How many of you have already purchased an ORCA card? How many of you have purchased one, even though you have a PugetPass, FlexPass, or U-Pass? I’m guilty on both charges, and so are a lot of other people. I purchased one today, and my card number is in the 40,000 range. Anyone have stories about using ORCA yet? All of the card readers on the 3 buses I rode today said out-of-service.
While filling out all of the information and poking around the website, I found myself looking at PugetPass options. In the past, this monthly and yearly fair structure made sense, but going forward it looks cumbersome and overly complex from a user perspective.
PugetPass costs a fixed amount regardless of the number of times it is used. That cost is based on the fare value multiplied by 36 as you can see below. I wonder why 36 is so magical. Basically if you use a certain value more than 36 times a month, you are saving money with that card.
For those that get passes through their employer or school and use it to commute (FlexPass and U-Pass), buying one is generally a no brainer. Additionally, for those people that use the bus once in a while and decided to get an ORCA card, the new e-purse and autoload options will be a very welcome addition. But what about those people in between? For example, people that take the bus to work 4 days a week? Or those people that can either take an ST or a Metro bus, but then have to pay an additional 25 or 50 cents for ST over the metro fare? Or travel during both off-peak and peak periods?
Yeah confusing. For these people there is no good answer, and these are the people transit providers really need to attract. They are people that are choice riders, but want to have the flexibility of riding a bus. I’d bet that a good share of them are hesitant to buy a monthly or yearly pass, but also want to get a good deal. This system creates a negative feedback: someone won’t ride the bus very often because they don’t have an unlimited pass, which then further discourages them from riding.
A solution to this problem could be a slightly altered customer service guarantee like Transport for London’s “Daily Price Capping”. Transport for London uses a card called the Oyster Card (video at the bottom of the link) which is almost exactly the same as ORCA. They also have Travel Cards (think PugetPass) which allows unlimited travel for a certain period of time (one day off-peak, one day peak, 3-days, week, month, year). With the “Daily Price Capping”, Oyster card users will never be charged more than they would if they had purchased a Travel Card. Guesswork and confusion gone! Not only that; it creates positive feedback. Riders want to get a good deal, and once they travel a certain amount in one day the rest is free.
So what would this look like? As you use your ORCA card over the month it would first act like a pay as you go system. Each time you ride it would deduct money from your e-purse. Once you have paid for 36 trips (magic number from above) of a certain value, any trips at that value or lower become free. Essentially, you would earn a PugetPass of that value. As you continue to travel over the month any cost over the PugetPass value would be removed from your e-purse. The value of the PugetPass you earn over the month could increase say from $2.00 to $2.50. You would never pay more than if you had just used a PugetPass. Riders could still purchase a PugetPass; this just gives riders more options.
How will this affect revenue? I could come up with arguments for this proposal either increasing or decreasing revenue, but that would just be speculation. I’m sure a good amount of modeling would have to go into this to figure it out.