Many people, like myself, now have ORCA cards issued by their employer in addition to the personal card they own. I carry both of them in my wallet. The problem is I can’t tap my wallet on the reader with two cards. The reader tells me “one card at a time please” and prevents double-charging, which is a good thing but it requires me to take the card out to tap. My solution to this is to wrap my personal card in aluminum foil, then keep the card separated from the other ORCA card with the other cards in my wallet. The first time I did this was with 10 layers of foil but I tried with just a single layer and it works. The metallic foil effectively shields the card from radio waves and prevents it from being read. The other cards keep the foil far enough from the card you want to be readable. This means only the side of the wallet that the unwrapped card is on can be read.

I’m aware that there are similar products for passports, enhanced drivers licenses, debit cards and other contactless cards but this is a quick and cheap solution you can do at home. This trick also appeals to people who don’t want strangers ‘sniffing’ their contactless cards for potentially malicious purposes.

33 Replies to “Shield Your ORCA with Aluminum Foil”

    1. @Gordon If your employer issues you an Orca card they have access to all your travel date/time and route information. Some people don’t like that.

    2. I have an employer issued card and I can’t add any epurse dollars for personal use through the ORCA site. It can only be loaded through my employer’s 3rd party transit benefit vendor in order to certify that I am only using it for transportation to and from work. I believe that is a stipulation of pre-tax transit benefits. The nice thing is that last month when I took two weeks of vacation I calculated my fare needs and purchased epurse dollars through my employer instead of a PugetPass and saved about $10-15, something that was not easily done before. Unfortunately if I have guests in town I would need a separate ORCA to pay for their rides if I don’t have any excess epurse dollars.

    3. I didn’t sign up for an employer pass last year because I was afraid they wouldn’t handle the fare increases properly. I finally did sign up for January, and I called December 29th to say my ORCA card hadn’t appeared yet. The benefits admin (a third-party company) couldn’t even confirm they sent me a card; she said they didn’t. I said, “Which card did they put the pass on then? It can’t be my personal card because I never gave them the number.” Unless ORCA figures it out by name, which wouldn’t be very reliable.

      Finally my card arrived December 30th, but it had the old fare on it, even though their website said it would automatically adjust for fare increases. I called both ORCA and the adminstrator to try to get the pass upgraded, but both of them refered me to the other. I also didn’t have any epurse money on it, and the card came with a note saying I couldn’t add cash to it without going through payroll deduction, meaning I’d have to set up the order two months in advance.

      Normally I wouldn’t need the epurse for work but I do need it on the weekends. But this month I’d have to pay an extra quarter every trip because the pass was too low. That would cost some $20 compared to the $9 difference between the pass costs. I also didn’t want to pay a quarter every trip and trust that the transfer feature would always work (as I have to take two buses to get to work). So I just bought a redundant pass for my personal card. An $81 solution to a $20 problem. :)

      Normally I keep $10 on my card and it takes several months to use it up. But now I either have to keep filling the epurse on my work card (and predict two months in advance how much I’ll need), or put it on my personal card (which wouldn’t have a pass so I’d end up paying the full fare), or put an extra quarter in whenever I go to the suburbs, or pay with my epurse when I ride Link (also paying full fare).

      It makes me feel like just skipping the employer card, because it’s so much more convenient to have a single card with a pass and an epurse I only use occasionally (on the off chance I spontaneously ride Sounder someday). If my cost is $81 * 12 = $972, and 33% of that is $321, and that corresponds to $50 in tax, then it looks like I’m only losing $50 in taxes anyway.

      1. Yet another reason we need to switch to a regional zoned system like a lot of Euro cities use. Passes would be so much simpler if you could simply buy a 2-zone pass or whatever fits your commute. PugetPass can be really confusing for new transit users or people who have just moved here and have no idea how much their daily bus fares are likely to be. The recent problem with employers not accounting for the Metro fare increase when issuing new passes would also be eliminated with a zone system.

    4. Plus, the e-purse works on the State Ferry system, and the Orca card from my employer (well, when it comes later this year) won’t cover those trips.

    5. I didn’t load an e-purse on my employer provided card because I’m an intern, due to leave in a few months. I don’t know if I can get a refund of my e-purse on the business ORCA card when I leave.

      I don’t mind too much about the travel history.

  1. I still prefer to use my personal RRFP ORCA loaded with a $2.50 PugetPass this way I know I can ride anything (even Sounder) and don’t have to worry about Microsoft checking on my rides. Besides, I was one of them transit junkies who wanted to play with a new toy when ORCA first came out and I’m still using that card.

    Though I do have a question for Everett riders: I’m heading to Everett this weekend. Adam (my brother) also has an RRFP ORCA, but it only had e-purse. Everett Transit still recognizes that free ride, correct?

  2. my problem with orca is that it displays how much is left on the card. if i load up $500 on it i don’t want to be mugged… not likely but just something i don’t like.

    1. The maximum you can load on a card is $300. If your card is registered, you can get your card blocked and value transferred to a new card. Of course, they can’t be responsible if you get hurt.

    2. I was also concerned about this, but I’m pretty comfortable with the ORCA pod’s response to security concerns. Thanks to comments during ORCA’s beta testing, the formerly super-large type sizee of the e-purse report on the card processors wassubstantiallyy reduced in size, and doesn’t remain on the screen as long, and I feel the platform validators and TVMs also minimize the risk as much as humanly possible.

  3. I use a polycarbonate anti-skimming badge holder, which holds two cards, and works exactly as advertised, to boot. The company also sells some short, but heavy-duty lanyards.

    On the one hand, it’s a pain not to keep the card in my wallet (which I did for a couple of weeks), but on the other hand, it’s nicer to keep my wallet secure and in a safe place, and not have to pull it out in the crush of boarding public transit.

  4. I have three cards: Orca, Work, apartment complex gym.

    All three work from my wallet just fine.

    Suggest new wallet.

      1. I was going to suggest the same thing, along with maybe a hat cam or something – and I was going to note that, with 2 ORCA cards and your U-Pass, you are definitely ready to ride.

      2. It’s an expired U-Pass. I stopped getting them after the price doubled to $99/quarter. I pay only $18/month pre-tax through work for a 2 zone peak pass. It’s not enough to cover Sounder but I don’t need to ride it. And the Amtrak U-pass discount is no more :(

  5. Have we got to a point that we are so lazy that we don’t even want to take our ORCAs out of our wallets. Is it really that hard.

    1. It’s not laziness. There’s no point in taking the card out and risk losing it. I’ve lost a few UPASSes before and don’t have to risk losing them again. It’s more trouble, time and money to replace a lost pass. It also better for eveyone because less time is wasted waiting for people rummaging through their pockets, bags or purse looking for change, that crumpled transfer or plastic pass that needs to be physically swiped or to pull out a card that can be read through the bag. Don’t be that guy who holds up the bus.

      1. Well, I am usuially not the guy who holds up the bus. I have my card in my hand as the bus pulles up.

      2. Thank you for being a considerate rider. Personally, I don’t care how people use their ORCA. It’s none of my business. It only becomes a problem when they affect others.

    2. The readers seem to be optimized for cards at wallet distance. I get an almost 100% successful read rate with the card in my wallet, whereas when I’m holding the card I have to hold it at just the right angle and distance for a second before it registers.

    1. I would have to hop to get my butt up there. I’m not a tall guy.

      Actually, I do that with my office access card all the time but for some reason I don’t want to do that on the bus.

  6. I ordered a second card with the intent of installing a switch in line with the antenna. Hopefully i can do this without destroying the card.

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