Since May, mobile ORCA vendors have visited farmers markets in Kent and Auburn, with announced visits to senior centers and other venues as well. Jim Hammond, ST customer outreach manager, expounded that ST first thought of reaching out to customers who may not go online ordinarily. Consequently, the ST mobile vending currently targets youth, seniors, and those eligible for reduced rates. On August 5th I tagged along with Sound Transit’s mobile ORCA vending booth at the Mariners game.
“We’re at baby steps here,” Hammond said. “We’ll experiment and learn how to improve protocols.”
He proffered an example: ST could streamline the process of getting an ORCA card, perhaps separating payments and registration, or whatever other options make sense. He emphasized that the mobile vending is in an experimental stage, open for tinkering.
The setup consists of a table spread with ST schedules, promotional materials, general paraphernalia, and the actual station, pictured above. (The artwork is temporary, according to Carol Masnik, ST marketing specialist.) The station’s functional pieces are a laptop, scanner, credit card reader, and Evolis card printer.
You have several options at the station. You can check balance and add value to your card (hence the credit card reader), or obtain a senior, reduced rate, or youth card, per the focus on those least likely to obtain the standard adult ORCA card online. The card reader only produces senior cards (since senior cards are printed with rider name), with the youth cards pre-printed, as they are indistinguishable from adult ORCAs.
Denene Dean, customer outreach specialist, stated that only two people had stopped by to add value to their cards (in the period 5:30-7:30pm). While I was taking notes and pictures, one more gentleman stopped by to chat with Dean and Masnik.
The upshot of his visit was that he had multiple ORCA cards registered, as he had lost a couple. He sought a replacement, but due to the registration issue, he had to go to the ORCA customer service center, Dean stated. From this incident, it’s clear that every once in awhile, a visit to the ORCA center is necessary. (This is rather de rigeur, but still regrettable, at times.)
Despite the paltry number of users, (which may have been due to the venue), the mobile ORCA site seemed useful. People to answer your questions and convenient options for various types of cards are good things. You normally have to obtain senior and youth cards at the Metro office, so providing a different location to obtain those items is quite good. It’s not supremely innovative, nor does the station provide a wide range of services, but what it does do is open up another convenient avenue for riders to obtain ORCA cards, especially for seniors and youth.
I can see it being especially convenient at senior centers, middle schools, and the like; bringing the source of youth and senior cards to those who otherwise would have to go into the Metro office. I think that’s probably the key to the mobile vending. It definitely supports the recent Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee decision.
Hammond stated he saw local festivals, markets, and events, with scheduled appearances from the ORCA station, as the best ways to popularize the mobile vending.
This led me to question Hammond as to whether this was a push toward cashless fares in general, in line with King County’s general plan.
“A cashless plan is not the cause of the push toward ORCA vending,” Hammond said, however. “It can be helpful overall toward increasing ORCA’s presence, but it’s not part of a plan to go cashless.”
Whether or not it’s part of a push, it’ll definitely provide customers with options to move away from cash. With any luck, the station will soon add even more options and become a fixture at local events.