Metro Offering Free ORCA through Route 245 Promo

Route 245 to Factoria, photo by gaobo

Metro has been ramping up its promotional campaign for Route 245, most recently offering free ORCA cards for Eastside residents to try the service.  The promo branches off of the route-specific marketing that Metro was doing for the 245 last year, called ‘Connect the Dots.’  According to Metro’s website, the full offer is valued at $15, which includes a free ORCA card along with a $10 E-purse voucher:

We’ll send you one free ORCA card, valued at $5, plus a $10 voucher to load on your new card. That equals two round-trip bus rides on Route 245 or any other Eastside route. Plus, you can get on and off along the way with the free ORCA two-hour transfer. The ORCA card is yours to keep and reload for all the regional buses, trains and ferries in the area.

More below the jump.

Aside from just promoting wider ORCA usage and Route 245, the promo is also structured to gain information internally for Metro about the travel preferences of those who sign up.  The registration process includes a short survey which asks questions about the number of cars/drivers there are in the household, and the general modal split of travel of the individual signing up.

The promo would mark Metro’s first major free ORCA giveaway since the card’s inception in 2009.  As tempting as the offer sounds for non-Eastsiders, there are restrictions on who can sign up:

  • Good for one ORCA card per household.
  • For residents in Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond only.
  • Must be 18 years or older.

While the promo specifically targets potential 245 users on the Eastside, riders technically aren’t precluded from using the free card on other routes or modes as ORCA doesn’t have the technical capability to restrict use in that manner.  Nonetheless, marketing the offer to a specific geographic area will probably curtail abuse of the free giveaway from non-Eastside riders who have no interest whatsoever in taking the 245.

If you do happen to fit within the marketed audience and are ORCA-less, the offer ends on May 31, 2011.


  1. Brent says

    Thank you, Metro, for not offering free ticketbook tickets instead of ORCA.

    There have been some neighborhood programs designed to promote bus ridership, but gave out ticketbooks instead of ORCA cards. If the program comes to your neighborhood, speak up for ORCA.

    The War on Cash may be a long, hard road, but through perseverance, we will win!

    • John says

      Strictly anecdotal, but on my rides this weekend (2, 8, 48, 49) I noticed a significantly higher percentage of ORCA usage, and almost no cash. The last time I paid attention on a weekend after ORCA had launched, I saw more like a 50/50 split.

    • Mike Orr says

      I wish I could say the same about my trips on the 168, 169, and 101 a couple weeks ago, but almost everybody paid cash. In fact, I may have been the only ORCA cardholder.

      • Brent says

        Is there any possibility ST/Metro could deploy TVMs to major transfer centers? … along with ORCA-reader-wielding security?

      • Bruce says

        You’ve asked this on the blog before. You should be asking Metro… we don’t know.

  2. Tim Willis says

    Not that I’m trying to cheat Metro out of money or anything… But does anyone know whether this will work for people who don’t live in Bellevue? I took the survey and put in my Seattle address and answered ‘yes’ to the question “do you live in Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland?”

    • Erik G. says

      Define “live”.

      And would Trekkers be allowed to say that they indeed live in “The Land of Kirk”?

  3. Erik G. says

    What does an ORCA card actually cost? In that I mean what does the ORCA consortium actually pay its vendor for each RFID card? Is it really five bucks?

      • Erik G. says

        Yes, I have noticed that. So obviously, the actual RFID card must cost less.

        Why not sell them “at cost” and get them out in the public?

  4. dabman says

    I filled out all the information, but after submitting, it doesn’t provide any confirmation. Is anyone else getting a similar result?

  5. Anthony says

    OK, after using this screwy ORCA card for the last few months I can understand why the regular posters here continually call for its complete integration into the public transit arena.

    I still think it’s a travesty to those who use paper tix and cannot get transfers like they can with the card.

    That aside, if KCMetro and ST want everyone to use it, they should expand this program overall, it will come about eventually even to detractors like myself.

    • Carl says

      All the agencies should eliminate paper transfers and give a 10% discount for fares paid by ORCA and you’ll get 90% adoption.

      • justin says

        carl this is seattle, we can’t learn from other transit agencies and implement common sense solutions.

    • Brent says


      What were/are your reasons for disliking ORCA, beyond a personal belief that not providing the same transfer value across all media is unfair? I say this because I want to know what will get you to like it.

      As for equal transfer value, that is impossible in practice. The theoretical time that a paper transfer and an ORCA transfer credit are good may be the same, but in practice, the paper tends to be good longer, due to imprecise tears, leniency by operators, and the damnable pay-as-you-leave system.

      ORCA makes boarding faster, increases reliability and on-time performance, and reduces operating costs. Metro should incentive its use, not disincentivize it, as it is currently doing.


      One Regional Card to rule them All
      One Regional Card to find them
      One Regional Card to bring them all
      and in the darkness bind them

      • Anthony says

        Brent, my apologies for the late reply. I have had computer issues the past few months so I don’t get to every response like I should.

        All your points about the ORCA card are valid. I’ve seen the time benefits, etc.

        But I still am amazed at the simple fact that if one person pays via ORCA, and the other pays via cash, the cash user is discriminated against in terms of transfers.

        Bus fare is bus fare, both have payed the same amount and deserve the same privileges/rights. Simple enough, we have choices in this society.

        So if you want to use the argument that ORCA overrules choice, then I guess we should expand that policy across the board in our society. Be damned personal choice. So, start eliminating an overwhelming amount of things in our society, because if personal choice slows us down it must be bad. Everyone should be riding the same gears on their bike, drive the same car, wear the same clothes with SKU(bar codes), go to the same store, etc.

        Personal choice is an option we need to keep. If paper transfers make things slower, oh well. Why not get rid of handicapped access and bikes as well? They all slow the system, and I take my bike off faster on a CT bus than you could imagine.

        I don’t mean to be rude at all, Brent. But where do you draw the line? Because you consider this a convenience to you does not mean it’s equally the same for others. I use the ORCA card daily, but I don’t want to.

        If ORCA wants this to be wholly implemented, they need to start giving them out for free, and/or have them ready at the curb or on-board. People who are casual users don’t want to be inconvenienced by requiring a card. its easier for them to dig out change. And the transit system should be designed to accommodate a wide array of the public, not just those with ORCA cards, that’s just plain silly.

        Best solution is to do like Island Transit does, no fares. I vote overwhelmingly on the ballot for them each time. Plus their bike policy kicks-butt over CT or KCMetro. IT prefers one to load bikes closest to the bus, not on the outside like the big guys.

      • Brent says

        Thanks for the response, Anthony.

        I do advocate for ticket machines where they are economical (downtown, transit centers, etc), and for continuing to accept cash at the front door wherever ticket machines are not available, with at least some sort of receipt to hold onto, for proof-of-payment purposes.

        ORCA is just one method for speeding up boarding. I’d also support other methods that work just as well or better. I haven’t seen any, though.

        All personal choices adults make involve recognition of opportunity costs. Reducing the transfer value from cash is just one of many ways to incentivize ORCA, instead of the current backward situation of incentivizing change fumbling. That we try to make the bus system more efficient through incentivizing behavior that reduces operating costs is out of respect for the taxpayers who subsidize the system, as well as for our fellow riders, whose time is valuable.

        We could have downtown and TC machine-printed tickets be worth two hours, since the time printed on them is precise. ORCA transfers could be increased to three hours, in recognition that the imprecision of paper transfers and operator discretion makes paper transfers worth roughly three hours in practice. Or paper transfers could be reduced to one hour, with the operator trained to accept it based on the time her/his bus left downtown.

        Still, while you have explained your philosophical opposition to forcing ORCA use, you haven’t explained why you dislike ORCA.

      • Mike Orr says

        There are apparently a huge number of occasional riders and that’s why they’re paying cash. Occasional riders are quite unmotivated to make a separate trip to a TVM and pay money to get a card that they don’t have any concrete plans for using. That’s if they even know ORCA exists when they board the bus. Metro’s survey shows a large percentage of them don’t know about ORCA. If you’re riding the bus because your car broke down or your ride can’t pick you up, you won’t have seen the ads inside the buses and you won’t have paid attention to the ads outside the buses. So if the transit agencies really want to incentivize ORCA adoption, they need to do a lot more giveaway programs, install TVMs at every transit center and other strategic places, and also have bus drivers hand them out. It would be simple to just say, “Cash fares incur a $2 surcharge which gives you an ORCA card in return.”

      • Brent says

        Mike O,

        Here’s the problem with just handing out ORCA cards at the front of the bus:

        When an ORCA holder gets on a bus that is giving away ORCA cards, he’ll be faced with a choice of using $2.25 (just to name a fare) on his e-purse or getting a free ORCA, perhaps even with e-purse value loaded, if he can take a couple minutes and pull together $2.25 in change. What do you think a self-interested clever person would do given this choice?

        Second, would you, as an operator, want to be put in the position of having someone call in an anonymous complaint that [such-and-such driver] “was giving out free ORCA cards to his friends.”

      • Anthony says

        Brent, after thinking about your question why do I not like ORCA, well…..

        Admittedly, the card is OK after many, many deliberations today. I guess its the transfer policy that really gets me hot, so to speak. I keep coming back to that time and time again.

        Plus one other component is that I’ve always favored using debit/atm cards less, not more. But the simple fact is that they’re becoming more prevalent in almost every aspect of our society, not less.

        So in that respect its my own issue to deal with. As to the wholesale implementation of ORCA, I see your valuable point about drivers being put in an unenviable position of giving ORCA cards away may not look too good. Yet, Mike Orr aptly pointed out the various number of situations where a new or infrequent user may need public transportation. Imagine their surprise to find they’ve scraped up the necessary change, to only find they won’t receive a transfer and have to come up with the cash all over again once they have migrated onto another agencies run(s). Yet they watch an ORCA user get the transfer, and if they wanted one on the spot and were willing to pay for it, yet could not.

        Talk about a reason for someone to be angry and upset at the “system”, that’s one in my book and for quite a few other people I know as well.

        Last, my one grief about using ORCA on WSF is this. In order to get the monthly pass rate I need to buy a WSF wave to go card. Here’s where the situation is reversed. I get ORCA and use it, but no discount. So then I bought my monthly April card. If the transit agencies want peoples tax money, they need to wholly streamline all these cards, its getting completely ridiculous that since they all belong to the same govt. yet somehow can’t seem to coordinate the simplest fare transactions. This is 2011, there’s no reason that this can’t be done now.

      • Mike Orr says

        Brent, it’s a choice of $2.25 epurse vs $4.25 cash, not $2.25 vs $2.25. The new ORCA would be empty in this case. There would be an interesting situation of how would the person transfer then if paper transfers are abolished and they’ve paid cash and the new ORCA isn’t tapped. Or if they do tap it, would it have to issue a transfer based on their cash payment, if that’s even possible? So maybe you’d still need paper transfers in the interim period. But then, the interim period would be forever for new riders.

        How do other cities that have gone to smartcard-only do this? Is it only cities that have subway stations everywhere so there’s always a TVM nearby?

      • Brent says

        Rather than create a complicated handout program or make more work for drivers, I think it is time for the county council to swing Occam’s Razor and set a date for the end of paper transfers.

        Figuring out the RFA is the city’s problem. The county doesn’t need to solve the problem for the city. A few people will get caught having to pay twice on the same bus, but with a one-month grace period, they, too, will get ORCA cards, since they are already passing through downtown. Or maybe the city will relent and start begging the county for downtown ticket machines and fare inspectors.

        There will always be new riders. Brochures should help point them to where to get ORCA, if they don’t want to pay per trip.

        Everyone has some aspect of Metro they think is unfair. “I don’t use it, so why should I pay for it?” “Why can’t I eat on the bus? It’s public space!” “Why can’t I carry my concealed handgun on the bus?” “Why does the bus not stop in front of my house?” “Why should we have to pay fare at all when we already pay taxes? That’s paying twice!” Metro Management can’t win for trying. Not everyone is going to like ORCA. So be it. But nearly everyone will learn to use ORCA, which will save many operating hours and many runs.

        All that is left is to give the remaining ORCA-less riders an incentive to get the card. There is no lower-hanging fruit for Metro’s effort to save runs.

  6. Bellevue4Transit says

    @Carl. Dead right! PAYG Oyster only took off in London after reduced (vs cash) fares and the daily cap was introduced.

    • Carl says

      We should absolutely have a daypass – at least for within King County – which can be implemented as a daily cap.

      And until they either get rid of paper transfers, or make the ORCA transfer good for much longer – maybe 3 or even 4 hours – the Metro paper transfer is much more valuable than the ORCA transfer unless you must use ST

      • Brent says


        What medium do you propose for the day pass: a paper pass purchased at the front of a bus, a pass purchased at a TVM and loaded on the ORCA card, or something else?

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