Photo from Sound Transit

The ORCA governing board (comprised of various transit agency CEOs) decided today to extend the free ORCA period until February 28, 2010.  This is meant to speed up transactions for the rush of people trying to get ORCA cards now.  Starting March 1st, it’ll be $5.

Metro has also set up a hotline for Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP) holders who have questions about ORCA: (206) 205-9185.  They’re also opening the service centers at 201 Jackson St. and in Westlake Station on Saturdays on January 31st and all February.  And of course, online and at TVMs are a less painful option, unless you need an reduced-fare ORCA.

Three interesting factoids: 330,000 ORCA cards have been issued.  There are about 400,000 Metro boardings a day, so with all the other agencies that’s probably something like one per rider.  There were 86,000 ORCA boardings in December and already 154,000 this month, so the stick of ending transfers appears to have worked.

79 Replies to “Free ORCA to last another month”

  1. Awesome news. Which service center is that photo? It’s definitely not King St Center’s basement one.

      1. I suspect that there was extra lighting in place when the models arrived to do the photo shoot.

        [deleted, inappropriate comment]

  2. This is a wise decision. On a weekday mid-morning earlier this month, while I was adding to my ORCA card’s e-purse at one of the TVMs next to Metro’s Westlake Customer Shop, there were over 50 extremely unhappy customers standing in line. A single window was manned, and the employee was patiently explaining, and re-explaining, something to a citizen who clearly didn’t understand what she was being told.

    The folks waiting in line who could see me and the gal at the TVM next to me kept looking at us like we were aliens. Both of us were there a couple of minutes (I got two new cards to keep on hand for out-of-town guests), but nobody got out of line to see what we were doing. I keep getting the feeling that the methods the agencies are using to get the word out just aren’t working.

    The last two times I’ve been at the King Street Center only a few windows have been open, and the slowly moving line was out the door one of those days. If folks trying to get a card are running up against these long lines on a daily basis, the process is going to take a while.

    1. If folks waiting to get a card aren’t willing to listen to the staff telling them they can do almost all of it at a TVM, then yeah, they’re going to wait.

      If their time is really worth that little, let them.

      1. I was in the tunnel waiting in line at the westlake customer shop back on the 4th. There was actually a metro employee going up and down the line asking people if they were there for an orca card and answering questions. He would then direct people over to the TVMs and in some cases even help them with the machine.

        I was really thankful for him being there to weed out all of the clueless people from the line. I was in line to purchase taxi scrip, something that I need to do at the desk. His work really speeded up my wait.

    2. The LQA Post Office stationed a clerk in the lobby to help folks use the new postage machine (you can do most things at the machine now w/o going to the counter). They also had someone out there before Christmas to assist. Why can’t Metro do the same?

  3. This is really inexcusable. All the transit agencies knew this change was coming but yet they failed to adequately staff for it.

    Metro, Sound Transit – if you’re watching this space, please get your *sses in gear and get those lines down. Get your PR machine going to get the word out so that people get out of line and use TVM’s. Set up tables in major buildings such as Columbia Center (do they still call it that?), Pacific Place etc. to sell pre-packaged $10 & $20 cards. Heck, get uniformed personnel to sell them on the trains and major bus routes.

      1. This is of course presuming you have convient internet access. Becasue its a public system open to all it has to be designed for the lowest common demonator. Plus i presume that many of the customers either need and RRFP or have other special circumstances involved.

  4. It is indeed unfortunate that those people that need the reduced fare rates, such as the disabled and elderly, also have the most hoops to jump through to get the ORCA card.

    1. Yeah it sucks for youth too, my friend went and waited in line for an hour or so, and when she got up there didn’t have her ID because she didn’t realize you needed it… It’s not like it’s not obvious she’s under 18…

      1. Well youth don’t necessarily carry IDs everywhere with them. But I just don’t understand why it’s so necessary.

    2. Actually as those folks are asking for a substantial additional subsidy to ride public transportation, I see it as appropriate that they need to justify their request with evidence that they are entitled to it.

      1. They already justified their request. They’re just exchanging their card for a new kind of card because the agency decided to change the decorations. It’s like when countries change their currency.

      2. Mike,

        Not everyone who is getting a Disability pass already has one. I was responding to the comment that “it is unfortunate that . . .the disabled and the elderly” should have “the most hoops to jump through.

        I maintain that if you’re asking for a subsidy based on a given condition, it’s inherent upon you to demonstrate that you do in fact have that qualifying condition, i.e. that you “jump through hoops”.

      3. I am so glad I exchanged my old RRFP card for an ORCA way back in May or so last year. There were no lines at Everett Station!

      4. You’re a transit fan who rides all the time. My mom is an occasional rider. I printed out the instructions and map for her in December, and told her she’d have to exchange her reduced fare permit for an ORCA permit by the end of the year or she’d have to pay double when she transfered. She has a walker and it’s a significant burden to go to Seattle just to get a new card. (Why isn’t there any place on the Eastside… like the Bellevue Transit Center?) It’s not just the walking there, it’s the resting half a day so you have enough energy to go, and maybe resting half a day afterward. People who say the elderly/disabled should “jump through hoops”, you don’t understand how big those hoops are for some people. Not everybody has reliable Internet access and can just go online and check these things.

  5. It irritates me to no end when a public entity like Rufus/Martin King Jr County Metro Transit builds a facility like the bus tunnel, places not one but TWO offices capable of providing customer service in Westlake, gives one office 3 customer windows and the other (over by the Frederick’s building) two windows and THEN ONLY OUTFITS ONE of these offices with sales equipment and then only staffs ONE WINDOW of the three there.

    I mean WTF??? Aren’t there enough layabouts upstairs at the King Center or perhaps other Metro staff on temporary disability who could be assigned to staff the other two windows?? There is AFAIK, no heavy lifting involved.

    AND since the ORCA project is contracted out, why not put their people in the window by Frederick’s (I gather the Nordstroms Shoe store has moved in there now?) or is that some kind of Labor contract violation? I thought the tunnel was Sound Transit property now?

    At the very least, put a large sign explaining step by step how to use the damn ORCA card and put a couple of them on either side of the line-up for the one staffed window!!

    P.S. Do smartcards violate the ADA? How can the blind use them if they don’t talk?

      1. They make distinct sounds for OK read, low funds/pass expiring soon, error/insufficient funds and correspondingly have green, yellow, and red lights.

        The ticket vending machines also talk.

      2. The stations have braille and other identifying sounds. The buses have drivers to relay visible information to the visibly impaired and others who are unable to interpret the information.

  6. No kidding. My husband’s orca card quit working a couple of weeks ago – doesn’t register at all – and we went to get a replacement at Westlake. Stood in line for about 20 minutes while the single clerk argued with a single customer. The entire time. We finally gave up and left. So we ended up paying $5 to replace it online. What a scam.

    I love the idea of the orca card, but the implementation has been terrible.

    1. I’m seeing a lot of Orca cards that have “quit working” because their owners have punched holes in them, severing the internal antenna, so that they can hang them on a lanyard.

      1. I mentioned badge holders on Oran’s post about shielding ORCA cards, but I think they’re important enough to mention again.

        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.

        I realize that most folks haven’t heard about these types of badge holders, but I think the ORCA pod, along with all of the agencies and businesses that issue ORCA cards, should be educating their employees that such things are readily available. The badge holder I use protects the cards very well (the polycarbonate is nearly indestructible), is light as a feather, securely holds ID and smart cards, and the design allows a smart card to easily slide out part way when paying the fare.

    2. Wow, this is one of the most pointless and overly alarmist comments I’ve seen on this blog. I only half believe that it took 20 minutes for the rep to “argue” with the customer. Second, if you order a card online, it’s free until the end of February. If you did pay $5, that’s $5 worth of fares that you can use on the bus, train, or ferry.

      1. If you want to preserve fare value on an ORCA card, the website charges a $5 replacement fee (even though cards are still free to get.) There does not seem to be any way to transfer the value from one card to another.

    1. While I and many on this site are quick to gripe about Mike Lindblum, and rightfully so sometimes (I personally think the big deal made about the not-so-long walk to the terminal from SeaTac station was a bit overblown), it’s stories like this that do well at pointing out our transit agencies major screwups, as much as us pro-transit folk hate to admit. Sure they become fodder for anti-transit folk arguing against these agencies’ mere existence, but I think his articles do more to shed light and raise standards than hurt the cause. Which is actually the job of a good journalist.

      1. That article is terribly written and misleading. This is the title:

        Elderly, disabled struggle to get ORCA transit card

        and here are some exerts:

        “ORCA is gradually replacing all other passes as they expire this year. People who are using an annual pass issued in 2009 need not switch to ORCA until their old pass expires.”

        “Once people get ORCA cards, they won’t need to renew them every year at a service window.”

        So basically ORCA is actually making it easier because people wont have to renew them every year. Lindblum makes it sound like the transition to ORCA is placing some kind of huge burden on the elderly and disabled. Anyone getting an orca rrfp now would have been replacing their rrfp anyways. It is the same exact process applying and receiving the rrfp, the only differece is that it comes on an orca card.

      2. Help me see exactly what’s misleading about those statements. I’ve read them and reread them and can’t identify with your argument. From what it sounds like, the transition to orca IS placing a burden on seniors and disabled. Isn’t that the point. Orca itself isn’t be a burden, but the way it’s being handled by the agencies is making it so. This needs to be publicized.

      3. Orca has also been available for nearly a year – and traditional reduced fare permits will continue to be valid until at least July. There is no need for everyone to have either waited this long to get one – or to all try and get one at once. The issue isn’t so much a lack of customer service personnel (though in proportion to this wave of current demand) as folks who’ve either waited all year to get one, or don’t want to wait any longer (as well as the technophobes who won’t use the machine or computer to get one).

      4. I got my Senior ORCA card the other day, and was pleasantly surprised that it’s still possible to get an annual Metro pass for $99. I had assumed that only monthly passes would be available, at twice the price they were last year.

  7. Everyone needs to get on ORCA. Even if you do not ride the bus. With Sound transit’s decision to not accept or give out transfers anymore you may need one if you are riding the bus in an unusial situtation like you car is having problems and you cannot get a ride.

    1. Not having an ORCA card does not prevent you from riding the bus

      You can still ride the bus without an ORCA card. Sound Transit Express buses do not issue or accept paper transfers, which is only an issue for people that pay in cash. For infrequent riders, it might make sense to some of them that a transfer from system X does not work on system Y.

      1. of course it would have added flexibility and quite a bit of cost to the system to be able to pay a cash fare/upgrade than add the transfer to the ORCA card. Part of this project should have been installing regionally compatabile fareboxes with TRiM units (transfer printers like vancouver, bc) so that cash fares could still be handled as reilably as orca. This would have avoided the regression in fare policys that have happend over the last month.

      2. No reason it should have added a dime of cost. Simply have the reader put an e-transfer on the card even if the fare comes up short, or they could have added a button on the DDU so that the driver could have the user pass their card in front of the reader a second time after paying to add the e-transfer. It was poor planning, period, and now people with Orca cards who pay their full fare cannot get a transfer simply because they had to plunk a quarter in the fare box as well as tap their card.

        Not sure what the future hold with regard to ‘regionally compatible fare boxes’, but I do like the sound of that. It seems that to be fully functional, cash fare boxes will need to have some degree of integration with Orca.

      3. GFI Genfare makes a nifty fare box that has an integrated smart card processor and can even issue transfers. I’m sure that an ERG or Cubic unit, or a MIFARE DESFire-/Ultralight-compatible smart card processor can be selected. (Kitsap Transit, though, according to a couple of operators, seems bound and determined to continue using its antiqudated Main fare boxes. There’s an interesting story that went with those comments, but it’s off topic. Another day…)

      4. According to the marketing brochure (and information I’ve read on various transit industry websites over the past several years), yes:

        Features (excerpted)
        • Processes proximity Smart cards with optional Smart card reader
        • Interfaces with GPS, AVL annunciator systems using industry standard J1708/J1587
        • Transactional data collection, storage and reporting system using Windows 2000/NT platform with SQL and ODBC capabilities
        Options
        • Smart Card Reader
        • Full integration with customer WAN
        • Custom data reports

  8. Most Metro riders (even regular ones) don’t ride every day – the 400,000 daily boardings represent many than 400,000 regular riders. It’ll be a while before most regular riders have ORCAs. Don’t know how long exactly, but…

    1. There are 1.8 people in the Puget Sound, so 400,000 is something like 1/5th to 1/4th of the total population.

      However, presumably most are round trips, making it 200,000. And then there are transfers, so 2 or 3 ‘boardings’ could be a single person.

      Yes, though, with everyone using an ORCA we’d get a much better picture of ridership…

      1. King County’s population is about 1.8M. The region that encompasses Sound Transit’s region is about 3M people.

  9. I use my ORCA each time I go from Kent to Seattle on the Sounder. However, out of all the people there, I’d say only one in 20 users an ORCA card. I don’t see them buying tickets either, and I almost never see a conductor checking fares (and when they do, I just show them my ORCA card — they don’t scan it to verify).

    I’m wondering how many of these people are scofflaws.

    1. I’ve been fare checked a couple of times on the Sounder, and everyone else that I could see on the car had the proper fare as well.

  10. If I add value to my currently blank card, I realize I need to tap within 30 days or the value will be frozen. But is it possible to tap without taking a trip? Can one tap in and out at the same station? Or do I have to tap *and* make a trip?

    1. You need to tap within 30 days only if you add value online. Yes, you can tap in and immediately tap out at a station, which cancels the trip and refunds the fare. Also, try putting the card in a TVM. I’ve heard it should update your card.

      1. So if I just add some value, tap in for a ride on Link and then not use it for two months, and then head down to Link again ( I work from home , so rarely need to commute ) I should be ok?

      2. You can put the card in a TVM and press “ORCA details” and “show card info” or whatever it’s called, and it will show your balance. That should be enough to complete the transaction, or if not you’ll know it immediately. I do all my card-filling at the TVMs now because it gives immediate verification.

  11. Does anyone know whether Metro has considered discounting fares paid via ORCA? Once you have one, the card can be *extremely* convenient, but I wonder if adoption rates would increase if they included some sort of economic motivator akin to London’s Oyster or NYC’s farecards?

    1. Several other cities offer a 10% discount for using a farecard. The Puget Sound transit agencies haven’t said anything about it. They seem to be following the advice of the bean-counters who say maximize revenues by not offering discounts or day passes or free visitor’s cards, no matter how much it disgruntles or shrinks the ridership.

      Although they have said they’re working on visitor’s cards, and might be able to offer one in several months. (After the visitors have gone home and told their friends how expensive and fragmented Seattle transit is, of course.)

  12. If the powers that be sat in my driver’s seat each day, they would make EVERYBODY’s first ORCA card free, forever. The amount of time spent screwing around waiting for passengers to sort through their lint filled pockets for change is maddening. It’s the one thing that really gets me irritated as a driver. (That and parents who don’t pre-fold their baby strollers – but that I at least understand – managing a child, your fare, and a baby stroller is not something I would want to try)

    Metro, Sound Transit, are you listening? PLEASE! Give a discount to people who load their E-Purses on their ORCA cards. You already give a discount to pass holders because it speeds up operations – why not give the same discount for speeding up the system to E-Purse holders? It’s CASH fare customers that drive up dwell times, not ORCA pass users. Even well-organized passengers with $2.25 in hand take far longer to board than an ORCA E-Purse passenger. Seriously, time it and have a bean-counter run a spreadsheet.

    1. instead of giving a discount for ORCA they should just raise the cash fare to $3.00 all the time, that would get people to switch asap. Of course common sense solutions don’t usually fly around here…

  13. I’ve anecdotally observed both higher Orca use since the beginning of the year, as well as higher cash use. I’m also now seeing kids using adult Orca cards that adults have loaded a .75 monthly pass onto rather than jumping through the hoop of getting a Youth card. As a result, every time one of these passes gets used, the message “Adult Fare Owe +$1.75” comes up (during peak). I see more of these each day – not sure what to do about it. It seems they’ve found a loophol that according to design *should* work and be legit – but isn’t.

    Other issues that I think need addressing (and soon) are the issue of an Orca card user who purchases a pass that is undervalued for a particular trip (i.e. they by an off-peak pass and use it on a peak trip) so that they need to pay part of their fare in cash (i.e. the extra .25 for a peak one-zone trip). Apparently they don’t get an e-transfer when they do this. Less of an issue on Metro where we can still issue a paper transfer, more of an issue as they move to ST, CT or Link and find out they have to pay a second fare.

    The third is the problem of the 2-hour e-transfer. People are already claiming that their transfer “breaks” or their card doesn’t work because their e-transfer expires on their second leg home after tapping on their way into the CBD, then tapping off out in the hinterlands. With a paper transfer, the transfer is valid so long as you board by the expiration time. With Orca – it expires 2 hours after you first board a revenue trip – no matter what. Drivers have received no instruction about what to do with or for these passengers when they ask why they are paying a second fare as they tap off.

    1. Sorry,

      Should be “Adult Fare Owe +$1.50″

      Point being, Orca data on Youth fare use will be goofed up as kids are just using standard Orca cards with .75 monthly passes loaded onto them.

      I do hope that Metro/ST/Orca addresses some of these issues (no e-transfer issued for partial cash payment; youth pass mis-use; tranfer expiration) soon, as drivers have received no instruction on these issues that I’m aware of.

      We *have* been told to accept reduced fare Orca passes issued prior to the fare change (only read as .50 paid fare for RFP) as full-fare; and to accept existing annual and semi-annual flash pass/striped cards as peak or two-zone passes without regard to the fare increase. Still nothing on those other issues, though.

      1. My guess is what’s happening in that case is the person registered their ORCA card when they were still technically a youth (for example, when they were 18 years old and 10 months). So, for two months when they tapped-in, they were tapping in as a youth, but because the ORCA system knows their birth date, when they turned 19 just two months later, ORCA no longer recognizes them as a youth, rather as an adult, who needs to pay adult fare, and that’s why it’s saying they own an additional $1.50 during peak hours.

      2. No – these are kid-kids, like obviously substantially UNDER 18. They have TOLD me that they got the card from their parents. What is happening is that adults are getting a free Orca card and purchasing the $27.00 .75 monthly pass on them.

      3. Are the parents saving money by doing it this way? If they do it the correct way for their kids, and get an ORCA youth pass, does that cost more than the $27.00 .75 adult monthly pass?

      4. That would depend on how much they ride – but the question is irrelevant. An adult pass is for use by adults, a youth pass for use by youth, and all Orca cards for charging and tracking the correct revenue.

        If a youth uses a youth pass with an e-purse for example – they get an e-transfer, good on any system bus or Link. Not so if they use the wangled adult pass with the .75 monthly on it. They also risk being disallowed or fined for not paying the appropriate fare as they board, not to mention skewing the statistics that Orca was in part created to track.

  14. One of the benefits of ORCA was that boarding/alighting would be faster. Unfortunately, at least in my experience, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

    If anything, ORCA is actually slower than the mag stripe system because someone always waves their card over the reader too fast, then can’t figure out what they did wrong.

    Hopefully people will learn…

    1. I ride CT often. A substantial portion of the riders now use the ORCA card. Now things go pretty smoothly when boarding. There are always exception of course. That thing that amuses me is that I no longer see the riders that “game” the sytem with papers transfers that they keep.

      1. I am skeptical that Metro will eliminate paper transfers for both practical and political reasons.

        Then again, the budget crisis is pushing serious considerations for legalization of marijuana (the new City attorney specifically said that all charges against mere posession would be dropped and no new ones filed except under exceptional circumstances while he’s in office), so who knows? Not that there’s a connnection between legal pot and paper transfers, but budgetary considerations are somewhat paradoxically now pushing both progressive and conservative agendas forward – for some of the same reasons (less government, better use of tax dollars). Go figure.

    2. The older mag stripe cards “works” faster because at least 10-30% of them register as a “misread” so we drivers just treat them as a flash pass. Flash passes are indeed fast to use but are prone to counterfeiting and other abuse.

      Many ORCA users are still within the learning curve so a lot of misreads do occur – However, once I’ve shown somebody how to tap their card, they register correctly 95+% of the time on the first tap – Most seem pretty happy with the card once they figure out the correct tapping method.

      Metro had problems with the ORCA readers at first but those problems seem to be getting ironed out. I haven’t had a bad reader in weeks.

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