Low-income transit riders and tourists may not have to pay $10 to get an ORCA card if a disposable, low-cost version is offered. According to an article by Krista Kipp of the Seattle Jobs Initiative in the November 2009 issue of the ATU Local 587 News Review, a disposable card was planned to be offered when ORCA was being developed, but it was dropped due to security concerns. Kipp writes that the ORCA transit agencies are bringing this option back. It is currently under development and won’t be available after mid-2010, at the earliest.
A 2004 press release from Phillips, the vendor providing the MIFARE smart card technology for the ORCA project, reveals more details about what the disposable ORCA card would’ve been like. The disposable card is “specifically aimed at the collector, tourism and human service program application areas” and “will have specialized graphics and be pre-valued with a set amount of money (e.g. $20), a set number of rides (e.g. 10), or a set period of time (e.g. 7 days after first use).”
The article also mentions King County Metro’s efforts to mitigate the impact of ORCA on low-income residents by extending the Commuter Bonus Voucher program for human services agencies and allowing those agencies to purchase ORCA cards for $3 with a $3 minimum load. The vouchers can be exchanged for bus tickets, which will continue to be sold.
Low-income transit riders and tourists are affected by the transition to ORCA because of the initial cost of acquiring the card and new fare policies. Inter-system transfers and intra-system transfers on most agencies except Metro and Pierce Transit will require an ORCA card beginning January 1, 2010. After January 31, an ORCA card will cost $5 and $5 is the minimum value that must be loaded on the card at purchase, for a total cost of $10.
An example of a disposable smart card is MARTA’s Breeze Ticket, which costs 50¢, expires after 90 days and has limited functionality.