Getting to Light Rail

Mt. Baker (Metro)

Mt. Baker (Metro)

[Editor's Note: This is crossposted at the Rainier Valley Post.]

[UPDATE: Parking lot cost fixed. Ah, the free market.]

If you don’t live within walking distance of a light rail station and would like to try to use it to get around, you’re faced with the decision of how to get there.  I’ll venture that most people who would access it downtown know how to get there, but here’s a quick guide to your options in the Rainier Valley and points south.

With the September 19, 2009 service change, the bus routes have changed substantially.  Since our last update, we’ve also uncovered a number of parking lots.  Details on how to get to the station below the jump.

Orientation

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Beacon Hill Station is underground and lies at roughly the corner of Beacon Ave. and S. McClellan St.

Mt. Baker Station is elevated and is at intersection of Rainier Ave. S and MLK Jr. Way.

Columbia City Station is a surface station at the intersection of S. Alaska St. and MLK Jr. Way.

Othello Station, as the name implies, is a surface stop at the intersection of S. Othello St. and MLK Jr. Way.

Rainier Beach Station is a surface station at the intersection of MLK Jr. Way and S. Henderson St.

Tukwila Int’l Blvd Station is visible from SR 518 (the airport freeway) as it crosses SR99.

Driving

Famously, most Link stations don’t have free park-and-rides, due to a city policy that discourages driving and wants to save the land for transit-oriented development.  However, the Tukwila International Blvd. station has a park and ride that may be convenient for those that live nearby, or south of I-405.  Because it’s free, it tends to fill up pretty quickly. At other stations, there are less well-known parking options.

If you’re not parking between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm on business days, there’s generally street parking available in the surrounding neighborhoods, so that’s a good option for a ballgame or a night out on the town.  If you’re trying to drive there during working hours, there are numerous private parking lots where parking is much cheaper than it is downtown or at the airport:

  • Othello: One block west of MLK on Othello St, the Safeway offers monthly parking for $30/month.  Call 206-729-0590 for details.
  • Othello: Immediately east of the station, on Othello St., the Citadel is offering $5/day parking.
  • Columbia City: Just west of the intersection of Rainier Ave. and S. Edmunds St, or 3 blocks from the Columbia City station, there’s a $3/day private lot.  This lot is closed Wednesdays for the Columbia City Farmer’s Market.
  • Columbia City: One block north of the station, the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club (206-436-1890) is offering monthly 24 hrs/day, 5 days/week parking for the steep price of $175$50/month.
  • Mt. Baker: There’s a pay lot immediately west of the station (the old Grocery Outlet site) for $4/day.

We have many anecdotal reports that spaces are available in these lots throughout the day.

Each station also has plaza areas well-suited to pick-up and drop-off (“Kiss and Ride”).

Biking

There are extensive bike racks at each station.  For those seeking a more secure solution, you can simply take your bike on the train (here’s ST’s bike policy [pdf]), or you can rent a bike locker for $50/year, subject to availability.  Bike Lockers are only at Sodo, Beacon Hill, Mt. Baker, Rainier Beach, and Tukwila/Int’l Blvd stations.

The Bus

Click for larger .pdf

Click for larger .pdf

Metro has created a nice webpage that tells you which routes connect to which stations.  You can also use Metro’s Trip Planner, but right now it’s doing a pretty poor job of incorporating light rail.  For per-stop schedules and real-time bus arrival information, I recommend onebusaway.org.  For a neighborhood-oriented listing, read on:

From the Central District/Little Saigon: To go downtown, the bus is much faster.  To go South, routes 7, 8, 1436, 48, and 60 all interface with Light Rail at either the Beacon Hill or Mt. Baker stations, at all times of day.  Although they have limited service hours, routes 7X9, 34, and 42 all connect at Mt. Baker Station.

From Georgetown: Route 60 connects to the Beacon Hill Station at all times of day.

From Beacon Hill: Route 36 runs along Beacon Ave. between Beacon Hill station and Othello Station.  The 60 runs North up 15th to Beacon Hill station, and then on to the Jose Rizal Bridge.  The 106 serves South Beacon Hill via Rainier Beach Station and SODO.  Route 39 crosses Link at Columbia City station and then runs along Columbian Way, though not evenings.  The 38 shuttles between Beacon Hill and Mt. Baker stations along McClellan St.

Along MLK: The 8 runs from Rainier Beach to the Central District and serves all stations along MLK.  North of Alaska, you can also try the 42 during business hours.

Along Rainier Ave: The 7 connects with Link at Mt. Baker, and passes within about 5 blocks of all the other Rainier Valley stations via Rainier Ave., and runs very frequently in all but the early morning hours.  The 7X and 9 are faster, but don’t run as often.

Columbia City: Many of you will be able to walk, but you have the 7 going North on Rainier to Mt. Baker all the time.  There’s also the 39 going west on Genessee to Columbia City station all but the evenings; the 42 also going there from Rainier Park during business housrs; and the 34, 7X, and 9 to Mt. Baker via Rainier, but with much more restricted hours.

Seward Park:  The 39 can take you from the Seward Park/Genesee areas to either Columbia City or Othello Station.  It runs every day till the early evening, in both directions.  The 34 starts in the same place and passes by Mt. Baker Station, but only during rush hour.

Rainier Beach: If you’re near Rainier & Henderson, you’re spoiled for choice.  The 8106, and 107 take you right to Rainier Beach station, and run frequently, all the time.  The 9 runs less often but accomplishes the same thing.

Dunlap/Skyway/Renton:  The 106 travels north on Renton Avenue and delivers you to Rainier Beach station. If you’re near the end of the old 42/42X, or the Lakeridge area, the 107 gets you to Rainier Beach.  From Prentice St., the 7 and 7X are about 5 blocks east of the line till they meet at Mt. Baker Station.

Tukwila/Seatac: North of 154th St on SR 99, take the 124 south to get to Tukwila/International Blvd. Station.  South of 154th, take the 174 going North to do the same thing.  The 129 also provides limited service to Riverton Heights.  By February, the opening of Airport Station and the cancellation of the 194 will allow many new bus connections to Link.

Comments

    • says

      There’s an interesting story about bike racks, not too long B.G (before google) – As I recall Sue Donaldson negotiated this deal between Metro and Seattle to place bike lockers under I-5 at Ravenna/65th. After legal fees were added in the total cost was $500,000 each, or so I recall. That could’t be right, could it?

  1. Matt says

    I would add a few things. There are usually lots of “hide and ride” street parking spaces during the business day just outside the restricted parking zones, so if you’re willing to walk a little bit you can park for free. I know the City doesn’t like this, but there it is.

    Also, while the 39 terminates at Othello Station, the 34 begins its morning run and ends its evening run around Rainier and Henderson.

    Finally, though this post is about Beacon Hill and points south, I would mention that the SODO station seems somewhat mysterious to riders simply based on overheard conversations: what’s the cross street (Lander), what’s nearby (Seattle Public Schools, Starbucks, etc.), what’s not (Georgetown).

  2. Michael says

    Some bried observations recently…

    The Mount Baker transit center is getting increasingly more of a work out. I see people taking the 14 in the opposite direction (away from downtown towards the transit center) to board Link. The 8 appears to be very popular, I also like it’s increased frequency and streamlined route. I’m not sure which bus line is increasing activity at the Rainier Beach station (8 or 39), but this station is very well used now. Was at the Mount Baker station last night at 11pm and there were dozens of people taking both the north and southbound trains. I see more people walking to the Columbia City station. A lot of people getting off at Othello proceed right to the Asian stores on both sides. Anyone know if their business has picked up?

    Anyway, just some thoughts.

    • alexjonlin says

      Wow that’s great to know. I haven’t ridden it much lately, I shoudl go do that sometime soon.

      • says

        The Columbia City stop is close enough to be useful – it will be interesting to see how the useage and development matures at this station.

        Rainier Beach is nowhere near the water, and probably too far to work. FWIW, RB would be a great station to build a parking lot at, get the Skyway and Renton folks, etc.

      • says

        The water can be reached from Rainier Beach Station in a 15 minute walk. There’s a parking lot but it’s reserved for Polynesian Deli & Vegetable Bin customers.

    • says

      Considering that I’ve taken Link for a stop by Tammy Bakery (and I know some more of us have), I would say yes, their business should have picked up.

  3. alexjonlin says

    Everyone was totally going crazy about the whole no parking thing but the funing thing is I’ve never seen more than a couple cars parked in the lot next to Mount Baker Station.

  4. rob says

    I want to say that I love the link and the commuting experience is so much better than riding the lumbering #7. I do wish there was more bus to link integration at the Columbia City stop. There are lots of people who live east of Rainer who would benefit from some type of feeder bus route. For senior citizens and disabled riders, getting to Rainer from the CC station could be daunting.

    Because I live about 15 minutes (brisk walk) from the station, I only ride the link on my commute home. In the morning, it’s more logical to take a 7 Express to Downtown. (Frankly, it doesn’t make sense for me to get off at the Mount Baker station, and hop on link to downtown, since I am almost already at my destination.)
    As we get more into the bad weather season, I will be less motivated to do the 15 minute walk.

    I also think it is going to be a big mistake when Sound Transit stops allowing the use of Metro transfers for the link. While I like my Orca card, many people (working people) ride transit with cash only. Forcing them to pay more to ride the train seems shortsighted.

    • Gerard says

      I couldn’t agree mor eabout the need for better east-west connections for those of us east of Rainier. The proposed route 50 would have been the bees knees. Let’s hope it rises from the dead and Metro can find a way to accomodate the VA hystronics a little better next time it comes up.

      I’m torn about ORCA. I have a hard time buying the idea that it’s such a burden to get a card now, for free, and put the minimum $5 on it and then use it from there. The Link TVMs all take cash, so you can put more on it as needed. With the card, your transfer is free.

      I think even if ST decided to wait till 2011 to phase out the paper transfer, people would still be howling. Because it’s something new. Better to get it over with now. I’m guessing a lot of these issues will be forgotten six months from now as people accept and deal with a little change.

      • Martin H. Duke says

        Route 39 covers the same route that the 50 would have east of Rainier, so it should have no impact on your ability to get to the train.

      • Gerard says

        Yeah, but they teased us with the idea of this route 50 that would run every 15 min or so during peak, instead of the every 30+ or so we get from the 39.

      • Martin H. Duke says

        Well, they also said they were going to take away the 34, but everyone raised a big stink.

        That’s where your peak trips went.

      • Dente says

        That’s just silly. The 34 runs three (3) times northbound in the AM, and three (3) times southbound in the PM. The 50 was planned to be on 15 minute headways, 18 hours a day, both directions.

        I hardly think KCM killed the 50 in order to keep the paltry few runs of the 34.

      • Martin H. Duke says

        That’s simply not true. Here’s the link:
        http://transit.metrokc.gov/up/sc/plans/2008/102008-sesea-rb-sodo.html

        It was every 30 minutes, and they were “considering” 15 minutes in the peak. Moreover, your original complaint was not having 15 minute headways in the peak. Seward Park has that, they just don’t go to the same station because of the reaction to the 34.

        I didn’t say Metro killed the 50 for the 34, I said that’s why you don’t have more peak trips. Metro killed the 50 because of complaints from the VA and because it would have been a whole lot more service hours.

      • Dente says

        Well, now we’re getting somewhere. You’re saying keeping the 34 is why there aren’t more peak trips.

        Let’s do the math. The 34 has a total of 6 runs: three one-way runs in AM during a 2-hr period and three in PM during a 2-hr period.

        By contrast, the #50 with 15 minute headways during same periods would have been 32 runs: 4 one-way runs hour, two ways, for two hours = 16 in AM peak, and same in PM peak.

        If the #50 had been on only 1/2 headways (and I agree they dangled the 15 min headways like a carrot without a promise), that would have been 16 runs.

        So tell me again what your point is? How did 6 runs displace 16 runs of roughly equal length? And the decision to bust the only E-W route serving Columbia City station to 45 minute headways was caused by what?

      • Martin H. Duke says

        Dente,

        You keep accusing me of a one-to-one mapping of 50 trips to 34 trips, and that’s just not what I’m saying at all. The 50 died for lots of reasons, not just because of the 34 but because Southeast Seattleites prioritized other things.

        Your specific point at the start of this was that there should be higher peak frequency on the 39. I’ll agree that the 34 isn’t enough hours to get the 39 to 15 minute headways over the entire peak period, but they are peak trips that serve those neighborhoods and go to the same place.

      • says

        The sad thing is that using ORCA *can* be far easier than paying cash. Just load it up once a month or so and then all you have to do is hold the card up to the reader and let the computer (and the drivers who setup the reader) figure out the complicated fare structure as well as transfers.

        Unfortunately, there is a significant minority of folks who ride the bus who can barely think ahead to carry enough cash for the bus. As long as Metro allows them to slide by, I doubt you’ll ever see that population switch to ORCA and/or Link.

      • Transit Voter says

        No, don’t rely on the Metro bus driver to have the ORCA card reader set up properly. Look at the screen first, before tapping your card, to be sure it’s correct. If it’s not, politely ask (tell) the driver to set it properly. Some are very good about keeping it right all the time; at the other end of the spectrum are some who will set it correctly ONLY when asked.

      • gwen c. says

        …and some have figured out how to keep it out of service all the time and thus scream at people for fare.

      • says

        “Transit Voter”: Correct, I should have pointed that out. We’ve got a lot of things to concentrate on and unfortunately, the radio setup is not as user friendly as it should be. I’m guilty of missing the zone boundaries on occasion but am happy to correct it when asked. In theory, this issue will go away once the GPS system is in place. However, I’ve worked with technology long enough to have serious doubts that it will work as well as advertised.

        “Gwen c.”: There is no excuse for drivers “screaming” at passengers for fare in any situation, especially an ORCA user when the reader is out of order. It’s stupid, against policy, and frankly could be dangerous. If you feel strongly about it, call Metro and complain. Just be accurate about time, coach number, route, and the situation. There are a lot of *completely* bogus complaints that get into the system.

      • gwen c. says

        Yeah, tried that. Was accurate about everything, and was told that “because it’s still in testing, we can’t do anything.”

      • says

        gwen c.

        There is no way that a driver can set the ORCA system to “Out of Service”. That is something that happens spontaneously (and unpredictably) – the ORCA reader simply disconnects itself from the master system for no known reason while the bus is in service. One minute it’s working – the next there is a series of beeps and the reader shows “out of service”.

        The only remedy that the driver has to put the reader back in service is to reboot the entire system – which involves pulling the bus over, going OUTSIDE the bus, opening the battery compartment and throwing the battery disconnect switch for 30 seconds. There is no reset button for the on-board radio/ORCA inside the bus, or any reset that can be activated while the bus is in motion with the driver in their seat.

        Metro has instructed drivers to accept ORCA cards as “flash passes” (just show them to the driver and your ride is guaranteed) during these times, and even though your e-purse will not be debited (it’s a free ride for you at that point), those paying cash still have to pay.

        I hope this helps fill the gap in your information that has led you to conclude that drivers are for some bizarre reason deliberatlely disabling ORCA for the sheer enteratainment value.

      • gwen c. says

        I suppose it’s sheer coincidence that it happens only with certain drivers, then? I will accept it might be something about the trolleybuses, but the 49 and 44 don’t seem quite so plagued with this problem.

        And whether or not they’ve instructed the driver to take an ORCA card as a “flash pass,” most drivers have no problem with that. As with Metro in general, 95% of the bus operators are bloody awesome. The 10/12 doesn’t have a bad driver on the route, but it’s an inconveniently long walk hauling 50 pounds of books. 522, 64, 372, 65, 22…none of these drivers have any issues with ORCA or in general. My 64 drivers are the cream of the transit employee crop every time. I know, and i assume from the link that you provide, that you get that driving the 3/4 has to be living hell mostly because of much of the populace on the route. I get that. What i don’t get is what leads a driver to shake me down for seven quarters after i’ve paid 72 bucks for a damn pass.

        I cannot risk dealing with an issue with a driver on a bus that takes me to school; if someone’s gonna threaten to call the cops, i’m going to cough up $1.75, thank you very much. This is especially annoying after the same driver has let 10 people slide without paying four stops beforehand. It is handy to know it can’t be deliberately set not to work, but it doesn’t excuse the behavior.

        I am quite, quite aware that there are some issues involving the sort of imposition that ORCA is on drivers. It’s another damn thing to worry about, with more buttons, along with the bike racks, lift your handset for an important message yet again, transfer fraud, and violent bus crazies and people who can quite afford fare trying to slide on it. My mom was a Tacoma Transit driver back in the day, and i’m not numb to the plight of the bus driver. The problem is that taking these issues out on passengers trying to use it…that’s not really all that mature or progressive.

      • Z says

        the orca problems are many fold. I’m sure early in 2010 some lawyer types will sue ST claming discrimination of some sort or another agenst the low income riders who cannot afford to buy and maintain an ORCA card since they will no longer be able to use transfers. Occasional Rider Joe will be turned off the system because he only goes to the “M’s” or “Seahawks” Games on LINK and now that he cant transfer why bother and just drives in all the way (or only takes that mode so it dosent bother him at all). Bill the gangster wont like it because his fare evasion schemes wont work as well anymore, nor will Homeless Henry for the same reasons. But we really dont care about that as much.

        The biggest problems i see, is lack of competent 24/7 telephone support, and the lack of TVMs at all major transit facilites/points to purchase/upgrade the media at. It will be a bumpy road but a road well traveled.

      • Z says

        If i dident get distracted would have said It will be a bumpy road at first, but in time its flaws will get worked out.

  5. Transit Voter says

    It would be great to see a similar article on HOW to transfer between modes, how riders can use transit as a system; it’s not just a collection of random routes after all.

    Yes, to us transit junkies it’s a no-brainer, but for someone who’s only ridden the bus, they face questions like “how do you pay on the train?”. Many don’t know that Metro’s paper transfer is good on the train, nor that their plastic Puget Pass and Flex Pass are also good. Somebody needs to walk them through it, step by step. How to use the TVM. How and when to use the ORCA card readers. Fare inspection. All different experiences for ingrained bus riders.

    And same for train riders. Link has attracted a number of choice riders who’ve never ridden a bus. They need to be enlightened as to how to transfer to the bus, so their realm of potential transit rides is broadened.

    Yes, it would be nice if Metro and ST had cooperated enough during Link roll-out so that all this information was widely available on both modes, but unfortunately they are not “there” yet.

    • Martin H. Duke says

      Voter,

      I probably ought to have linked to already existing sites, but my guess is that if someone’s gotten to this page they can probably find the “how to ride the bus” and “how to ride link” pages. The target audience for that kind of thing is probably not reading the RVP and certainly isn’t reading Seattle Transit Blog.

      • Transit Voter says

        You’re right about who reads this blog, but my intended audience is not the transit riders who need the info, it’s the agency decision-makers — some of whom read this blog also.

    • says

      I was thinking of creating a simple photo/graphic oriented guide to riding Link and using ORCA. The little ones ST put out with the pictograms are cute but they are too vague.

      • L. Smith says

        If you made one of those, I’d print out a few copies and take them with me on the train. I’m constantly helping people out with info on how to ride the train, and something in between the icon/rounded corners and the full fold-out, text-heavy guide would be a stellar resource.

    • Paul says

      In addition to a webpage describing how to connect to Link via Metro, perhaps Metro should identify Link stations on the individual route maps. Take a peek at the route 39 map. Othello station in marked, but there is no indication that it’s a LR stop. A train symbol with arrows indicating direction to downtown and to the airport would be a very useful addition.

      • says

        That SE Seattle map by Metro (above) should be posted at every station in the map. The local area maps at stations don’t tell you where the bus routes go, just the numbers. The connecting bus service information available at stations and bus stops near stations is lacking. It fails to answer the question: How do and can I get there from here?

      • Paul says

        A cool spider map, like the one you made for Capitol Hill, for each of the stations and surrounding neighborhood would answer the “how do and can I get there from here?” question nicely.

      • says

        That’ll be a great weekend project.

        I have many ideas for maps and stuff at the moment. I’m beginning to think whether I should make this a career. I don’t have any training in graphic design/cartography/communications, though. I’m supposed to be a civil engineer in training.

      • Paul says

        It’ll be a long weekend. Wasn’t suggesting that you specifically should embark on this task, just that they’d be useful maps. I do love your maps/route guide mockups, though.

      • says

        Thanks! Yeah, I usually make one or two of each type of map as a proof-of-concept/mockup. It’s an immense task to go and update all the maps. Boston’s MBTA is spending half a million dollars over two years to update its maps.

        I finished one for Ballard a few months ago but hadn’t released it.

      • alexjonlin says

        If you decide to go into that as a career, the general rider experience on Link will go up a lot! Every single time I ride Link, there are tons of people who have no idea what’s going on. Your diagrams and everything are very readable and understandable, so even the first-time transit rider could easily know how to ride transit if your stuff was at every Link station and bus stop.

      • Bernie says

        I don’t have any training in graphic design/cartography/communications, though. I’m supposed to be a civil engineer in training.

        Well, not being trained in graphic design is understandable cartography should definitely be something a civil engineer should be trained in and communications seems to be lacking in all engineering disciplines. Stick with the civil engineering but put an emphasis on GIS.

      • says

        I won’t be jumping from civil engineering to graphic design anytime soon. It’s just a passionate hobby. I took a Tech Comm class and a basic GIS class but I feel that’s not enough.

        Many of the maps/diagrams I produce are simply things that other transit agencies around the world have done. Why are we not learning from them? Why does it take so long to change? More people would ride transit and use it better if they had better access to information that’s easy to read and understand.

        The transit agencies here need to focus on the user experience much more than they currently do.

      • phil on qa says

        Bet it wouldn’t be hard to find advertisers to sponsor privately designed/distributed maps (printed or online).

  6. Martin H. Duke says

    The standards on the Metro route maps this time around were extremely uneven. They’re aware of the problem and should have it fixed in February.

  7. Lightning says

    The ORCA is still free, I assume (I got mine when it was first released to the general public, although I won’t really need it until I retire). But I thought I read that eventually there will be a $5.00 charge to obtain it. If this is indeed the case, ST will have to shout this information from the rooftops, send emissaries door to door, print hand bills, have bullhorns on the corners, etc. etc. (Only slightly exaggerating). Otherwise, we know there would be howls of protest as to why the public was not informed about “all of a sudden” that the ORCA card costs money. ST better do this one right.

    • says

      It will cost $5 to get a new card after February 2010. I hear they were giving cards away at last nights KC Council town hall meeting in the valley.

      Get the card for free now. Or pay double to transfer between Link and Metro and then pay $5 to just get the card.

      Honestly, the “big splash” for ORCA seems to be just a drop in my view. So far I’ve seen ads in the Times and heard an ad on the radio (KPLU, I think). I don’t know what other outreach ORCA’s doing to get the card and word out. We need more distribution outlets, especially at retail outlets. While I’m willing to go to downtown Seattle from the Eastside to get one, many won’t.

      They should also put PSAs inside the buses and trains (not the Rider Alert inserts) with more info.

      • zxcv says

        See, this is why I think that everyone should live somewhere else for while – whether it’s going away to college, working in another city, or whatever. Even if it’s just Portland, everyone’s favorite Seattle suburb.

        Because… DC’s Metro has been using Smartrip, their version of ORCA, on buses and rail together since about 2004, and it works really really well. And, no one collapsed into a heap over it all.

        Even if you have to pay the $5 one time, get an ORCA. Use it. Embrace change.

      • gwen c. says

        I would embrace change willingly if it came without the bus drivers being so damn angry about it. You know as well as i do that if you don’t speak English and the driver is screaming at you about your fare, chances are you’re going to swear off using it.

        I do speak English plenty and all, but when you’re gonna threaten me with the cops (and yet let people off without paying fare at Harborview every damn day) chances are my dumb brown immigrant ass is going to avoid doing anything to enrage the drivers, and most of the 3/4 drivers have serious problems with the whole ORCA mess.

        Get drivers to STFU and quit messing with the readers, and we’ll talk. Until then, i am happy with a flash pass that is clearly valid and not debatable in its validity.

      • says

        If the reader isn’t working, the driver should not be screaming at you for fare, as far as I’m concerned. They should just wave you onto the bus with a smile. You have valid fare with you — it’s not your fault if the reader can’t scan it. If drivers on the 3/4 really are doing this, they should be retrained, IMHO.

        (Note that I don’t work for Metro and I don’t know what their policy really is — I am just thinking about a customer-service standpoint. It is not at all unlikely that a customer with an ORCA card will not be carrying cash at all, and the customer probably legitimately wanted to use the ORCA to pay. It is bad, bad service to give the customer trouble when the problem is not the customer’s fault.)

        Incidentally, last week I got on a Metro bus with my ORCA and the reader was broken. The driver waved me on — yes, with a smile.

      • says

        Out of the two times I had issues with the reader, they were both resolved fine. First, the zone preset was wrong, and the driver let out an apologetic “oops” before fixing it. Second was when the entire reader was down, and the driver said, “It’s down, just don’t worry about it.”

      • Kaleci says

        I’ve never had a driver scream at me for fare because the reader was down (hasn’t happened in a long time). They just tell me thank you and not to worry about it.

      • gwen c. says

        Other than the 2 (once) and the 3/4 (consistently), i’ve never had a problem. If it worked as flawlessly as it does on the 522 (and the drivers were as nice about it), i’d be all set. See also the 194, the 44, the 358, and plenty of other routes.

        It’s specifically the drivers that go up First Hill. I realize these routes are hell, but we still have 3/4 drivers that can’t competently operate the wheelchair lift, folks. There’s some serious malignancy there.

      • Mike Orr says

        I’ve had drivers growl at me once or twice for the fare, but not since June. I feel that if I’ve bought a pass, I’m not going to pay twice. I used to carry a printout of the pass receipt to show the driver, but I’ve never had to use it so I stopped.

        And I’ve noticed a significant improvement in bus ORCA readers the past few months. They’re almost always set right and accept the card. But I can see that the 3/4 might be an exception. When I lived near Harborview I often took the 27 because it avoids the James Street slowness and annoying situations.

      • Mike Orr says

        Finally a date on when they’re going to start charging $5. I was wondering how long I had to get cards for my occasional-transit friends.

        Earlier I complained about the $5 fee, but since then I’ve had an idea. Why not lower the fee to $1? That should be high enough to pay for the card’s manufacture but low enough to avoid sticker-shocking tourists and occasional riders. It would also be a token fee to discourage lazy people from getting a new card every time they ride.

      • says

        I wonder if they could use paper smart cards. I’ve seen a paper MARTA Breeze ticket with an embedded smart chip inside it. You can get one for 50¢+fare. It would be limited to E-purse only and have a limited life time (90 days max). MARTA charges $5 for the plastic cards.

      • Mike Orr says

        Yes, MARTA offers a chip card and a visitor card side by side in the same TVM. I don’t remember the visitor card but magnetic-stripe cardboard sounds about right. Chicago has only visitor cards at the airport; you have to go someplace else to get a Chicago Card. The visitor cards work like BART tickets or e-purses: you can gradually spend down the card, and refill it at any time. I don’t know if you get the same card back when you refill it, but who cares as long as the amount is right. BART tickets can also have monthly passes on them. So it seems like the only advantage of expensive RFID cards is contact-less tapping and web-based refilling.

      • Bob VB says

        RFID cards with as much memory as ours have aren’t cheap. The Orca card actually contains your balance, your last ten trips information and lots of other information. From SocTech’s Orca FAQ:

        “From what we know, the card itself contains a unique identifier, a record of the last 10 trips with each travel agency, including the route number, a timestamp of card swipe, and the reader device identifier.”

        My guess would be that $5 IS the round-up, easy denomination of the card cost and ‘discouragement’ fee.

      • Mike Orr says

        Still, it’s commodity technology. A plain RFID chip like Wal-Mart uses is 5c or 25c in bulk. A very simple microprocessor and a tiny amount of memory. DVD players and digital watches with a whole lot more than that are only $20. Because most of the cost is in the design, then you can stamp them out for very little. That’s why TVs acquired a ridiculous number of features nobody uses after they went fully digital.

      • Ed R. says

        Hopefully they roll out an ORCA solution for vanpool riders before they start charging for ORCA cards…

      • Lloyd says

        King County Water Taxi was giving ORCAs away at their Open House on Vashon last Saturday, and on the boat on Tuesday when I went for a ride on the new catamaran. Get ‘em now while they’re folks!

      • says

        “Honestly, the “big splash” for ORCA seems to be just a drop in my view. So far I’ve seen ads in the Times and heard an ad on the radio (KPLU, I think). I don’t know what other outreach ORCA’s doing to get the card and word out. We need more distribution outlets, especially at retail outlets. While I’m willing to go to downtown Seattle from the Eastside to get one, many won’t.”

        Yes. It needs to be dead easy to get a card, even if you don’t ever use a TVM. It also needs to be dead easy to top-up an e-purse wherever you buy a card. There needs to be a daily fare maximum (as in London). And they just need to get the word out better! People don’t really know anything other than that things are going to change and “it will cost us more.”

        I was at the KCC meeting last night in Rainier Valley and there did seem to be quite a lot of ORCA-fear among folks there. And a lot of FUD, but also a lot of people who had some serious frustration and you can’t really blame them. But, ugh. It was sad.

      • justin says

        how about making it dead easy to return the card for free or a small charge? My friends from out of state had to pay cash all week because they didn’t want to lose money on orca… we should be recycling these cards not treating them as disposable or making it so guests don’t want to use them.

        Doesn’t the OYSTER pass have a refundable deposit?

      • says

        Yes, Oyster has a refundable deposit. 3 pounds, if I recall correctly.

        joshua, Travelcards are usually loaded onto an Oyster. So “cheaper than an Oyster” is an odd way to put it — it’s one of the ways of using Oyster. (The TfL webpage says “Travelcards are generally issued on Oyster cards except when bought from most National Rail stations.”) We got a 7 day Travelcard on our Oysters last year and happily used them to get around.

        Remember that they also charge substantially higher fares if you don’t use Oyster, so in general it’s worth getting one even as a tourist. (Honestly, I think if they really want everyone to adopt ORCA, they are going to have to do something like that here. The transfer issue won’t do it. But I can hear the screams already…)

      • L. Smith says

        A cheaper ORCA fare would be a great feature. But wouldn’t that volate the rule that all fares have to be in 25¢ increments?

      • says

        I don’t know why it would. The difference would probably be more than 25 cents. In London (from Wikipedia): “To encourage passengers to switch to Oyster, PAYG fares (including Bus and Tram fares) are generally much cheaper than cash fares: A cash bus or tram fare is £2, while the single Oyster fare is £1, but capped at £3.30 for any number of trips in a day. On the PAYG rail network, a single trip within Zone 1 costs from £1.60 (compared to £4 cash), or from £1 (£3 cash) within any other single zone.”

        The difference between £1.60 and £4 is pretty extreme. Yow.

      • Mike Orr says

        The 25c rule was insisted on by cash payers who didn’t want to fumble around for dimes and nickles. With ORCA it’s a whole different thing because you’re usually buying several trips at once, and either paying whole dollars or using a debit card.

    • says

      I’m not sure what the rationale for charging for the ORCA cards is – I would like to see some numbers on the cost of administration of ORCA vs. the cost of administration of the existing pass/cash system. My guess is that ultimately there’s a savings, and that the base hardware cost of producing the ORCA card pays for itself.

      Keep the cards free, otherwise there’s a fundamental disincentive (however small us independently wealthy folks see it is) to use ORCA over alternatives.

      • says

        I heard an agency/ORCA rep say it’s to discourage the cards from being treated as disposable. I would hate to see ORCA cards as litter but at least they’re reusable if someone picks them up.

      • gwen c. says

        They are sturdy enough to kinda scream “Don’t toss me.”

        I have to hand them that in that the card is beefy and rigid. The TransLink cards in the Bay Area and my Octopus card both are much more flimsy.

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