I’ll venture that most of our readers are up to speed on  the basics of the ORCA card.  If not, you can read our past coverage here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  If you don’t like to click that much, you can read the ORCA press kit (pdf, via the Rainier Valley Post) that consolidates most of the basic information into one place.

At any rate, what’s really new is the timetable above.  The bottom line is that other fare media will be good for most of the rest of the year, when you get ORCA depends on how you get your pass, and compulsive early adopters can get it from your local agency customer service office, starting Monday.   The full list of vendors will be released Monday.

“Full rollout” doesn’t begin till June, if you’d prefer to wait till the biggest bugs are squashed.

74 Replies to “ORCA Rollout Begins Monday”

    1. Because then no tourists, new bus riders, people who don’t trust/understand ORCA, and people who ride the bus very infrequently and don’t know about ORCA won’t be able to ride it. And the same goes for if you forget your pass one day.

      1. @alexjonlin

        The solution isn’t to accept cash. The solution is to provide off-board pay stations and to partner with local retail outlets such as Bartell’s to sell bus passes. That way, instead of fumbling for change, every rider quickly boards or exits.

      2. There are thousands and thousands of bus stops in the Seattle area. There is no way that every single one can have an off-board pay station. The main thing is to make sure that as many people as possible, even tourists, get an ORCA card, and then only a few people will be paying with cash. But that option must still be there.

      3. It doesn’t make sense to have ticket machines at stops that only have a few boardings per day. Off-board payment would be most beneficial at stops with very high boarding volumes. I think downtown bus stops, tunnel stations, transit centers, and RapidRide stations are likely candidates for implementing off-board payment. At most, Metro will allow pass holders to board at any door on RapidRide as a pilot project.

      4. But somehow the City could afford to put TVMs on every single block with paid parking. Under the current system Metro should have had off-board payment at all stops, but widespread distribution of ORCA cards will make that less necessary.

      5. London handles this by making it significantly more expensive to pay cash, and keeping all the cash fares as round numbers. That way few people pay cash because even a short-stay tourist has an incentive to get a card, those that do pay cash don’t waste so much time because they’re not fumbling for so much change, and in effect they’re subsidising everyone else.

        Actually in the center of the city, London doesn’t allow cash fares at all, but it seems to be keeping them for outlying stops for all the reasons other people have outlined in replies to your comment.

      6. TfL does have ticket machines at every stop in central London. Keep in mind that bus stop spacing in Europe is typically longer than in North America so they may have less stops than we do per area.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to completely move fare payment off-board and I think it’s doable for the downtown area (or tunnel, at least) but given the budget trouble Metro’s in, I highly doubt it would happen any soon.

      7. Actually, I would bet tourists would be a big user of Orca, especially since many of them come from places with good transit (Japan, Europe, etc.) Also the drivers now have $4 paper day passes on weekends and holidays, so I’d guess they’ll switch to Orca passes at some point.

    2. The FAQ in the press release says cash will still be accepted but intersystem transfers (e.g. rail to bus, CT to Metro) will require ORCA once its fully rolled out. The long-term goal is to completely eliminate paper transfers.

      If all goes well, most people, say 80%, should be using ORCA. That’s the adoption rate in many successful systems like London and Hong Kong.

  1. I am REALLY glad that they are going to phase out paper tranfers, anything to get people to stop paying cash is fantastic.

    How is ORCA going to work with distance based fares on Link?

    1. With ORCA you simply ‘tap in’ at the origin station and then ‘tap out’ at your destination. Fare, transfers and discounts are handled automatically. ORCA makes the distance based fares really easy to use. Just don’t forget to tap out. I don’t know the penalty but I guess it would be the maximum fare.

      1. “I don’t know the penalty but I guess it would be the maximum fare”

        That sounds fair

      2. Yes, it does, because if you have an ORCA, you’d know how the system works, and know you’d get charged maximum fare if you don’t “tap out.” I’m sure there will be a way to get a charge removed if a reader malfunctions.

      3. Silly me, this is how it will work. I think I even said it in a past post but I easily forget:

        You ‘tag in’ at your origin station, the system will deduct from your card the fare to the farthest station. En route, a conductor or fare inspector could inspect your card. Then, if you ‘tag off’ at a station before the farthest one, the appropriate amount is credited back into your card.

        Then I went back to Vuchic and found it on page 378.

  2. Unless I hear otherwise, My May 75 cents Puget Pass will be ORCA (yeah, I’m going to be an early adopter).

    Hopefully, my Microsoft ID benefits will be rolled into Business Passport and will work on Pierce

    1. Since I have a reduced far card does this mean I will have to wait until May to get an ORCA card? Bummer! I wonder how they will handle reduced fare cards? Do we still show our fare card?

      1. There’s a special Regional Reduced Fare Permit ORCA card available for $3. The terms of service/privacy policy (from 2008) state that the fee is waived if you convert your existing RRFP into a RRFP ORCA card. The card might have your photo, name, and other info printed on its face like the current RRFP. Your birth date (for seniors), Personal Care attendant eligibility, expiration date (for temporary disabilities) are stored on the card in encrypted form. This is not likely to change for the system launch.

      2. Thanks, Oran! Does this mean that I will still have to show both my ORCA fare card as well as my RRFP card when I board the bus? Can I get both cards starting tomorrow or next month? I will have to ask at the Everett TC tomorrow.

      3. Tomorrow, all your questions will be answered. :-) I don’t work for ORCA, I’m only reading from documents I dug up on the King County website.

      4. The impression I’m getting is that the RRFP is also an ORCA card.

        I have tomorrow off so I’m going to wheel myself down to King Street Center. I’ll report back my findings after my visit.

      5. So it’s official: Went to King Street Center

        RRFP = ORCA (in that the the RRFP is embedded into the ORCA)

        For me since I also have a Microsoft ID, I will continue to use that as usual within King County

        However, when I go visit my father in Pierce County, ORCA all the way (I’m going to have a May pass on board)

  3. OT: is it just me, or does Sound Transit’s website seem a little blank? No reroutes, no news, no project updates?

    1. Looks blank to me. Another case of weekend webmaster laziness? I have to click on More > to see them.

  4. For visitors who buy an ORCA, will they get a refund from the $5 if they return the card? This is how systems such as Hong Kong’s Octupus card work?

    1. I did not see any reference to deposits on the ORCA FAQ but the 2008 TOS does say that

      ORCA Cards are not, and do not represent, “accounts” or “deposits” and ORCA Products are not “money.” … Sales of ORCA Products are final and nonrefundable, except for the limited refund of E-purse value available in accordance with Section 5.0.

      Section 5.4 states that refunds are allowed when a registered, individual cardholder wishes to withdraw from ORCA. After returning the card, it will be blocked and a refund less an administrative fee will be mailed.

      I’m not sure whether the $5 for a new card includes $5 worth of fares or just the card. From the timeline above, the free cards are going to be blank cards with no fare value.

      1. The $5 will just be for the card and will not be applied to any fare value. So I would suggest getting your card in 2009 to avoid getting charged for the card.

  5. Ski passes work like that too, well the skipasses with integrated chip.
    There’s a machine that dispenses €5 when depositing a pass.
    I don’t believe our ORCA-like-card in Holland has a deposit you get refunded when you return your card. I suppose it’s just an investment you have to make. You just have to save your card forever.

  6. I’m rather annoyed with myself now. I stop buying passes as it moves into summer because I split my time with my electric motorcycle and the cost doesn’t work out if I’m not using it every day. But I’d gotten annoyed with cash so I bought a large stack of the tickets thinking that ORCA was going to take longer for some reason…

    At what point in that chart do they stop handing out transfers to cash/tickets? And I wonder if there’s a way to go into the office and hand them a stack of tickets to get those credited to the ORCA card instead…

    1. The last I heard (about a month ago), they would continue to do paper transfers until the end of 2009.

  7. I did some searching and found out from the UW SocTech website that ORCA uses MIFARE smart card technology, the same one used by London’s Oyster card and Boston’s CharlieCard. Unlike those two previous cities, ORCA does not use the MIFARE Classic chip that was easily hacked, it uses MIFARE DESFire with Triple-DES encryption.

  8. Hey early adopters: is up now and accepting orders.

    There are some website quirks, at least when using Safari. But generally it seems pretty good — it’s easy to find where you need to go.

    1. And why would you use Safari?

      [humor]even I, a Microsoft employee, went over to the dark side known as Firefox[/humor] ;)

    2. I use Safari, too and the bottom nav bar appears multiple times. I guess I’ll use Firefox or Camino for this site.

      Ironically, if you look at the page source code you’ll find that the cause of that is the code they put in to deal with IE 6 and IE 7’s buggy rendering. WebKit (Safari & Google Chrome) seems to have trouble dealing with this. The W3C validator doesn’t like the page either with 27 errors and 7 warnings. I went to websites that use the same IE CSS hacks and they appear just fine.

  9. Well, I just got my card but won’t be able to use it until tomorrow. The TVMs in the tunnel weren’t on but the the Metro Store in the Westlake stop is giving them out. The lady at the dedicated ORCA window said the $5 I added to my card won’t be available until tomorrow, which is a bummer because I was looking forward to using it. Also included with the card is a nice guide and card holder with information about how to add funds, check balances, pay, etc.

    Oddly enough, says to “pay when boarding” on busses. I’m betting that’s an oversimplification given the complexities of the ride free area.

    1. I saw that same thing when I got mine and I called Rider Information to find out what to do when I’m on a “pay as you lave” bus. She had no idea, went and asked someone, and still had no idea.

      If your card is a pass, it won’t really matter if you tap twice. If it’s a purse, then it shouldn’t matter, since your card will act as a transfer. But I’m going to try mine out tomorrow, and depending on what time it is, I might end up on a pay as you leave bus.

      Interestingly, while in line at Westlake, a guy behind me refused to buy an ORCA card because he didn’t want to tap on/tap off. I thought you didn’t have top tap on/off on a bus…? I thought it was the same as sliding a PugetPass or paying cash; you do it once–as you enter or as you lave.

      1. I have to wonder if the ORCA Customer Service hotline is really in Seattle or is it some call center elsewhere.

      2. I called Metro; didn’t know ORCA had its own hotline. Now I see it does so I’ll have to call them tomorrow.

      3. To answer my own question: For the bus, you tap when you’d normally pay (or show your U-Pass).

  10. A friend of mine was wondering why he can’t order a child’s ORCA card for his daughter from the website. Why would they make that more difficult? I hope they simplify that soon.

      1. Well, my friend went to Westlake today, and here is what he says now: “TO GET A CHILD’S ORCA THE CHILD MUST BE PRESENT. How is that for fucked up government nonsense? They are only open during school hours, but the
        child must be present to get the card.” (The caps are all his. He was upset!)

        I agree with him that it is unreasonable. In theory a child’s card should be a different color or something very obvious that makes it clear when a non-child is using it. (Anyone know if they do look different?) In my friend’s case, he doesn’t have custody of the child during the week, so it will be difficult for him to get a card for his daughter. (During the week, she lives outside the area so she probably wouldn’t get a card otherwise.)

        No matter what they do there will probably be some level of adults trying to get away with paying a child’s fare, so they should really just try to make it relatively easy to get the cards, so people will be more likely to change to ORCA.

      2. I assume there will be a tone when you tap your card. Why not just make the tone for a child or discounted card a different tone?

      3. I can see the point in doing that for the child’s cards, at least. I think if I was using a reduced fare card for a disability or something, I’d probably prefer not to have an attention-drawing special tone, though.

      4. The youth card I got looks just like any other ORCA Card, and in fact is the one on Wikipedia’s ORCA Card page. I first went to Westlake, where they told me I needed State photo ID (My Student ID wasn’t good enough) and/or a birth certificate, and a parent. I walked over to King Street Center where they told me they only needed the ID for my address, and set up my card.

  11. Hm…according to the UW commuter services, they aren’t planning on recarding the U-Passes until Spring/Summer of 2010. I suppose it doesn’t matter a whole lot, but it’s a little sad that it will take so long.

    1. I suspect the UW pass program is so HUGE that time is needed to make sure all the kinks are out of ORCA before adding that very large program to it! It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the UW is the single largest buyer of passes. It might be Microsoft…

      1. Considering how many of my coworkers ride the 545? Hmm… I bet we beat UW (but I have no proof)

      2. UW’s population is about 65,000, so I doubt it ;)

        Husky pride will never die! (and I don’t care that I’m comparing apples to oranges)

      3. Ran across this a while back: [PDF] University Transportation Committee October 14, 2008: “Mr. [Josh] Kavanagh informed the group that the re-card project has been temporarily put on the back burner. Re-card is the process of getting every member of the UW community a new photo ID card with an ORCA ID chip. ORCA is not currently ready for the UW to do this and cannot provide the card stock needed until a later date. At the moment it looks as though it will cause a six month slip in the originally projected timeline. The ORCA project has been forced to take on a more narrow focus in order to meet the deadline of March go-live for the retail product. While it is hard to predict when this project will be accomplished, the most likely date the UW could go active would be the Fall of 2010.”

        If they don’t have card stock for UW, they won’t for Microsoft either.

  12. I picked up my Orca card at lunch today. Haven’t tried it yet, but when I went to register the card with my account on the website, it said the card was “blocked”. I went back to Metro (a block from my work), and they registered it for me. I said, “so I can put more money on this on the web, right?”, and they said yes. But when I went to attach the card, the website said it had already been claimed. So I don’t know how I’m going to put more money on it without going to the office.

    I guess these are the kind of kinks you should expect in the trial period.

    They said the card was $1.75. I gave them $11.75, and it looked like I had $11.75 worth of credit. *shrugs*

    I’ll try it on the way home.

    1. That’s weird. I picked up two for no charge, one for myself and one for my girlfriend. I loaded $5 on one but haven’t tried using it since they said to wait until tomorrow. I was tempted on the busride home but I already have a monthly pass and didn’t want to pay for a peak trip trip! :)

    2. Did you ever get this figured out? I am trying to register my ORCA and am getting the error that it’s a blocked card. I certainly don’t want to go to the office and register and put money on it just to lose it. I just want to be able to do it online…arg!!

  13. Now that ORCA is here, they no longer have to produce those monthly PugetPasses. However, even with smart card technology they are sticking to the “expire at the end of the month” policy. I want to see a rolling 30-day pass (or whatever multiple) so I don’t have to wait too long.

  14. The card passer-outers appear to be mistaken, because indeed my card worked tonight. The display indicated the fare deducted as well as “low value”, but not the remaining balance on my account.

  15. I went to a ticketing booth and got my free Orca Card on April 20th, and even adde $50. I tried to register my card this evening and the site tells me that my card is blocked. I sent customer service an e-mail…guess I gotta wait and see what they say.

    I’ll try tapping it on the bus ride tomorrow morning and see if it works as an e-purse at least.

  16. Just got an ORCA card in the mail in place of my May PugetPass.

    Anyone know whether the exit “tap” is required for Sounder rail users using a monthly PugetPass rather than a cash fare value?

    I’m not eager to see six cars letting scores of people off to stand in line for the two card readers at the station, half of them in a hurry to transfer to a bus.

    1. My opinion is if you’re exiting at King Street station it really doesn’t matter if you tap out because the system assumes you traveled to the last station. That is if you have the pass that’s equal to the value of that trip. For E-purse users, the fare from the entry station to the terminal station would’ve been deducted from the card upon tap in. The exit tap refunds money back to your card if you didn’t travel to the end.

      1. True for King Street, but I take the train back home, too, and I’m not going all the way to Tacoma. People are already in enough of a hurry to get from the train platform to the bus platform in Auburn that some routinely cross the tracks while the gates are still closed.

        Glad I leave the station by bike, I wouldn’t want to get in their way.

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