,940 people in L.A. County that were considered “actively infectious,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this new feature offers a great option for essential workers, honors social distancing with no bus operator interaction needed by the rider and works on all TAP participating agencies, whether riders board at the front or at rear doors,” Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington said in a news release.

To use the virtual card, riders can either add it directly through Apple Wallet or download the TAP mobile app.

Those who already have a physical TAP card that’s loaded with money can transfer it to a virtual one using the app, which also supports cash-paying customers, Metro officials said.

 “The new mobile TAP app makes Metro one of the first transit agencies in the country to put the power to pay your fares in the palm of your hands — tapping into our city’s innovative spirit to bring greater safety, equity, sustainability, and convenience to riders, drivers, transit operators, and anyone riding our trains and buses,” Garcetti said in a statement.

The new technology comes a week after the Transportation Authority said it was exploring ways to make riding its buses and trains free, an undertaking that would make L.A. County’s public transit system the largest in the world to be entirely fareless.

If plans are successful, Los Angeles’ transit system could be fare-free sometime in 2021.

The transit system took a major hit as the coronavirus closed down schools and offices, sending ridership plummeting 50% to 60% in March. That was even before Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the nearly 40 million residents of the nation’s most populous state to stay at home.

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