Metrolink Addresses Confusing Wording Regarding Monthly Passes

It looks like someone at Metrolink in Southern California reads The Consumerist, because their communications manager responded today to yesterday’s post about some potentially confusing language on their website. He even posted a suggested revision to the language in an attempt to clear it up, and is asking for reader feedback.

As we noted yesterday, Metrolink technically did nothing wrong, but the way they described the monthly pass program was confusing enough that one of our readers earned himself a hefty $250 fine despite a good faith attempt to follow the rules. What do you think of Metrolink’s suggested revision? Too much? Personally, we like their inclusion of examples.

Here is some proposed new language for our website that I hope will clear things up:

Valid for unlimited travel between the origin station and selected destination during a calendar month. PASSES CLEARLY STATE ON THE FRONT THE CALENDAR MONTH THEY ARE VALID FOR. Passes can be purchased in advance.

MONTHLY PASSES ARE VALID FOR THE CALENDAR MONTH FOR WHICH THEY ARE PURCHASED. THEY ARE NOT VALID FOR A 30 DAY PERIOD FROM THE DATE ON WHICH THEY ARE PURCHASED.

These passes are sold from the 15th of the current month to the 14th of the new month.

EXAMPLE I: If you purchase a monthly pass from March 1 through March 14, it will only be valid for the balance of the month of MARCH from the date of purchase. It will expire on March 31. THE PASS CANNOT BE USED IN APRIL.

EXAMPLE II: If you purchase a monthly pass on the 18th of March, the pass will only be valid for the month of APRIL. It CANNOT be used until APRIL 1 and will expire on APRIL 30.

RELATED
“SoCal’s Metrolink Monthly Pass Doesn’t Work The Way You Probably Think”

Comments

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  1. egoods says:

    Whoa, somebody is copping an attitude…

  2. Chris Walters says:

    @egoods: Well, the ALL CAPS might be too shouty, but I think it’s a sincere attempt to make the language clearer.

    • oaxacaf says:

      @Chris Walters: CAPS are now boldface.

    • syzygy says:

      @Chris Walters: Dude, you’re dealing with people for whom normal, straightforward language is a weird and frightening animal, who must have everything spelled out for them in multiple dirt-simple sentences of bold 18-point print.

      “Monthly pass only valid for month printed on pass.” Is that so hard?

  3. wrjohnston19283 says:

    There were complaints when the site was not clear – now the site is EXTREMELY clear, and there are still complaints.

    Personally, I’d rather the site be clear with several examples than not clear.

  4. fantomesq says:

    Metrolink could show its own good faith by dismissing the OP’s $250 ticket or at least reducing it to something comparable to their loss. The above wording is still confusing. Surely English majors must be in ready supply right now? Hire a copy editor.

  5. Matt Sherlock says:

    Maybe this is a stupid question, but why are they running from the 15th of one month to the 14th of the next? Wouldn’t it just be a whole lot clearer if they ran from the beginning of the month to the end of the month?

  6. humphrmi says:

    Here’s a suggestion, Metrolink. And it’s not too far out in left field, because a peer company of yours, Metra in Chicago does this… so not too wild and crazy, I don’t think. Instead of sending conductors around to collect fares and then fining passengers for misunderstanding the pass rules, how about the conductor simply tells the passenger “That pass isn’t valid yet,” and request another form of payment?

    I know it sounds crazy. But here in Chicago, it’s just crazy enough that it works.

    • oaxacaf says:

      @humphrmi: Metrolink does not sell tickets on board our trains as they do on some other systems.

      • Plates says:

        @oaxacaf: Where I come from, the commuter trains have conductors who collect the tickets. Ideally you are supposed to buy them ahead of time, but if you don’t you pay a penalty for buying them onboard.

  7. ironchef says:

    Part of the issue is there was some kind of “verbal” thing that the OP is relying on when thought he had the blessing of the conductor that checked his pass.

    He rode for 4 days with a pass marked February when he intentionally wanted to squeeze in an extra 2 weeks in by not paying for a January pass.

    He was caught by the conductor the second time around.

    So the ticket happened. The conductor would NEVER advise him to skip out of a valid ticket for January. He let him go the first time (and the OP assumed it was “okay”). On Jan 20, 2009 his luck ran out.

    My remedy for the situation here is to label the metrolink tickets to say
    Valid ONLY in Feb 2009. Not just Valid FOR February 2009 like it says on the current ticket. This removes the ambiguity of using it in January.

    As for the sign,

    Presale tickets for next month’s passes are available from the 15th to the end of the current month.

    Current month passes are available only from the first of the current month to the 14th of the current month.

    • coren says:

      @ironchef: Yeah, the person selling him the thing and the guard who let it happen three other times, that was him just being sneaky.

      Quit blaming the consumer.

      • ironchef says:

        @coren: he was warned. Then he got cited. He didn’t comprehend the sign (I ride metrolink for 8 years..it’s not that hard).
        He already admitted he was hoping to ride free for two weeks.

        the pass clearly says Valid For Feb 2009 (and trying to ride for Jan).

        The same conductor never would let people “slide” after a warning.

        1) Metrolink Tickets are only sold by machine in every station except Union Station. There isn’t a “person selling him the thing” to tell the guy that story, btw.

        2) Conductors check for one thing only when it comes to Monthly passes: the month. The OP would be the ONLY person flashing a February pass in a train full of January passes. Most conductors are very reasonable, especially for first time newbies because they know most of the regulars on the train. But to let a passenger “slide” for two weeks is incomprehensible.

  8. Karl says:

    The caps are a bit much. Perhaps some boldfacing instead?

    There are certainly transit passes that only show the expiration month, and not what months they’re valid for. I’ve got one right now, in fact…

  9. tc4b says:

    The language is clear now. It’s also clear that Metrolink got really pissy about it instead of just admitting that yeah, maybe it was a little confusing before. You know, everyone messes up, has embarrassing little failures. A little understanding goes a long way, ya know? Lemme put it a way you’ll understand:

    If you had ADMITTED YOUR SITE WAS CONFUSING and done a little MEA CULPA at the same time you suggested CHANGES to the LANGUAGE on your SITE, and if you had also not gotten all PISSY and CONDESCENDING about it, you might not have come off looking like such a DUNGHEAP.

    It’s not clear whether or not the OP will have to pay $250.

  10. XTC46 says:

    @Matt Sherlock

    that is the date range they will sell the tickets, not their valid period. Name fails you :(

  11. Ghede says:

    Love metrocards. A 30 day card gets you 30 days riding from the first usage. They should take cues from that, instead of clarifying the language. Of course, I hope they don’t take the lets-reduce-the-bonus-fare-when-you-purchase-a-$20-fare-card-so-you-always-have-a-dollar-left route.

    • coren says:

      @Ghede: I like this. Especially as I work 4 day weeks, so it could make almost a week of difference in how frequently I purchase things.

  12. steve says:

    Get rid of this language, it makes things worse: “THEY ARE NOT VALID FOR A 30 DAY PERIOD FROM THE DATE ON WHICH THEY ARE PURCHASED.”

    If you buy the March pass on March 1, it will be valid for the next 30 days.

  13. fantomesq says:

    Metrolink Monthly passes are valid during the calendar month that is printed on the front of the card. For example, the following card would be valid for the entire month of April (April 1-April 30)

    ** Shows Example Card for April **

    For your convenience, you can purchase Metrolink Monthly passes early. Early sales of Metrolink Monthly passes start on the 15th of the prior month and are available until the next month’s passes go on sale. For example: Monthly passes for July go on sale on June 15th and continue until July 14 when the August passes go on sale.

    Example: If you purchase a Monthly pass on July 10, you will receive a pass that is good from July 1-July 31. If you purchase a pass on July 20, the pass will be good from August 1-August 31. You would need to purchase other Metrolink passes to ride between July 20-31.

    Purchase your Monthly pass on or before the first of the month to ensure that you get the greatest value for your money.

    Please doublecheck to make certain your pass is valid for that day before boarding a Metrolink Train. Metrolink employees can not be guaranteed to understand this system and may randomly subject you to unreasonably harsh penalties, if you fail to do so.

    Thank you for riding Metrolink

    • oaxacaf says:

      @fantomesq: Stole some of your language for the Metrolink website update. Decided to pass on using your last paragraph though.

    • fantomesq says:

      @fantomesq: Can’t blame someone for a little sarcasm can you? How about also announcing that you’ll be helping the OP out by sending a Metrolink representative to his court hearing to testify that Metrolink’s wording helped lead to the OP’s $250 ticket? Very impressive that you’re following the discussions here though :)

  14. parkavery says:

    @ironchef: I like your wording the best. “Presale” is a great way to describe it.

    I appreciate what the communications manager was trying to do, but to me it still falls short. Near-clarity five times is no substitute for explaining it succinctly just once.

  15. blazinrebel says:

    What’s so hard about setting up the passes to work for 30 days from the date of purchase? The only possibility that makes sense to me is that they would lose revenue from those that buy them on the 13th and pay for a full month’s pass but can only use it until the 31st. Unless they prorate them. Seems to me that would involve the least confusion, increase attractiveness of the product, and possibly generate new ridership. All good things for everyone involved.

    • mmmsoap says:

      @blazinrebel: Honestly? Because at this stage of the game it’s infinitely easier and cheaper to change the wording on the website to reflect the system that *exists* then to change the system. Seriously.

      • blazinrebel says:

        @mmmsoap: Sure it is more expensive to change the system than to change the wording. I’m just saying it might be worth their while if there’s a chance it might boost sales of the passes.

  16. fantomesq says:

    On second thought, why have the confusing presale information on the card at all. Leave that for signage at the sales counter where the ticket is purchased. The information on the card should only focus on the validity of the ticket.

  17. ModernDemagogue says:

    As I just posted on the other page, this is a straightforward case of promissory estoppel, and estoppel by laches. There is no way that he will be found guilty if he makes such a claim. This is clearly the transit authority’s fault and problem. They should issue an apology to him, and at least a free monthly pass as compensation for the trouble.

    By letting him use the pass for several days without incident, they established a relationship held out to be legitimate to both parties. You cannot simply decide later its not legit and fine him.

    Furthermore, he acted upon information provided to him by the claimant to the best of his ability. If they provide him false, misleading, or ambiguous information even after he asked for clarification, he cannot be held responsible for any damages that occur to the claimant due to his following their instructions.

    Simple.

    • fantomesq says:

      @ModernDemagogue:

      Agreed but where is going to get attorney representation for less than the $250 he’s already charged with? Also where is the evidence other than his word that his previous rides or the discussion with the metrolink employee ever happened?

  18. blazinrebel says:

    Oh and hey, maybe at the same time re-brand the pass with some catchy advertising so the word gets spread. Might open the eyes of some that are looking to cut costs and would consider public transit.

  19. ModernDemagogue says:

    Additionally, I should say I dispute Consumerist’s claim that Metrolink, technically, did nothing wrong.

    In fact, technically, Metrolink is in the wrong and leaves themselves open to a civil suit for restitution and damages.

    • kamel5547 says:

      @ModernDemagogue: They are not in the wrong since their pass clearly states when it is valid. It says on the front “Valid for: MONTH YEAR”. hard to misinterpret if you look at it and sign it as you are supposed to. It may be confusing priotr to sale, but not once you ahve the pass.

      I wonder if anyone here actually rides Metrolink?

  20. veronykah says:

    Why can’t they just work for 30 days a la NYC’s Metrocard?
    Why must LA do everything in its power to make people NOT want to use public transport?
    How about I can buy a card for $5.00 and ride the Metro train 4 times? Why oh why is that SO hard?
    Perhaps installing turnstiles would be a good idea too. They claim that a small percentage of people ride the metro w/o paying but from where I ride [hollywood/highland] most of the people I follow into the station do not buy a ticket or validate a TAP card…
    Turnstiles would also prevent the OP from riding with a pass that isn’t valid.
    Just some thoughts…

    • kamel5547 says:

      @veronykah: Metrolink is no affiliated with LA’s Metro system…. It runs the commmuter trains a la Amtrak (same tracks different trains, cheaper prices). Turnstiles aren’t an option due to the variety of trains operated on the lines(Amtrak, BNSF, Metrolink).

      The big issue with turnstiles is the paper passes (Metrolink) would need to be changed as losing a $238 pass to a machine would severly suck. I agree witht he turnstiles (for Metro) though..

  21. Coles_Law says:

    There seems to be a lot of vitriol directed at Metrolink considering they admitted the language was unclear and are seeking feedback to improve it. A lot of people are suggesting a 30 day from date of purchase card would be better, but it would also be much harder to check by quick visual inspection.

  22. KarateMedia says:

    See, I’m confused — the previous article says that Dillon specifically asked the Metrolink employee *when he bought the ticket* if the pass would be valid for the current month. There wasn’t just a problem with the wording – there was a more serious problem with the Mentrolink employee giving incorrect information.

    I don’t see how you can say “technically Metrolink did nothing wrong” — the employee gave incorrect information that led to this problem. Their employees are responsible for what they do and say – do you give any other company a pass when their CSRs give false or misleading information to customers? Not that I can recall…

  23. johnmc says:

    Warning: Pedantry ahead.
    It should read:
    PASSES CLEARLY STATE ON THE FRONT THE CALENDAR MONTH FOR WHICH THEY ARE VALID.

  24. ModernDemagogue says:

    @fantomesq: He doesn’t need a lawyer, he can make the claim himself. He can also subpoena the security guard who cited him, the security camera tapes of the train station he entered at and that show the guard letting him through each day, as well as the person on duty at the train station that he talks to. For a retributive civil suit he’d probably do all of this. Merely stating his reasoning, and if he meets resistance, suggesting this will be his future course of action should be enough to get his citation waived and expunged. Fines like this are meant to be income earners for the State. As soon as it becomes a losing proposition for all parties, the incentive to enforce a particular fine disappears.

  25. fantomesq says:

    It seems that the rewording on the tickets is only half of the issue. The other half is on the enforcement. If someone is “caught” riding between the time they purchased a ticket and the time that ticket is valid (example: Ticket purchased on January 20, Ticket Valid Feb 1 – 28 and he is caught on January 24) then that should illicit a different fine than someone riding without a ticket entirely due to the likelihood of misunderstanding.

  26. humphrmi says:

    @Consumerist: Fix Reply!

    @oaxacaf: Then issue a “ticket”, like the $250 one he got, only for the amount of the one-way fare plus, say, a $5 penalty. If they can’t collect money on board, fine… but they seem to be able to collect money after the fact. The only question here in my mind is, is $250 reasonable? I don’t think so.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Why don’t just put a big-freakin-giant month/year on every pass (if it’s not done already). That’s what they do for washington’s soundtransit and portland’s trimet. For example: JANUARY 2009, etc.
    Also put a big screenshot on how the pass would look like. Like here:
    http://trimet.org/7daypass/index.htm

  28. randombob says:

    Still confusing to me. I *think* I understand what they’re selling, but I think they’re still explaining it a little funky. How about:

    “Passes are valid for unlimited travel from Origin station to selected destination for the duration of *a calendar month.* Passes for calendar month are available from the 15th of *the previous month* up to the 14th of the *purchased month.*”

    Examples would stlll be good. Such as:

    “Example 1: Assume today is January 16th. Passes made available for sale on this date would be valid beginning February 1st, running through February 28th, and not valid until those dates (i.e. not good for the remainder of January).

    Example 2: Assume today is January 13th. Passes made available for sale on this date would be valid for the remainder of January.”

    That seems – to me at least – to say what they’re selling. This is, of course, if I’m interpreting all of this correctly.

  29. floraposte says:

    “These passes are sold from the 15th of the current month to the 14th of the new month.” This is not clear to me, because “new” and “current” don’t clearly relate the purchase time to the validity month. How about “Passes are on sale from the 15th of the month prior to their validity to the 14th of the month in which they are valid.”

  30. Chris Walters says:

    @KarateMedia: I guess on this issue, ultimately I come down in favor of Metrolink, despite the badly worded instructions on their website. My reasoning: the first line of the monthly pass description accurately describes how the pass works (even though the second line confuses the issue), and the ticket is clearly marked in a way that confirms that first sentence. If I were in this situation, those two facts would override any other information I collected from a ticket agent or help desk.

    I can see how a passenger could get confused, so I’m not blaming the OP. But I think this is an issue of unclear language, not bad behavior on Metrolink’s part.

    I know there’s no love lost for Metrolink just based on what I’ve been reading about them online the past two days. In this case, however, it’s hard for me to blame either side.

    I agree, however, that the fare evasion citation is incorrect in this situation. The conductor/agent surely could have issued a warning or clarification.

  31. Spokker says:

    The reason they are sold the way they are sold might have to do with December.

    Ridership drops off in the last half of December as people start taking off work for Christmas vacation, especially the last week of the year and the first week of January. Passes for December are sold at a discount as a result.

  32. Plates says:
  33. Cat_In_A_Hat says:

    Looks like someone took a little advice from my post yesterday “How about including an example like: “you can purchase a pass for valid for April trips beginning March 15 through April 14th. Passes purchased after April 14th are not valid for the month of April and may be used beginning in May.” How difficult was it to post an example from the start. Oh well, problem solved.

  34. oaxacaf says:

    OK Consumerists. Metrolink extends its apologies for Dillon’s experience with our monthly pass and our fare enforcement staff. I have asked the Consumerist to pass along our direct contact information so we can possibly help Dillon resolve his citation prior to his court date.

    Here is the latest and probably final version of the language we think will work. Thanks for all of your contributions and the insightful comments.

    Monthly passes are valid only during the calendar month printed on the front.

    For your convenience, you can purchase Metrolink monthly passes early. Presale of Metrolink monthly passes start on the 15th of the prior month and they are available until the next month’s passes go on sale.

    EXAMPLE I: If you purchase a monthly pass from March 1 through March 14, it will only be valid for the balance of the month of March from the date of purchase. It will expire on March 31. The pass cannot be used in April.

    EXAMPLE II: If you purchase a monthly pass on the 18th of March, the pass will only be valid for the month of April. It cannot be used until April 1 and will expire on April 30.

    If you would like to begin riding Metrolink on a regular basis between the 15th and the end of any month, a more cost effective option than purchasing a monthly pass for only two weeks of use is our 10-trip ticket (see above). Each ticket is good for 5 round trips (one week of Monday-Friday commuting) and can be used over a 90 day period. The cost per trip is less than purchasing a series of one-way or round trip tickets.

    • oneandone says:

      @oaxacaf: That seems quite clear. “Presale” helps a lot.

      I couldn’t help noticing that you’re working at such a late hour on this (even though I assume 12:19 AM is NY time and not LA, but that’s still pretty late). I can’t decide whether to be impressed (nice effort!) or sad (I hate working past 7, personally). Or perhaps you have a non-traditional schedule, in which case, I hope it’s working out for you!

  35. Deleriumb32 says:

    Grammar issue:

    PASSES CLEARLY STATE ON THE FRONT THE CALENDAR MONTH THEY ARE VALID FOR.

    Should be

    PASSES CLEARLY STATE THE MONTH FOR WHICH THEY ARE VALID ON THE FRONT OF THE CARD.

    • Garbanzo says:

      @Deleriumb32: What you say would be true if we were speaking Latin. In English the proposed wording is perfect as it stands.

      This so-called “grammar rule” was invented by people who thought that English would be better if it were more like Latin. It is not based on anything real in the English language.

  36. redkamel says:

    thats actually even better than the consumerist wording!

  37. Matthew R Sullivan says:

    how about you just buy a monthly pass and it works for the next 30 days? what a grand idea!

  38. aen says:

    The manager’s done a great thing by offering a revision (I bet the caps are just to more clearly show where the revisions take place). Bonus points for offering the revision and asking for feedback.

    One suggestion from me would be to scrap the old wording entirely and just write it down in plain and simple terms to begin with. The examples are great, keep those.

  39. theblackdog says:

    Eyebrows McGee: I am willing to bet that after the 15th it costs less to just ride the rails every day and pay the fare rather than purchase the pass.

  40. vladthepaler says:

    Pissy, but clear.

  41. sponica says:

    Just some examples of local commuter rail monthly passes. I’ve never found the language confusing at all.

    Monthly Passes – NJ Transit
    Monthly passes offer a savings of approximately 30% off the cost of regular one-way tickets. They are valid for unlimited trips between designated stations during the calendar month on the ticket. Rail monthly passes now go on sale at 5 p.m. on the 19th of each month.

    Monthly passes – Metro North Railroad
    Monthly
    Unlimited rides for a calendar month for approximately 50 percent of the one-way peak rail fare. Most cost-effective fare for daily commutation. All Monthly tickets go on sale at ticket offices and ticket machines the 20th of the previous month. All Monthly tickets go on sale through WebTicket the 1st of the previous month. Monthly tickets are non-transferable; the first person to use this ticket is the only person who can use it. This ticket will be inspected periodically by train crew members.

    Monthly passes – Long Island Railroad
    Monthly
    Good for unlimited rides during the calendar month indicated on the ticket. On sale starting the 20th of the month prior to the valid month of travel (for example: on May 20th you can buy June’s ticket) at Ticket Offices and Ticket Machines. Sold in advance from WebTicket. Non-transferable.

    While these wordings may not be appropriate to Metrolink, they are fairly concise and not confusing.

  42. JohnMc says:

    Might be a step forward but it is still not simple. Cut the crap and the prepay process and just do the following –

    “MetroLink is good for 30 days from the date printed on the pass”

    Then put both the beginning date and expiration date ON the PASS.

  43. maruawe42 says:

    They should destroy the ticket given for their use of the American language.. Not everyone who rides a bus is a scholar. Plain English should be mandatory on all forms used to give instructions about any purchase..
    Ps. not everyone is a lawyer

  44. davidc says:

    You should be able to buy 30 days of travel. Period. You should be able to choose which period you want to purchase, regards of the “calendar”.

    At minimum, if you buy a card during the month, it should be prorated for that month. ie: buy on the 10th, it costs 1/3 less.

    Anything else is a consumer (re: tax payer) rip-off.

  45. thor777 says:

    All the site really needs is one line:

    “The pass is valid only for the month and year printed.”

    Why add all the extra stuff in the 1st place?

    Also, the examples SHOULD read:

    EXAMPLE I: If you purchase a “MARCH” pass from March 1 through March 14, it will only be valid for the balance of the month of “MARCH” from the date of purchase. It will expire on March 31. THE PASS CANNOT BE USED IN APRIL.

    EXAMPLE II: If you purchase a “APRIL” pass on the 18th of March, the pass will only be valid for the month of “APRIL”. It CANNOT be used until APRIL 1 and will expire on APRIL 30.

  46. Thomas Check says:

    It sounds like a ridiculous system regardless. The whole “valid for the month printed on the date” sounds like Metrolink’s way of scamming users out of full usage, because, if you don’t purchase that pass on the first of the month, you aren’t getting a full month’s use.

  47. Spokker says:

    “At minimum, if you buy a card during the month, it should be prorated for that month. ie: buy on the 10th, it costs 1/3 less.”

    This would be a bad idea. Monthly passes are basically a discount program for frequent riders. You get a discount compared to what you would pay if you had purchased a round trip ticket for all of your trips. If you prorate it at the end of the month you are basically giving people a discount for no reason on the 30th or the 31st for whatever station pairs they are traveling between.

    You are essentially buying in bulk, and when you buy in bulk you usually get a discount per item. In this case the item is train travel between a station pair. The bulk is a month’s worth of travel between two stations.

  48. Spokker says:

    Let me add some details about Metrolink that might put things into context.

    First, Metrolink is a commuter railroad. Their primary demographic is middle class white collar workers who want an alternative to driving to work. The median income of the average Metrolink rider is over $70,000 and about 90% of riders own a car, to give a couple of ballpark figures.

    Metrolink is an agency that was cobbled together in the early 90s to provide commuter rail service in Southern California. Their funding, like most transit agencies, is inadequate to provide anything other than basic rush-hour service with a little bit of weekend and off-peak service. We as a country do not invest in our passenger railroads to the extent that we should and therefore safety and service is routinely compromised.

    “Fixing” the ticket machines so they do all the wonderful things you want them to do also costs money. The software needs to be programmed. The machines need to be upgraded, among other things. The Southern California Regional Rail Authority, the joint powers board consisting of five counties that oversees the operation of Metrolink, contracts out the actual operation of the railroad to other companies. The number of people who actually work directly FOR Metrolink is rather small and they can only accomplish so much given the resources they are endowed with.

    Metrolink does what it can and there is definitely room for improvement, but I just wanted to give some background on the organization.