MARTA Breeze Ticket, photo by Oran
MARTA Breeze Ticket, photo: author

Low-income transit riders and tourists may not have to pay $10 to get an ORCA card if a disposable, low-cost version is offered. According to an article by Krista Kipp of the Seattle Jobs Initiative in the November 2009 issue of the ATU Local 587 News Review, a disposable card was planned to be offered when ORCA was being developed, but it was dropped due to security concerns. Kipp writes that the ORCA transit agencies are bringing this option back. It is currently under development and won’t be available after mid-2010, at the earliest.

A 2004 press release from Phillips, the vendor providing the MIFARE smart card technology for the ORCA project, reveals more details about what the disposable ORCA card would’ve been like. The disposable card is “specifically aimed at the collector, tourism and human service program application areas” and “will have specialized graphics and be pre-valued with a set amount of money (e.g. $20), a set number of rides (e.g. 10), or a set period of time (e.g. 7 days after first use).”

The article also mentions King County Metro’s efforts to mitigate the impact of ORCA on low-income residents by extending the Commuter Bonus Voucher program for human services agencies and allowing those agencies to purchase ORCA cards for $3 with a $3 minimum load. The vouchers can be exchanged for bus tickets, which will continue to be sold.

Low-income transit riders and tourists are affected by the transition to ORCA because of the initial cost of acquiring the card and new fare policies. Inter-system transfers and intra-system transfers on most agencies except Metro and Pierce Transit will require an ORCA card beginning January 1, 2010. After January 31, an ORCA card will cost $5 and $5 is the minimum value that must be loaded on the card at purchase, for a total cost of $10.

An example of a disposable smart card is MARTA’s Breeze Ticket, which costs 50¢, expires after 90 days and has limited functionality.

57 Replies to “Disposable ORCA Card Coming?”

  1. I think its nice, MARTA made it possible to load money onto the smart card by adding money in the fare box, then tapping on the bus reader to add the money to the card. LA Metro does this with their smart card for day passes.

    1. It happens that all three systems were provided by Cubic Transportation Systems. And the card reader is usually an integral part of the fare box instead of a separate reader.

      I’d rather have these kinds of transactions take place off the bus at a ticket machine or a retailer. As for day passes, I’d like to see daily price capping like London’s Oyster that guarantees that you’ll never be charged more than the equivalent price of a day pass, which eliminates the need to purchase a day pass.

      1. San Diego’s Compass Card functions that way, No one will ever pay more for their trips than a Day Pass is worth. That way if you only board once, you only paid for one fare, but if you board 3 or more times, it maxes out at $5, the day pass rate (for local lines, Premium Express lines Day Pass is $11). I Wish ORCA would do that, since they feel the need to dump all day passes next month.

      2. In the Oyster system, the cap is based on when, how far, and modes you use.

        If you only ride the bus, which is a flat fare, you’ll be subject to the bus cap which is 3.25x the single fare. If you ride the train, then the cap increases to the value of the day pass for the respective zones you traveled through.

        If the same system were applied to ORCA. If you take Sounder from Tacoma to Seattle the cap would be $9.50 but if you only rode Link from Tukwila to Seattle the cap would be $5. If you ride Metro only during off-peak hours it would be $4. That would be an interesting anomaly when Metro’s 2-zone peak costs more than a ST Express 2-zone or Link trip.

      3. I should’ve said that the bus cap is the price of the bus all-day pass.

        London’s bus fare is £1.20 ($2 US). The price of a all-day bus pass is £3.80.

        A Zone 1-3 Tube fare is £2.20 peak, £2.70 off-peak. A Zone 1-3 Travelcard is £8.60 anytime and £6.30 off-peak.

        And I don’t think they offer free transfers.

      4. Cubic also happens to own ERG now as well, whom was the origonal supplier of the ORCA system.

        In my opnion, for a system like this to be successful, you need 24/7 phone support, plus extended hours for the transit retail offices (example, 5 AM to 10 PM, M-S, 8 AM to 8PM Sun). Also the system needs to omnipresent everywhere you go, so that you can reload your card mid-trip. All supermarkets, conveince/drug stores, etc would have the ability to reload your card. Also I’d like to see TVMs installed at ALL major transit stations so you can do the same there as well.

        Milan, dosent even collect fare onboard their streetcars or buses. You purchase it ahead of time at one of the many newstands in the city, and by law every newsstand has to sell tickets. I’m not saying we should go that far, but since we are using this system for inter/intra county transfers in a lot of places we should be holding up to a higher standard than we are now.

        It really boils down to money, having all that while making the system very rider friendly would cost the participating agencies a LOT of money. Something which they dont have much extra of right now.

      5. What frustrates me is the lack of information on the ORCA web site about what’s going on. Why do I have to go to Community Transit’s website to learn that:

        Contracts for some local retailers to sell ORCA cards are in process. In the future, you will be able to revalue ORCA at many Safeway and QFC stores, as well as at Roger’s Market. However, these outlets will be closed until equipment and regional ORCA contracts are finalized, which could take several months.

        So now I know that more retail locations are coming. It’s only a matter of time. These things don’t happen overnight. The transition is painful but we’ll get there.

        And why does the list of revalue locations have to be a PDF? It should be a web page with clickable links to maps and transit directions.

      6. These things do take time, however retail outlets should be far more universal than they are currently, especally with the end of the Puget Passes. At least having 24/7 phone support for the card and website should have been part of the project from day one as well. I saw today in one of Intercity Transit’s publications that they will be taking the ORCA only on Olympia Express service come january as well.

      7. “Milan, dosent even collect fare onboard their streetcars or buses. You purchase it ahead of time at one of the many newstands in the city, and by law every newsstand has to sell tickets. I’m not saying we should go that far”

        Especially with the dying print media industry. Newsstands are getting scarcer.

        But if they required that every espresso vendor in the Puget Sound area sell tickets… they’d be available everywhere!

  2. “A 2004 press release from Phillips, the vendor providing the MIFARE smart card technology for the ORCA project, reveals more details about what the disposable ORCA card would’ve been like.”

    Why do they continue to call ORCA card “smart card technology” when it is in fact RFID? Smart cards are those cards with gold backs like cell phone SIM cards or chip cards like those that could be used in the Qwest Millennium pay phones.

    1. Cards like ORCA and PayPass in your debit card use contactless smart card technology not RFID. RFID is like a bar code or dog tag or WSDOT’s Good to Go! toll tag. The ‘smart’ in smart card comes from the fact that there is basically a computer on a chip in the card. Multiple functions can be loaded on it like the E-purse, passes and more in the future, all encrypted. You cannot do that with RFID.

  3. I am completely 100% for this. It is incredibly convenient to be able to travel to a different place and purchase a 3-day pass (Paris subway), 10-ride pass (Madrid transit) or preloaded RFID (Venice taxi) to get around. Happy tourists = better returns for the region.

      1. $20 is a little low for a week-long pass when your maximum round trip fare would be $9.50. At $20, that would be just over two days worth of transit.

      2. Now that they no longer have to manufacture monthly passes they should make the passes more flexible. Allow the monthly passes to begin on any day of the month and expire 30 days after first use. Allow weekly passes to be purchased any day of the week.

        The system is capable of that. It’s just the fare policy that needs to be changed and that is the hardest part.

  4. why not just re-use orca cards? they can have a refundable deposit, get cleaned and re-used. we have so much trash it’s disgusting…

  5. Security issues? If somebody is going to the trouble to duplicate ORCA’s RIFD abilities, then they could easily reprogram the current cards with their own equipment or find another way to fool the system.

  6. Please tell us what the “security concerns” were. That is the last refuge of cowards and incompetents these days? How is the paper RFID any more or less “secure” than the plastic one, especially given the crack research done here by amongst others, our own Atomic Taco:

    “We can’t tell you for SECURITY reasons”.

    F-ing jobsworths.

  7. Rumour has it that there is a paper TAP card in Los Angeles issued to those on jury duty. Surely MLK Jr. King County will have to have a similar offering now that bus tickets will be phased out?

      1. So how will the person issued these tickets be able to transfer??

        Are those on jury duty going to get 3 tickets with their summons in place of the one they get now?

      2. They still get a Metro transfer, which is only good on Metro buses. I don’t know if Metro-operated ST routes will continue to accept Metro tickets. They’ll just have to avoid taking Sound Transit.

  8. This was pretty much my one qualm with ORCA. Either this or better day/week passes. Security concerns? Bullcrap.

  9. When will the Orca cards start coming out in different colors? You can buy Starbucks cards, or practically any kind of gift card, in any color or design that you want. So, you should be able to get almost any card with an Orca trademark/logo on it and use if for transportation. How about a Mariners Orca Card? Or a Space Needle Orca Card? Or for something really crazy, how about a Bank of America VISA Orca Card??? Or for some irony, a Shell Gas Orca Card?

    1. I don’t think they’re ready for that yet. Let them sort out the basics before trying any extra features. Probably in a few years after the system is mature.

      1. Yes, but they could sell ads on the back. I still have a NYCMTA Metrocard with a ad on the back!

  10. Confusion about ORCA has likely served to depress initial Link ridership.

    The fact that Link costs more than a parallel bus trip also depresses ridership, and with ORCA people don’t always know what a trip’s going to cost. In one case, when I tapped out after a Link ride, instead of putting money back into my e-Purse, it charged me more to get it up to $2.50. I didn’t notice it when I tapped. The Orcacard website never should a tap-out, just another tap-in, so it wasn’t that I somehow double-tapped.

    Link’s fare policies are needlessly different than equivalent bus service. MT, ST, and Link fares should be brought into alignment such that a trip between any two points costs the same whether it is made by MT, ST or Link. That’s seamless.

    1. When Metro’s off-peak fare goes up to $2 next year, Link will cost the same as Metro for most trips.

      That’s why I argue for price capping on ORCA. You’re guaranteed that you never pay more than the price of an equivalent day pass. ORCA is as seamless as we can get at the moment and I think people just need to get an ORCA card.

      Getting a single fare for all is a noble goal but is unrealistic given the fractured governance of our transit system and each transit agency is in a different financial situation. Metro keeps raising fares to cover their losses while Sound Transit’s bus fares have remained flat for years. The system Sound Transit chose is designed for the long run when the lines get longer so riders proportionately pay the cost of service by distance. That’s the way it works in many metros around the world.

      1. That’s a great idea. It would make the system a lot more user friendly for people who wouldn’t have any idea what a day pass is.

    2. I have to wonder how much revenue is not captured by faults in the orca system. It seems that whenever i have ridden the bus lately, one or two people get free rides because the system dident capture their fare/ride properly.

      Sometimes i wonder if this expensive system is really worth it. Seems like the Epurse/transfer functionality mag-stripe cards could be employed simlar to bart/wmata/metrocard and TriM units could be added to the fareboxes to print electronic transfers like vancouver BC and other cities.

      1. Aside from readers going out of service (which I’ve very rarely seen), the most frequent reason riders get the “try again” message is because they failed to properly tap the card. Hold the card flat against the reader until it beeps. Some drivers just let them go and some tell them the proper way to use it.

  11. After having gone to Singapore a few times in the past couple of years, I like their public transit system and they way people pay there. You tap your pass when you get on the bus, or go through a turnstile. At the end of your bus or train trip, you tap again when you get off and the right amount is then deducted from your account depending on how far you travel. If you forget to tap out from a bus ride, then you are eventually deducted the maximum amount that the bus would have traveled. And you can’t forget to tap out after the rail ride because you have to go through a turnstile to exit the station. And for people who pay cash, they pay extra since it bogs down the system and slows it down for the rest of the people. So, you could do that here in Seattle. Tap on the bus at Shoreline CC, tap off when you get off at 46th and Phinney. That might cost you $1.25. Then tap on bus #46 to go to Ballard and tap off when you leave and that could cost you 85 cents. No need to worry about a transfer since you only pay for you use.

  12. Is there any other city that charges a nonrefundable fee for a transit card without a free card option?

    The “security concerns” comment was amusing. How could it possibly be easier to kill somebody with a cardboard card than a plastic card? Well, you could fold the corners to make an arrow…

    1. Mythbusters made a cross bow out of paper and with a plastic tip that a high-security prisoner has access to and it works and can hurt someone.

      I think “security” is more about people trying to forge the cards. They can print fake ORCA tickets and claim that they’re broken when it doesn’t scan. Of course the easy way to check that is to hold it up against the light and you’ll see the circuitry inside, kind of like the new $20 bills.

  13. The issue with metro vs st transfers can be easily managed by merging the two agencies. Or shift the responsibilities of the two. ST, plans and builds, Metro runs.

    Make this painful enough and it might happen.

  14. So, with these ORCA cards, what is the best way to protect them for long-term use? I never really worried about the Puget Passes, since I would get a new one each month, so if they got dirty or scratched, I didn’t worry. But, since I don’t want to pay $5 for a new ORCA card, how do I protect it? I mean, it is going to be dropped onto the ground, it is going to get dirty, stepped on, get wet, etc.

    Any suggestions from anyone?

    1. I’ve been carrying mine loose in the same pocket as my keychain every day since May and it doesn’t show any real damage so far, just cosmetic wear. But, just to be on the safe side, I’ve taken advantage of the free introductory offer and ordered a few extras.

      I still think it’s too bad they designed the card to prevent the use of any standard lanyard punching. Surely they could have left room in the circuit layout for that….

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