There’s a lot of talk about ORCA being confusing or not very well defined. Well, of course. The card isn’t available yet. There isn’t much information on Metro’s site about it. Once we get ORCA in our hands and we’re using it on buses, light rail, and Sounder, it’ll make sense.
A new rider to our area won’t realize that there was some other system that we used to use — they’ll just realize that ORCA is the media we use to pay for transit, and get a card in their hands.
Head past the jump for what we know about ORCA, what we don’t, and to see why ORCA is a good thing for our transit network.
What we do know about ORCA is the following:
- ORCA is a unified card that will be supported by all the local transit agencies, including the ferry system and ST’s rail networks.
- ORCA doesn’t need to be swiped: You physically place the card near a reader.
- ORCA will automatically calculate light rail fares for the rider. You will tap the card at a reader when entering the train, and again when leaving the train — this is needed because the fares are distance-based. Readers will be on the platforms, not on the trains.
- ORCA will handle transfers automatically for riders — and pay the difference if needed. It will transfer between light rail, buses, Sounder commuter rail, and even ferries where appropiate. Between all regional agencies.
- ORCA can act like a monthly pass, just like the current PugetPasses. Potential for weekly and daily passes are obvious — all on the same card.
- ORCA can act as an “e-purse,” or basically cash. If you load $20 on to the card, you can use that $20 for any transit agency in the region. The e-purse can automatically re-fill from a linked credit card. If a registered ORCA card is stolen, its value can be transferred to a new card. Your current balance will be shown on ORCA readers when you move your card to the reader.
- ORCA can act like both a monthly pass and an e-purse. So if you buy or are provided with a $2.00 monthly pass, you can also load a few bucks on your e-purse to handle that $2.75 light rail ride to the airport. Only 75 cents will be deducted from your e-purse. (You can also pay the difference in cash.)
- ORCA will be required to transfer from bus to light rail at a reduced or free fare.
- From a blog post last November: ORCA will be rolled out over a six-month period beginning this Spring. PugetPasses and other pre-paid media will be phased out over time, but existing media will continue to be accepted in the mean time.
ORCA solves a lot of problems. It takes the burden off the driver for determining the correct fare associated with transfers and such. It can evenutally reduce the accepted media for buses, simplifying the boarding process.
What we don’t know is the fate of paper transfers. It hasn’t been announced whether Metro will keep bus-to-bus transfers around nor whether Metro buses will accept light rail tickets as transfers. Reducing paper transfers saves money and reduces littering and waste. By outright eliminating paper transfers that cash-paying riders receive, transit agencies would de facto discourage cash payment. Another way would be reduced fares for ORCA riders. Encouraging ORCA usage is a good thing. Riders fumbling with bills and change slow down boarding and make the system slower for everyone. (D.C.’s transit agency just eliminated paper transfers.)
But a new system takes time to implement and understand. Eliminating paper transfers before ORCA is well-understood could lead to confusion. There should be a time between ORCA’s implementation and the elimination of paper transfers, during which Metro can educate its riders.
But light rail is an entirely new system. It should not be bogged down by paper transfers that will only form habits we’ll have to break in the future. It is already the case that a rider transferring from a bus to light rail will have to use ORCA to receiver a transfer discount. Similarly, I assert that Metro shouldn’t accept light rail tickets as transfers otherwise we’ll have a lop-sided, confusing system. Metro should require ORCA to transfer from light rail.
The one oddity is that Metro’s time frame for rolling out ORCA over six-months starting in the spring doesn’t seem to match ST’s Link light rail launch date of June. Unfortunately, ORCA has been plagued with delays and a staggered and uncoordinated roll-out will look mighty embarassing for all agencies involved.
(Photo credit to Oran Viriyincy.)