For those of you who don’t know, ORCA essentially works like a debit card, and is designed to replace the tangled web of passes, tickets, and transfers that currently confuse riders. Basically, you’ll have a cash balance, and the proper fare will be deducted when you board. If you just got off another bus, the system is smart enough to credit you with the transfer.
I sent a few questions to Metro about this:
- What is the precise date for the rollout? The ORCA card will be phased in over a six-month period beginning next spring, but no specific date has been set yet.
- What is the fate of existing ticket books, long-term Puget Passes, etc.? The participating agencies will honor any existing tickets held by customers (no expiration) and any paper Puget Passes for their effective period. For example, an annual pass purchased this fall could still be used on buses, trains and ferries through next fall, and ticket books with no expiration date would remain valid. Once ORCA is phased in, the goal is to cease sales of all pre-paid paper fare products. Customers will still be able to use cash to pay their fare.
- Is it true that it will work like a debit card? If so, will there still be an unlimited-use option for a flat fee, as the PugetPasses are today? ORCA users will be able to purchase a monthly pass and/or maintain a stored amount of value in their electronic account (called an “e-purse”). The pass allows unlimited rides per month based on the dollar value selected, just like PugetPass. Passengers who take a more expensive trip, or transfer to a ride that costs more than their pass value, can pay the difference using their e-purse value, or pay the difference with cash. The card will automatically account for transfers between systems. Pre-paid transit fare in the e-purse can be used on any system for single trip fares and the amount loaded on the card is “debited” as it is used.
We’ll be watching this story closely. I have a set of privacy-related follow-up questions (inspired by this), which I’ll post in a few days.
Photo from Flickr contributor Wade Rockett.