Last year, I asked, “what happened to Orca?”, central Puget Sound’s “One Regional Card for All”. The card was supposed to be usable on all public transportation in the region, but was already a year late when I asked that question, almost a year ago.

Well, thanks to anonymous in the comments, we find via Kiro that ORCA is in serious jeopardy thanks to the troubles the vendor, Australia-based ERG Group, is having with the Sydney regional government.

Every city has one of these card systems, I’m amazed that our area just can’t move to another vendor. What do you guys think?

19 Replies to “Answer to the ORCA question”

  1. That’s too bad. In some places, like the Bay Area, you can use the same smart card for nearly all of the transit agencies.

  2. I heard (and will try to find the link) that there were significant privacy and security concerns with ORCA.

    Also, I’m deeply concerned that this will cause the concept of the unlimited-use pass to go away. That would be a shame, as for me it’s a major incentive to use transit for trips other than my commute.

  3. So, in my understanding, this would not have changed the unlimited-use passes. Personally, though, I think it would be a waste of money to implement a newfangled pass system – is there a clear need to move away from what we have now?

  4. I was involved in a seminar at UW that looked at the privacy/security aspects of the ORCA card. Our finds can be found here:

    Generally speaking, the biggest problem in terms of privacy is not the RFID chips on card, due to the short read-range and encryption used on the cards (assumes this is all implemented correctly by ERG).

    The bigger issue is that the new system records in a database the time, location, and card id of every swipe of the ORCA card. For cards linked to your ID (for example, pretty much everyone who uses a UPASS at UW), this is a major privacy concern.

    1. “The bigger issue is that the new system records in a database the time, location, and card id of every swipe of the ORCA card. For cards linked to your ID (for example, pretty much everyone who uses a UPASS at UW), this is a major privacy concern.”

      No difference than swiping your ATM or Credit Card and you don’t seem to be complaining about those cards now do you!

  5. I’d guess that the benefit to Metro is the data this provides.

    Someone who uses cash, transfer, or ticket to get on provides no data about where they came from, meaning Metro planners have little idea what route combinations people actually take.

    Drivers are also often pretty sloppy about pressing the button every time someone shows them a pass.

  6. I am with Ben here, why do we need a new system? Puget Pass works well for most of the systems. My flexpass paid by my employer works for KCM and ST. Some flexpasses work for KCM,ST,CT, and PT. The ferries are the only major system left out of the loop here. I wonder if it would be more practical to integrate that into the system currently?

  7. Re: Martin
    Oh that’s interesting, if you can track that data, you can better implement transfers. That by itself may make it worth implementing.

  8. I know this is off-topic, but did anyone else pick up on the connection between public transit and the guy who killed Shannon Harps on New Years Eve?

    First of all, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1995 for shooting a man at a bus stop at 2nd and Union in Seattle. Then, on the night of the New Years Eve, after the murder, the only reason he came into contact with police is because he was drinking a beer in a bus shelter.

    I don’t really have a point, but I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere.

  9. I agree with a number of the comments that point out the benefits of having detailed ridership data as provided by the ORCA card. You can imagine all sorts of uses that would help transit planners in terms of scheduling, transfer patterns, and resource allocation.

    The key point is that most of these benefits can be realized without linking transit usage to your personal identity in a transit database. Yet that connection is currently being tracked in the ORCA system as currently designed. Does Metro KC need to record that I, Brian Ferris, specifically got on a particular bus at a particular time and place this morning? Even if they want to track transfers by an individual for planning purposes, I can think of a number of ways of collecting that information without linking my identity against it in the long term.

  10. Yeah, the part of that “benefits of ORCA” website that scared me was the part for employers. It made it sound like my employer could track my movements.

    Even if the data is anonymized, my company probably doesn’t have any other employees that take the bus and could conceivably take the series of routes that I take. So there are privacy issues there.

  11. Too bad ORCA and Sound Transit want bus and rail riders who pay cash to pay TWICE. That’s right, DOUBLE THE CURRENT FARE. They say that traditional Metro paper transfers will not be accepted by Sound Transit. In other words, someone who rides a Metro route to a light rail station to get downtown will have to pay AGAIN to get on Link, instead of being able to hold their paper transfer as proof that they have already paid for transit! Who will want to do that??!! This is ridiculous!

  12. The ORCA card system looks like a really really bad idea. It looks like a solution in need of a problem. I read the Orca “benefits” page posted, and I realized, “i don’t have any of the “problems” this card would solve”. All for the low low price of your detailed transportation habits finely detailed for your profiling needs.

    Even if these are “anonymous” – remember what happened to AOL and Netflix? For someone who uses the bus to commute it would be pretty obvious who you work for and where you live. The “faster loading time” sounds like a fake reason – there is no proof the loading time would be faster.

    It sounds like the transportation agencies will farm your data and provide it to your employers. They certainly will be able to, and eventually will be sued and employers will get that data. There just is no doubt about that.

  13. Seattle is just not very good when it comes to public transportation. While other major cities in the US have had rail and/or smart cards for a while now, Seattle is trying to play catchup but they’ve seem to have lost the rest of the pack….

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