Fare alert on a Metro bus. Photo by Oran.
Fare alert on a Metro bus. Photo by Oran.

Two major changes occur with the New Year:

First, all King County Metro fares (except for the ages 6-18 fare) will go up 25 cents.  For most of us that means $2.00 off-peak, $2.25 one-zone peak, $2.50 $2.75 two-zone peak.

More confusingly, there will be a dramatic reduction in the media with which you can legally board a bus.  The rules below apply to Metro, Sound, Everett, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap Transit buses only:

  • Cash always works.
  • An ORCA card loaded with either E-purse money or a monthly pass of sufficient value.
  • Although they are increasingly hard to get, if you have a physical PugetPass or FlexPass of sufficient value that’s still valid.
  • On Metro buses only, a valid Metro bus transfer.  This does not include Sound Transit buses operated by Metro: 522, 540, 545, 550, 554, 555, 556, 560, 564, 565, 577.
  • [Update 1/4/10] On Metro buses only and only on weekends and holidays, Metro drivers sell a $4.50 day pass that is a valid fare.  This does not include any Sound Transit buses. [Updated 8/24/11]
  • On Metro buses only, a valid Metro bus ticket.  This does include Sound Transit buses operated by Metro.
  • On Pierce Transit buses only, a valid Pierce bus ticket (which are hard to get).  This does include Sound Transit buses operated by Pierce Transit,  (574, 578, 582, 586, 590, 592, 593, 594, 595) but only as a one-zone fare.
  • On Pierce Transit buses only, a valid Pierce bus transfer.  This does not include Sound Transit buses operated by Metro Pierce Transit.

On trains it’s simpler: either buy a ticket at the machine, use an ORCA card, or walk on with the scarce PugetPass or FlexPass card.

ORCA is a step forward but it’s clear we’re not really going to get the complexity down till we get rid of paper media entirely.

156 Replies to “Fares, Transfer Policies to Change Jan. 1”

  1. Thanks for clarifying a confusing situation. But what about transfers? I consider myself a pretty savvy transit rider, and I find transfers with ORCA totally confusing.

    Say you want to go from the airport to Capitol Hill. You tap the ORCA card at SeaTac station, and take the light rail to Westlake, where you transfer to a bus. Are you supposed to tap the ORCA card again at Westlake, then again when you get off the bus? If so, what will happen on the bus if you forget to tap the card at Westlake?

    1. I think that is the proper procedure. The fare value for your Link ride should be applicable as a transfer on the bus. If you need to pay more for the bus, the difference of the bus fare and the Link fare will be deducted from your epurse. If a pass is associated with the Orca card, it can cover some or all of both fares.

      If you forget to tap out at a Link station, I believe you will be charged maximum fare for the Link ride.

    2. When you get off at Westlake, you should tap out. For Link and Sounder, you need to tap in and tap out, because they both have a distance-based fare.

      I believe that if you tap in on a train, and immediately try to tap in on a bus, you’ll get an error, so don’t forget to tap out of Link if you’re taking a short trip (like just in the tunnel), but I think it stops giving you an error after 15 minutes, and then would just charge you full fare for Link when you tapped in on another service.

      And yes, then you tap on the bus, and it should transfer just fine.

    3. Here’s another one. I want to ride from downtown to King St. Station to go grab a cheap sandwich and not have to wait for a bus. I tap in at Pioneer Square, then tap out at King St., then 20 minutes late tap in at King St. and tap out at Pioneer Sqare, right? Does this count as two trips? What happens if I don’t tap out at King St. – am I evading a fare on the way back? What happens if I forget to tap out at King St. (or just choose not to – I belive a tap-out isn’t required) but do tap in on my way home – will it assume I was tapping out and haven’t paid for my return trip?

      1. When you tap back in to return, it recognizes the card as a transfer so it should not charge you a fare

        In the second scenario, it will assume you are tapping out. If a fare inspection is made between King Street and Pioneer Square, the officer may tell you that your fare is not valid (although the officer should see your history).

  2. How does it work if you buy a Link ticket and then transfer to a Metro or ST bus? Not that I anticipate doing that very often, but I’d still like to know…

    1. Related to this, if you buy a full price round trip Link ticket as a “day pass”, is that valid as a transfer? On what services?

      1. lazarus, aw, I believe a Link ticket stops letting you onto buses of any kind after the 1st.

    2. The Transit Operator Guide: Changes Effective Jan. 1, 2010 brochure states that “Tickets from Link and Sounder are not valid for fare or transfer on Metro or Sound Transit buses operated by Metro.”

      You must use an ORCA card to receive transfer credit. All the transit agencies, except Metro and Pierce Transit, are going to all-electronic transfers (ORCA card).

      1. Re: “The Transit Operator Guide: Changes Effective Jan. 1, 2010 brochure states that “Tickets from Link and Sounder are not valid for fare or transfer on Metro or Sound Transit buses operated by Metro.”

        Does this mean that transferring to Sound Transit buses operated by other transit agencies might have DIFFERENT transfer policies? (Please, tell me it’s not so…)

      2. There will no longer be ST tranfers, and ST will no longer accpet any transfers from any agency, Link rail ticket, or Sounder ticket, no matter who operates that ST route.
        But with an ORCA you can transfer between any bus agency, or train and have a two hour transfer and it will calculate for you the upgrades.

  3. Transfer policies and fares are virtually incomprehensible. ORCA is going to make it completely opaque as well. The screens on the readers don’t give much information, if you remember to look, and if you disagree with that they charged you, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it, unless you want to spend time trying to call ORCA customer service.

    Fares from point A to point B (or zone A to zone B) should be consistent regardless of who operates the bus or which agency logo is painted on it. Pierce and Snohomish can still have different fares than King County for local service, if they want, and ST can set policies for intercounty. But if you’re going from Seatac to Capital Hill, you should know what it is going to cost and it should cost the same whether you ride on ST or MT vehicles.

    And why should it be cheaper to go from Seattle to Auburn on MT (off peak) than Seattle to Bellevue on ST? (Or Renton to Bellevue on ST – like 1/3 the distance).

    Let’s have seamless transit and transparent fare policies that are comprehensible to riders. Agree on what the zones are in each county, make them the same for each agency serving the area, and then charge the same fares for the same rides. By the way, why does it make sense if you pay a fare from Lynnwood to Seattle, that you get a free transfer to Tacoma? That should cost more.

    1. ORCA’s no more difficult than any other transit system in a major city. There’s almost always more than one provider, and for many systems, there aren’t even transfers.

      I have yet to see an ORCA charge the wrong fare, except for one instance when a fare inspector’s reader forced a tap-out mistakenly. If it happens to you, email us what happened and we’ll explain.

      1. Many (most?) cities in Europe have multiple providers, often a mix of public and private, some municipal, some state, some rail, some bus – and they figure out a way to sell and price integrated tickets, and if you went from Auburn to Seattle it would cost the same whoever you rode, including transfers if needed, and it wouldn’t give you a free ride onward to Lynnwood. That’s my experience in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, … Why do English speaking countries make it much more difficult?

      2. I think there are two issues here that people are conflating, fare media and fare structure.

        ORCA is simply the physical way in which fares are collected while the fare structure is a result of many competing objectives as well as history. To have a complaint about one should not necessarily spread to the other.

        Here ORCA has been introduced but the underlaying fare structure has not change at all. Puget Passes are the same, fares are the same, transfer are the same, etc. Until all of the regional transit agencies decided to integrate their fare structures (or in some way simplify them) it will always be confusing regardless of the fare media.

        I think that ORCA can help to simplify fare payment without changing the fare structure (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2009/04/22/pugetpass-and-orca/).

      3. Actually, I have learned that with ORCA transfer policies are different than with paper transfers, so the introduction of ORCA has also made some changes to fare structure.

        The Puget Sound fare structure is needlessly complicated, and can be inconsistent if a journey can be completed via several routings, or if both ST and oneof(MT, CT, PT) could be used for one of the segments.

        With cash fares and paper transfers you at least know what it cost and how much you paid. ORCA e-purse makes it that much harder to know.

        A complicated confusing fare structure creates an obstacle to use of transit by an occasional rider. The fare structure could be simplified in a way that generates the same net fare revenue but becomes more consistent. It doesn’t (necessarily) require that fare levels within each of the counties change for local service within those counties, but that ST fares for travel within counties matches that of the local operators, that fare zones line up, and the for trips that go between counties, which I think is mainly CT and ST, that those charges are consistent. It might mean doing away with peak and off-peak in MT, though it doesn’t have to, if ST adopts it for travel within King County.

        ORCA does simplify payment, but it makes it harder to know what you actually paid.

      4. So, in Japan, for instance, I can go from Narita to Tokyo and pay different fares based on three different services. What you’re saying about everything “being the same” elsewhere really isn’t true.

      5. Frank as far as I know transfers are exactly the same. You get a two hour window to transfer to other service of the same value.

        I agree that fare structure could be simpler but to what end? Fare structures like peak/off peak are there for a reason. ST run a different type of service than Metro. Same for sounder.

      6. Ben, Japan can be quite confusing because of the private railways vs. the JR lines, and in Tokyo even the two non-cooperating subway lines. And Narita to Tokyo is really a long-distance trip outside the local transit regime, and there are both ordinary and premium trains offered. The best value is in the Keisei limited express.

        Adam, the transfers aren’t the same. With paper transfers you got a 1-zone credit on the new provider. I believe with ORCA you get credit for the fare you paid toward the new vehicle you boarded.

      7. “I have yet to see an ORCA charge the wrong fare, except for one instance when a fare inspector’s reader forced a tap-out mistakenly. If it happens to you, email us what happened and we’ll explain.”
        It does happen that the wrong fare is charged on ORCA. I believe it’s because the driver doesn’t enter the correct zone and time of day. I’ve been charged peak fare for a non-peak ride (o.k., my fault, I should have looked at the ORCA reader before I tapped) and charged a two zone fare for a ride entirely within Seattle on a bus that came into the city from the county. I complained and got a couple of free ride tickets, so compensation isn’t the issue, it’s just annoyance.

      8. I tell drivers all the time that their sign (destination or farebox) is wrong and they appreciate it. Don’t know why it’ll be any different for ORCA zones.

      9. Yes, mention it but PLEASE DO NOT TAP – wait until the reader has the correct zone/fare on it. If you tap first we have to wait 5-10 seconds for the message to disappear before we can change it.

        And Ben, please don’t “complain”. It’s not like I’m sitting up in the front of my bus thinking of ways to piss you off. I’ve got a lot going on up there and if I forget to change one of 4 or 5 different things that I’m supposed to at zone boundaries, forgive me for being human. Now, if you mention that the reader is not correct and I give you attitude, well… Then I give you permission to complain – although I’d suggest complaining to Metro and not to me.

        (For the record, at zone boundaries we may have to update our sign code, ORCA trip, fare box fare/trip, transfer cut, and fare box sign)

      10. One issue I’m noticing with more rapid use of Orca (i.e. multiple users in a row tapping in and out) is that the Orca CPU can lag substantially. This creates a problem when person “A” gets on with an Orca card set to a $1.75 off-peak pass during peak times, and the “Owe .75” message doesn’t pop up until three other people have tapped in, making it look like it was passenger “C” owing the fare rather than passenger “A”.

      11. Its too bad the ORCA system cannot be tied into the AVL system effectivly to change its fareset(s) based on location (I.E. “FREE” in the magic carpet area, and once your outside set to the appropraite number of max zones for the trip).

        Of course this is nothing new, In 1973 metro had 30 fare zones, which with ORCA might be manageable if everyone tagged on and off the bus! Of course even after they simplifed to 2 zones, they were still complaining in 1983 how complex it was to manually administer. (From Bus Roots: The Ten years of Metro Transit 1973-1983)

      12. When the new radio system w/ GPS, is fully functioal sometime this coming year, it should take care of changing the fare and zones. Should have auto-stop anouncments too. But this will only be on Metro and Metro operated ST coaches. Hope it works well too.

      13. Z, that’s coming in 2010. It can’t be done now because if the bus is rerouted, it doesn’t always know where it is.

      14. Yesterday tapped ORCA for a 2-zone fare on ST 545. Today the ORCA web site shows that my balance was reduced by $5.00, even though it only shows a single transaction for $2.50. I don’t get it.

      15. Back in October, my wife and I were traveling on metro #358 southbound at 4pm. We tapped the ORCA card and I noticed it charged us the two-zone peak fare when it should have only charged us the one-zone peak fare. I emailed ORCA that night when we got home and two weeks later, they sent us two free round trip tickets.

      16. So, the reader says “one zone” or “two zone” before you tap. You do need to look.

      17. Yes, at peak times, some routes will cross zone lines. The 358 for example at 145th St. The default is set for two zones and it says it on the card reader, it is your responsibility to tell the driver to override the zone for your transaction. If you don’t say anything then how do we know? Plus you can reverse the transaction if tagged at the wrong zone fare and redo it for the correct amount, but again, you must bring it to our attention.

      18. A week ago I stepped on board eastbound 271 at Bellevue Transit Center. I noticed that the ORCA reader was displaying “2 Zones” so I asked the driver if it was one or two zones to BCC. He just told me to get on board without paying.

        Shortly after the bus got under way, I noticed the ORCA reader was now displaying “1 Zone”.

      19. Metro’s zone districts are a lot simpler than ST’s. It’s just Seattle and the rest of King County. So, it would have been one zone. The driver should have switched before stopping on the Eastside.

      20. my bro-in-law was charged the wrong fare on link, but did tap in/out correctly. and somehow st verified it was wrong ($3 from king st to columbia city) and got a paper fare voucher. He had to call to get it fixed…

        for some reason it was impossible to refund to the orca card itself, which is kind of lame. they claimed the amount of the refund was too little…

    2. Frank’s point is valid, but it is directed towards the antiquated zone system that MLKJr.C Metro uses and to a lesser degree the one that ST uses. The Metro one is really a hold-over STS-Metropolitan merger zone system (okay, not really, but bear with me)

      In Europe, there is usually a honey-comb zone system:


      or a concentric centered on the main city:



      Perhaps the systems that are members of ORCA need to reform the fare system into zones, stop charging a premium for LINK and SOUNDER, and base travel on distance and/or time?

    3. Frank,

      Your comment reveals some of the basic tensions in fare structure. In the same comment you complain that the fares are too hard to understand and then complain about discrepancies in trip length vs. fare.

      I think you see the inherent contradiction there. We can build a system that strives to be “fair” or we can make it simple.

      Regarding different price levels for different agencies, in the current funding environment we can’t expect anyone to be cutting their farebox revenue. However, if there were a concerted effort to get the low-price agencies to raise their fares I think they’d be willing to entertain it.

    4. I see a trainwreck coming……

      In all honesty i’ve used the ORCA system once (i have an employer issued pass). And it confirmed my suspisons about it. I’ve used the pass schemes in other cities and countrys, and i’m sure they went through the same period’s that we are now about to enter.

      First off, being a “Smart Card” i freely predict that the rate of fare evasion/non payment will go up. To date i havent seen or heard of any enforcement outside of ferry and rail.

      On top of that, if you are making a bus-only trip you had better plan ahead and hope the buses update properly at night incase you dont have enough in your e-purse and wish to add more. Otherwise you’ll be paying a lot of cash fares without transfers since ST will not accept paper transfers. When you see printed materials from the transit agency stating you should carry your reciepts with you, what does that say about the level of confidence in the system?

      1. I tried to set up autoload but because it’s an employer issued pass and they load value pre-tax from my wages I’m not able to use autoload. The website told me that if I switch the my employer won’t be able to load money onto the card. It did however let me add ePurse value. I can’t really understand why it will let me manually transfer money from my credit card but won’t let me set it up to do it automagically? Since my bus use will literally be as variable as the weather it would be nice to know I have “bus bounce” protection. Oh well, it’s better than having to carry around exact change.

      2. Yeah, it works the same way for me. I checked online and the autoload is set to “automatic”. If I change it to “manual”, supposedly I’ll get an e-voucher to spend on E-purse or other passes. My employer provides a $72 monthly transit subsidy.

        Since it’s an employer issued card, I’ll have to return the card to HR when I leave (which is real soon). No idea how they’ll deal with e-purse value left on it. I’ll put $5 on it, just in case I want to use Sounder.

      3. That’s easier said than done. You are forgetting about the large number of lower income, transit depdeant riders that are on the system. Many years ago that was the category i fell into so it does make you look at things diffrently than now.

        Whenever you have a system like this you need to set it up for the Lowest Common demoniator. Which is someone who is low income, whom does not have a credit/debit card, and internet access. This is also presuming they have funds available to “front load” the card. Using the card without Internet access and a credit/debit card is nearly impossible. Think about it here, whats the most convient way to add product or e-purse value to your card. Awnser: The Internet. Which also requires what? A valid credit or debit card, which also requres what? Cash to back that card up. Now, what do low income people usually not have much of. Low income usually means they dont have cash! So, While it may be easy for you or I to throw 40 at an ORCA to use (which still sickens me that i cant Pay as i go – As i board the bus), the low income person may have to decide do i put 10 on my orca, or put that ten dollars towards my groceries? Paying the fare out of pocket may still cost you the ten dollars, but its not an “upfront” cost like ORCA is. And usually a person is able to slowly gather enough money to pay their bus fare as they go.

        The other problem is, if you dont have internet access, you have to call in which is only available during business hours. But it too requires a credit card (see argument above). You’re only choice is to find a participating retailer (a handful of SAARs marketplaces, and the agency customer service offices) which means you have to get there first, possibly loosing atleast one transfer in the process to add value to your card by cash, which you could pay for your fare out of pocket before. But now you have to “load” the card which is an upfront expense that some may not have!

        The Full deployment of orca is premature in my opinion. The First phase should be making it universally available (24/7 call center, Additional transit sales outlets in major malls/shopping centers, TVMs at every transit facility to add fare to cards, and Provision made for every grocery store, bank, convience store, etc. to participate in the system)

        You’re second phase would be to implement a day pass program for every day of the week (either added to an existing ORCA card, or as some form of seperate disposable media), Modify the system so that it is able to process and wirelessly update the buses on the road, so that your online purchase is ready to be added to your card within fifteen to twenty minutes from purchase, and add the capability to only record transfers on an ORCA card (if you pay in cash first of course). And finally equip all vehicles in agencys that interact with ORCA with ORCA (specifically dial-a-ride access), and any other agency outside the RTA whom has some form of fare agreement. Atleast on the route(s) affected anyway.

        Only than should you eliminate paper transfers, and if you do, eliminate them across the board. Not just some systems, all the participating systems that meet the above criteria. Otherwise you are apt to negitivly affect ridership.

        It will be intresting to see if ridership drops because of orca, because of how confusing and conviluted it currently is for casual riders and some low income population.

      4. Someone who’s choosing between $10 for groceries and $10 for ORCA is probably eligible for food stamps, and probably eligible for either subsidized trips or a cheap/free pass.

        If someone’s riding the bus today, they have the money to ride today. The vast majority of low income riders aren’t making an interagency transfer, which is the only way they’d need an ORCA. And if they are making an interagency transfer, they’re very likely already at a TVM at some point during their trip – they could top up.

        I think there’s a lot of hand-wringing going on without actually considering what people do in the real world. In the real world, if you’re using Metro and can’t afford to put $10 on your ORCA, you keep using cash. If you need to transfer Metro to Metro, you keep using Metro transfers. That’s 90% of the affected transit users.

        Of the remainder, most use ST Express, Sounder, or Link with no transfer, or Sounder with a ride free transfer. The few people left, say, using Sounder with a Metro transfer, are almost all pass users.

        Find me someone who’s really negatively affected, and then we’ll talk.

      5. Public Transportation is just that, Public. That means you cannot by law discriminate against any group of people, for anything. Now if you eliminated cross-agency transfers entirely, Fine. If you kept the current system side-by-side, Fine. You are meeting the letter of the law that way. If someone got upset enough, i’m sure there are a number of statutes on the books, ADA, FTA, etc. that some lawyer hungry for public money in his coffers could find. Infact, it wouldent surprise me in the least if this happens.

        For example, PT’s shuttle users are negitvly affected by ORCA. Because the vans are not ORCA equipped, a seperate pass just for shuttle users is being sold. however there are some people who only use shuttle for part of their journey, and fixed route for the rest. They may cross county lines or choose to ride ST which now they can do without hassle. Come Jan 1, they will have to pay 2 complete seperate fares, where before they only had to pay for the one pass plus any nessasary upgrade.

        All i’m saying is that a better job needs to be done of making the system accessible to everyone, and that the transfer policys should remain the same so that you are not discriminating against anyone who does not have an ORCA card. Local or not, Rich or poor all are treated the same way no matter how they choose to pay their fare.

      6. In Japan they have the SUICA card, but you can still use paper tickets and passes. One ticket should get you where you need to go in most cases. Different agencies should cooperate with each other so that taking transit is as simple an affair as possible.

        These “tap” cards are overrated anyway.

      7. I’d like to point out to Ben Schiendelman that in order to qualify for food stamps, a family of three needs to have an income falling below the poverty threshold, which sits at $18,310. Now imagine that you are a single mother making $19,000/year, which disqualifies you for food stamps. Say you pay $600 to rent a two-bedroom apartment, and $650/month for childcare for your toddler (this is roughly the average cost). Subtract these two expenses from your monthly income of $1583.33, and that’s $333.33 left over every month. Now say you live in North Pierce County, but work in Seattle, and rely on a combination of Metro and Sound Transit. Z is absolutely right. $40 up front would hurt, badly.

        Before you say, “Why doesn’t she get a job closer to home?” consider that she may feel underqualified, she may not have the internet access or computer literacy skills necessary to access job listings, and she may not feel she can take the time off to schedule interviews that may or may not lead to employment.

        Also keep in mind that moving closer to the city could be an inviable option for her as well, given higher rental rates and deposit/first/last costs.

        The immediate implementation of the new system is highly, highly biased and discriminatory.

      8. BTW it is $10 up-front to get ORCA (and only $5 until February 1st).

        I’m sorry but I just don’t see this as a huge burden, even for those right on the margins. I know from personal experience that most people who are poor can find $10 to spend on things they find important.

      9. Food stamps also come on a Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card now. We short-term hosted a refugee who found the cards confusing but figured it out (they had cards in Iraq but she had always used cash).

        ORCA is new and confusing but no more so than the EBT cards.

  4. “ORCA’s no more difficult than any other transit system in a major city.”

    I strongly disagree with this, and I don’t think it’s an English-speaking issue either–in Greater London, there has been a unified fare system for some time.

    1. And London has dozens of rail services, has for a hundred years, and just got Oyster.

      Seriously, don’t knock it. It’s progress. Things are not perfect right out of the gate. In a decade or two we’ll combine our transit agencies.

      1. “Things are not perfect right out of the gate” is not the same thing as it’s “no more difficult than any other transit system.” The former I agree with and the latter I do not.

  5. Orca should sell/issue “Day passes” and “week” passes for visitors. I don’t mind shelling out $5 for a card that I’m going to use all year long, but if I was a tourist, I’d object. You should be able to buy a single day or a single week pass that is good as a walk on for any train, ferry, monorail, street car or bus all day. It should be sold at the hotel desks and at self serve kiosk in the tunnel.

    Just ask your self, if you wanted to joy ride over to Bainbridge, take LINK to the UW, a bus to Bellevue, or to the zoo, how much should you load onto an Orca card?

    Obviously we want to make it so that regular commuters don’t game the system and only buy these day passes, but in general this shouldn’t require an hour at a computer terminal to add it all up.

    We want people to ride our transit system we should make it easy.

      1. Yep…whenever I travel to any city in Europe (or one in the U.S. with a good transit system) the first thing I get is a 3-day, week-long, however-long pass. Goes in my wallet and I never have to think about fares. I just know I can use it as much as I want until a certain date. This is what I would expect to see using those paper passes I thought I saw reported on here a week ago or so.

      2. NSBill – eventually you’ll get something like that. For now, be patient, ORCA’s just been implemented and we’re going to need some time to work out the kinks in the part that’s working now.

  6. I’m happy to be driving Metro work this shakeup. I’d hate to be explaining to ST passengers on January 1st that there are no transfers available without an ORCA card and that Metro transfers are no longer valid on ST buses. (Especially when I’m wearing a Metro uniform)

    Yes, Metro has put out pamphlets and rider alerts. But you would be amazed at the number of people that ignore those. I’ve had several passengers voice concern about the fact that “they” aren’t letting people transfer from Link to the buses any more. When I hand them pamphlets for ORCA and the new fare information and tell them that they just need to get an ORCA card, they seem genuinely surprised…

    1. Its not that people are ignoring anything, they just don’t expect a change (which is completely natural).

      1. Well, they are ignoring the notice of chance, so they certainly are ignoring things, but yeah, your point about them not expecting change is well taken.

        But it would be nice if more people were aware of lots of notices around then once in a while, or read signs, or whatever. Oh well.

  7. I am seriously concerned about the impact this is going to have. If I were a first-time visitor to Puget Sound, and I’ve just landed at Sea-Tac Airport, am I going to try to figure out what train/bus combination I need to take to my hotel, and then try to figure out a fare structure so complicated that takes seven bullet points to explain? Or am I going to take a cab?

    1. Or are you going to pay for a Link ticket, and then when told it’s not good for a transfer to Metro, pay the Metro fare and get a transfer, and have overpaid just a little. I know I’ve paid more than I could have on transit systems in other cities and states, but I would rather pay double on transit than once on a cab.

      1. That’s exactly what will happen. People will take the train downtown, and if they need to transfer, they’ll pay again.

        Just like NYC. I can’t transfer from AirTrain to the subway or to LIRR.

      2. However you can transfer from bus to subway IIRC. Problem here is you have been allowing paper transfers for the past ten years to go from Bus to LINK to Sounder so long as it’s valid. And all of a sudden you are no longer offering these connections, and instead pushing a system that is still not ready for prime-time…. A lot of unhappy campers and calls to jessie in the future.

      3. You can only transfer from bus to subway with Metrocard. Exactly like here.

        And you must realize that 99% of Sounder users have passes and will have an ORCA. You don’t take an hour long train ride at 7am just once.

      4. Unless you’re me and you’re riding just to ride. But for transit fanning, I have a pass. So no big deal.

        And actually I almost rode the Sounder once to get to McLendon’s. Would’ve got off at Sumner and caught the reverse train back downtown, but ended up fixing the thing I already had so I didn’t need to buy a new one.

      5. And the one time I rode Sounder to Tacoma in the morning. Usually when I go to Tacoma, Sounder isn’t running.

  8. Are you sure Metro 2-zone peak fares will be $2.50? I think they are going to $2.75. Even you transit pros can’t keep tabs on the fares!

    Let’s see, ST one-zone bus is $1.50. ST two-zone is $2.50. ST Link is $2.00-2.50. MT off peak is $2.00. MT one-zone peak is $2.25. MT two-zone peak is $2.75. A one-zone transfer is free, I think – so a one-zone ST fare ($1.50) covers a $2.25 MT fare? If I pay a two-zone MT peak fare ($2.75), and then transfer onto a two-zone ST bus, how much more will I pay? I have no idea, and I doubt anyone knows for sure. I certainly have no confidence what it will be after reading all the fare information that has been disseminated to date.

    1. Between services, you can only transfer using the Orca card. You’ll pay the maximum fare of the two rides you take. I.e., your one zone ST fare covers $1.50 of the cost of the one zone MT fare. A two zone MT fare should cover all of a two zone ST fare.

      At least, I think that’s how it works…

      1. Paper Transfer Policy:
        If you pay ST fare, no matter how many zones, the ST transfer will only cover a Metro Off-peak, or one-zone peak trip. This is how it works now with paper transfers, but drivers don’t ever say anything

        If you pay Metro Fare, no matter what you pay, your paper Metro transfer ($2 off peak, or 2.25/2.75 peak) will only be worth one zone on ST ($1.50). So if you get on the 212 in Eastgate to Seattle AM….two zone peak will be $2.75. Then if you return on the 554, that paper transfer currently will only be worth ST one zone ($1.50). So an upgrade of $1 will be charged to equal the ST 2-zone ride ($2.50).

        Now…..that is with the paper transfers……BUT with ORCA, I’ve heard it could be the same, but I remember hearing that with ORCA it will take into account what you have paid, and just charge the difference. So a off-peak Metro ride soon to be $2, then a two-zone ST ride (2.50) would only charge the difference, 50cents, rather than the old paper policy of MT transfer worth one-zone so an extra dollar was needed. Not too sure since haven’t driven any ST route lately. I guess a little expirement is needed, to see how it will work.

        Also because some of you many not know, that on Metro…..if you pay the off peak fare, you get a transfer. Then you board a peak hour trip, you should be charged the 25 or 75cent extra for a peak ride, but I don’t know of any driver who actually enforces that. Because now all Metro drivers punch the transfers…..so I don’t bother with it. But ORCA will. It will deduct the and Say “XTER + 25c” for a 1-zone peak, or “XTER + 75c” for a 2-zone peak ride. So get used to it and don’t be surprised when you see it happen.

        Hope you aren’t confused but thats it. ORCA will take into account what you have paid, how much its worth on another acgeny, and if needed, charge the difference. I know it is confusing for many, but as a driver who actually likes the ORCA and doesn’t have issues with it, I’m excited for this change after the first few months until people realize whats happening.

      2. OK….after reading farther down, from someone else who uses ORCA everyday between Metro and ST. ORCA only charges the difference in fare paid, rather than like the papaer transfer policy.

        So next month….a 2.75 Metro Peak 2-zone ride will cover the cost to transfer to ST 2.50 2-zone if done within 2hrs. Unlike the paper transfer policy which would actually cost 3.75.

        Or an off peak Metro $2 ride to ST 2.50, ORCA will say “XFER + 50c”. Paper transfer policy would cost $3.

        So ORCA will actually save people money when transferring between agencies.

    2. I think that’s a typo. Metro 2-zone peak will be $2.75.

      People with passes always had to pay the difference for a higher fare while people with paper transfers save some quarters when they transfer between Metro and ST one-zone. If the ORCA rule is “pay the difference” then you wouldn’t pay any more.

      1. None of us are really sure what the ORCA rule is, and we take the time to study and learn about this stuff.

        On the one hand, I think that the ORCA rule is that you get credit for what you already paid, and you’ll only pay more if what you are transferring to costs more.

        But on the other hand, I have heard that if you are switching agencies, you only get credit for one-zone. Do you get credit for what a 1-zone cost on the original agency or the one you are transferring to? Do you pay the difference of the original agency or the new one?

        It’s pretty darn confusing. I think it’s a reason people haven’t embraced ORCA e-Purse (passes are much easier.) Now they’ll be forced to starting Jan 1. I foresee mass confusion.

      2. The exact wording on the back of a Metro paper transfer is this:

        • It is valid on Metro for an amount equal to the fare you paid at the time of issuance. …
        • It is valid for a base fare on CT, PT or ST but additional fare may be required depending on the length of your trip, or if you transfer to ST Sounder rail service.

        I wonder if people bother to read the FAQ on ORCA’s website [which I’ll say is poorly designed]:

        I need to take more than one bus to get to my destination. When does my ability to transfer expire?

        Transfers expire two hours after a fare is paid.

        I use an E-purse and I need to transfer from one agency to another agency. How does that work?

        As long as you are riding on a service that accepts the ORCA card, all transit product value that you spend on one agency’s service will count for a fare on another agency’s service within a two-hour period. ***** No transfers are issued or accepted on Washington State Ferries.*****

        How do transfers work with the ORCA card?

        Provided you use your E-purse or a regional pass for fare payment, you can travel on any bus, train or rail system in the region. When you pay your fare with E-purse, you pay for your first fare when you tap. For any subsequent taps made within two hours you pay only the difference if another fare is higher. If you use an agency specific pass on your ORCA card you can transfer within that agency’s service. ***Transfers are not valid on Washington State Ferries.***

      3. An additional difference on transfers, I believe, occurs on pay-as-you-leave buses. Paper transfers are good if you board until the time the transfer expires, even if you ride for a while before you have to show the transfer. At least that is what was printed on the transfer, and most drivers give a generous grace period.

        When it says that on ORCA transfer expires two hours after the fare is paid, I’m guessing that if a card is tapped on exit at 2 hours 1 minute, there is no transfer value. Or is the system set to know when the bus began its run? This can make a difference if you ride a pay-as-you-leave bus on a long run.

        Anyone know how this works?

      4. Frank,
        I think there might be a few instances where the taps could be outside the two-hour window. I think taking a bus from the VA hospital to Stanwood (using CT) would be about two-and-a-half hours. Unless traffic is horrendous, I would think that there would not be many trips where a tap on, ride, transfer, ride, tap off would be more than two hours.

        I have also found that if one of your taps upgrades your fare, the two-hour clock starts over. For instance, if you take a bus from Queen Anne to Seattle and pay the $1.75 fare, then transfer to a bus from Tacoma and tap off at Tacoma Dome, you would be charged another $1.25 (to make the $3.00 fare between Seattle and Tacoma) but your two-hour window begins again. If you return to Seattle within two hours, it won’t charge you the $3.00. However, if catching the bus back to Queen Anne is beyond the two hours of the second tap, it will charge the Metro fare. Here is the step-by-stop of how that would work:

        Board #2 at 7th/Raye at 9:10 AM and tap ORCA (ORCA is charged $1.75 and two-hour clock begins)
        Get off at 3rd/Union at 9:33 AM and walk over to 2nd to catch 594 to Tacoma
        Board #594 at 2nd/University at 9:57 AM
        Get off at Pacific/S 19th in Tacoma at 10:56 AM and tap ORCA (ORCA is charged $1.25 and two-hour clock resets)
        Visit Museum of History
        Board #594 at Pacific/S 19th at 12:25 PM and tap ORCA (display shows as transfer)
        Get off at 4th/Union at 1:24 PM and walk to 3rd/Pike to catch #2 to Queen Anne
        Board #2 at 3rd/Pike at 1:48 PM
        Get off at 7th/Raye at 2:11 PM and tap ORCA (ORCA is charged $1.75 since this is beyond the two hours of the fare upgrade)

        Total fare charged: $4.75 for round trip between Queen Anne and Tacoma

      5. I’ve seen the two-hour limit get extended when my nephew paid an up-grade from ST Express to Link (he’s a youth). We took a trip from Everett to Tukwila. My nephew used his ORCA card and his two-hour window was extended when his card upgraded the fare on Link. His return trip on Link was included within the two-hour window. However, he was charged a full youth fare was charged when we got on Sounder.

        My sister was along on the same trip. Her card was charged again when we left Tukwila. However, the full $2.50 fare was applied to the Sounder fare.

      6. “But on the other hand, I have heard that if you are switching agencies, you only get credit for one-zone. Do you get credit for what a 1-zone cost on the original agency or the one you are transferring to? Do you pay the difference of the original agency or the new one?”

        This is the current policy with a transfer. ORCA allows the full value of the original fare paid to apply on the second vehicle.

      7. Thank you for the clarifications. So I was carrying forward my understanding of paper transfer policies to ORCA transfer policies. ORCA is generally more generous. It’s a fair bet that most people don’t understand how ORCA will work, as I don’t think the agencies have done a good job of communicating that ORCA transfer policies are different, nor how they work. Of course the fact that our newspapers are generally ignorant about transit doesn’t help either. I bet there will be a few front page stories in the Seattle Times about ORCA problems or confusions comes January.

        I read the Metro fare increase pamphlet when it came out. After reading it, I knew fares were going up and ORCA required for transfers to non-Metro service. If it explained how transfers will work, it didn’t stick with me.

      8. Forget about the existing paper transfer policy – it’s gone in a few days anyway. ORCA transfer policy is actually very intuitive – you get 2 hours of transfer credit for what you have already paid. Each time you upgrade your fare you get an additional 2 hours of transfer time at the new upgraded fare.

        The fares themselves are still confusing – Peak, off-peak, 1, 2, or 3 zones, different pricing for reduce fare on different agencies, etc… But that’s not ORCA’s fault – assuming the operator sets their ORCA reader correctly it really takes all of the hassle out of the process. Then you can go home and look at your ORCA transactions to figure out all of the fares without having people staring at you while you’re sorting it all out.

        (Yes, I know we operators aren’t perfect about setting the ORCA readers to the correct fare. Some of us don’t want to deal with it but I most of us are just focused on our primary duty of driving people safely to their destination. I’ll be really happy when the GPS system is installed and the ORCA reader is automatically set – assuming it works properly.)

      9. ORCA is more generous in crediting the full amount of the first trip. It’s less generous by expiring it in two hours, while bus transfers are sometimes cut for three hours or all night.

      1. Only during peak though.

        I wonder how many people will go out of their way to take the 140 to Link instead of the 101, 106 or 150 to save 25¢ or 50¢ a year from now.

      2. I’ve thought about it some. Right now I take the 150 from Kent to Seattle and back. But the 180 is closer to home in Kent. It takes a bit longer, but taking the 180 to Link isn’t too bad (transfer at the kiss-and-ride).

        Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on the return trip. There’s no good place to transfer from Link back to the SE-bound 180.

        But it also doesn’t save me any money right now–I use an employee issued pass.

      3. Joshua,
        That will change in February when Metro will change the 180 to serve SeaTac/Airport Station both ways.

        Also, according to the Service Implementation Plan for Sound Transit, it appears they will have an all-day service from Auburn to Seattle beginning in February.

      4. Yes….578 will be like an extended 577 from Fed Way TC to Auburn, Sumner, and Puyallup. And at peak hours trips will be extended….to/from Tacoma, To Tacoma from Puyallup in the AM and from Tacoma to Puyallup in the PM. Seattle to Puyallup via Fed Way TC will operate all-day, two-way on 578 w/ added rush hour service on the 577(Seattle-Fed Way only) on weekdays. Weekend service will be two-way 577 only ending around 10pm on Sat and 7pm on Sunday.

        Heres the weird part…..For the Fed Way to Seattle commuters 577/578 will both work, which ever comes first…..but they will operated by different agencies..577(Metro) 578(PT)….so those who still use tickets will have a problem….since PT tickets are only good on the 578 and Metro tickets on the 577.

        Metro changes mentioned above will be changing the 180. Also, 128 and 140 will serve Tukwila Link Station and one or two new routes will be added…..can’t remember what they are though…..just local routes.

      5. The 578 has a somewhat intresting service pattern. Mid day, the service will be bi-directional out of seattle to puyallup, and from puyallup to sumner. During the peak times, it will run in reverse of the peak direction, and start/end at TDS. So in the AM it will run SB from seattle only to TDS, and in the PM it will run NB only from TDS to seattle. the 577 picks up the slack during the peak direction.

  9. What I don’t understand is if you drive onto the ferry you can used your Orca card to pay for your passengers but not for the car and driver. If they don’t have Orca readers at each pay booth do they expect passengers to get out and go tap in somewhere else? Sort of silly, I’ll just use a credit card to pay for everyone in the car and the ferry system ends up paying a fee back to the credit card company. It would be nice if they offered a cash/Orca reduced fare equal to the cost of processing the credit card transaction.

    1. So according to the WSF website passengers can tap in at any toll booth. Also really silly is that you can’t pay your bicycle surcharge with Orca. Is there any other transit agency that charges a surcharge for bikes?

      1. I used to get a PugetPass on Orca for my bicycle commute on the ferry (I go from Seattle to Bremerton every night). I have given up paying with Orca, despite the reduced fare, because the toll booth operators would cringe at two cards coming at them (the Orca for the passenger fare — oh, they dislike Orca — + a dollar on my credit card for the surcharge OR I would have to remember to bring cash, which is kind of a pain to juggle when you’re on a bike). So now I just pay with a credit card. I might be cutting off my nose to spite my face but the complexities, especially on a bike with pushy cars/motorcyclists behind you, make it a wash.

      2. Actually it’s to your benefit to use the credit card. We always use the DiscoverCard on the ferry which gives us cash back. Been looking at getting one of the Amtrak cards to start saving up rail discounts for a vacation. The thing is, it costs the state a premium to take these credit cards so it’s amazing that having made the investment they won’t accept Orca for everything (and should offer a discount, it’s better than cash). FWIW, I’ve been told that the transponders for the tolls on 520 will be the same as Wave2Go so I imagine that option is in my future shortly.

      3. Not sure who you’re remark is pointed to. I did load some extra money on my Orca card. Sort of like sticking money in your mattress but it (for me) is a trivial amount. The issue I see is WSF encouraging the use of a credit card payment, which comes with a hefty service fee, even after they’ve invested (evidently) in the cost of readers at every toll booth. That’s stupid on two levels. First it costs them more to accept the credit card payment. Second, if they’re making toll booth payment, bad for both the ferry system, why invest in those readers in the first place? This is classic government stupidity; although I’m sure it was driven by someone who stands to profit. The only ones I can think of are the credit card companies and the companies that built the readers (OK, maybe the software company that sorts it all out).

      1. i beilieve WSF has a seperate system just for vehicles. I’m sure adding vehicle/bicycle surcharges to ORCA would make it even more complex than it already it is. However it would increase the versitility of it.

  10. Today I received the email quoted below from Sound Transit. Note that it does not tell you what the transfer value is or what additional fare will be collected if you transfer.

    Beginning January 1, 2010 all transfers and passes switch to ORCA

    TRANSFERS: Paper transfers will not be issued or accepted by Sound Transit starting Jan. 1. Riders using cash instead of an ORCA card to transfer between buses and trains will pay the full fare for each leg of their ride.
    • ST express buses will no longer issue paper transfer slips.
    • Sounder and Central Link paper tickets will no longer carry any transfer value for rides on other trains or buses
    • Paper transfers from Metro or Pierce Transit will no longer be accepted aboard Sound Transit buses or trains, and Sound Transit train tickets will not be accepted by Community Transit, Everett Transit, Metro, or Pierce Transit.
    • Upgrades at Ticket Vending Machines will no longer be available and must be paid using your ORCA e-purse.
    • Sounder and Link tickets will only be valid between stations printed on the ticket.
    • One-way Sounder and Link tickets will only be valid for 2 hours.

    Switch to ORCA and get the transfer credit for your connecting bus or train trip. By using ORCA to pay the fare, your transfer will be automatically calculated and valid for two hours on any bus or train.

    PASSES: TVMs will issue passes only on ORCA cards. Other passes will be accepted until they expire.

    1. How can they? Let’s say you take Route 301 from Aurora Village to downtown Seattle and want to transfer to a bus to Mercer Island. If you take the bus at 8:25, you will be charged $2.50. You go to Seattle and catch Route 550 in the tunnel. Your transfer value on this trip is $2.50. When you get to Mercer Island, you tap your ORCA card and it gives you a transfer value of $2.50, which is the fare from Seattle to Mercer Island. You wouldn’t be charged anything on Route 550. This same trip made with a paper transfer would be $3.50 because Sound Transit allows a $1.50 credit for the transfer.

      Now, take the trip on the next trip departing at 8:53. Since this is an off-peak trip, you will be charged $1.75 (afterall, it’s not January 1 yet). Now you catch Route 550 in the tunnel and get to Mercer Island. It will remember you paid $1.75 and since the fare on Route 550 is $2.50, your card will be charged an additional 75-cents. Again, the fare paid was a total $2.50. This same trip made with a paper transfer would have been $2.75.

      As you can see, given that there are six transit agencies, there is no way they could tell you what the transfer value would be.

  11. Here in Chicago, we have the Chicago Card/Plus which is the same smart RFID style payment card as ORCA. It is good for use on the extensive CTA bus and rail “L” system and a suburban PACE bus system but not on the regional commuter rail. Fares are pretty straight forward e.g. no zone fares although there is a small .25 difference for rail vs. bus. Transfers are good with the Chicago card but not with cash or the still issued paper fare cards. To get the benefit of a transfer you must have a Chicago card. Chicago Cards can be purchased at retailers or online but are not available at train vending machines.

    In planning my trip to Seattle I’m noticing (to my dismay) that while frequency on the Link is pretty good, bus routes even to densely populated areas are not so much (18-35 minutes). I guess I’m spoiled to be able to walk out my door and have several bus routes and average frequency of about 8-12 minutes. But this is a very dense neighborhood with lots of high rises.

    Looking forward to catching Link at the airport tomorrow.

      1. Well it appears you can. Here’s the section from the FAQ:

        Can Chicago Card Plus® be used to pay for more than one customer at a time?
        Just like traditional farecards, passback privileges allow up to seven customers to board the same bus route or pass through the same rail station turnstile using one card. Each passback ride will have the appropriate fare (full fare or transfer) deducted from the card owner’s account. Each customer will touch Chicago Card Plus to the touchpad on the front of rail station turnstiles and bus fareboxes on all CTA and Pace buses, then pass the card back for the next customer to use.
        If using a 30-Day Pass, up to seven customers can board the same bus route or pass through the same rail station turnstile using one card within up to an 18-minute period. The first customer’s fare is recorded as an unlimited ride using a 30-Day Pass. Each passback ride will be considered Pay-Per-Use. The appropriate fare (full fare or transfer) is recorded to the card owner’s account and charged to their credit card. The charge will include all passback charges, plus $10, which will be immediately available for future fare payment. The additional $10 is charged to ensure that you are able to continue using the passback feature if you choose.

        There is one circumstance where a Chicago Card Plus cannot be used to pay for up to seven customers: If six or fewer customers begin their trip while using one card, and they attempt to transfer to another bus or rail line with customers who were not present at the origin of the trip, the card will not be accepted for fare payment of the additional customers.

    1. At a ticket vending machine, get an ORCA card. You have to put $5.00 on it, but if all you use it for is getting to and from the airport, you’ll be covered as the fare is $2.50 each way to downtown. You can add value at any ticket vending machine if you use transit other times during your visit.

      1. Oh, I got an ORCA card when I was here last summer. I even added money to it so it will be ready when I arrive. I guess I’m a nerd. I’ve been collecting RFID fare cards from different systems in cities I visit.

  12. Isn’t the only way to add value immediately to an ORCA card is to go to a customer service office or TVM?

    It’d be nice if we could have TVMs at more transit centers, like bellevue where i live :). I’d much rather use a TVM to add value than to go online, often when i need to add money im already out and about (usually without cash). Also, when seattle I can get a link ticket and use it as a day pass. It’d be nice if we had that option on the eastside.

    Do you think this is feasible?

    1. They have TVMs at Tukwila Sounder station which is basically a trackside wooden shack. I don’t see why ST couldn’t put some at Bellevue TC which has far better infrastructure. Oh and fix those broken next bus displays, too. They just have to find the money to do that.

      1. I forgot about those displays, if my phone’s dead i look at the payphones for the time :P. Reminds me when i went to overlake transit center and each of the displays had a different time, which was funny because they were actually for microsoft’s connector buses.

  13. What will be lots of fun, and it has already happened in L.A. the totally effed-up TAP card, will be the day when a person who thought he or she was playing by the rules and has enough value (pass or e-purse) on their magic wand, er, Smartcard gets a citation anyways because the fare inspectors reader-gadget says that the ORCA card is not valid:


    And who is to argue with the hand-held computer? Computers are never wrong!

  14. So, on a bus, you can tell the bus driver you’re paying for multiple people with ORCA and I would presume the transfers would work for those people traveling with you. But how is this going to work on Link? I was told that to cover multiple people on Link you had to buy them tickets. Well, that will suck if they can’t transfer to a bus.

    1. Yes, you use the TVM to purchase tickets for multiple people with an ORCA card. And because passes are non-transferrable, you can only use E-purse value to purchase tickets. I would assume, but don’t know for sure, that the card would store a record stating that you bought 3 Link tickets. That way when you board a bus and tell the operator that you’re paying for 3 people, it’d see that you recently made 3 purchases for $x and would give you the appropriate transfer credit times 3.

  15. So I have a question I haven’t seen addressed anywhere on the blog as of yet.

    I often use change to pay for the bus, especially pennies. I love how the fare machines on MT always counts the pennies.

    Reloading and ORCA on a TVM can you use coins? I know it dispenses coins for change so they are in there but what about adding fare via coin?

    Do I have to go to one of the outlets with penny rolls now? ;)

    1. Sound Transit TVMs accept cash in 5¢ nickels, 10¢ dimes, 25¢ quarters, $1 coins, $1 bills, $5 bills, $10 bills, and $20 bills.

      No pennies :( and no $2, $50, $100 bills.

      The minimum value you can add to your ORCA is $5.

  16. Oh cool on the silver coins!!
    However you HAVE to put in at least $5 every time you add with cash?

  17. Let’s say tomorrow I find myself waiting for a 4:20pm bus and in my hand is a transfer that expires at 4:30pm. The bus arrives 15 minutes late. The driver lets me on with my transfer.

    In the ORCA world would I be screwed and have to pay again?

  18. In reply to Comment by Ben Schiendelman
    2009-12-24 16:46:53

    Someone who’s choosing between $10 for groceries and $10 for ORCA is probably eligible for food stamps, and probably eligible for either subsidized trips or a cheap/free pass.

    Find me someone who’s really negatively affected, and then we’ll talk.

    That would be me, on both accounts.

    I often have medical appointments at Swedish, and I can take one of several buses in the Boren & Madison corridor. Sometimes that’s a Sound Transit bus, sometimes a Metro bus. There is always at least one transfer involved each way.

    So, after next week- if I were to hop on the ST bus then make a necessary transfer downtown to an MT bus route to get home, I would have to pay full fare twice. If I did that both ways, I’d be paying full fare FOUR times. How is this fair?

    Theoretically, of course- because that’s not something I can afford. So, it means I will get to go to the Dr. less often- or wait longer in inclement weather for the next MT bus, instead of taking the ST bus which usually shows up first (and gets me closer to my transfer stop- I’m using a cane, walking is painful.)

    Presently, I am barely surviving on $339/month while caught-up in the FUBAR SSDI ‘hurry up & wait’ process. (Yes, $339.00! An amount which, until my recent injury and subsequent inability to work, is less than what I was spending on coffee breaks and lunches during a usual working month.) The social service agency which had been providing me with bus tickets is now insisting that I apply for a disabled fare pass.

    According to the Metro rider info agent I spoke with, I would have to obtain said pass on an ORCA card. In addition to not wanting to have my every movement tracked, stored and potentially released to whomever they want, the form demands incredibly sensitive medical information regarding my disability. I reject and refuse this invasion of my privacy.

    (And, as an aside, calling ORCA CS after reading the Seattle Times article was completely useless. The man knew nothing, tried to tell me that employers (etc.) would not have access to trip info, then wanted my name and phone number because he “did not know” how to transfer me to a supervisor when I informed him that he was incorrect. Right…)

    My only option at this point to retain my privacy and avoid having to pay duplicate fares when transferring to/from ST & MT buses in one trip, or so I have been told, is this convoluted procedure:

    Obtain a few ORCA cards while they are still free, try to save enough money to load cash to cover a few trips at one time and rotate the cards (unregistered, obviously) periodically. This is absolutely ridiculous!

    So, you said “Then, we’ll talk.” What do you have to say about it now? I’m sure there are many more of me who will never get the chance to respond to you, so I felt I had to.

    1. “Obtain a few ORCA cards while they are still free, try to save enough money to load cash to cover a few trips at one time and rotate the cards (unregistered, obviously) periodically.”

      Why do you need more than one card? If you get an unregistered card and fill it up at a TVM with cash, the only thing it’s recording is that somebody in your neighborhood goes to First Hill frequently — like many part-time employees.

      Although if you have the money it’s good to get a few extra cards during the free period, for out-of-town guests or to give to your transit-skeptical friends.

      1. From what I have seen on my ORCA card, my transaction history does not say the location where I get on the bus. It does say which bus I board, but not where.

      2. Yeah it does, it’s just not useful: “KCM, KCM-BUS-4196”. The DSTT is better: “SOT, INTERNATIONAL DIST.”

  19. A practical question for the group – I ordinarily buy an annual Metro pass, and then put a grommet in the upper lefthand corner and attach the pass to my key chain, threading the chain through the grommet. That way, I am less likely to lose the thing, and I’d like to do the same with the Orca card.
    Just looking at the Orca card, I can’t readily see that there’s an area that would be damaged by this. Is there? If so, what area of the card should I avoid, and not ram a grommet through?
    And if I attach the card to my keys in this way, will I still be able to use it – add value, check balance, “tap” it, etc.?
    Thanks, LM

    1. ORCA doesn’t recommend you punch holes in your card because you may damage the internals. The antenna is a loop of wire running around the edge of the card so avoid that area.

      Here’s a picture called Anatomy of an ORCA Card that shows the approximate position of the internals after the card was dissolved.

    2. I would suggest not punching the card, I know someone who has wrecked three cards trying that.

      A definite design flaw in the system, seems to have been designed by someone who never rode transit.

      You can put the card in a pouch of some sort, or epoxy a strap to the outside surface of the card so it doesn’t interfere with the circuitry.

  20. Very cool photo of the internals. Okay – well, I’ll have to figure out a better way. Thanks, Oran,


    1. You can try the UW bookstore; they usually sell a couple types of clear plastic ID holders that can be used as a lanyard or attached to a keychain. They’re popular with students since it’s not advisable to put a hole in our Husky Cards either. This is because of the magnetic strip for the Husky Card Account, not because they have ORCA. Sometime at the end of the year they’re supposed to change over. And having seen that picture, I’m really curious as to how you’d design electronics so as to put the RFID technology and the magnetic strip technology in a single card and have them both work without any interference. It’ll be interested

  21. My employer is stuck solidly in the age of paper, so our transit subsidy comes in the form of paper checks — employees go down to HR each month, get their checks, payable to any transit fare sales outlet, then take the checks to wherever they buy their transit pass. The company pays 50%, employees make up the difference with cash, credit card, or personal check.

    This may seem entirely stone age, but it’s been working for ages.

    This month, when I went to get my checks, the transit coordinator asked my opinion of the upcoming switch to ORCA. I said I’d been switched back in the summer since I use a PugetPass. She was thrilled to hear it, since her contact at Metro had said the paper checks couldn’t be used for PugetPass on ORCA. She had never seen the mail-order form for ORCA card orders.

    We’re not the biggest company in the county, only around 800 employees in King County, and I don’t know how many companies still use the old paper check system, so maybe this is an insignificant blip in the numbers. But wouldn’t it have made sense to send the company a few dozen ORCA mail-order forms in advance of the change-over? Or even send out a dozen no-value ORCA cards so employees could add value without having to wait for a card to come in the mail?

    1. Our company got a pile of “blank” ORCA cards. All we had to do was fill out a company request form and tell them how much to deduct per month for a pass or ePurse account. They give us a card and record the serial number. Our payroll is set up to move money from our paycheck pre-tax which would help you guys since 50% is still paid by you. Every month they send in a check for the entire amount of everybody’s ORCA card (some people buy passes, other like me just do ePurse). It works great and still preserves the paper check trail. There’s actually some pretty good reasons for doing it “the old fashion way” with printed checks and a signiture. The added work for your HR would I think be more than offset by only having to write one check per month.

      1. A better way to handle the employer/employee pass situation, IMO is to either freely issue or “sell” the card to the employee, with the employer recording the serial number. than through use of an automated process they could load the next month’s puget pass, or e-purse value onto the card automatically. Of course upon termination they would have to revoke the pass in the computer, which would trigger the system upon next “tap” to remove atleast the pass in question, or simply let it expire and not renew. the employee would keep “his” card, and anything he loaded onto it. Employer could not access the transaction details unless a formal request was made to ST/ORCA.

      2. Sorry, I wasn’t clear. The checks we get aren’t individually made out. They have a big file folder of pre-printed checks in strange denominations, and give employees some combination of these checks to equal that employee’s subsidy. (The file folder is covered with notes of different combinations that add up to different subsidy amounts. They don’t have any combination that adds up to my subsidy amount, so they try to go a dollar over one month, a dollar under the next.)

        But there’s no system of tracking who got how much, and it doesn’t tie in to payroll or provide any sort of a paper trail for the employer.

        The checks aren’t from the company, they’re a special transit subsidy check that the company gets in bulk.

  22. A MAJOR downside on Orca transfers vs. paper transfers as yet not fully explored.

    With a paper transfer, your transfer is good for 2 hours from either the central CBD or outbound terminal if you’re on a route that doesn’t go through the CBD. So long as you BOARD by the time your transfer expires – it’s good for the entire 2nd bus ride.

    Hence – if you board the #10 on Capitol Hill after a hard day at Group Health, pay your fare in cash and get a transfer good for 1:59 from that bus’s arrival downtown – you have plenty of time to transfer to the 218 to the Issaquah highlands. Hit bad traffic on I-90? No problem, you got on the bus before your transfer expired – it’s still good as a paid fare when you get off the bus at 6:15pm, even though it was cut to expire at 5:30.

    Not so with an Orca card issued e-transfer.

    Orca transfers are good for 2 hours from the time your fare was paid. So – board the #10 at 15th and John, hit traffic on Pine Street into town, and the 218 runs late because of a pileup on I-90 – you wind up paying a second, full, 2-zone fare when you get off the bus in Issaquah.

    MAJOR inequity there.

    Orca incompetence in answering questions about this kind of issue is piling on. Recently someone posted this exact scenario on the King County News blog in a post entitled “Got Questions About the New Orca Card? We’ve Got Answers!” http://kingcountynews.wordpress.com/2009/12/30/got-questions-about-the-new-orca-card-weve-got-answers/

    Rather than answering the user’s question – Linda Thielke came on with a post referring people to a non-existent “Q&A” and a recommendation to call customer service to get the question answered.

    Pretty pathetic, really.

    1. You are correct, its from 2 hours from the moment you tag on. I beileive the same applies to LINK and Sounder as well. You would be out some of your transfer time if your vehicle was late in arriving. Also today i noted some intresting things in my travels. I went to go add e-purse value to my ORCA at a TVM, and 2 of them were not functioning properly (were locked up with an error about timing out on the screen), however the 2 at SoDo station were functional. Paying in cash it did not give me a reciept for it either, and was slow at programming my card. Also riding home today on the 594 the operator was collecting fares as you entered within the RFA, while the RFA was still in effect (by all published information i could find on the matter. It got some groveling by the passengers, of course if you used your e-purse you were automatically out the 35+ minutes of your transfer time right there).

  23. on the 594 the operator was collecting fares as you entered within the RFA

    Another Orca flaw – it isn’t set to the times of the RFA, but by the “trip”. Hence, if most of the times on a trip are outside the RFA time (i.e 7pm), then it collects a fare during all of that trip – unless the driver over-rides and manually sets collection to “Ride Free”. Hence, if you board at 6:45 (still Ride Free time), you’ll pay a fare if the driver merely changed their trip and didn’t manually override to set the RFA.

    1. I boarded close to 4:30 and the trip terminates at 6:38 so it shouldent have been, unless the system was mis-configured. Of course it did slow boarding down some however it helps with the fare evasion problem which i hear is quite severe on the 59x series during the off peak. Prehaps its time to eiliminate the RFA entirely, and make LINK “Free” within the confines of the DSTT similar to portland. Of course you would have to adjust stops some to account for slower boarding, which sometimes might not be a bad thing.

  24. My friend and I were recently talking about how technology has become so integrated in our day to day lives. Reading this post makes me think back to that debate we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

    I don’t mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside… I just hope that as technology further develops, the possibility of uploading our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It’s a fantasy that I dream about almost every day.

    (Posted on Nintendo DS running R4i SDHC DS HomeBrow)

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