Have you ordered your free ORCA card yet? All the cool kids have, and instead of fumbling for change and bills they are using their e-purse to pay fares, handle transfers, and look stylish.

But did you know that you can use your e-purse to pay for multiple people?

When traveling on the bus, you can let the driver know BEFORE you tap as to the number of persons you will be paying for and the driver can adjust the reader to the correct fare. THEN, you tap only once and the correct fare for all of you and your family members will be deducted from your E-purse.

When traveling on the train or Link (if after July 18), you can use your E-purse to purchase individual tickets for each family member. You will present the tickets and ORCA card when the fares are being verified.

So says ORCA support, whose message we were forwarded by reader justin.

Do you get a monthly PugetPass or a Flexpass from your work and waiting for an employer provided ORCA card? Expect one with the same functionality sometime within the next year as contracts get renegotiated on a company-by-company basis.

58 Replies to “Cool ORCA Tricks”

  1. What’s everybody’s experience with orca been like? I just got the regular one zone and use it everyday. I’ve had mixed reactions from Pierce Transit drivers. One wasn’t sure if they were being used yet, even though it worked. Others will either give you a strange look or a friendly “all right!” My only question left unanswered from the q and a on the ocra website dealt with transfering from bus to train or link or ferry with a one zone puget pass. If you have an e-purse, will it just deduct the difference between your pass and the actual fare?

      1. I’m one of the cool kids/early adopters. Have had no troubles or issues of any kind other than the drivers on my #11 routinely neglecting to re-set the machine when head uphill and out of the RFA. Still only hearing one or 2 beeps per trip, though.

    1. I’ve got a flexpass from work, but I keep putting money on my ORCA and using it off and on, because apparently I enjoy those two beeps more than I enjoy two dollars. :)

    2. I’m really liking it, but a disappointingly large number of readers on Metro buses seem to be broken so far. It’s not causing me trouble–they just give me a free ride–but I actually don’t want to be getting free rides off a transport system that’s desparate for cash to cover basic operating expenses.

      1. Well, you can always pay cash too or buy an extra pass. :)

        The “Postbill Autoload” feature worked great. The required fare took the ORCA down to exactly $0.00 so I’m not sure if it would have been as seamless if we owed a little.

  2. This is great to know. However, Intercity Transit down in Olympia has not yet gotten on board. They have different fare policies that aren’t really congruent with the rest of the region, but they’re still a public transit agency in the Puget Sound region.

    1. I expect this to change when Sounder gets to Lakewood. There will be a direct connection between Intercity Transit buses and Sounder there, so the first step will be to get the schedules working together for commuters into Tacoma (or Seattle), and the second step will be to make fare payment the same.

      …and the third step will be to get part of Thurston into the ST district to extend Sounder to Olympia. ;)

      1. I understand why Thurston County isn’t part of ST, given that it’s not as densely populated as the core metro counties and political support for regional transit is lower there. But I wonder if a carefully selected expansion into the county to include downtown Olympia and the Capitol (and other dense areas) would help ST’s relationship with the state government. It might temper the Olympia vs. Seattle conflict a bit. Sounder to Olympia is the obvious first step but I could see a place for streetcars or Tacoma Link-style rail at some point too.

      2. What would be the legalities of a locality creating a LID (I believe that is the correct term) to Pay for extended Sounder service beyond the ST bounderies? ie, Olympia, Marysville, Monroe, etc?

        Lor Scara

      3. I believe it would be legal, but they’d have to enter into an agreement with BNSF. So I don’t honestly think they could afford it.

    2. IT is waiting until the bugs get worked out.

      Chris: The issue is not whether or not IT’s fares are congruent. The issue is that the agencies in the rest of Puget Sound ignore that IT exists.

      IT is like the student in the back of the classroom that nobody talks to. You get the feeling they belong there, but don’t want to talk to them because they might have “the cooties”. The reality is that they don’t have the cooties, and they actually pay attention to the instructor, unlike the rest of the class.

      Of course, along that vein, Skagit Transit is like the celery-gnawing emo who sits next to IT and copies IT’s notes. Then proceeds to blow their parents money on an iPod and iTunes purchases, while IT has a Zune with a ZunePass.

      Brian Bradford
      Olympia, WA

      1. I’m going to show this to one of my coworkers from Lacey (I think he’ll laugh)

      2. No no, Skat is something much, much worse. Much worse indeed…

        I would have said they’re the “proud red neck” who decorates their binders with confederate flags (although they’re born and raised in Western WA) and eats lots of beef jerky. Pokes fun at all the others who seem to get work done, yet secretly longs for a more meaningful existence.

        Whatcom Transportation Authority is the vegan who skips class to watch cloud formations.

      3. I’m not referring to the general public, I’m referring to the transit system itself, its board, its management, operations staff, etc.

        Whatcom is the ditzy spazz that hangs out with the emo, much to the emo’s dismay.

        IT: Ha!
        Skat: Ah!
        WTA: Uh-Oh!

        Brian Bradford
        Olympia, WA

  3. Can I have two cards registered on the same account – one for me and one for my wife? I can’t seem to find an answer for this on the Orca website. I would prefer to manage two cards under one account.

    1. I got two cards and registered them on one account. I haven’t yet used them, but I set up AutoLoad for them. I had to set up AutoLoad for each card separately, so I think there is a separate balance for each card. I would prefer that it autoload a shared balance for both cards. Has anyone else tried this?

      1. You can definitely put two cards on one account – I tried to order two cards for two accounts, but they came linked to my original account and I don’t think they can be separated once they’re associated with an account.

  4. So what happens when Link goes live, and I haven’t gotten an Orca card from my employer yet? Will Link fare inspectors still accept a Flexpass?

    1. Yes, FlexPass will be accepted on Link until your FlexPass expires and your company transfers to ORCA Passport.

  5. When you use your ORCA to pay for multiple people, can everyone you paid for then transfer to another bus(es) without being charged again? How would that work?

    1. i just called ORCA support, and the fellow i spoke to [and his supervisor] had absolutely no idea how transfers would work using one ORCA card for multiple people, and suggested either using multiple ORCA cards, or just paying traditionally.

      1. Okay, that’s the best question I’ve heard about this all day. I’m going to call ST!

        Edit: I talked to ST, and they say that if you have a few people and pay, on the next bus, just give the driver the same information, and it will transfer all of the riders.

      2. i figured the system must work transfers out somehow, otherwise enabling multiple riders per card would be very ineffective.

        looks like it is going to take a while to get the support staff all up to speed on the more arcane aspects of the system.

        in the meantime it would be helpful if they added this information to their website’s FAQ.

      3. I was assuming that if you pay for 3 people out of your e-purse you’d just have to get a paper transfer… One assumes that once the paper transfers are phased out, everyone will have an Orca pass and you won’t have to worry. I am considering getting a second card on my account to put 20 bucks on for visitors.

  6. I saw that Oran had been checking out the TVMs and how they might be able to load a pass onto an ORCA card. However, Oran wasn’t sure if that feature is working yet. I’m going to try that out for June if it’s working by then.

  7. I’ll be saying E-wallet, thank you very much. I don’t carry a purse. Not even an E-purse. ;)

    1. C’mon – join the 21st Century; it is ok for guys to carry purses… especially and ORCA purse!

  8. Some pro-transit guy must have snuck into the Times offices and snuck that editorial into their system without anyone noticing.

    Sounds like ORCA’s not doing a terribly good job at getting info out at the moment…

    1. OK, first part belonged with another post, sorry. But I was going to say, on the topic of the actual post, that sounds like it could cause a short delay, and that could be plenty to rile whoever’s behind you, even if a bunch of different ORCA cards would be slower.

    2. Well, they haven’t done a full rollout. I don’t think they really *want* to get too much information out until they’ve worked out the kinks.

  9. Hope more locations with ORCA writers become available, it’ll be nice when places like Bartell Drugs come into the fold. At the moment commuter bonus checks are only exchangeable at agency locations. Too bad the checks are only good for monthly passes and not for the e-purse. Apparently the e-purse can be cashed out so checks aren’t accepted to prevent laundering. Maybe ORCA 2.0 will include a flag to indicate “no withdrawal”.

    1. Your employer, who gives out the checks, will likely convert to ORCA Business Choice. The checks will be replaced with e-vouchers which allows you to spend their value on passes or convert them to e-purse value. This can all be done online through the ORCAcard website. See orcacard.biz for more info on ORCA for businesses.

      1. I won’t hold my breath for my employer to switch from checks to e-vouchers, unless the checks will be phased out. I think I’m one of two or three employees at the whole company that doesn’t buy a one- or two-zone Metro pass at the grovery store across the street. They have hand-written notes on figuring my PugetPass into the system.

        Not that I’m an ingrate — I do appreciate the 50% subsidy. But they do seem to like monthly paper processing.

  10. OK, I’m ordering one right now. I have my U-Pass (which won’t have the ORCA tech for a while yet, sadly) but I wanted to get an ORCA card to use for my sisters when they visit. Still, I balked at the idea of having to get 3 or 4 cards for each potential guest that will only be used occasionally. If I can get one for family that visits and charge everyone’s fare to it, then this is pretty much perfect.

  11. So far, ORCA has worked 50% of the time for me. When it isn’t working, either the reader is actually disconnected (black), or it fails to read the card.

    Also, I contacted the ORCA people about one question I had — what happens to all-day passes? Well, you have to pay cash for those.

    I’m kind of chalking up the failures to me being an early adopter — but so far, count me as being singularly unimpressed with the implementation so far… and I was psyched about it too…

    1. I really wish that OCRA would automatically cap for bus trips so we didn’t have to worry about getting a day pass.

  12. I have the RRFP pass. It has been accepted pretty much every where I go. I did have some difficulty with it at the Edmonds ferry about 2 weeks ago but I haven’t tried it since. Sounder was fine. ET accepts my pass. Since reduced fare card holders get free fares on ET the ORCA reader says 0.00 paid when I tap it! The only time I had problems with ET was with a brand new bus which didn’t have the reader yet. I just showed the ORCA card and I was permitted entrance:). CT has been the same way. The only thing I haven’t tried is to use my .50 pass on a ST bus to make it take money out of my e-purse.

  13. So, for those of us that have a flex-pass on our company badge, when this expires, will the company be able to put orca functionality on the existing badge, or is this another card to carry around? (MS badges are already RFID badges that allow payment for cafeteria, building access, etc. Just wondering how extensible this is.)

    1. The badge works differently – it’s a passive form of RFID, it just spits out a number, as I understand it. MS is a much, much simpler system overall, where all the readers can be hardwired into a network. Getting every bus onto a network at once would be very difficult, so the badge retains quite a bit of information. Our badges can’t do that, as far as I know.

      1. I personally hope it’s a separate card. I generally don’t carry my badge unless I’m at work. When I don’t start my trip using transit, 7 times out of 10 I forget it at home and have to scrounge up change for the ride back. :( I’d rather have a card that I just always carry in my wallet.

        But I did just have a thought…buy an ORCA card with some cash on it for my gf who rarely takes transit except when with me. It’s easier than always getting coins together. I’m sure it’s what she’s always wanted. ;)

  14. I ride the 358 or the 5, mostly on weekends. So far, Orca has worked only half the time. I’m amazed they are behind schedule with implementation, and still successful operation is a hit and miss event. I know it’s complex, but the contracted company has done this kind of thing before. I really expected more.

    And I am secure enough to have an e-purse on mine. I’m a man of the 21st century.

  15. So I had my brother out here for the whole week! (change of plans from before)

    It’s been ages (it seems) since I’ve flashed my Microsoft ID since I enjoy ORCA (what else would you expect from a geek?). Showed him around the region from Steilacoom to Everett and got him a registered ORCA (since I want him to visit often).

    I had fun trying to explain why only some buses on the Olympia Express work (the PT buses and not the IT buses). I like the explanation listed above better than my “they’re not in the 4 county area” (think I will take it into work tomorrow).

    There were a few hiccups with ORCA (that’s why I keep a 75 cent Puget Pass, my RRFP ORCA, and my Microsoft ID all handy until the kinks are fully worked out), but it’s been smooth for the past couple of weeks. So far, I’m happy with the system and look forward to not having an emergency pass.

  16. So far I’ve tried my Orca 2x, the first time the driver didn’t understand that I wanted a one zone trip when it was set to two zones, so he just waved me on.

    The second time the reader was out, so free trip.

    It looks like they still have a number of kinks and training issues.

  17. What have delivery times been like? I know someone that ordered theirs on Apr 20 and got it just a few days later. I ordered a second one online sometime around the 27th and still haven’t gotten it yet. (First card I picked up at Westlake).

  18. my orca card works about 50% of the time as well.

    -being able to re-up the card on the web and track my trips there is pretty awesome
    -it’s nice not to have to carry around a coupon book or cash

    -doesn’t work half the time
    -slooooow read times.
    -it would be helpful to have something like a red or orange circle in the place nearest to where you’re supposed to wave the card. like moths, many bus riders seem attracted to the light of the LED display (see below)
    -whose brilliant idea was having LED display be about 3 square inches at knee-level with no upward pitch? i find myself craning my neck on the non low-floor buses trying to read the thing.

    i hope metro can get the readers to a much higher level of reliability than i’m seeing now. the free rides are nice but also generally occur after a bit of boarding/deboarding stress when the card doesn’t work. i’m not really interested in debating the finer points of fare policy, but it seems like maybe we could have taken this as an opportunity to optimize and simplify fare payment so we have a system that’s got less than a multi-day learning curve.

    this also would be an excellent opportunity to start a small concession selling stickers that go on orca cards as part of a transit culture incubation of sorts. the orca cards are not disposable and are pretty bland and could easily get mixed up. i put a sticker on my card so i could recognize it (or describe it if i lost it) – i imagine others may do the same once more and more people start using the thing.

  19. Some notes from my use:

    Out of the ten to fifteen times I use it in a week, I get one failure per week now(most of them are on one bus in particular – haven’t seen that bus this week yet).

    I also picked up a card for my nephew (he’ll turn six in October) and I put his name on it.

    One time I was on Route 555, and the driver changed the reader from 2-zone to 1-zone when he left Montlake.

    My ride on a CT bus took two days to show up in the transaction history.

    When looking at the transaction history of my card, it took me a few seconds to figure out “00:43 PM.”

  20. I asked my 10 driver for a two-zone transfer when I tapped the ORCA this morning and he handed me a paper transfer. He said, just show this to the 194 driver.

    1. why the paper transfer? if you move from a one zone to a two zone it should just charge you the difference on the second trip when you tap in.

  21. I got converted to ORCA when my monthly PugetPass came this month. I use it almost exclusively on Sounder.

    Read times seem very slow, leading to errors if I take the card away too fast. ORCA support said it sounded like a defective card, but other users on my route report the same experience, so I haven’t tried replacing my card yet.

    There aren’t enough card readers at Sounder stations for a full roll-out, I hope that gets fixed before usage increases.

    At both Auburn and Kent, there’s no reader near the northern entrances to the platforms, so anyone wanting to ride on those cars has to walk two car-lengths up the platform, scan in, then walk back to the car. Repeat that getting off the train in the evening, walk two car lengths to the reader then back again to leave the station.

    It’s not a big deal with limited usage, but what happens when all the pass users on three cars try to line up for one card-reader and still make their connecting bus? Even if they all get a successful read the first time, it looks like it’s going to be quite a bottleneck, and I’ll be wading through the crowd with a bicycle….

    1. The readers really should be in the train. I don’t understand why they insist on putting them on the platform.

      1. Readers on the train would make sense to me, but I imagine they want to move people through the train doors as fast as possible — they’d rather have a big backup on the platform than delay the train with a small backup on board.

        But if they really plan on wide adoption, they should have at least one reader at each landing, so people can scan in when they get in line for the train, and scan out as they leave the train, without forcing braided trails of foot traffic back and forth along the platform.

      2. Readers also cost thousands of dollars each. Putting them on the trains would require a reader at each door (unless you want everyone to go out the same door). That would be 4 per car and potentially 28 per train.

  22. When I read the blog entries about ORCA, I always wonder how many employees from Sound Transit read them. Are we their guinee pigs as we learn things that hard way???

  23. A tip: If you’re transiting downtown Seattle on Metro with an ORCA E-purse and you transfer within the ride free area, board at the front and TAP YOUR CARD WHEN YOU ENTER. The driver will undoubtedly protest, but I’ve found that this is the only sure way to avoid being charged for two trips. Just assure him/her that you will pay when exiting.

    The system is apparently designed with Link in mind, and with the distance-based fares on Link you are expected to tap in at your departure station and tap out again at your arrival station. I guess the designers do not actually ride the bus, so they assumed that people would tap in when boarding a bus in the RFA, which isn’t the case for about half the riders on a given bus. When a glaringly obvious error occurs, getting a refund initiated by ORCA and processed by Metro is an excessively difficult and drawn out process. Consider yourself warned!

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