Critiquing Metro’s Day-Pass Trial

Last week, in response to Martin’s questions about tunnel operations, Metro staff slipped in this quiet bombshell:

Metro continues to take actions to expand ORCA use throughout the system and reduce cash payments. [This includes...] working with our regional transit partners to implement a regional ORCA day-pass demonstration beginning in April.

A multi-agency ORCA-based day-pass is probably the most requested fare product in the Puget Sound region, and for good reason. Today, interagency transfers are free with ORCA but (mostly) not with cash fare. An ORCA-based day-pass, if priced right, holds out the concurrent possibilities of improved comprehensibility for visitors, and good value for residents who plan to make several trips in a day. For people like me, who want buses to not suck, it’s another weapon in the war against time-consuming on-board cash payment, and easily-abused paper transfers.

The devil, however, is in the details, which Metro staff supplied to us last week.

As you saw, the ORCA agency partners are planning a six-month pilot/demo of a regional day pass later this year, hopefully beginning sometime this spring.

The day pass demonstration will target visitors using hotels and convention centers. But, because the regional day pass will be available at all our current sales outlets, anyone could load the product on their card. At the conclusion of the demo, the ORCA partners will assess how well the card was received and determine the future of the program depending on what we learn.

Q: What agencies will or could be included?
A: All ORCA agencies except WSF

Q: How much will it cost?
A: $9 sales price, $4 per trip value. Riders would use E-purse to supplement higher fares based on how much they plan to travel.

Q: What modes and fare zones will it cover?
A: Good for any trip up to the $4 per trip value.

Q: Is it a daily cap or a fare product you have to buy?
A: It is a pass product loaded on the card. Once tapped it is valid for that service day. Service days is 3 a.m. – 2:59 a.m.

Q: Will it be issued on a disposable ORCA or just added to the existing $5 ORCA?
A: Existing card. We do not have disposable card stock in the system

Discussion after the jump.

So, there are a couple of good things here, and I’ll start with those:

  • The pass is mode-neutral and almost agency-neutral. Transit is about getting people places. The type of vehicle, and the agency logos on it, are important to passengers primarily as way-finding, not as a fundamental part of the service, as much as agencies might like to think otherwise. It’s great to see that in this case, most Puget Sound agencies are putting the passenger experience first, providing simplicity and comprehensibility rather than more arcane rules.
  • Agencies have (or will have) hashed out revenue-sharing and technical issues. Getting severely-cash-constrained agencies to agree on revenue-sharing from a single fare is genuinely challenging negotiating problem, as carving up a passenger’s regional fare is inherently a zero-sum game. Getting an agreement in this case could set a political and bureaucratic precedent for future day passes with different fare caps and prices. More generally, we’ll have a public proof-of-concept, making it clear in the political discourse that this is technically doable.

Here are the problems I see:

  • The day-fare cost is uncompetitive for most local riders, compared to using an existing ORCA card. Off-peak Metro fare is $2.25, peak is up to $3; the highest ST express fare is $3.50. Most other local bus services will be less than Metro. ORCA already provides a two-hour transfer window, and paper transfers are often cut much more generously. You have to ride a lot of transit trips, spaced out through the day, to add up to more than $9. Local riders will already be quite familiar with paying as they normally do, and if it doesn’t make financial sense, they won’t use day-passes, even if they were ubiquitously available. As they will require going out of the way, to a Metro sale partner, I suspect few locals will find them attractive.
  • The card+fare cost is uncompetitive for weekend or convention visitors. $14 in a day, or $23 in a weekend, is significantly more than anyone is likely to spend on transit in the Seattle area just paying as they go. Visitors are perhaps less price sensitive and more hassle sensitive, but I suspect they’re also less likely to attempt all-day multi-hop trips around the city and region, which would be the only way to get close to $14. In groups, the numbers look even worse: for three people, $20 apiece would get you out and back to most outlying neighborhoods of interest to tourists in a cab, with far less hassle and time than Metro. People who intend to much spend time beyond the city, in the suburbs, are probably going to rent a car, because off-peak transit just isn’t much good outside of Seattle.
  • There’s no disposable-ORCA option, which would be useful regardless of the price premium. If there were a $9, pre-loaded, disposable ORCA day-pass card available, plenty of people, myself included, would keep a stash of them around the house, for use by visitors and or in case I lost my own card. It would be worth the premium, above and beyond the pay-as-you-go price, to be able to give someone a card that worked on any land-based transit in the region, and whose loss did not mean the loss of a $5 permanent card. This would be a genuinely useful service I would pay for, which cannot be emulated today by other means.
  • The $4 fare cap seems arbitrary. The most expensive regular bus service in the region is two-county ST Express at $3.50, while the Water Taxi is $3.50 (West Seattle) or $4.25 (Vashon) and Sounder runs on a scale up to $5.75 (Lakewood). If the purpose is to cover any possible fare in the region, $4 doesn’t work. The only people who would lose out on a reduction of the fare cap from $4 to $3.50 would be a minute number of Sounder South day-pass riders; and if a reduction in the fare cap allowed the pass to drop in price, it would make the pass far more attractive.

I hope this trial goes smoothly, and meets whatever bar for success the project leaders have in mind. I’m not convinced, though, that the price and features of this day-pass have been thought out particularly well, and I fear it may underwhelm when presented to the public.

 

Comments

  1. Matt the Engineer says

    Something that would help the $5 pass price issue is to copy London in providing refunds. When I get back to Heathrow, there’s a window where you can give your card back and they give you back the value, including any fare left on the card. Sure, there’s a cost to provide this service, but if our cards are really so valuable maybe it’s worth it.

    • Nathanael says

      Yep. That would do the trick — if you turned in your ORCA card and got the $5 back, that would eliminate the exorbitant-pricing character of the card.

      It would need to be possible to turn it in at the airport and at King St. Station, at least. That would probably be enough, though Tacoma might be helpful as well.

      • Nathanael says

        Of course, it would first have to be possible to GET the card at the airport or at King St. Station.

        For some reason, perhaps lobbying by Cubic Inc., transit agencies around the world have been making Great Leaps Backward in fare payment, abandoning perfectly sensible and comprehensible systems for complicated, overpriced gobbledegook. Sometimes the old ways are best.

    • barman says

      Or they could stock the TVMs with paper passes like every other city! The technical ability is there, we just need the implementation. Paying staff to work a booth doesn’t make sense – Seattle isn’t anywhere close to being London and SeaTac is definitely not Heathrow.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        Nah, just have a staffed booth, then make sure the staff is never available to staff said booth. That way, you don’t have to actually pay anything out. That’s probably what a few transit agencies I have ridden with would do.

        Seriously, you can’t say that an ORCA card product would help visitors get around if they have to buy a card. If it were a magnetic paper card or some similar card issued with no purchase price it might be something visitors would purchase. That’s what the old Chicago CTA cards were like.

        What about a refund granting machine? Slide your card into the machine, and then the card you paid for the ORCA with. If it is the same payment card, refund the difference to the credit / debit card account, minus a dollar or two for processing fees, etc.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        “Nah, just have a staffed booth, then make sure the staff is never available to staff said booth.” Or just put in an empty booth, and allow a private entrepreneur to stand there and buy ORCA cards for $4 from tourists returning to the airport and sell these cards for $5 to people leaving the airport.

      • barman says

        SFO contracted their Clipper tech to the same vendor that did ORCA. They manage to issue temporary paper RFID cards just fine and there’s no reason we can’t do the same thing here. Staffing booths and futzing around with refunds is completely unnecessary when the smart card technology we’ve spent millions of dollars on is perfectly capable of issuing paper passes.

      • Alex Bailey says

        If you can already buy a paper ticket lightrail stations, it shouldn’t be difficult to implement the purchase of a paper day pass at light rail stations as well. Then the only difficulty would be getting SoundTransit and Metro (forget the other agencies) to agree on how to split up the revenue generated from day passes. While that seems like a political impossibility, there is enough things for both sides to trade to make such a deal conceivable with a little motivation.

      • Elbar says

        I get a day pass at TVM as soon as I get off the train in Portland. Seems such a simple thing compared to what ORCA folks are trying to do.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        I would also point out that TrMet day ticket is also valid on many C-Tran buses (expresses are a premium). So, it isn’t as if multiple agencies aren’t being covered by those tickets.

  2. aw says

    Another question about the implementation details occurs to me.

    If you must travel to get to a TVM to purchase the day pass, would the value of a transfer on the card be deducted from the price of the pass?

      • says

        I think I’m reading in to this too far but I don’t see any reason why the day pass couldn’t be available at a TVM. Or online for that matter.

      • aw says

        There would be a problem with an online day pass. If your first ride of the day is on a bus, the pass won’t be on your card yet, and the bus may not know that you’ve purchased one. This problem doesn’t occur with a monthly pass, as long as you buy it at least two days before the start of the month.

  3. aw says

    “The most expensive regular bus service in the region is two-county ST Express at $3.50″

    CT commuter routes to Seattle are $4 & $5.25.

    • William C. says

      SCORE! Now we know where the $4 fare value came from!

      My first thought is that value was probably pushed by CT, but I would hope they had better sense. A daily commute on one of the South County Commute routes (including a free Orca transfer to a local bus, if needed) would already be $8. Unless someone takes another bus ride at lunch, he’d be losing money on the day pass. And I don’t think enough south Sonhomish County commuters take another bus to lunch to make the day pass worthwhile at that price.

      As an alternative, couldn’t we have day passes with different fare values at different prices, just like we have monthly passes with different fare values?

      I hope the experiment won’t be judged a failure because of low uptake, when it’s just due to the price.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Having multiple values doesn’t sound easy for a visitor. Actually, I’d like to see them hand you a system map with this, complete with a shaded zone showing where you can travel without adding extra money.

      • says

        According to CT, here’s where the $5.25 fare applies:

        Applies on Routes 421, 422, 424, 425, 821 when travelling to/from Seattle and Lake Stevens, Marysville, Monroe, Snohomish or Stanwood. Notify the driver if travelling only between Seattle and Lynnwood Transit Center to be charged the “South/Everett” fare.

        Assuming you only ride the bus to commute, that’s $210 in cash fares during the shortest month (20 workdays) or $241.50 in the longest month (23 workdays). A monthly pass valued at $5.25 is $189. Buying 20 day passes for the month would cost $180.

        So assuming there’s a way to bulk load passes, it might provide a little bit of savings for those whose employers don’t pay for their commute and months are short and/or have lots of holidays.

      • William Aitken says

        @Tim: but the day pass is capped at $4.00, so it isn’t valid for those buses (at least not without a top up). At $2.50 a day, the $9 difference gets eaten up pretty quickly.

      • says

        Ah yes I forgot about that stipulation. So it would only make sense in February, where it would save you a grand total of $7.75

    • Bruce Nourish says

      I should have said “all-day bus service”. I don’t see CT commuter routes being useful for visitors, and regular commuters will have their own ORCA anyway.

      • Mike Orr says

        Yes, I can’t think of hardly any scenario where CT peak service would be useful to visitors. About the only case is somebody who’s staying in Snoho and going to Seattle for the day.

  4. Adam Bejan Parast says

    There are two day-pass markets:
    – Tourist/visitors which will primarily use Link from the airport and buses in and around downtown
    – Residents who don’t use transit regularly enough to have a pass but when they do use it, use it 3 or more times in a day

    The first market wants a pass that is simple and easy to use and aren’t extremely price sensitive because they want the freedom and flexibility to jumping on a off a bus. The second market is buying a day-pass because they know how many times they’ll be taking the bus and want to save a few bucks by getting a pass.

    So while I thing this is great news, I think it’s important to take a step back and understand what is the goal and market for day passes.

    • d.p. says

      The tourist/visitor market is invariably better served by a 3-day pass, priced to rival 2.5 to 3 independent fares per day, which is conspicuously not on offer here.

      In many cities, 1-week passes are aggressively discounted such that they pay for themselves with 3 days of heavy usage or 5 days of commuter usage, and are thus valuable to out-of-towners whose visits fall far shy of the full week.

      Tourists and conventioneers may be less price sensitive, but they are not oblivious to the equilibrium point of convenience and value, which this misses by a mile. No tourist is going to spend $14 the first day, then have to seek out a TVM each successive morning to reload before they can do anything else. Visitors will not be buying this pass.

      Sporadic-use residents, meanwhile, are poorly served by either multi-day passes or by any single-day pass priced at more than 3 times the base fare (in cities with transfer windows) or 3.5 times the base fare (in cities with uni-directional transfers only).

      1-day passes have, in fact, begun to be phased out in many cities, in favor of encouraging all locals possible to keep some stored value in a dresser drawer, and providing them a significant discount on the base fare for doing so. The exceptions are desperate-to-be-loved transit systems like Portland or San Diego, where a round-trip fare and a day pass are one and the same.

      So the question remains: What does the ORCA consortium wish to achieve here? Neither target group is served well by this proposal, and if implemented as proposed, all that will be gained is another p.r. black mark for transit in our region.

      • William Aitken says

        Everything d.p says. In addition, I’ve seen situations where visitor targeted passes exclude the morning peak, (and are priced to reflect the exclusion). I don’t think that doing so necessarily makes sense for Seattle, where (in my experience, unusually) it seems to be the pm peak that’s more intense. [Of of course excluding the pm peak is a non-starter, a gap at the beginning of the day is often tolerable, especially when on vacation; on bang in the middle of the day, just before dinner or evening events would be intolerable].

        The more I think about this, the more I wonder wherther it’s just a box ticking exercise so that they can say “We tried that. It didn’t work.”

        My suspicion is “we tried it, it didn’t work…” validation.

      • Nathanael says

        San Diego has an *exceptionally* high tourist market — the city is basically built around tourism. (The other industries include… the navy, who behave pretty much like tourists.) Most cities don’t design their fare policy around tourism, because they shouldn’t, but it’s actually a good idea in San Diego.

        Making the options “single ride or day pass” (with day pass == two rides) actually makes sense for San Diego. Tourists will buy the day pass (knowing that they will make at least one round trip) and then will feel free to wander around more locations and spend more money. But buying a day pass each day gives San Diego pretty much full revenue from the tourists. It’s also priced at a round number, which is important.

        The “single ride or day pass” system also allows San Diego to ignore pretty much all transfer questions — single-ride tickets get you no transfers, so if you want a transfer, you get a day pass.

        It also makes for very easy-to-check proof-of-payment. It’s a very lean and clean fare system. There’s nothing offered between a day pass and a monthly pass.

        (Although express commuter routes do cost a lot extra.)

        Quite a contrast to the convoluted mess of fares which is present in the San Francisco Bay Area or in the Seattle Area. But then San Diego basically only has one agency, so it can have a unified fare policy….

      • mic says

        Why is picking a simple price point so damn complicated for Transit?
        All the transit agencies need to trade their collective Orca Committees for a single ‘Orca Czar’ and be done with all the endless meetings with crap outcomes like this.
        Day Pass = Travel anywhere on anything for X, and be done with it.
        Can you imagine the Orca Cmmte being in charge of setting the price at an all you can eat buffet?
        $8.00, all you can eat,
        unless
        1. You’re fat, and then there’s a surcharge based on BMI.
        2. 15% extra during peak dinner hour.
        3. Time stamped entry-exit validation cards. Yes, extra to linger at the desert cart
        4. ……………head explodes

        Price the GD things to accomplish the mission and make a profit and quit worrying about someone having an extra trip or two. Last time I checked, transit still sucks in the race to move people from their cars to buses/trains.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        Portland’s day pass situation makes a bit of sense too when you consider TriMet’s past fare policies. The rounding to the nearest quarter concept was only recently adopted here, so that we had stuff like $2.15 fares for two zones, which was discounted to $2.05 if you purchased a book of paper tickets, etc.

        The $5 day ticket and $2.50 general admission price were more of an admission that TriMet really should get out of the nickels, dimes and pennies nonsense they were doing before. Also, with the complete elimination of fare zones the monthly passes increased quite a lot in price for a lot of people ($72 for a two zone pass suddenly became $100 with the elimination of fare zones) so the not quite as expensive day ticket (which only increased in price to $5 from $4) now makes more sense for many people than buying a $100 monthly pass.

      • Bruce Nourish says

        Making the options “single ride or day pass” (with day pass == two rides) actually makes sense for San Diego [because tourism].

        I’d believe that if the San Diego transit system was actually useful to get around to its tourist destinations. Other than the #7 through Balboa Park/SD Zoo, nothing in the SDMTS system can remotely compete with driving to its major tourist destinations. If you take the bus to Sea World, La Jolla, Point Loma or Cabrillo National Monument, you’ll be the only tourist on the bus.

        No, tourism is irrelevant to their pricing strategy.

      • Brendon says

        Dallas (DART), too. For local fares, which is pretty much all of the greater Dallas area, an individual fare is $2.50; the day pass is is $5.00. “All Day Passes valid for unlimited rides on the date of purchase only through 3 a.m. the following day. Day Passes are available on buses, from a Ticket Vending Machine (TVM) found at all DART Rail stations and the GoPass app.”

        islogical=1

        How are we so far behind Dallas?!

      • d.p. says

        My jaw dropped when I discovered last week that Austin’s day passes are $2 for most local service, or a whopping $3 for “premium service” (a RapidRide-level BRT, with worse stop placement and even lousier frequencies).

        Monthly passes are $33 and $49.50, respectively.

        This is not to suggest that we should follow Austin’s often worst-in-class service approaches. It was mostly a reminder of how wholly geared to the underpaid is public transit in the southern half of Texas, and just how egregiously low-paid many there are.

      • Nathanael says

        Bruce, regarding San Diego: the gigantic mass of convention centers / Gaslamp Quarter, “Old Town”, Qualcomm Stadium, the buses to SeaWorld *are* advertised *and* frequent,… and yeah, there is no decent way to get to La Jolla though they’re trying to change that.

        The pricing scheme has a lot of benefits for non-tourists, too, of course. It does eliminate all the nonsense with transfers.

  5. Deborah says

    For seniors this would be a bad deal. What we need is a senior pass of some kind. Taking cash out at 3rd and Pine is risky, but a 30 day pass costs too much for sporadic use.
    Also it would be nice if the senior rate was displayed on the fare box. I wonder how many seniors, people who don’t ride busses very often, pay the full fare through ignorance. My husband did that the other day.

    • Brent says

      The senior fare is only available to riders with a Regional Reduced Fare Permit. The senior monthly pass is $27.

      • Doug says

        As a Transit Operator, anybody that looks older than me (58) doesn’t get questioned if they put in $.75. Our schedules don’t allow us the time to question every senior citizen to produce their Regional Reduced Fare Permit.

      • Brent says

        If loaded ORCA product were required to get the full RRFP discount, then the reader would do the checking for you.

    • Mike Orr says

      It was displayed on one bus I rode yesterday, on a separate sign below the regular one. (It may be on all buses, but this was the only one I’ve noticed.) It says “Regional reduced-fare permit holders”. Granted, it doesn’t say “Seniors”, but presumably everyone who has the permit knows that this is their category.

  6. William Aitken says

    The showstopper here is the coupling to Orca. It’s actually pretty easy to come up with scenarios where the round trip /cash/ fare is over 9 bucks [e.g. a weekend round trip journey from my house near the SE 6000th block of ICW on Mercer Island to downtown where I spend more than two hours downtown is $9.50 (peak it would only be $6.00 thanks to the 202 and reasonably timed stops by the 216/211) --- pretty much anywhere that requires a Metro to ST connection will have the same behavior. In practice, I have a pass and an Orca, and would almost certainly drive to the park and ride. I've actually done 3 legged journeys where I go downtown from the MI P&R, and then go to the PRO club up near Microsoft, and then return home where the cash fare would be at least 9.75 --- 3 trips on ST Express plus a RR B ride. But the Orca fare for the round trip is only $5, and for the three legged trip, at most 7.50]

    Perhaps for visitors, a refund facility at the airport, and a lender program with hotels could be made to work. Otherwise, I agree that the five dollar premium is probably the straw that breaks the camels back.

    • d.p. says

      If you’re forcing the purchase of an ORCA anyway, you can no longer compare the price to the (no interagency transfer) cash fares.

      Anyway you slice it, $9-$14 is a bad deal for the kind of urban and inner-suburban trips that any conceivable target audience for this pass is likely to use.

      • Bruce Nourish says

        I’m still confused. What’s wrong with “coupling to ORCA”? You need some kind of fare medium, and ORCA is better than yet more paper tickets.

        Regular local transit riders will have their own ORCA card. Visitors and occasional users need free (or very cheap) disposable ORCA cards, to bring down the up-front cost. The problem with this pilot is the combination of uncompetitive pricing and expensive, permanent media.

      • William Aitken says

        Coupling it with ORCA means that it serves no useful purpose for local users. Barring, perhaps, ocassional all day visits from Snohomish county that include a lunchtime ride on Metro, one has to stand on one’s head to find scenarios where they wouldn’t be better off just putting cash into an ORCA e-purse, or buying a monthly pass.

        Coupling it with ORCA for visitors increase the price by over 50%. For most of them, $9 is already probably pretty poor value, even compared to cash fares.

        It’s pretty easy to come up with scenarios where an occasional user runs up a bill over $7 on an Orca e-purse, and over $9 when paying cash. Not having to keep track of the ORCA card is worth a dollar or two to people. I also suspect that people who care about the privacy of their movements might be willing to pay that sort of premium.

      • d.p. says

        Took me a minute to realize we were all saying the same thing. Without the option of a pre-loaded, shrink-wrapped, non-ORCA pass, there is less mathematical benefit to ORCA-carriers and non-ORCA carriers alike.

      • Bruce Nourish says

        I think we’re all saying roughly the same thing, but I want to be clear on one point: there’s no reason a pre-loaded, shrink-wrapped, disposable pass can’t use contactless ORCA payment — and it should, because it’s the technically superior payment method in this region.

        The contract with the ORCA vendor already includes the necessary machinery for issuing disposable cards, and the unit cost is very low. The agencies just need to use it.

      • William C. says

        The contract already allows disposable cards? Then why in the world aren’t they distributing them!?

      • William Aitken says

        I agree, we’re all saying more or less the same thing (although d.p.’s point about the value of longer period passes to visitors is valid).

        As Bruce points out, disposable does not imply not contactless (although, in fairness to the local transit agencies, the logistical costs involved in distruibuting a pre-loaded, shrink-wrapped, disposable, ORCA compatible, contactless pass may be excessive for a pilot).

        But except for uage tracking, why isn’t just waving the pass (with a clear date of validity printed on it) at the driver as you walk by [on pay as you enter services] good enough? [On POP parts of the network, the pass itself is POP]? As far as I know, we don’t have any turnstiles/gates to open.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        ….Except Washington State Ferries, which isn’t covered by this day pass anyway.

        I also agree with the “waving the pass” bit. It is pretty quick to do. The way it works in Portland is that the buses have been equipped with a ticket printer that looks like a miniature toaster. Instead of a transfer, you get a ticket that looks just like the printed ticket the MAX vending machines print. There is no arguing about if the transfer is valid or not. It is right there in letters on the printed ticket.

        I thought it would increase the boarding time quite a lot on the buses, but it really isn’t too bad. In fact, now that the fare is $2.50 rather than $2.35 and people aren’t fussing about with dimes and pennies boarding probably goes faster than it used to. Anecdotally, more people seem to be using day tickets and other payment as there certainly seem to be fewer people paying with cash, especially later in the day.

      • Mike Orr says

        “The contract already allows disposable cards? Then why in the world aren’t they distributing them!?”

        They mumbled something about not being satisfied with the security features in the disposable card.

        (A stunned transit fan is speechless for a moment, then timidly asks, “But… how could it possibly be worse than the rainbow transfers with their own Facebook fan page?”)

  7. Ed Prior says

    About bloody time. When I travel to a city and want to tour around by transit, I don’t want to futz with the cost of every trip and want to jump on and off freely without worrying about whether I’m getting my money worth, or even who runs the @#$% bus. I think it’s great that they are coming up with a plan that bridges most of the transit providers – as a Canadian, I find it baffling that US transit isn’t run by one regional authority with full fare integration.

    On the other hand, I think the $14 first day / $9 subsequent days is a bit on the pricy side – a fair cost would be perhaps 3 -4 x the fare that a visitor or casual user might reasonably be expected to take, which is probably tops out at a 2 zone peak – one isn’t going to take multiple commuter trips in a day. I suspect one reason this fare level was selected was to obscure the cost of the Orca card. LA charges $1 or $2 for their “TAP” card, an entirely reasonable sum, although most agencies who run Cubic systems (including Vancouver) will charge $5 or $6.

    • William Aitken says

      So $14/$9 is a bit pricy but $9-$12 would be fair? I’m having trouble understanding you point?

    • Doug says

      I’ll jump in here. When in Vancouver at the fare box on the bus after you make a payment, it kicks out a ticket stub about 3/4 the size of an ORCA card. That’s your receipt and transfer. Next time you board another bus, you feed that into the fare box it reads it and you get it back. It will say if it is still valid or not. Why not have the “All Day Option” on the first bus you ride that day? That way in the scenario described above you have the disposable paper pass? If it’s good from 03:00 AM on the first day until 02:59 AM of the following day, you could even pro-rate it? If it’s disposable, and you won’t need it the rest of the day, pass it of to a stranger…..

      • Ed Prior says

        Not being able to buy a day pass on the bus always bothered me, too, but not too hard to understand when you realize the Vancouver fare boxes only take coins, not bills. Pretty much everyone except the most casual riders has some kind of prepaid fare. We do have $1 and $2 coins, but a $9.75 day pass is a lot of coins no matter how you pay it.

        Once the Vancouver smart card (they call it “Compass”) is rolled out the bus fareboxes will only spit out bus-to-bus transfers – anyone wanting to ride rails must have a Compass card.

    • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

      Not officially. The King County Council is having a hearing tonight on it and “Plan B.”

  8. says

    Day pass prices are related to willingness-to-charge more than willingness-to-pay. They represent the agency’s view of the value of their own system. I am glad Puget Sound transit agencies view an all-day all-access pass to the transit system as being worth $9.

    Here is a sampling of all-day pass costs around the US:
    Houston: $3
    Dallas: $5
    Portland: $5
    Los Angeles: $5
    Vancouver: C$9.75
    Boston: $11
    DC: $14
    San Francisco MUNI: $15 (includes cable cars but not BART)

    • d.p. says

      Boston has a 7-day all-inclusive pass for $18. No one buys the 1-day. No one. It is vestigial.

      SF can get away with $15 because Cable Cars™, and for no other reason. If you’re a visitor who intends to use MUNI for your whole visit, rather than your one-day tour of hill-climbing historic paperweights, the 3-day pass is only $21.

      DC seems to be the exact opposite: A $14 pass seems to be for day-trippers from the distant suburbs. At that price, it’s completely useless to tourists.

      They represent the agency’s view of the value of their own system.

      Then our agencies must be delusional.

      • Nathanael says

        San Diego: $5

        Chicago has made a complete mess.

        Anyway, for a visitor to Chicago, a single L ride is $3, two rides are $6, a bus ride is $2, the day pass is $10 (too high), and there’s nothing else available to a visitor without a giant rigamarole which costs a minimum of $5 to “buy the card”, which makes no sense unless you’re taking a minimum of 7 trips.

        New York has also made itself unfriendly to tourists, and encourages them to buy SingleRide tickets at $2.75 per ride. There are no 3-day or 1-day passes. The Pay-Per-Ride Metrocard has a very confusing “5% bonus” structure as well as a $1 fee. Theoretically, you save money with a pay-per-ride Metrocard with as little as three rides, but only if you can figure out how to divide by 1.05; otherwise you need to take five rides to save money with a Metrocard.

        DC has another tourist-hostile fare structure. You can’t get a DC “SmartRip Card” for less than $10, $2 of which is lost to fees, so you have to be planning to take at least $8 worth in trips in order to make it worthwhile. Given that typical tourist subway trips run $2.25 in peak, this would require four trips.

        The fares on DC Metro are all over the place — different between any two points and different depending on time of day. They run from $1.70 to $5.75. This was OK in the days when you walked up and punched in your starting and ending location into the ticket machine and got a ticket. Which is what tourists are still going to do — the “SmartRip” card isn’t a sensible choice for a tourist. Every station has an “ExitFare” machine for if you’re locked in the subway like Charlie on the MTA.

        It appears to me that $5 is the correct price for a day pass if you offer one.

        The correct price for a 3-day pass seems to be a bit under $20. (Chicago is overpriced due to the Ventra “farecard charge”. It is *not appropriate* to charge for fare media.)

      • d.p. says

        New York’s “fun pass” was amazing back when it was only $4 (relative to a $1.50 base fare). It got a little borderline when they bumped it to $7 (base fare $2.00). Now it’s gone.

        The current 7-day, $30 pass will pay for itself in 13 trips (base fare is now $2.50). Most New York visitors will easily make that many in four days, and some will do so in three.

        If you’re only in the city for a day or two, just suck up the new $1 MetroCard fee and put $10-$17 on it for individual trips. Even if years pass before you’re in New York again, you can roll over your remaining balance to a non-expired card, and the $1 fee will be waived.

        And you’ll still have spent less than Seattle agencies want to charge per day for their brilliant services.

      • asdf says

        I typically travel to D.C. for one reason or another every 3 years or so. Most of the time, I just got disposable cards, but once was having difficulty messing with the fare machines and finally broke down and paid $5 for a SmarTrip card I know was likely to not use again for some time.

        That said, now that I have it, I always take it with me whenever I visit the D.C. area and it’s very convenient. Especially being able to bypass the fare machines and use money left over on the card from a couple years ago.

    • William Aitken says

      SF also offers 3 & 7 day passes at $23 & $28. These (and the day pass too) include unlimited rides cable car. Since at least one cable car ride is an obligatory part of a visit to SF, and since the cable car is $6 a pop, and (at best) marginally useful as transit, it’s not terribly far-fetched to view the pricing structure as more like $9, $17 and $22. The 1 day pass is expensive, but the longer period passes are bargains, even in the context of a system where fares are only $2.

  9. Matt the Engineer says

    Thinking this through, I’m not even sure we need a day pass (or 3-day pass, or week pass) with Orca for visitors. We just need a way of refunding their money when they’re done. If I visit somewhere with a complex fare system, but the fare is automatically calculated when I swipe a card, I just put enough money on the card for the time I’m visiting and add more if I run out. If I’m guaranteed to get excess money back I might just put $50 on for my trip, not worry about the fare while I’m there, and get a refund when I leave.

    Having a discount for day pass travel is nice, but it’s certainly not what would make me decide to take the bus over a taxi. Simplicity sells for tourists more than price.

    • Doug says

      Our Orca cards can get money put on them, but you still can have lag-time before they can be used on the buses. Sometimes that takes 24 hours……They will scan “Insufficient Funds” until the money is taken from your bank. As a Transit Operator I see and hear this everyday.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        You can add money instantly at TVMs. It’s online payments that take a day (effectively: data is put on buses overnight, transferred to card when you swipe).

      • Mike Orr says

        I always go to TVMs now. It’s instant, you can get a receipt, and you can check the card immediately afterward to make sure it was credited.

    • William Aitken says

      The nice thing about day (and better yet, 3 and 7 day) passes is their buy and forget nature. The user doesn’t have to guess how much he is going to need, overbuy, set up a link to a bank account, or find a place to recharge. She also doesn’t have to hunt down the refund window on the way out of town.

      I’d not be terribly surprised to find out that visitors willingly pay for somewhat more transit than they actually eventually use when offered the option of a disposable 3 or 7 day pass. I think it would be interesting to look at actual numbers. I think there’s a pretty good chance that they average slightly more than two journeys a day, but are willingly paying (perhaps even thinking they are getting a bargain) for slightly fewer than three. I know that this is pretty much consistent with my experience when visiting unfamiliar cities for short visits.

      • d.p. says

        Visitors are less likely to have that happen, unless their time in NY is significantly curtailed, since they’re so much more likely to be traveling in many directions every single day.

        That figure probably arises from the significant number of locals who think they’ll commute by subway every day this week… plus there’s some stuff they’ve been meaning to get done on Saturday… and then life happens and suddenly there’s a sick day, an unanticipated cab commute, or the weekend errands get replaced by a bike ride.

      • Nathanael says

        Maybe the tourists you know have different habits, d.p.; those I know usually hit a single museum or other tourist attraction in a given day and make two trips per day. Maybe three if they go to a show or dinner afterwards.

    • Charles B says

      Not sure how we would do refunds with how the current system is set up. I like the idea of switching orca to a deposit based system rather than a purchase based system (its at least familiar to me since its exactly what they had back in Tokyo) but we would have to have places to turn them back in. Putting the infrastructure for that could be expensive since we seem to rely on automation, internet and/or secondary retailers to handle distribution…

      Actually I could see this working at the retail locations if this were allowed… but we would definitely need to modify the kiosks to handle card returns if we were to change the system in this way…

    • Nathanael says

      Transit agencies like to set things up so that visitors get soaked by not getting a refund when they’re done. It’s actually a major source of income for most transit agencies

      It would be nice for a transit agency to not do this. Being able to turn in a card and get unused money back at the airport or train station or intercity bus station would be great.

      • fletc3her says

        London technically allows refunds which is great. You can go to a customer service desk at the airport just before leaving town and get back the remaining balance on your Oyster card including (I believe) the initial fee to get the card.

        In practice it can be hard to get a refund since you have to fill up your card using one payment method every time. If you buy it with a credit card, but refill it with cash at some point then they can’t refund it. Anyway, they get some points for trying to be user friendly.

      • Nathanael says

        I haven’t been to London since the Oystercard was introduced, but I remember the old system was also extremely user-friendly — and that despite a very complicated fare system.

        They just try harder to be user-friendly there.

  10. says

    Why are they not implementing a variable cost day pass? This pilot project is set up for failure. They must be really against the idea of a day pass.

  11. Cascadian says

    They clearly got the $9 by taking the highest possible fare, and multiplying by the typical break-even point of 18 round trips paid separately. But most people using a day pass will be in-city riders, or from close-in suburbs. The actual cost should be no more than the round-trip cost of the average (mean) fare. That ends up subsidizing suburban day riders and overcharging people who ride only short distances in the city, but that’s OK. My guess is that the average (or at least median) fare is closer to $2.75 or $3, which would put the cost around $5-6. I still think that it would be easier to give one free day of rides to anyone who buys an ORCA, counting from the day the pass is purchased. If the loss of fares at the high end was too severe, then charge $9 from everyone, apply $5 to the daily pass and keep $4 automatically as purse value. Then deduct a one-time surcharge for the most expensive fare taken (so, the full $4 for the $5.25 fare). Allow people to return cards and cash out the purse (which would have to be done quickly at machines rather than with the typical current delay), or keep the card with any remaining purse for future use. By this method, 3-day passes would be $18 ($8 purse), and 7-day passes would be $45 ($20 purse). You could even switch the current monthly passes to be $180, $80 purse, and allow any portion of excess purse value to be rolled forward into the cost of the pass for the next period.

    • d.p. says

      That seems really complicated.

      Why not just admit that no tourist intends to ride a peak-hour commuter rail to fucking Auburn, or a bus to Mill Creek, and just limit the pass to the services they actually want to use?

      Because duh.

      It doesn’t even need to conform to a “face value” cap. Water Taxi technically costs $3.50? Who cares!? Simply declare it “covered” by the day pass.

      And if this offends Community Transit somehow, then don’t involve them at all! They run commuter services, at (legitimately) commuter prices. Their non-peak system is ill-suited to multiple erranding, and is located 15 miles from where any holder of this pass will actually be.

      For once, Seattle, stop trying to placate all parties, and actually do something that works!

      • William Aitken says

        d.p. I think I agree with you, but….

        So what would you include, and how would you price it? A price below $6 will begin to abstract revenue on routes like the 218? But even $6 leaves you, once you allow for the Orca, at $11 for a visitor pass. That really may be too much.

      • Jason Barbour says

        To a visitor, a reusable transit card can become a souvenir, and one they can reuse if they ever find themselves returning for any reason.

        Speaking from past experience, when I visited the Seattle Area coming from the East a few years ago I disembarked from Amtrak in Everett, where local service is provided by Everett’s own system as well as CT. For many others, Everett was also their final stop (for other reasons).

        Yes, being a transit afficinado skews some of my experiences a bit (as one of the items on my list was checking out Swift between Everett and Aurora Village, and the fact there’s no regional day passes), I also see things others would miss. Like the fact there really are people who are using transit in outlying areas, there are things for visitors to see and do there, and sometimes it’s more authentic and local than the tourist traps.

  12. Alex Bailey says

    This looks pretty terrible and speaks to just how difficult it will be to get all the ORCA agencies to agree on a new fare policy in such a cash strapped and risk adverse environment. But amazingly I actually don’t think it is bad policy given the political constraints. Given how conservative this option is, I don’t see how any harm can be caused by having an additional payment option that is rarely used.

    The principal problem with this proposal is that it tries to get all the agencies on board. It is effectively impossible to have a useful day pass that can cover both a $4 fare and a $2.25 fare. This problem is exasperated by the five dollar charge for an ORCA card, which makes a bad solution look terrible, at least for tourists.

    For these reasons I think Metro should institute its own separate day pass in addition to this all agency day pass. Metro would be well served to offer a $6.00 day pass and/or a $15 three day pass for the convenience of tourists and locals as well. To ensure the system wasn’t abused Metro could exclude morning commute from what constitutes a day with the pass. Coordination with local hotels with the option of on board cash payment could reduce the costs from on-board cash payment. And this policy would reduce these costs over the status quo of cash payment for most tourists on all rides.

    • William C. says

      The harm that could be caused – as many posters have pointed out upthread – is that transit agencies could use people’s sensible failure to take up this option as an excuse to not offer a better day, or week, pass later.

      • Alex Bailey says

        I read those arguments and just don’t think it is that big of a deal. If it doesn’t cost the agencies money to provide something, why would they stop providing it? Moreover, I suspect (but don’t know) that the agencies are well aware of the pricing flaws in this conservative option and the potential for low usage. That’s just simple math. But because the option is conservative and doesn’t preclude separate day pass options for individual agencies, this policy represents a low risk, high reward policy with the potential reward being better than expected usage. I just don’t see how the agencies would conclude that any day pass option wouldn’t work because this specific day pass option didn’t work.

        But maybe the current proposal is sufficiently bad that its not worth rolling out and we’d be better served with some modest revisions for the pilot project. In that case I’d advocate for eliminating morning commutes from the coverage of a day pass. That would reduce the range of the fares being covered, thus allowing the price to be lowered by about two dollars, the minimum needed to make the day pass reasonable. I’d also advocate for working with local hotels to give them free (instead of $5) ORCA cards that their patrons can then use during their stay.

    • Mike Orr says

      The issue with a Metro-only pass is that Link is now integrated into the Seattle network, and this will only increase as Link is extended. If you make Link more expensive for Metro riders (compared to using buses only), it will only encourage people to take parallel buses instead and oppose reorganizing them — the opposite of what we want.

      If you make buses more expensive for Link riders (compared to using Link only), it’s not as bad but they’ll be frustrated at Link’s limited coverage — so they’ll have to use buses anyway, and get annoyed at paying more than they would under a unified pass, and some of them may switch to buses only (e.g., taking the 124 to the airport) — again the opposite of what we want, and giving visitors a bad impression.

  13. fletc3her says

    I would rather see a London style daily fare cap. Once any Orca Card customer gets up to $9 during a day their fare could be capped at that point and all other rides would be “free”. For a user it ends up working out the same as buying a pass, but you don’t have to buy a pass before hand. The system simply treats your transit use as if you bought a pass if it would have been beneficial.

    London has a complex zone system, but the cap generally works out between 2x and 3x the most expensive single fare purchased. If you ride a $3.50 ST bus the fare could cap at $8.75. If you ride only off-peak metro at $2.25 the fare could cap at $5.50. If you ride a cross sound ferry for $6.05 (roundtrip) the fare could cap at $7.50 including ferry and bus.

    • Alex Bailey says

      Although I think there are also other potential solutions, I think this is a really good idea. Because the main problem with implementing a day pass is that some ORCA agencies could have their basic fare structure undercut by a day pass, it would help to simply charge value based on what services are used. The effect would be to charge full price for the first two rides, a reduced price for the third ride, and then have it be free afterwards unless you ride a particularly expensive service that requires the cap to be raised. It would take some time to plot out and calculate all the different trip fares but that’s just some upfront math for planners.

      The only potential problem I see with this (besides the tangential $5 dollar ORCA problem) is that the implementation of the details will be too confusing for tourists to understand the value they are getting, which defeats the purpose of having something like a day pass. But the simple explanation that you pay less than full fare after two trips and no fare after three should be simple and accurate enough to work and get more tourists and locals using transit.

    • Mike Orr says

      I would rather have a maximum daily fare. Just say you’ll never pay more than $X minus your pass value per day, and all additional usage is free. That would help people who make three or four trips to different areas throughout the day. Visitors do that and are afraid of being price-gouged. Locals do that if they have two jobs in different locations. (Don’t forget their routine errands on top of that.) Other people who may not do it every day, nevertheless have major “shopping days” sometimes.

    • Mike Orr says

      But the problem with a maximum daily fare is as Alex Bailey says. Metro, CT, and PT are all under shoestring budgets and can’t afford to lose any revenue. So any solution would have to compensate for that.

  14. Eric says

    Like everyone else, I’m having a tough time picturing the person who would actually save money by purchasing one of these passes, especially since most people will probably have to pay a one-way fare to actually get to a place that sells one.

    Since nobody will buy the thing, it will be declared a failure and held up as proof that an all-inclusive pass shorter than a month cannot possibly work here. That’s a shame.

  15. Glenn in Portland says

    One reason this is not a competitive price is the all-inclusive feature. As a reasonably frequent visitor to Seattle in recent years, 90% of the time I use King County Metro only. A LINK plus KCM day ticket is really all that is needed for the vast majority of tourists.

      • d.p. says

        For the forseeable future, business travelers to downtown Bellevue or tourists desperate to check out the Botanic Gardens are renting cars.

        By privileging hypothetical — nay, contrafactual — use ideals, we have achieved a result (an excessive price) that actively discourages the real, flesh-and-blood customers that a correctly-scaled day pass would attract.

        The abuse of logic that drives transit decisions around here is abysmal.

  16. Jon Morgan says

    I’d point out that besides tourists, a lot of temp workers would be much better served by a good day pass system. Temporary work is a large and growing part of the economy.

    If it’s defined by an amount of time, I’d like to see some combination of 1, 3, 7, and 10-day passes. Daily and weekly seem pretty intuitive. Another model is what Toronto has/had, where I used to buy 10 tokens for $19 at my first subway stop. It was very simple and convenient. I can’t remember for sure whether the tokens could also be used on buses and streetcars.

    As has been said, these prices are too high. In 7 years, the most expensive trip I’ve taken was Sounder from Tacoma to Seattle, in 2008. I forget what it cost then, but outside that I’ve never spent $4 on transit fare. You really have to try hard to rack up $9 in fares in one day. Plus the cost of a permanent ORCA card? The $4 fare credit per trip would only be useful on the ferries.

  17. transitrider says

    @Ed Prior has captured it here: “…as a Canadian, I find it baffling that US transit isn’t run by one regional authority with full fare integration.”

    He’s absolutely right: that’s why it’s pricey and complicated. Think of the cost of having to negotiate this with the staff of several transit agencies compared to what it would’ve cost – and how fast it would’ve happened – if there had only been a single regional transit agency, or at least a regional fare authority? In simple terms, it might be be the difference between having all of those who have posted to this article meeting on perhaps an every other week basis to decide on what are the 10 best {pick anything} are and how to market them vs. any one of you individually doing so. The cost of the former is considerably more, and it takes a lot longer to implement. Plus, everybody wants to ensure that their fiefdom gets a good deal.



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