Has Off-Peak Discount Outlived Its Purpose?

There has been much public discussion on the future of King County Metro’s paper transfer program, which may have the wind taken out of its sails by both Pierce Transit’s upcoming vote on eliminating paper transfers, and the potential implementation of a King County Metro low-income fare program. Once Pierce Transit abandons paper transfers (which is expected to happen November 1, 2014), Metro will be the last agency in the ORCA pod with paper transfers that are good for more than just an immediate transfer at a transfer center (which is all Kitsap Transit’s are accepted for).

Pioneer Square Station South Clock

Pioneer Square Station South Clock

One other rogue feature of Metro’s fare system that may lose its wind if the low-income ORCA program is implemented is what Metro likes to call the “off-peak discount.” Metro’s off-peak discount is unique not only in the ORCA pod, but among all transit agencies in the State of Washington.

Metro has been justifying the off-peak discount as being targeted at lower-income riders (See pages 23-24.). The time-of-day demographics aren’t expected to change when Metro raises fares next March 1, but who benefits will, presuming the low-income fare program is implemented. This is because low-income riders will already have a single fare all day: $1.50. Only riders without a low-income ORCA will be getting the off-peak discount of 25 or 75 cents. So, the off-peak discount will simply benefit higher-income riders.

Among the 17 other bus agencies and groups of agencies around the country that have contactless cards as their primary tool of fare payment, only one agency still charges a peak surcharge on buses: Minneapolis/St. Paul Metro. However, Minneapolis/St. Paul Metro provides the equivalent of a roughly 9% per-ride discount for paying with their Go-To Card instead of with cash. (The per-ride discount is far from unique, especially outside the U.S. It is just something local agencies have not adopted. Each agency could do so on their own.)

The Port Authority of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) and DC Metro have peak surcharges just on trains. In Pittsburgh’s case, the peak surcharge only applies to cash payers.

While the savings on eliminating Metro’s off-peak discount would be minor — in the range of a few million dollars a year at most — doing so would bring Metro’s fare system more in alignment with other agencies in the region and with peer agencies around the county, but would also improve the legibility of the fare system.

Whatever purposes this increasingly unique off-peak discount still serves probably pales into comparison to helping fund the low-income fare program or saving more bus service.

Comments

  1. asdf says

    I never thought of the off-peak discount as something to help low-income people. Rather, I’ve always thought of it a price incentive to spread service demand more evenly throughout the day. Given that Metro has a lot more excess capacity on its buses off-peak than peak, and that each off-peak trip generally costs less to operate than a peak trip, this idea makes sense.

    On the other hand, for most people, 25 cents per ride is probably not enough of an incentive for most users to make an appreciable difference in spreading demand, especially since most 9-5 commuters have monthly passes which cover the peak fare anyway. And, the legibility argument is definitely real, especially around the boundary period, with buses scheduled for the tail end of rush hour often running very late.

    For cash payers, the primary issue isn’t so much the 25 cents, but the preparation of changing bills for quarters and counting out the fare. Because being one quarter short on the fare really sucks, cash payers have to effectively expect to pay the peak fare (and make sure to get enough quarters for it anyway) if it’s anywhere near the peak boundary.

    • Adam says

      There’s a psychological aspect to this too, which ties into asdf’s comment: I’ve never thought of it as an off-peak discount, but rather, a peak surcharge. I’m on board with the argument that it better serves to control demand; however, 25 cents doesn’t do much to do that.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I don’t think you know how much impact the 25 cents has (I certainly don’t). Having *some* price difference will push some people that are price sensitive toward off-peak buses, which makes peak buses less full and could even increase ridership. It’s probably true that most people that fall into *price sensitive* are also low income, but the two groups certainly aren’t identical. I’m pretty far from the low income category and I’ve at least considered the fare difference (usually in the context of: “damn, I just missed the last express. oh wait, but at least the next bus is cheaper”).

        Whether this effect is worth the administrative pain and loss of fare simplicity is worth it is another question, but I’m sure it’s a real effect. I suppose we could always remove it (keeping everything else constant) to see how large of an effect it is, but that’s a pretty large experiment. I wonder if there’s data from other cities removing their peak surcharge.

      • Brent says

        I limited my research effort for this piece to US bus agencies using contactless smart card systems.

        I’m much less concerned about pushing people to ride off peak than about pushing people into driving. I’m also not convinced that pushing people to ride off-peak achieves any particular purpose, given that more runs have to be deployed off-peak to get the same ridership and fare recovery.

        Moreover, the frequency of service on peak runs is an incentive to ride during peak that a small discount just can’t compete with on the incentivization scale. That inability to compete is absolute if the route doesn’t exist off-peak. Cutting $5 million from annual service hours does nothing to help maintain all-day service.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        “I’m much less concerned about pushing people to ride off peak than about pushing people into driving.” It’s not clear why it’s one or the other. Aren’t you proposing we raise fares off-peak? I’d think that would be more likely to push people to drive.

        ” I’m also not convinced that pushing people to ride off-peak achieves any particular purpose, given that more runs have to be deployed off-peak to get the same ridership and fare recovery.” No. We don’t increase the number of runs to keep a constant fare recovery or ridership. The same runs will exist either way. The purpose would be to move people that don’t care as much about their time from the crowded peak routes to the empty off-peak routes. This reduces the need for adding more buses at peak. I’ve been left at the curb before from crowded buses.

        “Moreover, the frequency of service on peak runs is an incentive to ride during peak that a small discount just can’t compete with on the incentivization scale.” As with Adam above, I don’t think you know this. We’re talking about people that are less time sensitive and more cost sensitive. I certainly don’t understand this market well enough to make an informed guess of which incentive is more effective for them.

        “Cutting $5 million from annual service hours does nothing to help maintain all-day service.” There’s a very large assumption here that you won’t lose riders from a fare increase. Every rider you lose will need to be made up by 12 riders’ extra quarters.

    • Lack Thereof says

      The peak surcharge reflects the extra cost of peak service, and all those expensive part-time labor hours.

      It is to everyone’s benefit to attempt to shift trips, both transit and SOV, away from the peak times and to spread more evenly over the day. \

      However, I doubt that the peak charge is particularly functional in performing that task. It probably just shifts people to cars at peak time.

      • RDPence says

        Thank you for correctly identifying the matter — it’s a peak-hour surcharge, not an off-peak discount. That’s what Metro called it back in the day when it was created, and I’d be amused if Metro itself has rebranded it as an off-peak discount — perhaps the Metroids with memories have all moved on.

    • asdf says

      One reason the 25-cent peak surcharge is ineffective in getting people to shift their commutes to off-peak is that the schedules provide the exact opposite incentive. If you have flexible hours and want to bus commute to work, you don’t ride off-peak to save 25 cents – you ride peak so that you’re 15X, 77, 567, or whatever express route saves 20 minutes off your trip is running. (Or so that your 41 or 522 is running every 5 minutes, rather than every 30).

      Sometimes, this can even have an effect in people’s choice of where to live. For instance, if you work 9-5 and want a transit-oriented lifestyle, choosing a home within walking distance of places you visit frequently off-peak (shopping, entertainment, etc.) is often better than choosing a home that allows you to walk to work, but have long bus rides with long waits to get home from places in the evening. This is especially true for reverse commuters.

    • Nathanael says

      Minneapolis/St. Paul was quite specifically using the peak surcharge to try to relieve overcrowding on its buses at peak hours. I vaguely remember discussions about it 20 years ago. And they *were* having overcrowding at peak hours (I don’t know if they still do). The construction of the light rail in the Twin Cities has alleviated the overcrowding on the two routes it runs, but of course there are still many other routes which suffer from it.

      • Nathanael says

        Also, look at their fare structure. The peak surcharge is higher than yours. Also, express buses cost more than non-express buses, period; an off-peak express in Minneapolis costs the same as a rush hour local. This fare structure is probably more effective at its goals than your system.

        From http://www.metrotransit.org/fares-passes :

        (Non-Express) Bus & Light Rail: $1.75 usually, $2.25 rush hour
        Express Bus: $2.25 usually, $3.00 rush hour
        “Downtown Zone” (using the buses for circulating within one downtown): 50 cents

  2. Rob says

    Just for the record, it was not introduced as an off-peak discount, but as a peak period surcharge – recognizing that peak period trips are less price-elastic than off-peak trips. Fares needed to be raised, and they would lose fewer riders by raising fares during the peak than the midday.

    • VeloBusDriver says

      A better fare structure would eliminate the peak surcharge and two zone fares and implement an express surcharge. Generally speaking, express routes cost more to operate due to their deadheading and peak service only nature. They also tend to carry passengers who are less impacted by the higher cost.

      Community Transit has a sort of zone system but it is implemented by routes, not by when you cross a geographical boundary. This would allow Metro to charge more for commuter express service to the boonies.

      • Nathanael says

        As noted above, Metro Transit in Minneapolis has both an express-route surcharge *and* rush-hour surcharges.

      • Chris Stefan says

        I agree, peak only express routes should have a surcharge.

        Also ST, Metro, and CT (for its express routes) need to keep a similar fare structure and level for bus service.

  3. John Slyfield says

    Since 2000 off peak has always been 25 cents lower than the one Zone fare and 75 cents lower than the two zone fare. At that time it made an appreciable difference. It was $1 for off peak then so a two zone trip was a 75% surcharge. When the fare increase goes into effect the two zone fare would be $3.25 and the off peak trip would be $2.50 for only a 30% difference.

    Before 2000 there was zone pricing for off peak fares as well as youth fares. RRFP passes were a flat fare as they are today.

    • Brent says

      One neat opportunity with ORCA is to increase fares by percentages, rather than flatly. 25-cent indexing is a legacy feature of cash payment. But moving off that indexing will be easier if the agencies don’t have to create a dozen different monthly pass levels.

      • Nathanael says

        As long as ORCA costs a flat fee to get in the first place, cash payment will continue forever.

  4. says

    Metro’s fares are already insane. I hear people talk about getting a car to SAVE money on bus fare. Whether or not that actually does save money, there is a serious perception problem. I can’t believe Metro is raising prices again.

    So this is an “off-peak discount,” and not an “on-peak premium” system we have? So Metro considers the base fare to be $3?

    I have to wonder. How many actual service hours would it cost Metro to match Pierce Transit’s prices ($2.00, $.75)? If Metro wants more riders in the long term, perhaps it would be a bit better bite the bullet on a few service hours than to charge an arm and a leg plus 50 cents to ride. Because when people are choosing to drive a car to save money (sadly, I think it does save money at times), there is a serious problem.

    • d.p. says

      This.

      Metro is not good enough at what it does to be charging $2.50.

      Yes, it really is that simple.

      • Barman says

        Agreed. Peak Metro is already more expensive than the NYC subway, which is of course ridiculous.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        I think this comes from our very bus-heavy system. NYC cost per rider has to be much, much lower because they have excellent infrastructure in place. We have a massive number of buses running inefficient routes stuck in traffic. It’s hard for that not be expensive.

      • Brent says

        If car drivers don’t want to pay for the bus service, and bus riders don’t want to pay for the bus service, pretty soon, we won’t have much bus service.

      • d.p. says

        As Matt implies, it comes from our shit systemic efficiency. As Brent implies, it comes from our shit funding stream.

        But who cares? We’re a city of transplants, an increasing number of whom are worldy types with points of reference for public transport that works infinitely better and doesn’t charge $2.50 for a rolling root canal.

        Be expensive and lousy and rational people will abandon you!

        This is why Metro’s perpetual refusal to grab at low-hanging improvent fruit (system rationalizations, differentiation between all-hour reliable cores and peanut butter, bye-bye paper transfers), while the fare climbs and climbs again, betrays an indefensible lack of understanding of its standing in the public transit world.

        You’re right, Brent: the current trajectory is a death spiral.

    • Eric says

      I really doubt that purchasing a car that you don’t already own would save money compared to riding the bus. A bus pass costs anywhere from $81 (off-peak) to $108 (two-zone peak) per month. It’s hard to imagine a car costing less than that when you use it a lot, when you consider the cost of gas, parking, tolls, insurance, registration, maintenance, and depreciation. My wife and I share a car; I bus to work most days, while she drives to her job because it’s farther from our house and transit would take too long. There’s no way trading my bus commute for a second car would improve our finances one bit.

      The bus is a good deal if it riding it means you don’t need to buy a car. When you already have a car available for a trip, riding the bus is rarely price-competitive with driving. This is especially true when more than one person is going on the trip. If my wife and I are going somewhere in the evening or weekend within the city, a round-trip bus ride costs $9. A car trip would use $1-2 worth of fuel, plus a small allowance for a few miles of depreciation and maintenance, plus any parking charges. So if we’re going downtown or to certain parts of Capitol Hill, the bus often makes sense because parking is likely to cost $7 or more. But if we’re going anywhere that offers free or cheap parking, $9 is a ripoff.

      • Sam says

        And now you know why people here hate Kemper Freeman (Peace Be Upon Him). Because they hate competition and see his mall’s free parking as a threat to the thing they love most: Public transit.

      • Lack Thereof says

        For in-city trips, owning a car is appreciably cheaper than riding the bus. The low-income wage-slaves who are doing this calculation are going to park for free at both ends, going to skip insurance and maintenance entirely, and might be looking at commuting less than 10 miles.

        Metro’s in-city service is so terrible and so overpriced that anyone who can meet that barrier of entry (purchasing a $500 beater) is going to.

        It should not take longer to go cross-town than to go to Bellevue, and it should not cost $2.50 to go 5 miles.

    • Mike Orr says

      Cars appearing economical is mostly about multiple passengers. $2.50 for one person is not that much, but $10 for four people is significant; it’s almost as much as a taxi depending on the distance.

      • Emily says

        I think multiple passengers in a car, especially when going to work, is called a “car pool.” Car pools are a form of mass transit, too.

      • asdf says

        Usually, cars with multiple people in them are not people carpooling work, but families traveling together to somewhere outside of work. Metro used to have a great family deal where, on Sundays, up to 4 kids under 18 could ride free with a fare paying adult. By taking advantage of under-utilized capacity on the buses, the family fare made a lot of sense.

        Of course, when the recession came, it was the first thing to go. Now, a family of 4, especially one that doesn’t ride the bus often enough to justify the hassle of going to the customer service center downtown in the middle of a weekday just to pick up youth Orca cards, gets charged $10 or a one-way trip, or $20 for a round trip. At those prices, of course the family is going to drive if they own a car, even if it means spending $15 or more on parking for an event downtown.

        A similar issue happened once when I was a kid and we were on a road trip through New York and decided to stop and see a Met’s game. We had two parents, me, and my sister in the car. We did the math and calculated the cost of parking the car in New Jersey and paying 8 transit fares on the commuter train into New York, plus 8 subway rides (4*2=8, as we had to get back), then compared with the cost of gas, bridge tolls, and parking (we were in a rental car, so wear+tear was effectively zero). Even though the total cost to drive was in excess of $20, it still came out cheaper.

      • Cinesea says

        I had forgotten about the family pass. I know we used it a lot in the 80s when we lived in Wallingford. My mom, my younger sister and me would ride the bus a lot on ‘family days’ to go to Greenlake or downtown. It was always a lot of fun and I was in charge of finding the bus times and making sure we were at the right bus stop in downtown.

      • Mike Orr says

        It’s rare that carpooling to work is feasable. In most places I’ve worked, every person comes from a completely different area. At two jobs in north Seattle for instance, people ranged from Des Moines to Marysville. And some of them start at different times.

        Carpooling mainly works at large companies/institutions where several people come from the same area and start at the same time. So it’s an alternative to vanpools, since those are the same companies most likely to have vanpools.

        There is a second kind of carpool, a kind of last mile; e.g., reservists taking ST to Everett Station or the 512 P&R and carpooling to the navy base or Fort Lewis.

    • Norah says

      You’re right. But still the vote no on any new transit tax people say the fares are too low. One guy was saying it should be $6. That’d be $12 a day for people taking the bus to work. No one would ride it at that price. When someone mentioned that to him, he claimed he would because he had to pay more than that for parking! Just ridiculous. Hopefully it’s a minority of people who think this way.

      • says

        The arguments of the other side is crazy. If fares are too low, they will say you need to increase farebox recovery. If fares are too high, they will say you are overburdening the riders. The problem is, they have a lofty and inconsistent standard, case-in-point, the $6 fare your friend suggested.

        By the way, since he claims he would pay $12 per day to ride the bus, does he ride the bus now with its current fare?

    • Brent says

      Please, oh please, don’t cite Pierce Transit as an example to emulate (unless you are one of the few here actually talking about the topic of the post: how much easier it would be to not have a peak differential, since that is one thing PT is doing right).

      Who here wants to see King County Metro operate more like Pierce Transit?

    • Nathanael says

      D.p. has a point. The Minneapolis/St. Paul system is in many ways expensive and lousy — and it was famously illegible for decades, and still is pretty illegible. But *they’ve been wiling to improve it*. They really do listen to sensible suggestions (and politely turn down stupid suggestions) in Minnesota. You get better by making things better.

      To be fair to Seattle, it seems much more responsive than *some* places. Just try to get a good suggestion through in Atlanta.

      • Sam says

        It’s funny to me because I’ve never heard it called that before. In fact, nobody calls it that. And what he’s referring to is just the regular fare. Just 20% of the time we have a peak surcharge. The other 80% of the time it’s the regular fare. I do think it’s rather clever of him to frame it as a discount, though.

      • John Bailo says

        This is the Pacific Northwest.

        Developers roll out of bed at 10 am, grab a Starbucks and then cruise into Microsoft by noon.

        Rush hour for the technorati 10am to 4pm!

      • Lack Thereof says

        Bailo, the Amazon developers I know often work 7am-7pm. But they also walk to work, and so avoid the fare.

      • says

        These cases are probably the exception and not the rule. Lots of people commute to/from Seattle in metro’s defined peak hours.

      • asdf says

        Even if a store opens it doors to the public as late as 10 or 11, employees probably arrive considerably earlier than that to stock the shelves and do all the other things that have to be done behind the scenes to keep the store running.

      • Brent says

        Sam says, “And what he’s referring to is just the regular fare. Just 20% of the time we have a peak surcharge. The other 80% of the time it’s the regular fare.”

        Sam, you are confusing the fare charged most of the time and the fare most people pay. Way more than half of boardings occur during peak periods. So, doesn’t that make the peak fare the regular fare? Or do people not matter in such metrics?

        At any rate, charging a little bit less during off-peak has failed to spread out ridership chronologically. Only more and more frequent service off-peak is going to entice more off-peak ridership. If Metro wants to improve off-peak ridership, the few million dollars of extra revenue brought in from doing away with the peak differential could be plowed into improving off-peak service.

    • Sam says

      Brent, with the compassion and patience of an adult speaking to a special needs toddler, let me explain it to you this way: Let’s say 50 weeks out of the year I wear t shirt and jeans. And just two weeks a year I wear a suit. Question. Which is my regular outfit?

  5. Mike Orr says

    It’s a peak surcharge as Rob said; that’s important for understanding why it exists and to evaluate its success. In the not-too-distant past fares were 40c one-zone, 60c two-zones full time. The peak surcharge was added because the additional peak runs have outsized costs (deadheading, part-time shifts, split shifts, underutilized buses). Later Metro dropped the two-zone surcharge off-peak because (1) all-day service costs less, (2) to encourage time-shifting to balance bus fullness, and (3) most of the ultra-long off-peak routes had been split (Auburn, Federal Way, North Bend).

    What Metro should have done was double the fare on the long peak-expresses and left regular-sized routes alone. Many city routes double their frequency peak hours, but that doesn’t have extraordinary costs like long expresses. Short-distance expresses (15X, 71/72/73X) could go either way; the argument against surcharging is that they really exist to cope with capacity and to compensate for clogged roads (15th W, Aurora, I-5, Eastlake) — because the city-express travel time is often the same as the local evening travel time.

    Ideally, we’d keep an “off-peak surcharge”. But in an era where fares are changing anyway and Metro is desperately short of service hours, we might as well raise it to a common level and create an “ORCA discount” instead.

    • d.p. says

      Wrong way to look at it.

      The “ORCA discount” needs to be commonly understood as the base rate, such that people will default to it for their internal cost:benefit analyses, and such that ORCA acquisition and usage will become ubiquitous.

      And that fare had better remain within the realm of the reasonable. Which, frankly, means not one red cent above $2.25, for in-city, non-express trips (including at rush hour).

      A cash fare/abandonment of paper transfers should be widely understood as a penalty/disincentive for paying in a time-wasting way. Because that is all it is. The “base fare” for Metro’s crappy transit service cannot approach $3.

      • Lack Thereof says

        Metro cross-town service as it exists today:

        Pay $2.50 to travel 7 miles in 2 hours.

  6. Izaac says

    Even if paper transfers get eliminated, I hope the concept of receiving a transfer never dies. 90% of the trips I make in Seattle require two busses, especially because our east/west network is very miserable (at best). I had to take route 48 and transfer to route 5 every weekday when I lived in Seattle. If it cost me twice as much to make this 4 mile commute it would have been insane. Orca cards can help simplify transfers, but eliminating transfers altogether is unreasonable and would make transit even more unaffordable than it already is.

    • Barman says

      Transfers are never going away. ORCA makes transfers easy, that’s the whole point. Paper transfers can and should be eliminated as soon as possible.

    • Lack Thereof says

      Yeah, the only plan is to dump the paper; ORCA transfers are never going away.

      Eliminating paper transfers is supposed to force cash-payers to get on board with ORCA.

      • Nathanael says

        Won’t work. You need to make ORCA easy (and essentially free) to get, which for some completely demented reason, Seattle has been unwilling to do.

    • Glenn in Portland says

      Not too long ago, Kitsap Transit eliminated paper transfers too, in favor of the ORCA card transfers.
      Then, they reinstated paper transfers sometime later, as the last time I rode their system they had gone back to that.
      This paper transfer for immediate transfer only in a transit center thing must be new as of when I last rode their services, and that was maybe 2012?

      So, I’m not sure that if paper transfers are eliminated, they will stay eliminated. They might come back in some other form.

      • Brent says

        I wouldn’t be surprised if some Kitsap operators are ignoring the restrictions on paper transfers. The rule about where they can be accepted is easy to enforce, but the time rule is not so straightforward, when you have a paper transfer with an analog tear, that was given sometime in the middle of a route that may serve more than two transfer points. Metro operators have wide latitude to be lenient on time rules and zone rules as it is, when it comes to paper transfers. That is part of why getting people to pay per ride on ORCA has been such a tough sell in King County Metro and even more so in Pierce Transit.

        But even simple rules get ignored. I see operators give out transfers when the fare was incomplete, or no fare was paid out all. I’ve seen plenty of passengers be rude to operators for not saying it is okay to ride without paying, and even continue cursing out the operator loudly after sitting down. I hope the enforcement department becomes more adept at catching up with these buses, and issuing warnings to passengers who both ignore the fare and break the riding rules, If someone’s behavior is endangering the operator and the rest of the riders, it is high time progressive discipline become the norm. The assault epidemic needs to stop.

  7. Cinesea says

    I remember it was in the 80’s sometime that the ‘peak hour’ surcharge was added. Buses were packed during commute times so Metro decided to add in a peak surcharge in the hopes of shifting some people away from those times. As time went on and more employers added bus passes as part of their compensation to employees, more people were able to ride during peak hours without having to pay the additional costs themselves. Metro responded by adding more routes/buses during that time.

    As for the rate increase, it is getting ridiculous to have to pay so much nowadays for mediocre service. It can cost more to take a round trip from Shoreline to downtown as well as the wait time, than it does to ride the MRT in Singapore from Orchard Road to Changi Airport.

  8. Glenn in Portland says

    I would point out that if the peak period fare is eliminated, it would make it easier to implement a Metro only day ticket.

    1. If the goal of eliminating paper transfers is to increase the speed of boarding:

    In the case of Portland, the day ticket costs $5, which is a very convenient single piece of paper to have in your wallet, so not that many people that buy this dig around for coins. The cost is the same as two cash fares, so there is no advantage to pay cash going both ways if you are going round trip to work. People tend to buy them in the morning, and so in the evenings when large number of people board at the same time it is simply a matter of showing it to the driver as you board. The process goes reasonably fast.

    The time required to board with ORCA isn’t insignificant. The card readers are fast, but it still takes a moment between tap and beep for the thing to register. Thus, a well designed paper transfer or ticket could be just as key to speeding up the process as reducing the amount of cash being paid.

    Also, how many people who pay cash actually transfer? Because of the time penalty for transferring, an awful lot of transportation needs are met by single seat rides. So, I’m not convinced that a number of people will continue to pay cash even if transfers are eliminated.

    Some of the transit agencies in the area will not issue a transfer when paying cash, but do issue day tickets if you pay the additional fee for the day ticket. Jefferson Transit (Port Townsend, not New Orleans) was doing this for a while, I think, and it seems like a few others were as well. I know Salem used to (and maybe still does).

    2. If the goal of eliminating paper transfers is to eliminate the fraud transfer nonsense that goes on:

    When TriMet used paper transfers (today they use a printed ticket with a date and time stamp and holographic image) it came with a eight letter character alphanumeric day code, as well as a serial number.

    3. If the goal of eliminating paper transfers is to decrease costs:

    In the days of long ago, TriMet transfers used to have advertisements printed on the back. Usually, these were for local businesses that offered a slight discount of some sort if someone used it as a coupon. I’m pretty sure those advertisements at least covered the printing cost.

    For the most part I don’t have a dog in the fight, as I got an ORCA card when they were available free of charge by making a phone call. However, it seems to me that if the fare methods and structure are changed, it would be a good idea to really make sure that the changes accomplish whatever those goals are. I’m not convinced that eliminating transfers will necessarily accomplish much of any goal, except reduce the amount of paper used.

    • d.p. says

      Where non-cash payment has become virtually ubiquitous, “tap/beep” time is rarely a hinderance. King County Metro does not run buses large enough or full enough for a one-second boarding process to cause meaningful harm.

      Operator-assisted physical transactions, often encouraging a q&a session or superfluous social niceties, can be slower even when round numbers are involved. And of course, round numbers are no guarantee around here.

      Stick to the electronic-default fare medium.

      • Nathanael says

        You can only have ORCA as a default if the ORCA card is free, or nearly free (London’s refundable deposit works fine, and it seems that people will tolerate a $1 fee).

        The $5 cost is both unacceptable and incredibly stupid.

      • Chris Stefan says

        I really would love to hear an explanation of how the $5 fee for ORCA was decided upon. MARTA uses the same vendor and only charges $1 for their cards.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Also we need 1 day, 3 day, and 7 day passes as well as switching monthly passes from first to last day of calendar month to a 30 day window.

      • d.p. says

        Agreed on dumping the ORCA charge, of course. But even without, a 50-cent cash-payment penalty would get the all regular and the majority of semi-regular riders on board with ORCA pretty quickly.

    • djw says

      The card readers are fast, but it still takes a moment between tap and beep for the thing to register. Thus, a well designed paper transfer or ticket could be just as key to speeding up the process as reducing the amount of cash being paid.

      But to get to the point of having a speedy paper transfer boarding, there must first be a slow cash transaction, which is a much greater slowdown than the couple of seconds lost to an ORCA reader.

      • Brent says

        Paper transfers are fastest when the operator doesn’t bother to ask the guy with a year-old transfer slip to hold up the slip, cut for several hours later, long enough for the operator to inspect it. If the transfers were properly inspected, they would still be slower than the ORCA tap, and risk creating a passenger incident when the transfer horder is caught. Nor have I witnessed an operator ask for an extra 25 or 75 cents when the year-old transfer slip shows it was cut for an off-peak trip.

        Consider also, that if someone is paying the youth fare without an ORCA card, the operator may need to ask to see their ID as well. I have witnessed that ask, with the passenger then not willing to show the ID that would prove he does not qualify for the youth fare.

        Metro has measured ORCA payments as 4.6 to 6.9 seconds faster than cash payments, FWIW.

      • Nathanael says

        *ORCA COSTS MORE THAN PAYING CASH*. Cost-sensitive riders will not pay extra to speed up other people’s trips.

        This is why the $5 fee for ORCA is completely insane.

        ORCA is strictly for people with money to waste. And that’s NOT how you want it to be.

      • Chris Stefan says

        MARTA in Atlanta uses the same fare media but only charges $1 for the card.

  9. jeik says

    I generally support this idea, but I will point out that it’s helpful to have some informal programs that support low-income people. A low-income pass will likely require a trip to the DSHS or Metro offices, and include income verification. Maybe it will be rolled in with food stamp eligibility. That means it’s a big hassle. Some people become unemployed, but are highly focused on getting a new job in a short time frame and won’t take the time to sign up for services. Others have a problem with accepting food stamps (which has quite a bit of stigma). There is also the issue of being just outside of the income limits, which is still a very difficult sum to live on. So the argument that you can just substitute one program for another doesn’t always cut it.

    That said, the full pros and cons of this proposal I think make it worth it. The low-income fare will be a huge boon, the better legibility will be nice, and every bit of savings helps.

  10. Eric says

    Paper transfers need to be eliminated to cut down on fraud. There is a Facebook group called Today’s Seattle Bus Transfer with 11,158 members that is set up for sharing the day’s letter color sequence to re-use transfers. I’ve reported the group to Facebook but they do nothing even tried to get David Ham at KIRO TV to do a report on it but I guess they decided to pass on it. The group members are scamming Metro and it’s not right.

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