A number of ex-Seattle P-I employees have put together a new local news site, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it – the Seattle PostGlobe.

They raise an interesting point or two about ORCA this morning, but I think the piece overall has a lot of needless hand-wringing. From the article:

But bus drivers predict they’ll cause delays and problems collecting fares.

And maybe even accidents.

Seriously? Most of their complaint is that if a rider boards a two-zone bus and wants to only ride for one zone, the driver must change the ORCA reader to one zone. They’ll have to know to do that, or they’ll be charged the two zone fare, and perhaps demand the poor driver reverse the transaction.

For starters, if I’m not mistaken, most people boarding two zone buses are either free ride, or planning to cross a zone boundary. I don’t think this is going to be a big deal – everyone who makes this mistake will have a $1 wake-up call. For most people, this will happen once.

ORCA is largely opt-in. If you get a pass from your employer in the form of an ORCA, you won’t be doing anything differently than you do with a pugetpass today. ORCA e-purse users will be largely opt-in, and will be repeat riders. I expect the overlap between ORCA users and inexperienced riders to be quite small. It seems to me that if someone knows to tap in, they’ll also know to check for the number of zones first.

I know several drivers read here – do any of you expect big issues? How hard is it to cancel a transaction? Is it a pain in the butt to set the fare default?

108 Replies to “Seattle PostGlobe Agonizing Over ORCA”

  1. I’d point the finger more at the ATU than the Post-Globe. Public-sector unions are not my favorite things.

    1. I can’t think of anything specific that would be a major beef with the ATU. Now the Inland Boatman’s Union; different story. With boats, railroads and planes (I know, pilots and RR workers aren’t really public sector) there’s been a big fight over eliminating positions replaced by technology; the caboose, the three person cockpit, etc. With the ferries one of the major reasons food service got cut is the requirement that cafeteria workers be covered by union benefits.

      1. The contract for all Metro operators and maintenance personnel is available online at the ATU 587 web site. If you see some evidence of “greed” in that contract – by all means, feel free to point it out.

        I know durn few bus drivers living in Magnolia or out on Yarrow point.

    2. While the union can be a focal point for getting people all wound up on negatives, many of the concerns raised are legitimate. While I don’t think that the sky will fall and ultimately that the ORCA system has a lot of potential, it’s an “in addition to” rather than an “instead of”, so drivers on busy downtown to urban neighborhood routes in particular have some pretty legitimate concerns.

  2. I’d say a better approach for multizone would be a swipe-on-swipe-off approach. You swipe on, and you’re immediately charged for the ride to the end of the line, and if you leave before that, you swipe on your way out, and are refunded the difference. Perhaps allow cards to go somewhat negative to avoid the “I know there’s only $3 on the card… I’m only going 1 zone.” issue.

    Mind you, multi-zone systems are generally intimidating to new riders, as opposed to say, NYC where you pretty much know it’s $2/trip, no matter how far you’re going. You pay on the way in, and you’re done.

    1. I like to board at the back door if possible. I usually get a better seat. Installing a reader at the back door would cost more than $200 per coach.

      1. Rear-door boarding isn’t allowed in many of the world’s largest systems. New York, Paris (if memory serves), and especially(!!!) London, all have front-boarding only (with exception only for their articulated – “bendy” – buses). Accordingly, the rear doors are exit-only. This would greatly reduce boarding delays. (Wheelchair passengers are excepted, of course.)

      2. Rear door boarding – even with a reader back there – also prevents the driver from responding to read errors, refunds, etc.

        On light rail however, you’ll be able to swipe your reader at the platform.

        One solution to a lot of hullabaloo that drivers have fairly consistently promoted are the idea of standardizing fare structures, including the elimination of zones. Apparently the number-crunching (inconvenience, hidden costs etc.) haven’t born out this as sound economic strategy.

      3. A flat fare discourages shorter trips and subsidizes longer trips, which usually cost more to operate. Having a single fare also makes fare increases much more sensitive to riders. The base fare would likely have to be raised to recover lost revenue from eliminating zones. Next year, it’ll already cost more to ride Metro than to ride Link in many cases. How does that make any sense? When Link is estimated to recover 52% of operating costs by 2016 while Metro’s farebox recovery is ~20%. The graduated fare structure’s ability to generate more revenue no doubt influenced Sound Transit’s decision.

        All door boarding (for ORCA holders) will be practiced on Metro for RapidRide with fare inspectors. If the results are favorable, the program should be expanded to reduce the need for drivers to deal with fares.

      4. > A flat fare discourages shorter trips and subsidizes longer trips,

        Well, from a “save the planet” perspective subsidizing longer trips that would have been SOV is good. From a current transit users point of view, not so much.

        > Next year, it’ll already cost more to ride Metro than to ride Link in many cases. How does that make any sense?

        It doesn’t except that Link needs to make really high ridership to justify the existence of ST and it’s rail/capital spending agenda.

        >When Link is estimated to recover 52% of operating costs by 2016 while Metro’s farebox recovery is ~20%.

        Remember apples and oranges? Operating costs are nothing compared to the financing costs of Link. If the payments on expenditures was figured in Link would be way more expensive per ride.

        > All door boarding (for ORCA holders) will be practiced on Metro for RapidRide with fare inspectors.

        First, labor is the big cost of transit (something I learned here). It’s pretty hard to recover enough lost revenue to justify a fare inspector. Why is it so hard to use the doors we have? Tonight we (as in half the bus) wanted to get off the back on the 255 at South Kirkland. No can do. I’m hearing how great these “rapid ride” buses are because of the extra door yet we can’t seem to use the doors we already have???

      5. The 255! I’ve been taking its late night trips more recently lately. It’s Metro policy to let everyone exit through the front door only after 7 pm because of Safety. Of course, some drivers have exceptions.

        Fare inspectors are widely used in Europe on buses and trains. It was first successfully used in San Diego’s light rail system and every U.S. light rail system since. Portland tried it in the 1980s on buses and it wasn’t as successful. The cost (fare enforcement, fare equipment) did not justify the benefits (reduced dwell time, less operator involvement, more graduated fare) and the implementation was poor from the start (faulty validators and lax enforcement). Cultural differences might also account for that. RapidRide is different. It’s limited to a single corridor with limited stops, more like a rail line.

        > Operating costs are nothing compared to the financing costs of Link.

        It might be true but look at who has a huge hole in their operating budget and how are they going to mitigate that hole? With a 20% service reduction. Unlike Sound Transit, Metro spends much more money in operations than in capital projects. Financing costs are a one time deal, once it’s paid off. Operations are not.

    2. Sound Transit’s doing the tap in and tap off for Link and Sounder distance-based fares. It can be done on buses, like in Singapore where bus fares are distance-based but readers need to be installed and fare enforcement must be increased.

      For people with Autoload set up on their ORCA, going negative is not a problem as money is refilled instantly. I did it once and it works.

      1. It is my understanding (from conversations with Metro employees) that it is possible to use the tap in and tap off option with an ORCA card for buses, as well as Link and Sounder trains. If the reader is set for two zones and you are only travelling in one zone, you should be able to tap in and then tap off when getting off the bus and only get charged for one zone. Has anyone tried this?

      2. This is what I thought. Since link will rely on distance-based fares with a tap-in tap-out procedure (DC Metro works the same way), the accounting should already be built into the ORCA system. Is it just a matter of making life easier for bus operators, who don’t want the passengers to take twice as long entering and exiting? Having rear entrance, while unusual, does definitely speed up the boarding process during rush hour downtown. Even rear exit would be a problem, since the driver would need to monitor all passengers coming and going, rather than just one or the other.

      3. ORCA training and the ORCA manual provided to drivers does not included this option. The system may indeed have the ability to do this (makes sense to me), but that isn’t what drivers are being trained to do when collecting fares.

        If you tried that in fact – you’d most likely just get charged twice, as the only place you normally “tap in” (pay as you enter) is inbound to downtown Seattle or outside the city limits travelling in the County; and the only place you normally “tap out” is if you board within the ride free area or a bus heading out of the downtown area.

      4. Good point. Would depend on the length of the trip (don’t know too many bus rides that go over 2 hours, so probably a moot point).

        At any rate – it wouldn’t serve the purpose of charging a 2-zone fare. Certainly should and probably could tho.

      5. It’s not only possible to tap in and tap off, it’s _mandatory_ if you’re transiting downtown Seattle on Metro with an ORCA E-purse. If you transfer within the ride free area, board at the front and TAP YOUR CARD WHEN YOU BOARD. 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.

        I have been charged for two separate fares on Metro (non-peak, Sunday) within an hour an 15 minutes of each other, tap on to tap off. When a glaringly obvious error like this occurs, getting a refund initiated by ORCA and processed by Metro is an excessively difficult and drawn out process.

    3. This might be ok as long as the data can be cached on the ORCA device itself. If you can stop the automated service from having to handle negative transactions, you significantly reduce chances of error (due to the elimination of boundary conditions). Also, considering the sheer volume of data and transactions going on, reducing the amount of times the ORCA device needs to call home will be very important to ensure reliability.

      1. The on-board ORCA reader only calls home when the bus returns to base, using a Wi-Fi like system. The current radio system does not have the capability to do real-time transactions while the bus is en route. That’s why it takes some time for your balance to update on the website and why remotely adding money to the card takes at least 24 hours. Most of ORCA’s functions are done on the card itself.

      2. The card stores your last 10 transactions. This is how transfer credit is calculated.

  3. I take a two zone bus in only one zone on a regular basis. I would say it’s a lack of driver training then anything else. They never seem to know what to do.

    1. It’s not a lack of driver training. I retired off trolleys a couple of years ago, and the ORCA training lasted nearly all day, back then. It’s a pretty complicated setup, with multiple screens and pages of options for the driver to fuss with. You walk out ‘knowing everything’, and then a week later forget about 90% of the options you rarely use, and only know the routine stuff you do everyday.
      I can’t think of any drivers that go home and study, study, study.
      ORCA bugs will work themselves out, just like any other new system, and when in doubt, the driver can just wave you on in with a smile.

      1. No, the training is fine, it’s the lack of ability to put it into practice.

        This may come as a shock – but operating a commuter bus is a complicated operation. How many cashiers do you know that load, drive, back up, unload and perform on the spot repairs to the trucks that deliver the groceries to the store that they check out groceries at?

        At any rate – dealing with the day-to-day of operating a multi-ton vehicle through rush hour traffic while dealing with all manner of passengers is challenging all on it’s own. Toss in training on a fairly sophisticated wireless financial transaction system in a population of folks whose ages range from 25-75 years old, and you may just have a few growing pains.

        The large barrier right now – as was pointed out – is the disconnect between training and practice. Until use of the card rises, dealing with transactions won’t become routine. This isn’t an issue of ignorance, incompetence or poor training – but simply of practice.

    2. You can take care of this yourself by presetting your own ORCA card to only deduct a one-zone fare. The driver won’t have to do anything different.

      1. I just tried that. ORCA allows you to specify your preferred zone. For KC the choices are Zone 1 or Zone 2. The same for ST, but with a Zone 3 added. But looking at both the KC and ST websites, I don’t see a labeled zone map saying which zone is 1 verses 2. Am I just reading this wrong and they mean preferred number of zones? Because that’s not what it seems to say.

      2. I assumed “zone 1” and “zone 2” meant one zone and two zones, which is how Metro/ST have always worked. But the labeling is misleading, and there are certainly no zone numbers that the public is aware of.

      3. I used to have my ORCA preset to one zone on Metro, two zone on ST, as those are my usual riding patterns, but then I imagined these scenarios:

        (1) I ride two zones on a Metro bus which has its reader set to two zones. I tap, it charges me for one zone, and I have to tell the driver to change that transaction to two zones instead of one. He says, “It’s already set to two zones, ya git.” “Yes, but my card just reset it to one zone.” “Why are you making my life difficult? #%@#!”

        (2) Or, I ride one zone on an ST bus, the reader is set to two zones, I tell the driver to set it to one zone, I tap and my card changes it to two zones, and I have to tell the driver to change it back to one zone again.

        Better to tell the driver to change the reader as needed, I think, than to have my card changing the amount charged, and me having to tell him to change it back. Less frustration for all that way.

      4. You’re assuming that the driver can reverse a charge or lower it after it’s been tapped. Can he?

      5. Why would a card change the reader setting? Seems to me that it should transact for your card and revert to the setting set by the driver if different.

        Who designs these things?


    3. I do too! I ride 345/346 from near NSCC to the Northgate TC to transfer to the 41 almost daily. I’m well within the bounds of 1 zone and I really hope that when my card transfers over I don’t start getting dinged for the extra fare! I’ve noticed ORCA carriers feeding the farebox an extra 50 cents because they have $2.00 flat fee Puget Pass style fare loaded on their ORCA to ride about 5 stops to the transit center within 1-zone bounds.

      On the other hand a friend of mine that is a driver said ORCA is a great deal right now because half the time it doesn’t work and you don’t get charged. Save a few bucks.

      1. They probably didn’t know that they can have an e-purse loaded on the ORCA along with a pass to cover the extra fare.

      2. “On the other hand a friend of mine that is a driver said ORCA is a great deal right now because half the time it doesn’t work and you don’t get charged. Save a few bucks.”

        I am noticing this. At first I found it entertaining, but I’m still finding 1/4-1/3 of my rides are free, which makes me feel like Metro didn’t do a very good job of getting the hardware ready.

    4. Funny, I would say that it’s PASSENGERS – even those that ride the bus regularly – that “never seem to know what to do”.

      At any rate – until the ORCA system is being used regularly (I see it used maybe once or twice per day and as often as not it’s a disabled pass or a pass issued to County employees that doesn’t charge at all), then dealing with transactions won’t be “routine”.

      It isn’t a question of whether the training is valid – it’s whether it’s been able to have been put into practice regularly enough to be automatic knowledge.

      I’d love to know what YOU do for a living, and how your employer gets folks up to speed on new tasks.

  4. Maybe I’m spoiled with my U-Pass, but I didn’t know anything about zones before I got my ORCA card. I learned what they are but don’t pay attention to them because I don’t use my ORCA card.

  5. Some routes are prone to being used one-zone within the Seattle area (eg, 120), and a LOT of routes are prone to being used one-zone outside the Seattle area (eg, 150, maybe 372, and more 2xxes than you can count). Not every two-zone route is an express.

    1. I agree there’s a fair amount of one-zone use of two-zone buses, especially UW buses like the 372 – I just don’t think it’s going to be a huge deal. Everyone will have their one experience, and two weeks later all will be right… :)

      Plus, a lot of those one-zone users will have u-passes!

      1. I think it’s mainly just a few routes that have a major destination in Seattle before heading to the ‘burbs. So the 120, 358, and 522 (which stop in White Center, Aurora, and Lake City respectively). It rarely happens on the Eastside buses or most of the expresses.

  6. My first experience with Orca involved the bus driver not being sure whether I paid (I wasn’t sure either – it showed my balance, so I assumed it meant I paid). And the bus I transferred to deducted an extra 50cents even though my destination and transfer took place in Seattle (oh so that’s what zone 2 means, I thought, but I’m not in Zone 2).

    There appears to be a learning curve with Orca – for users and bus drivers. I look forward to using it with Link – though, I’m still fuzzy on how I will prove I “tapped on” with my Orca card when checked by a fare inspector.

    1. The fare inspector will have an ORCA reader pad on them – you’ll tap his reader to show you’ve paid. And even then, I think they’ll be VERY lenient for quite some time.

  7. I suspect the transition from Metro passes to Orca is going to cause mass confusion for everyone. If a bus rider wants to transfer to the train, the train will not accept the bus pass as fare, only Orca. And the fare on Orca will be Total Fare – Bus Fare. When I talked to transit people a couple of months ago, they had no answers for how the reverse would work (Train > Bus).

    I anticipate chaos for at least the first few months.

    1. I doubt it – not with phased rollout. Some companies are doing it next month, some are doing it as late as next year.

    2. Train to bus is pretty simple: your train fare covers your bus fare as long as it is less than your train fare. If you paid (x) dollars into the system, than you can transfer free of charge for two hours (just like if you bought a ticket from the TVM).

    3. For bus to train fares, just purchase an pass/transfer upgrade fare at the TVM. That’s the way it’s been done for years on Sounder and it’ll be the same for Link.

  8. Never had any problems with my ORCA card yet. Works prefectly on the Sounder, ST buses, Metro. Haven’t tried it on Community Transit yet. None of the drivers seemed surprised or clueless. Most are curious to see someone finally using it.

    My ORCA is certainly more fun to use than the FlexPass! Can’t wait until my annual FlexPass is replaced by ORCA.

  9. Just wait ’till you have to do something like ride the 592 from 512 P/R to DuPont. The farebox is preset to 3 zones, so you have to tell the driver to set up for 1 zone for your orca card. This takes about a minute as the driver goes through the menus and figures out which buttons to push. Meanwhile, the 15 passengers behind you are getting hot under the collar because you are holding them up.

    I know this because it happened to me.

    1. That can be loads of fun (my dad lives in DuPont and I hate going down there due to lack of bus service)

    2. I know this experience! This happened to me as well on CT in Everett. The array of menu options the driver was acrolling through was dizzying! He eventaully gave up and waved me through.

  10. I just tried to pay for myself and someone else today (which I did a couple weeks ago) but the driver had no idea how to do it and didn’t even seem to understand that ORCA was more than a pass…

    1. Thanks for mentioning this. I just got my orca card last week and plan to use it for multiple riders in the future, now I’ll be prepared for delays with confused bus operators.
      Related: can the orca card be used to pay a fare for a dog? I figure it’s a full adult fare, so it should work, but I couldn’t find anything concrete on the orca website.

      1. I don’t see why not (of course you might get some weird looks from confused bus drivers)

      2. Yeah, that’s kind of what I expect. I’ll probably bring the pooch’s fare in cash, just in case.

      3. If it’s a dog big enough to take up a passenger seat, and is not a “service animal”, it’s supposed to pay the same as an adult fare, and yes – you can use your ORCA card so long as it’s the debit type rather than just a pass type.

        Personally if you board my bus with a dog I tend to presume it’s a service animal unless told otherwise. Sound Transit rules are a bit more stringent about that sort of thing and there’s the usual driver inconsistency (sorry about that – it’s kind of the nature of the beast as we as drivers deal with a lot of passenger inconsistency) where some will ask for a fare and some not.

        Me, I think that charging doggies to ride is silly.

      4. “If it’s a dog big enough to take up a passenger seat … .”

        But on Metro it is strictly forbidden for the dog to be on the seat. On the floor, or in the owner’s arms, but never on the seat. We do not want to sit on a seat that just felt the kiss of some feces-encrusted dog anus.

        That having been said, dog owners being dog owners, about two-thirds of the time I see a dog on the bus, it is on the seat. And since the dog owner has a loaded weapon, i.e., a dog, pointed at me, I am loathe to point out to him his violation of the rules.

      5. We do not want to sit on a seat that just felt the kiss of some feces-encrusted dog anus.

        I’m as surprised as any that non service dogs are allowed on a bus but… wearing pants would seem to overcome your objection. My wash regime wouldn’t be effected one way or the other based on dog vs human prior seat use. In fact, faced with the choice I’d opt for the unknown dog feces vs the unknown human variety. I guess Lucy Van Pelt has accustomed us to an unwarranted obsession about DOG GERMS

      6. Seattleites (and San Franciscans) are lucky to be allowed to bring their pet dogs on the bus at all! Most American transit systems don’t allow dogs unless they’re service dogs or in a carrier.

  11. We have my wife’s ORCA preset for one zone, but the reader charged us $5.25 this weekend. Turns out the last people to get on had 3 trips on one ORCA and I guess the reader has to be reset to the correct number every time which is too bad but understandable.

    1. Exactly the sort of kink that should be worked out with time. Either drivers will begin to switch it themselves, or a software update to the readers could set it to default to one rider after multiple-rider tap-ins.

    2. Hmmm… That’s not how it worked in training. You setup a group fare which would charge for the group on one ORCA card. After that the system should return to the default. Unless something has changed since I went through training, it sounds like the group fare didn’t get charged to the first card.

  12. I’m a bit confused about the logic of the two drivers’ argument. Onboard buses, you only tap your ORCA card once–whenever it is that payment is collected–end of the ride, beginning of the ride, whatever. Seems to me that even now, under the described scenario, someone could board the bus and pay the wrong cash fare just as easily as this so-called ORCA mis-payment.

    Bottom line is that the PostGlobe piece is just one side of the story, and it fully admits it is not the official union stance, only the opinion expressed by two very vocal members.

    And, bottom line, this kind of learning curve issue is exactly why the multi-agency ORCA card program is being phased in slowly. It gives the drivers an opportunity to train and create some new habits with the new system, so that it should all be old hat by the time all of the thousands of pass users out there are switched to ORCA cards.

    1. The union has no official position on ORCA for a variety of reasons (as I see it). It isn’t a contract issue, nor is it a priority for upcoming negotiations. It’s one of those realities of changing technology and the system that we as drivers generally expect to have to adapt to.

      The role of the union has been mostly as a sounding board – and multiple sides of the issue have been heard from as I read it in the ATU newsletters (which you cand read too on the ATU 587 web site).

      ORCA represents a pretty big change as it for the first time (save the ill-fated attempt at on-board wireless internet access) extends wireless financial transactions to the everyday user with a requirement for driver intervention to aid in the transaction.

      Change – for good or for evil – generally encounters some sort of resistance. Seems to be not a factor of unions, government, blue-collar bus-monkeys or the unwashed (or washed) masses we serve, but of humanity in general. Go figure.

      When I hear a driver kvetching about ORCA, I remind them of what my grandfather (who was a driver for 43 years) tells me: they used to have to carry and make change for people.

  13. Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if they make it difficult to collect fares, since they have a higher nonfunctioning rate than fare boxes (so far), plus a tendency of drivers to forget to reset them to non-free mode after they leave the free zone.

    I don’t see how it could cause accidents, though. Especially since the bus is not supposed to be moving if there is someone in front of the yellow line.

    (Not that Metro drivers are ever remotely concerned about how safely they drive.)

    I could have sworn that one of the buttons on the ORCA boxes was so that you (i.e. the rider) could indicate that you want to pay a different fare?

    1. Yes, What exactly are the three buttons for on the ORCA card reader? Has anyone seen anything written about them and how they might be used by the passenger?

      1. they’re just lights. when you tap in, one turns green. if it’s out of order, a red and a yellow one are lit. when you win the $10,000 prize, they flash.

      2. There are no buttons on the ORCA card reader – just three indicator lights.

        All input puttons are on the driver’s DDU (Digital Display Unit).

    2. I am a Metro driver and I am profoundly concerned about how safely I drive.

      Why go out of your way to be insulting? I and many of my fellow drivers are hard-working, caring, even college educated folks with prior careers in other fields. Take some time to get to know a few of us if you dare – or you might start by not assuming we’re not reading your comments here online.

      And no – there is no button on the ORCA box that customers can access at all. Other than tapping your card on the reader, it’s completely passive on your end.

    3. (Not that Metro drivers are ever remotely concerned about how safely they drive ~romulus.)

      I’d think you’d be on constant fear for your life, and never ride the bus, if this was the case. Human nature is self-preservation, and the driver is a person just like you, or have you forgotten that?

      1. Not to mention genuinely interested in the welfare of fellow human beings and if I can be flat-out vulgar, our jobs. How could one possibly be an operator of a transit vehicle and not be “remotely concerned about how safely they drive”? Sheesh. A driver who genuinely had that view wouldn’t last 5 minutes on 4th avenue during the moring rush. Unlikely that they’d ever make it out of the base. That comment makes us sound like sociopathic homocidal maniacs for heaven’s sake.

    4. (Not that Metro drivers are ever remotely concerned about how safely they drive.)

      Um… Perhaps your brush is a tad wide? There are at least a few of us, possibly even a large majority, who would prefer to make it through our day without running over a pedestrian, throwing a passenger to the floor, or crushing some bozo in a BMW who cuts us off and slams on their brakes.

      1. Hey, Velo,

        I’m looking to enhance driver to driver contacts online. Could you check out the Google group I created (click my name link) and possibly tweet it to your followers? Not much traffic at the mo, but good potential.

  14. I’d argue that this isn’t a problem with ORCA but the fare structure. Just because ORCA can accommodate multi-zone, peak vs. off-peak pricing, distance based fares, etc. doesn’t mean that they should be used.

    While I doubt it will cause accidents, the fare structure is needlessly complex for passengers, not to mention anyone visiting from areas with simple fare structures.

    Maybe the average fare should be raised and standardized, except for Sounder and possibly Link?

    I also agree with Tim’s comments above about rear door boarding/alighting. I spent quite a bit of time in Chicago and the CTA and Pace bus systems are surprisingly simple to use compared to Metro.

    Speaking of which… how does boarding work with Pierce Transit? I’ve taken Sounder and the express bus to Tacoma but haven’t actually been on a Pierce Transit bus.

    1. PT is always pay-as-you-enter EXCEPT for 590 series (Seattle Express; yeah I’m a nit-pick about which agency operates which ST buses). So far, my experience on PT hasn’t been any different than riding a pay-as-you-enter Metro bus

      As far as fare goes is it’s always $1.75 adult/$0.75 youth/disabled/senior and there’s no Fare Zones or Peak Fare

      1. I use my ORCA card on PT pretty much exclusively. Its a great system for me, i have found the spot in my wallet where i can just hold my wallet up the the reader and it beeps happily. i no longer feel like a tool holding up the bus while i fumble for my counted out change for the fare. And i no longer have to carry a ton of quarters.

        I’ve used it to get to Seattle a couple of times, and it has never failed to pay the correct amount. I’ve gone north via bus and Sounder. Its bloody convenient if you ask me.

    2. Chicago MTA has a flat rate regardless of distance, like New York. Although to be fair, neither goes into the suburbs where the highest cost and lowest ridership is. (Chicago’s goes slightly into the suburbs, but not very far.)

      1. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is part of the larger Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and have a couple of fare structure systems, depending on which leg of the system you’re on and how you pay. However, buses and L trains all take the same fare cards and don’t do distance-based fares. The commuter rail, Metra, does do distance-based fares and does not take any of the same fare cards as the L and buses. CTA buses and trains have routes that operate to nearby suburbs but always have a terminus in Chicago. PACE buses extend outward to far suburbs, and Metra goes the furthest, extending into neighboring counties and even Wisconsin and Indiana.

    3. Oops… In my original message I meant to say I agreed with downintacoma’s comments about rear door boarding/alighting.

      Anyhow, thanks for all the info about Pierce Transit’s boarding/payment process. Do they allow the rear door to be used for exiting in the evening?

      1. On Pierce Transit buses the rear door is typically rider activated. When the bus stops at a stop, a green light above the rear door comes on and you can push the door open by yourself without yelling “BACK DOOR!”. The door automatically closes after a few seconds.

        Don’t know why Metro doesn’t do this for pay as you board buses when some of the buses already have this feature.

      2. Thanks Oran… Yeah, that would be nice and sounds like lots of systems I’ve been on before.

  15. I’m a little disturbed that the driver has to do anything at all; seems to me, one of the advantages of the ORCA system is that it should calculate correct fares automatically, and leave the driver to drive. I’d think $200 per bus to allow tap-on/tap-off would be cheaper than all the training.

    I thought the ORCA system was going to automate this all.

    1. Still waiting on GPS, as ORCA can’t completely automate (for zones, fares, etc.) until it knows where the bus is. All issues around drivers having to enter inputs (aside from paying for multiple passengers) center around the lack of GPS and GPS integration with the system – still not due for another year or two.

      1. Do you know if they’re planning on automating things further once the GPS hardware is installed fleetwide?

      2. My understanding (limited as I’m hardly in the loop) is that GPS integration will allow not only realtime tracking of buses by dispatch for security, scheduling and user convenience, but integration for the purpose of enhancing on-board services such as ORCA automation and automated stop announcements as well.

        We shall see. The technology is available, the question is whether the funding will flow given economic sluggishness and whether the technological innovations can overcome the already somewhat familiar barricades of bureaucratic process and multi-interest meddling.

  16. Seee, this is the advantage of operating (driving) the light rail trains, no ORCA, no fares, no transfers, and a door between me and the passengers!

    1. “…and a door between me and the passengers!”

      But the stupid ones will hit the Emergency Intercom asking for directions (it happened Saturday on the SLUT)

      1. Don’t those things come with a huge warning that there’s a penalty for misuse? The new ones they installed on Sounder make it pretty clear with a huge sticker surrounding the button.


      2. The problem is some people don’t see asking for directions as “misuse”.

      3. We were heading northbound on Westlake coming up on Thomas and they were asking if the SLUT went to UW (UW proper, as opposed to the Medicine Station)

        You bet the operator wanted to chew them out (but held his tongue). They eventually went over towards Fairview after a passenger told them to “catch the 70 on Fairview”

      4. The stupid ones asking for directions? I hope you mean the passengers… “Dude, just stay on the tracks.”

      5. I had to press the button to get off the SLUT last week. It stopped at the 9th & Denny station but the doors didn’t open, the green light didn’t go on, and pressing the door button did nothing. I signaled the driver and said I wanted to get off but the door wouldn’t open, and he let me off at the next station.

      6. (“…and a door between me and the passengers!” ~Doug)

        (But the stupid ones will hit the Emergency Intercom asking for directions (it happened Saturday on the SLUT)~Jessica)

        Let’s be generous and refer to them as ignorant, not stupid. The PEI (Passenger Emergency Intercom) on light rail trains is for just that, emergencies. However, the professional light rail operator will politely point that out, and then answer the question as best he/she can. : )

    2. Doug,

      Where do I sign up?

      Actually I like the passengers a lot (even on the goofy routes). If it weren’t for having to deal with fares and all about just providing good customer service and a safe ride – things would undoubtedly be smoother for all.

  17. It is a discussion like this that make me grateful that my RRFP ORCA when used at Metro is .50 regardless of zone or time of day!

  18. My opinion – given the headlines on this day in the Seattle Times, it was a slow news day there also.

  19. Changing from 1-zone to 2-zone requires taking one’s eyes pretty much completely off of the road and pushing 3 different buttons a total of 4 times – the “Change Zone” button, the up or down arrow button (to select “Ride Free”, “One Zone” or “Two Zone”) and the “OK” button.

    The designers could have made it much easier by using two of the unused buttons on the DDU so that ONE button press would flip between Ride Free and Outside Ride Free, and a ONE press of a different button on the main screen would flip between One Zone and Two Zone (Sound transit zones are even more complicated).

    So yes – it is another eyes off the road distraction with too many button presses, and the non-automated factor will create many errors. Think of how many people that drivers wave in during busy board times as people fumble with their change at the fare box. Now make that pocket change “virtual” and make the driver issue refunds for mistakes. The concerns are real. Right now – few ORCA users to test.

    1. Jeff, thanks for your comments.

      It definitely sounds like the user interface for those readers could have been designed a lot better. I hope the issues will be fixed with time.

  20. Another ORCA issue that I’ve encountered that has nothing to do with driver training, user unfamiliarity, zone complications etc. but is a flat-out BUG.

    Several times since installation and activation, the ORCA card reader has simply declared itself “Out of Service” and shut down for no apparent reason. These shutdowns don’t appear to be associated (as far as I can tell) with any change, transaction, or interaction with the device whatsoever. This morning, the one on my bus shut down as I passed the EMP at 5th and Broad. I’m sure that Paul Allen had nothing to do with it.

    At any rate – the only way to bring ORCA back online is to stop the bus, shut it down completely (this goes for diesels, trolleys or hybrids), and reboot the system.

    Rebooting the system by the way involves getting out of the bus, accessing the battery shutoff switch under a panel on the side of the bus, and using a large switch to disconnect the battery for 20-30 seconds.

    Needless to say – re-setting the system this way while in service is “inconvenient” to say the least. End result – the driver (if they know to do this) has to wait until a layover to perform the reboot. Meanwhile, ORCA riders ride for free. Everyone else pays.

    Design flaw #862: no way to reboot the system without completely shutting power down to the entire coach.

  21. I know that this eliminates back door usage, but why not scan when you enter the bus and then scan when you leave? If you don’t scan when you leave, you get charged the full 2 zone fare, otherwise, you only pay for what you travel? This is how the Metro (subway) in DC and BART in SF are operated.

    However, looking at bus systems across the nation, the majority of them are a flat rate to increase the efficiency of loading/unloading since they have the possibility of holding up traffic behind them. Systems that have dedicated right of ways tend to have zones implemented as the fare collection system is outside of the vehicle.

    When I first moved here from the east coast, I was flabbergasted at how one pays for a bus ride. Leaving downtown and you pay as you leave? I’m not allowed to use the backdoor and must go back to the front of the bus? Heading towards downtown and you pay when you enter and can leave at any door? That’s loading/unloading inefficiency at it’s best right there. Our system is not friendly to non-daily riders. For those who are trying to use the Metro more may become frustrated and have bad experiences and then go back to daily driving. Who knows.

    (Yes, random thoughts all put together. sorry :))

    1. Whoever heard of a bus system where you pay as you leave? Or worse, where you sometimes pay as you leave depending on the time of day? The first was a result of creating the ride free area. The second was a result of making the ride free area 7am-7pm instead of 24 hours. I never used to have a problem remembering to pay “on the side away from downtown”. But now I still forget and walk on or walk off because my brain’s not wired to think about whether it’s daytime or evening, so my autopilot just does what it usually does at that location.

      Given that Metro insists that “safety” reasons caused it to eliminate the evening ride free area (even though I saw no difference) and refuses to reconsider it, the only alternative is to eliminate the ride free zone. Which would probably not make a dent in downtown circulation or new riders. How many people who don’t have a pass or transfer ride a bus five or ten blocks downtown anyway? It’s just as quick to walk, and more pleasant than waiting for a bus. The counterargument is that there would be long lines of people waiting to board buses in the afternoons. But, uh, it works in other cities. And it may increase the demand for trains.

      1. In all fairness, pay-as-you-leave is less common than it used to be but there are other transit sytstems in America that use it. Salt Lake City’s system is like Seattle’s including a Ride Free Area (24 hours!) and here in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, we don’t have a free zone, but express buses to the suburbs are pay-leave outbound, a holdover from when we used to have zone fare. Back when there were zones (before about 2000) you paid the basic fare upon boarding and the balance upon leaving outbound and you paid the whole fare upon boarding inbound. At one time it was a double fare between Minneapolis and Saint Paul. On the routes that served both cities you paid when boarding in the originating city and when leaving in the terminating city. Hence if you lived in the terminating city and were going downtown, you paid as you left inbound! Express buses in Boston also work that way due to the fact they have significant local running on the suburban end.

  22. tried my ocra for the first time ever on a ST bus, it said not enough funds. I added value online and they took $20 from my credit card weeks ago, ORCA still has a ways to go.

    1. update:

      I emailed and they said if you don’t use your new balance it disappears after 30 days! They said they would fix it.

      The funny part is I tried to use it 3x before and the readers were not working…ahh the bugs.

      1. That’s interesting – I bought an ORCA the minute they went into public use – put $30 on it. Still have not used the whole $30, and my balance is still positive.

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