The P-I sang the praises of RapidRide today, and we at STB are in agreement that more bus service is a great thing:

The service will feature much more frequent buses, new stations and higher-tech pay systems on five corridors with high-capacity, low-emission hybrid vehicles by 2013.

But what about those “higher-tech pay systems?”

On the RapidRide maps for A (Pacific Highway South), B (Bellevue-Overlake), C (West Seattle), and D (Ballard), there are symbols for both “RapidRide station stops” and “other RapidRide stops.”  It turns out that the “other” category contains two types of stop: “standard” and “enhanced”.  The features of each stop type are as follows:

  • Standard stops will have a lighted bus pole, bench, and RapidRide marker.
  • Enhanced stops will add pedestrian lighting, a bike rack, trash can, and a small lighted shelter.
  • The “station stops” will have larger shelters, newspaper boxes, a real-time arrival information board, and possibly a “fare transaction processor.”

Stop type is assigned by projected ridership.  Please note that off-board payment machines are a pilot project on the A line, opening in 2009, and further deployment depends on the results of that project and available funding. These machines will accept a “tap in” from ORCA cards but are not currently intended to accept cash.

Equally interesting is what the relatively sparse distribution of off-board payment machines implies about how payment will work.  I spoke with a Metro representative who explained it all to me.  Basically, RapidRide is going to use fare inspectors to check for ORCA cards or paper Metro transfers.

As the transit agencies are getting rid of all fare media except cash, paper transfers, and ORCA cards, there are four relevant fare scenarios:

  1. If you have a valid paper transfer, you may board at any door; the transfer serves as proof of payment.  Note that these paper transfers will not be honored on LINK light rail, where you’ll need an ORCA card to get credit for your previous fare.
  2. If you have only cash, you must board at the front and pay the driver, who will always give you a paper transfer that serves as proof of payment.
  3. If you have an ORCA card at a stop that does not have off-board payment, you must board at the front and “tap in” just as you would on any other Metro bus.
  4. ORCA card holders at a station with off-board payment can tap in at the stop and then board any door.

Metro has not yet developed their ride-free-zone policy for RapidRide, which in any case won’t come into play until the C line comes online in 2011.

Those are the (provisional) facts; discussion below the jump.
The positive spin on this is that RapidRide looks likely to happen despite Metro’s budget problems.  Metro has clearly cut to the bone on buying ticket vending machines, but they’ve managed to preserve high service frequency, which will, for example, roughly double service on route 15 or 18 both mid-day and after 7pm.  Assuming ORCA is widely used, the most crowded stops will see much faster boarding that bus routes experience currently.

Furthermore, Metro is fielding the framework to make further service improvements as funds become available.  New capital funds should allow the deployment of more and better fare machines (that accept cash!) and speed up operations.

The negative spin is a bit more obvious.  If you read carefully, Metro never really promised universal off-board payment, but there were certainly hints that it would be a big time-saver.  If ORCA adoption is slow, we’re looking at the same old game of watching the clueless fumble for change, leaving the sign boards as the only real innovation to come out of Transit Now.

And ugh!  The complexity!  The people will expend the effort and figure it out, as they always do, but the possibility of explaining our region’s fare system to a visitor is rapidly receding.  On the other hand, I’m told this kind of system is common among the nation’s BRT systems.

11 Replies to “More RapidRide Details”

  1. Sounds great. I just wish there was some way they could simplify the fare scenarios. It sounds like a system college grads have designed for college grads. When it comes to public transit, things should be as simple as possible.

    1. Couldn’t agree more with you Sam. Several simplification scenerios come to mind.
      1. Add another button to Seattles parking TVM that allows someone to use cash/credit/debit to purchase a “Universal Transit Ticket”, good for up to 2 hours on anything in the Puget Sound. For tourist and infrequent riders it becomes a ‘no brainer’.
      2. Start adding the Seattle type TVM’s along the BRT corridors. Even a ORCA ‘tap’ reader incorporated within the machine would make all door boarding and alighting easier.
      3. Get Metro and ST to agree on common fare boundries and fare practices — making the whole system more seamless and less confusing. (ie: peak/non peak, distance based/time based, acceptance of the other agencies media – all of it – ride free/no ride free, etc)

  2. POP makes the Ride Free Area even easier. Instead of pay-as-you-leave, you simply have no fare inspections within the RFA. IIRC this was originally how it worked in Portland when Tri-Met had POP for both buses and trains. Unfortunately, Tri-Met has slowly been moving away from the POP model.

    Agreed on the Metro/ST fare coordination, and *get rid of* charging extra for rush hour!!!!

  3. The only advantage of the “structured” fare system is that it helps even out demand. This wouldn’t be an issue if the buses weren’t already at capacity but they are, especially during peak hours. Some people will shift their schedules to travel off peak or take Metro instead of an ST Express bus. Some people will opt out of using transit all together. If funding wasn’t an issue then one cheap fare all day everywhere would be great; more people on the buses and less on the roads.

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