'ORCA is Here!' by Oran

ORCA, the region’s new transit card, has been in service for a year and it’s been a mixed performance.

For the uninitiated, ORCA cards can store value (in an “e-purse”) as well as monthly passes. Both passes and e-purse balances can be automatically loaded with a credit card through orcacard.com, or in person in the downtown Seattle transit tunnel, at any Link station, and at a handful of locations around the region.

On the positive side, ORCA cards are flexible and much better than dealing with cash. For transit agencies, they can reduce verification of paper transfers and improve boarding speeds. For passengers, ORCA makes transferring between agencies (and paying the fare difference) much easier. Riders without monthly passes no longer have to work about having the exact fare on them. According to data from Sound Transit, 200,000 daily boardings are handled with ORCA.

More after the jump.

On the downside, technical issues and hangups can still frustrate riders as this “Getting There” column illustrates. One such annoying issue — having to use a card within 30 days of loading it online — has been slightly mitigated by boosting the limit to 60 days. Many bus operators are still unfamiliar with unusual ORCA features such as group fares. For example, I asked a driver last weekend if my girlfriend and I could pay with my ORCA card using a group fare. Instead of moving to his ORCA console and setting up a group, the driver stared at me and said, “Okay,” and motioned for me to pay just one fare for the both of us.

Still, the technical issues that made ORCA unreliable in the Spring of last year have all but went away. It is very rare to see an ORCA reader that is malfunctioning.

In the long-term, moving away from cash and paper transfers toward ORCA cards is a very good thing. But in the short-term, there are equity issues to adopting the new technology. Kitsap Transit illustrated that for many poor members of the community, a $5 fee for purchasing one’s first ORCA card is a serious limitation.

[Update from Sherwin 6:58pm:] A few months ago, we told you about the cheaper ORCA in the works for visitors and tourists, and I wanted to follow up with Brian Brooke, who works on the ORCA program at ST.  There’s no new information, but I also asked him about short-term PugetPasses (day-long, 3-day-long, week-long, etc.) and this is what he had to say:

We do have a lower cost paper-stock ORCA smart card in the works.  It can be loaded initially with any available pass product or e-purse amount, but cannot be reloaded once the value is used up.  It was intended to be part of the initial ORCA system but we were not satisfied with the lower level of data security on the initially-proposed disposable cards.  The vendor has since proposed a new disposable card with higher security features, but at this point we don’t have a timeline for when it would be rolled out.  It wouldn’t be before the vendor receives final system acceptance on the initial implementation.

Early in system design we did discuss introduction of a short-term ORCA regional pass, but not all transit agencies agreed to the concept.  However there continues to be interest among some partners and it will likely be proposed for consideration again in the future.

100 Replies to “ORCA: One Year Later”

  1. Wait what is this about using it within a month (or two)? I got one in the mail when it was free for when I go back to visit Seattle, but haven’t loaded any money on it. Is it still gonna work?

    1. Yes, it will work, but you should wait to put $ on it until within 60 days of using it in Seattle.

    2. I believe it is means that if you don’t use the card within 30 (or 60) days of loading it online it goes “dormant”. I think it can be reactivated by loading some more onto the card online and waiting the 24/48 hours or by touching it to a fare machine at a link station or going to the westlake transit store to reactivate.

      I think it will activate just fine. Just load more money on it. Also be sure to register your card online with ORCA. So that your balances become portable should you damage/lose your card.

    3. Why do people buy Orca cards online before coming here? Just get one at the airport TVM when you arrive. No waiting time, no need to tap in a certain time period, no worrying whether the card will arrive in the mail, and you’ll know immediately whether the card was properly credited. (You can take the card out, put it back in the machine, press “Orca Options” and “Card Details”, and it will tell you the current balance.)

      If you come in via Greyhound, the nearest TVMs are in Westlake Station, a quarter mile away. If you come via Amtrak, the International District station is a block away.

      1. Yes and No. In order to get to the Sounder TVM’s you have to go out to either the other side of Jackson and come down the north stairs or out to the Weller St Bridge, then down, get your stuff, back up to the street level, then find your bus, all while toting your luggage around.

        At least at the ID station, you are already there to catch a Link or a Tunnel Bus.

        In terms of actual distance you are allowed to go, Yes, the Sounder TVM’s are closer. But they are a giant Pain to get to with baggage.

      2. I bought mine in advance for one simple reason – at the beginning they were completely free. Since I’m up there about once a year, I ordered one in advance for my use when I visit, and it saved me $5.

        I didn’t load money onto the card until I landed at SEA, where I used a TVM to load the money.

  2. I still think we need to have a “maximum daily fare” feature on the card like they have with London’s Oyster card. No matter how many times you use it in a day, it can never go above a certain reasonable amount.

    (And where are the daily and weekly passes that every other transit system has? Sheesh.)

    1. Couldn’t agree with you more about daily and weekly passes. There are some months where it won’t make sense to buy a full month, but it would still be economically feasible for me to buy a weekly pass versus per-ride.

      1. Not to mention the fact that Seattle is becoming more and more of a tourist destination, and it would make it much easier for tourists to get around on transit if there were daily and weekly passes.

      2. Not really (Singapore–I chose the plain ez-link {ORCA equivalent} myself, however):


        Q9) What is the difference between The Singapore Tourist Pass and the ez-link card (the regular card used for fare payments)?

        The Singapore Tourist Pass EZ-Link Card
        The Singapore Tourist Pass offers tourists the benefit of unlimited rides on the MRT and LRT trains and basic bus services for the duration of the validity of the pass. When you use the ez-link card, you are paying the exact fare for each and every ride you take on the public transport system.

        The Singapore Tourist Pass costs S$8 per day. (S$8 for 1-Day pass, S$16 for 2-Day pass and S$24 for 3-Day pass). Passes sold have to be encoded into a smart card which is similar to an ez- link card. The ez-link card costs S$15, of which S$5 is the card cost – this portion is not refundable – S$3 is the travel deposit and S$7 is the stored value.

        As tourists are typically in Singapore for a few days, we have developed a ‘rent-a-card’ scheme instead of making them buy an ez-link card.

        Hence passes issued in Singapore come with a rental deposit of S$10 which is fully refundable if the card is returned within 5 days from the date of issuance.

        Passes sold or issued overseas will cost either S$18 for a 1-Day pass, S$26 for a 2-Day pass or S$34 for a 3-Day pass. The rental of cards is not possible for cards sold or issued overseas. Citizens and residents of Singapore who commute on public transport in their daily routine on a regular basis would commonly own their own ez-link cards.

        The Singapore Tourist Pass comes with the added feature of merchant offerings bundled in. The ez-link card does not come bundled with merchant offers.

        You can use The Singapore Tourist Pass like a normal ez-link by encoding value in the card for payments of train and bus fare payments after the pass expires and for payments at retail outlets which accept ez-link payments, such as, McDonalds, 7-Eleven and selected F&N Coca-Cola vending machines.

        Both The Singapore Tourist Pass and the ez-link card will be retained upon refund. If you wish to keep The Singapore Tourist Pass as a souvenir, you will have to forgo the card deposit and any stored value in the card. Alternatively you can run down the stored value on the card.

      3. Anything requiring a deposit and the promise to return the card will never work. Too complicated and nobody will bother. Disposable, one-shot paper cards for the win.

      4. It does work, because they do sell it. (Would it work here? A different story perhaps, but we already sell tourist passes for multiple venues. They just don’t include transportation.) You don’t have to return the card, only if you want the deposit back. If you don’t want to bother that’s part of your cost. I don’t buy them personally because I prefer the simple smartcard, but I occasionally return with a balance and that, too, is part of the cost.

        I have no problem at all with a one-shot paper pass; it just seems to be overthinking the issue. Most cities I’ve been to in 30+ countries around the world issue a simple paper ticket (akin to the single-use Sounder tickets already sold from the TVM) for day/week passes; you show on demand to fare inspectors. Why not do this now and implement the MARTA-like paper pass as soon as possible? The lack of day/multi-day passes in this region for tourists has been frustrating for more years than we’ve had smartcards around. Anything is better than what’s been done.

  3. Does orca give you the 2 hour transfer in the late night? My friends paid cash when we went to some bars and got OWL transfers, but my orca did not give me the transfer. Is it appropriate to ask for a paper transfer in this situation?

    1. This is one of several ways in which, depending on how you use transit, ORCA amounted to a de facto fare increase. ORCA doesn’t do OWL transfers. Two hours only, no matter the time of day (or night). And I doubt any driver would give you a paper transfer if you paid with your ORCA, ’cause you’d be getting two transfers (one on the card good for two hours, plus a paper one good all night) for just one fare.

      If it’s after 9 p.m. and you’re only riding Metro buses (thus no need for an interagency transfer), paying cash and getting a paper OWL transfer is definitely the way to go.

      1. The unpublicized increases suck, but they do bring us in line with other smartcard cities. After a year and another fare increase, it’ll be hard to tell how much we would have saved anyway.

      2. This is the first month since ORCA debuted when I have not bought a monthly pass, and it has been educational.

        I was gone exactly half the month, so I put $36 (half of my normal $72 pass) in my “e-purse,” and was shocked when I blew through $26 of it in the first week, despite only having left my neighborhood 4 or 5 times, and despite my planning as “strategically” as possible (clumping errands together, walking Queen Anne-to-Belltown or downtown-to-Cap Hill if I knew my next leg was more than 2 hours away).

        The problem is that when I do leave Ballard, I’m likely to be gone most of the day and to need the bus at least a few times. Thanks largely to our ever-insipid “pay as you leave” policy, the tap at the end of my second journey is never within 2 hours of the tap at the start of my first. And so any day can wind up sucking $6 to $8.50 from my e-purse.

        Trying not to waste another $26 on pay-per-rides in the last week of April has had major consequences on my usage patterns and dealt a major blow to my sense of my own mobility. I find myself wondering if certain errands are worth the extra $4. I change my entire routing to try to minimize separate fares. And I’ll pay cash after about 8:30 (and buy a day-pass on weekends) even though I’d frankly rather not get newsprint on my hands and clothes.

        The fact that there’s no daily maximum and that weekly passes don’t exist is pathetic. New York (pay-per-ride base fare $1.91 with the Metrocard discount) still offers a daily unlimited usage for $8.25 and a weekly pass for $27 — the same as I spent last week but without any of the games or trip-consolidation. Meanwhile, in Boston (pay-per-ride base fare $1.70 with the CharlieCard discount), you can still get an unlimited 7-day pass for $15!! — including subway, bus, inner-harbor ferries, and the first 2 or 3 stops on any Commuter Rail line.

        What Seattle needs to do:
        1. Phase out paper transfers entirely, to even the playing field.
        2. Give a discount on ORCA, to encourage the switch.
        3. Increase the evening transfer-allotment on ORCA from 2 hours to 3. This acknowledges that service is slower and less frequent at night without saying, “Hey, frat-boys, your one fare is good for 6 hours; have a beer on us!”)
        4. Get rid of “pay as you leave,” for crying out loud. Portland made the Fareless Square work for decades while retaining payment upon entry.
        5. Weekly pass and/or daily maximum.
        6. Start providing service that actually reflects the highest fare in the nation that you currently charge!

      3. Just to name a few (all based on smartcard discounts when available):

        Boston: $1.70
        New York: $1.91
        Philadelphia: $1.45
        Chicago: $2.00
        San Francisco: $2.00 (on Muni; BART is even less within SF proper)
        Portland: $2.00 (within the city)
        L.A.: $1.25 (no transfers; $5 day pass is available 365 days a year)
        San Jose: $2.00
        Denver: $2.00 (city and inner suburbs)
        D.C: $1.75-$2.20 (subway within the District/Arlington County urban areas; bus is only $1.35)

        I’ve only found one that costs more:

        San Diego: $2.50 (for trolleys; bus is $2.25 — and they too have a $5 day pass available any day)

        (And please don’t start quibbling about express buses with higher fares in other cities. Remember that we pay a rush-hour premium regardless of whether we take a super-fast express or a slow-as-molasses counter-commute nightmare towards downtown!)

      4. would make too much sense, this is Seattle where we don’t adopt what works everywhere else.

      5. Yeah, Ballard sucks with ORCA. Most buses take at least 20 mins to get where you want to go, come infrequently or unpredictably, and are pay-as-you-enter when you’re heading out of Ballard, then pay-as-you-leave when you’re heading home. You can easily lose 1-1.5 hours of your transfer just sitting on a bus.

        I can take a bus and light rail all the way to the airport (a 20-mile trip) for $2.50, but a trip on the 44 to the U District and back to run a short errand (just over 6 miles) usually costs me $4. Just doesn’t seem right somehow.

      6. I got an employer card with the wrong pass rate (because the rate had just gone up that month), and neither the employer nor ORCA would upgrade it (each said the other would have to), so I ended up buying a second pass for my personal card. The alternative was to put a quarter in whenever time I got on a bus (and trust that the transfer feature would always work — this was in January when it was more iffy). So it was an $81 solution to a $9 problem (the difference in the pass price), or a $15 problem (the amount I’d have to spend in quarters, assuming I rode only to work and didn’t make any other trips). Still, I hate not having a pass and then forgetting and getting on the bus with no money, or having to think about “Is this trip worth 25c or $2?” I really don’t like the employer card situation, where you have to predict what you’ll need two months ahead, although that’s really the IRS’s fault and the plan administrator’s rather than ORCA’s. So I’ve just been getting regular passes and foregoing the tax deduction. :(

      7. Mike, I know that I savaged you in another thread, but this is me being 100% helpful:

        Most months, I buy a pass at the off-peak rate ($72/$2.00 face value), because I almost never use the bus before 9am and only sometimes use it during the afternoon rush hour. So I also keep $5 or less in the e-purse on the same card. If I use it during rush hour, it acknowledges the pass value and docks 25 cents from my e-purse. No quarters; no paper transfers. (Sometimes I get docked twice in the same rush hour — once at 3:30 and once at 6:00 — but not having to deal with paper transfers is worth it to me.)

        In your case, since you DO use it every rush hour, you just needed to put $15 in the e-purse and it would have lasted you the month.

      8. Thanks. I do actually do the same. I keep $5-10 on the card for occasional surcharges, such as when I go to Bellevue or SeaTac or ride Sounder. And I have more faith in the transfer feature now than I did a few months ago. I just didn’t want to have to pay twice the $15 or quibble with the driver every day if it didn’t work (since I have to transfer both directions).

      9. Indeed. I have never had my 25-cent surcharge fail to register as “PASS + XFER” on my next bus (within two hours, of course).

  4. I wish more operators knew about the Group Fare feature. When traveling with fellow cash-strapped Puget Sound students, the ORCA card is a really convenient feature because I can pay for my friends, allowing them to hang on to precious laundry quarters.

    1. I don’t understand how the drivers could not know about all the features. Hasn’t Metro been doing plenty of education? The Puget Sound agencies did a pretty bad job explaining to the general public what ORCA is and how it works, but you’d think they’d at least make it clear to the drivers.

      1. That and it appears that actually navigating the screens in the ORCA console are tedious at best. I had a situation at Sea-Tac Airport where a rather frazzled operator was having problems setting one and two zones faresets on the console (becuase you couldent have it revert back to the fareset for 2 zone) and than having to refund the transaction back on the card and try again and what a mess….

    2. Yeah, I’m told with some regularity that there’s no way to use my e-purse to pay for a friend from out of town. Seems absurd.

    3. I tried to do the same thing with some friends visiting from Canada. We bought them a $5 ORCA in the TVM and knew it was enough to get both of them to our destination, after much fiddling the driver couldn’t find how to make it work and just waved them on. Unfortunately, we had to transfer which turned into the same fiasco on the second bus. I knew it was possible, I had read about it here! :)

      1. Group fares once purchased don’t issue group transfers – another ORCA weirdness. So even if you pay for 4 people using the group pay feature, your card doesn’t record 4 transfers.

      2. I have a follow up here – and a bit of a mea culpa.

        It appears that group transfers *are* recorded on the ORCA card. What needs to happen is that once a passenger pays for multiple riders via group fare, they need to tell their driver on the route they are transferring to that they have a group transfer. The driver then enters the Group Fare Payment screen (BEFORE the passenger ‘taps’), enters the number riding, and when the passenger taps, they should get a “Group XFER” message indicating that they previously paid (so long as they are transferring within a 2-hour window.

        As complicated as this is – for both drivers and passengers – I’m skeptical that it’s a feature that will see much use without issues.

      3. Seems like a simple software change could remedy this. Either way group XFer is not documented anywhere that I could find or remember in the ORCA training I had a couple of years ago (for the beta test period).

    4. Drivers are trained on the Group Fare feature – but it’s requested so seldom that being able to perform the transaction quickly after seeing it done once a year ago becomes a barrier.

      I’m pretty computer adept, but I still stumble when I get asked to do it – probably twice in the last year.

      1. Honestly, I don’t see much need for the group fare feature. Is this something that other transit systems tend to have? As a rider, I wouldn’t expect that feature, so I wouldn’t even think to ask a driver to do it. I find it kind of odd, really. I’d expect to pay my own fare with my card and then pay my guests’ fare another way. That seems like the natural way to handle it.

        If every other system in the world has a frequently-used group fare feature on their smartcards, then OK, I guess we should have it. But it really seems to be a weird feature, to me.

      2. Insofar as ORCA is supposed to help speed things up, and insofar as Seattle gets a lot of tourists, I see the advantages. A group can just get on a bus, and one person does one transaction that only takes a couple seconds. Instead of one person tapping a card, then everyone else (often folks who don’t regularly use transit) putting money in the fare box one by one.

      3. I remember lots of school groups boarding with a stack of transfers – or empty out my supply while giving my farebox indigestion! ORCA group fare would really help that – even if it happens to me only a couple of times a year.

    5. Wait, could someone clarify the group fare for me? Could I treat everyone at my stop to a bus ride? Could we start a riders’ union where we figure out who’s going where and pay for each other using group fare? How many people is the maximum?

      1. You can pay for as many people as you like – so long as you’re using an e-purse. There is no “group fare” – just an ability to pay for multiple passengers using one card. One passenger = one full fare, so there’s no financial advantage. It’s kind of like using your debit card to pay for dinner out for the family.

  5. Another problem with the ORCA card–I got my first one from a promotion from a bank handing them out on the street. When my card was stolen, they couldn’t automatically transfer my e-purse to a new card, and it took them a month to get back to me… and when they did they gave me ten paper bus tokens. The bank just really didn’t know what was going on.

    1. Why would you report the stolen ORCA card to a bank? (We’re talking about an ORCA card, right?) There’s a division that deals with the ORCA card.

      1. We lost an ORCA card and had pretty much the same experience with Metro. I just figured that there were a lot of little manual fixes for ORCA problems since it was early in the launch and did whatever they could quickly. The lost card even still shows up on our orcacard.com account.

  6. I would love to see a way to keep the free-ride and 2-zone fares automatically switched (I’ll cross my fingers for GPS). I know the drivers have a lot to worry about, especially during rush hour so I know they’re not always going to change the ORCA fare. I’ve found the maximum zone selection in the online settings and protected myself to one zone, but I regularly see people at my stop dinged with a 2 zone fare at Meridian Ave & Northgate Way, well after the zone line at 145th ST. Most of us aren’t going out of the zone, we’re only going downtown or over to the Transit Center to transfer to downtown.

    1. The thing about the two-zones that really “gets ya” is that if you are on, say, the 550 it is pay as you leave. People boarding the bus at south Bellevue park and ride are all 1-zone fare but the majority of the bus is 2-zone. So as the line forms to get off the bus, the passengers have to remind the driver to ring them up as a one-zone instead of the default two-zone.

  7. The old paper transfers explicitly stated that you simply had to reboard before expiration, even if the bus was pay-as-you-leave. Under ORCA, however, if you were riding a pay-as-you-leave bus, you had to deboard before expiration. So if your bus gets stuck in traffic or whatnot, you can get dinged with a double fare.

    An ST spokesman in that Getting There article says that operators have been instructed to let riders tap before getting off the bus in pay-as-you-leave situations when their transfer might run out before they get off the bus, thus preserving the old system. However, I asked over on the Puget Sound Transit Operators Blog if this was just ST policy or if Metro had the same policy, and Jeff Welch responded that he’d never heard of such a policy for Metro.

    Of course, in the Getting There column it’s presented as ORCA-wide policy, not something specific to one agency. Which, of course, is the problem. If we’re going to have a cross-agency system for fare payment, the agencies involved need to talk to each other about how fares are going to be collected.

    1. I haven’t heard of the policy – and it doesn’t make sense to me. If riders can simply tap out with their ORCA card once they leave the ride free area – they won’t be charged the appropriate zone fare. I don’t believe that the ST spokesman was correct – or he was misunderstood. If what he said was true, all someone going from downtown Seattle to Tacoma needs to do to avoid the 3 zone fare is to tap out once they leave the RFA and stay on the bus – then not tap out once they get off.

      The Getting There explanation made no sense.

    2. I have a follow-up on this, which I’ll also post on the “Getting There” comments.

      Last November, Metro drivers were polled for questions that they have about ORCA from a service perspective. The question provided and the answer given by King County DOT/Metro follows:

      Q: The ORCA transfer time of 2 hours is too short for some of my passengers and it is shorter than current Metro policy allows (up to 2 hours from time coach scheduled to arrive downtown).

      A: The ORCA transfer window is a regional system decision. Metro cannot set a different transfer time than other agencies in the regional system covered by ORCA.

      1. That may be true, but it also effectively passes the buck. Which is a general problem with ORCA. You have a problem and every agency tells you to call another agency. Or if you have an employer card and need to change the pass you just got, ORCA says only the employer can do it, and the employer says only ORCA can do it.

      2. My issue in this case is that a Sound Transit spokesperson told a media representative (Scott Gutierrez) that drivers had been provided a “solution” to the 2-hour window on ORCA transfers issue – when drivers most definitely had NOT. The claim was false, and the answer given Gutierrez nonsensical.

        he average consumer – at least one now referencing that “getting there” article – will now take out their frustration on drivers who should “know better” – even though they’ve never been told anything remotely like what the ST spokesperson claimed.

        And what the ST spokesperson claimed doesn’t make sense anyway.

        At any rate – Metro really doesn’t have any pull on how ORCA deals with electronic transfers, and has responded within its own system by keeping paper transfers alive.

        So in this case, a Sound Transit/ORCA representative told an untruth – blaming the ORCA shortcoming by identifying an “accomodation” that drivers have been “told” to make – that drivers never WERE told to make.

  8. Another glitch of the group fare feature is the inability to use it on LINK. The only way to pay more than one fare on LINK using ORCA is to use your e-purse to buy paper tickets to whoever else you’re paying for. But those tickets of course can’t be used as transfers to buses. So if two folks are going to the airport from Ballard, they can both pay and get transfers on the bus to downtown using one ORCA card, but once they get in the tunnel, only one of those transfers can be used towards the LINK fare; the other person will have to buy a paper ticket.

    Surely it shouldn’t be that difficult for the TVMs to have an option to purchase more than one ticket and to keep them both on ORCA.

  9. One thing i’ve also noticed about ORCA is there are not enough of the yellow stand alones around sounder stations and in the tunnel. Recently i took an evening sounder train back from puyallup, and on the weller st. overpass there were about 40 people in a mob trying to tap on to the train which was due to leave soon, and at puyallup station there was a similar mob trying to tap out so they could either catch the bus, go to their car, or otherwise find their way home. They should atleast have 2 or 3 arranged in the entrance so that you can tap as you walk by. The DSTT only has one per entrance/exit (unlike the rest of the link system that has atleast 2) and it makes it intresting to find the thing sometime. Also, Sea-Tac Airport station has a rather poor layout for them since they are off to the side of the ped/cart bollards and you have to step out of your way to tag.

    I’m still think they need more ORCA only TVMs at all the major regional and partner Agency Transit Centers and Major P&R lots. If you’re relying on Epurse you’d best plan ahead. Also, i’d like to see the remaining paper transfers either eliminated outright, or replaced with magnetic transfers like vancouver BC, and cross-agency agreements reinstated. The fact the computer is saying if you have a valid transfer or not really reduces the amount of disputes that happens, plus it would reinstate good regional transfer policy.

    1. I’ve always wondered if there is some manually set delay for the readers from when it detects a card to when it does a transaction. In another system (HK’s Octopus) I feel like I don’t even have to stop walking when I enter a bus or go through a turnstile; I almost “swipe” my card. At link stations, I can just barely get by without stopping to tap. If we could “swipe” instead of “tap”, maybe that mob would clear faster.

      Youtube video demonstration:
      (I realize such stations as the ones in the video have serious “banks” of readers, but the main ponit is how fast people clear them.)

      1. The older cards that systems like Octopus and Oyster are based on do process faster, but they’re less secure, and easier to clone, than the smart card that ORCA is based on.

      2. A lot of people wait too long, though. Some people wait for the information on the reader’s screen to time out before they let the next person tap – ugh!

  10. I will continue to use cash until ORCA removes ride history. There’s no need to keep when I use my card longer than 24 hours.

    1. Unless you’re getting it from your employer, I’m pretty sure it’s just used for anonymous ridership statistics. But I guess there will always be the tin foil hat squad that is suspicious of any logging of their movements, so they should have an ability to opt out of that.

    2. Anonymous,

      Why not just get an ORCA card and load cash onto it? You don’t have to register it, your deposit posts immediately, and you get all the convenience of ORCA.

      1. There is no way of keeping your travel data anonymous. The card stores 10 trips and all the data associated with the trips are not encypted. So anyone with a reader can read it. Check out the new privacy statement on the ORCA Webpage.

      2. Well, they won’t know your name. Just everywhere you’ve been. Where can I purchase a reader??

      3. If you don’t register your card then 100% of your travel data is anonymous – there’s no name/identifying information linked to the card.

    3. All you need to do is get an ORCA card and don’t register it. You can still fill it with customer service. I don’t think you can load via the web site though.

      1. The problem with this is that it can still basically be used to track the movements of one person. All that has to happen is someone finding out the number on your ORCA card and then it is associated to you whether or not you register it. I know this sounds paranoid, but its not really that far-fetched. I did a bit of research on RFID for school last quarter. I don’t feel that RFID is inherently evil (as do some RFID detractors), but like any technology it has the potential to be misused.

      2. I do own a cell phone. I also have a registered ORCA card. And an RFID-enabled passport. And a work badge which has an RFID chip. And a car with a license plate. And I own a home, which means my name and address are a matter of public record. And I have a gmail account.

        Obviously, I’m not paranoid. My point is that an unregistered ORCA card is not an effective way to keep your public transit habits anonymous.

      3. I forgot to add – I love my ORCA card and for the most part benefit from the implementation of the system :-)

    4. I’m afraid that is not likely as I believe the ride needs to be kept for revenue distribution.

  11. Also, the “up to 24 hours” thing to make deposits to your account is really annoying. Fortunately, drivers understand even though the reader says “insufficient funds.” They need to somehow fix this.

    1. Ignoring the “insufficient funds” message IS something we have been told. Good news – if you never want to pay a fee – just get an Orca card and let it run out of funds. You’re good to go system-wide. Just tell anyone who asks that you loaded money online within the last 48 hours.

      1. I’m not sure how serious of an issue this is. Drivers can’t enforce fares either way.

  12. Look, I was one of those guys that was not sure about ORCA. Now I am convinced that the good outways the bad. It still needs work,yes. I am still against Sound Transit’s no transfer policy and going to all cards is a bad idea. But, ORCA is getting better and I think it will be as close to perfect as we can get in the long run.

  13. Wow…I think ORCA is great and one of the best new features in transit around here in a long time…quite frankly, technologically I think its a better tool than LINK.

    Being able to track transit expenses for re-imbursement alone is worth it. It almost always registers with the readers…100% on buses. Never have to look for change or dollar bills or deal with passes…can just tap my wallet on the reader.

    I give ORCA A-

    Only because there should be more card readers in more places, and I wish that the Sounder had readers inside the cars (sometimes I run to make a train and forget to swipe).

  14. They should really improve the interface logic on the TVMs too. I had to help a tourist use it the other day because after choosing the product the TVM says “$5.50” or whatever but does not accept payment at that point, you have to hit Enter. They thought it just wasn’t accepting cash and had tried a different machine.

  15. You board a bus and tap your ORCA card then sit down next to a mouth-breathing 68 year old woman from fresh from Russia with an I.Q. of 75. She turns to you, points to your card, and asks in halted english. “What this? How work?”


    1. I’ve had elderly, people with disabilities, folks who were ESL all using the ORCA and do just fine. If anything – “tap and go” is simpler than working out fare structures.

      So in response to your “go”, I answer “tap right here” (placing hand on ORCA reader pad).


      1. Just to point out: transit systems all over the world use various fare media that isn’t cash. In Rome (the only non-North America city I’ve ever visited), you can’t use cash on any transit vehicle; you buy tickets off-board at the metro station or at pretty much any newsstand, tobaccanist, bar, corner shop, grocer, etc. Moscow just went to an all-contactless system. Try paying a subway fare in DC, Chicago, San Francisco, New York or Atlanta with cash. People in those cities don’t have problems, even the tourists. This is normal.

    2. SHE doesn’t have a card. You have a card. Saying “tap your card here” doesn’t say anything about how to get a card on her own, where to get it, what the fare will be, how/when to refill it, how the transfers work, etc. And again, she doesn’t speak English well.

      1. I’m not sure how this is a problem unique to ORCA. The complexities of the fare and pass systems are there even paying with cash. Language barriers are an issue either way.

        If an ORCA brochure was on the bus I’d give her that, though I don’t recall if it has multiple languages on it. The foreign language support on the website is obviously incomplete but might be useful. It does give a phone number to call. I’d hope that’s on the brochure too.

      2. Mike,

        Your point about accessibility and the potential disenfranchisement of some folks is well taken (and I don’t disagree). However – I will point out anecdotally that lots of folks who speak less English than this hypotehtical Eastern European woman can and are using ORCA cards – even those requiring paperwork, such as disabled and senior passes. The social service organizations like Hopelink and other immigrant specific groups overall seem to be doing a pretty good job helping folks get connected with transportation and ORCA – a big priority for people in this class.

        Even for folks who *do* speak English – but who many not be technology literate – it can present a barrier for sure. I doubt that ORCA will every be the universal mode of payment for everyone.

  16. As a monthly ($2.75) pass holder, I LOVE the new Orca card system. No having to worry about the agency, transfer fees, zone changes, purse value, number of daily rides, none of that. Just hop on and tap the card and I’m golden.

    However, I can definitely understand the pains of the Orca card system for people who are semi-frequent riders, but not frequent enough to warrant a monthly pass. The unclear fare/transfer/zone structure, the confusing (and seemingly unenforced) method for paying fares for the Link, and utter lack of Orca card stations except in a few of the most centrally located hubs.

    1. Having a pass makes ORCA so much more convenient. It eliminates 80% of the problems people complain about. Then you can just keep $5 or $10 on the card for occasional surcharges, and that’ll last several months before you have to refill it. I’d recommend a pass even if you don’t quite ride enough to justify it, both for the convenience of being able to ride anytime without thinking about it, and because the transit agencies certainly need the money.

  17. The biggest problem I’ve had with ORCA so far (other than broken/slow readers) is getting dinged for peak hour trips during off-peak times. A lot of drivers seem to forget to take the readers off of peak hour at 9 AM and 7 PM. Not a huge issue but still annoying. I really wish the readers would change back and forth by themselves.

    I’ve also been double charged once or twice when I should have had a valid transfer. The absolute limit of 2 hours for transfers is really annoying especially when transferring downtown or when riding weekends/evenings.

    I get the feeling ORCA was mainly designed with the monthly/annual pass users in mind and not the cash user. As a pass user it is great and far better than the old way of doing things. As a cash user other than not having to carry change the benefits are far less clear and the hassles are irritating.

    The pass users got a lot of “carrots” for switching to ORCA. Cash users seem to have mostly gotten “sticks” to force them on ORCA.

    Some suggestions to improve the experience for cash users (other than the automatic peak/off-peak switch above):
    * A discount for paying fares with ORCA. A $2 fare would be say $1.90 if paid with ORCA.
    * Allow the purchase of day passes 7 days a week with ORCA. I’m envisioning these could have a “face” value like a monthly pass. The cost should be the value + 150% so a $2 day pass would cost $4.50.
    * Increase transfer times to 3 hours with ORCA.
    * Implement a daily maximum fare based on the fares paid during the day. The daily maximum fare should be the highest cost trip + 150%. If there was a daily maximum fare there wouldn’t be a need for a day pass and less need to increase the transfer window.

    1. “A discount for paying fares with ORCA. A $2 fare would be say $1.90 if paid with ORCA.”

      This is customary in other transit systems and gives people a big incentive to use ORCA (and to pay the $5 fee).

  18. There are issues of access to ORCA cards that need to be worked out. For starters, more signage in major languages might help more people figure out how to purchase a card.

    That said, I kinda like the idea of a small rebate for using ORCA, since paying with cash on the bus increases the cost of the trip to taxpayers.

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