Four ORCA cards. Photo by Oran.
Four ORCA cards. Photo by Oran.

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend lost my ORCA card that had about $20 in fare on it. No big deal, I thought, and ordered a replacement online. Going to the website and reporting my card as lost was easy. In a few easy steps, I paid a $5 replacement fee, my card was deactivated, and my new card was in the mail.

When my new card arrived, I was reminded of some of ORCA’s successes. The printed materials and the card itself are very well designed. Everything in the envelope is internally consistent and it’s clear there was some work put into the brand of ORCA and ensuring its ease of use. In other words, the physical aspects of ORCA feel thoughtful.

Few would call ORCA website thoughtful, though. On the technical side, the site suffers from rendering problems in modern browsers like Chrome, Safari, and Firefox as well as their mobile cousins that run on many smartphones. On the design side, doing something like setting up the auto-load functionality for your card isn’t accomplished by clicking a button and filling out details, but rather clicking a button and then finding a link in a long-winded paragraph of text.

The expectation that people are unoccupied enough to read paragraphs of dry transit-speak is poor design and is a poor compliment to the good printed materials in the ORCA universe. Good design is knowing that people don’t read anything. This kludge may be an explanation as to why adoption of the useful auto-load technology represents less than 1% of registered cards, according to data from the ORCA Quarterly Program Management Report.

Like any other person, I wasn’t unoccupied enough to read the wall of text when reporting my card lost, so I expected my replacement card to pay for my bus the next morning. Oops: “please allow 8 to 10 days processing time for your funds to be transferred from your lost card to your new card.” I don’t know how it is possible to do something that’s so technically easy so slowly.

While the card is pretty and the system works pretty well, sometimes I can’t help but feel the ORCA project was half-designed and half-engineered.

84 Replies to “ORCA Sometimes Feels Half-Engineered”

  1. “I don’t know how it is possible to do something that’s so technically easy so slowly.”

    Well, the easy way to do computer tasks slowly is to loop a human in. Maybe they have somebody who goes through once a week and transfers balances across?

  2. Agreed. The 10-day hiatus is strange.

    When someone stole my wallet, it was a relief to transfer the balance (much better than losing an annual transit pass!) But the 10-day wait represents much more out-of-pocket than the $5 replacement fee suggests.

  3. As a taxpayer, I love how the balance on your old card got cancelled. (Nothing personal.) Goodbye 95% of white-collar fraud!

    When I am at Airport Station (Sorry, I have no pictures of Norman, which may bring into question whether I was really there.), I see how the tourists stand at the Card & Ticket Vending Machine for long periods of time looking befuddled. It pretty much takes inside knowledge to know that it actually vends ORCA cards, even after the 1-hour lines at the Metro Customer Center in January.

    I say this not to be critical, but because I love the ORCA card system and want it to work even better.

    Having one ambassador assigned to Airport Station to observe ticket/card buyers, answer their questions, and then report findings to the ORCA administrator at ST could probably produce lots of useful data about how to improve the vending machine interface, for not much cost. It would certainly be a fraction of the cost of contracting out to a rent-a-surveyors outfit, and get better information via someone who actually knows the subject matter. (I was once surveyed by a contracted-out rent-a-surveyor on the 124, being asked what would cause me to ride the 124 more often. It was kinda like being on a Tuesday evening conference call, and being asked what people’s best time is for being on a conference call. As a taxpayer, I recommend not doing any more surveys like that.)

    It is my hope that part of that $190 million that is supposed to be spent by the county for downtown transit capital infrastructure as part of the DBT agreement (which the governor’s veto has unfortunately prevented the county from raising) be spent on deploying C&TVMs at all downtown bus stops. I look forward to the day that fumbling for change while getting on the bus isn’t even allowed within the downtown zone, and is most certainly scowled upon in the DSTT. Getting rid of programmed change-fumbling time in bus schedules should save taxpayers more money than reducing “fare evasion”, even before counting the extra revenue from increased ridership.

    Hooray for ORCA! Let’s perfect it, and take full advantage of what it can do to save gobs of money.

  4. Yes, their website needs a serious redesign. Here are a few items that popped out at me after 5 minutes of using their site:

    1. Ever try to find a list of physical locations where you can buy a card? As far as I can tell, there isn’t one – you have to look at each agency’s link individually!

    2. Their left navigation bar completely changes once you log in. Logging in also takes you directly to the page where you load value, instead of the “my account” page, which would be more intuitive. And there’s no left navigation bar on the page – you have to hit “cancel” to get it to appear.

    3. Logging out takes you to an “are you sure?” page. Seriously? It’s not like it’s a big deal to log back in again, this just adds an extra step.

    I have to wonder if this site was usability tested at all.

    1. 1. It’s on the front page called “Feed your ORCA” and it links to a not-so-accessible PDF that’s updated about every month or more. That’s why I created a Google Map of Add Value locations. Sound Transit even linked to it from their twitter and facebook pages. I suggested they have an official version of the thing.

      2. Navigation is confusing. A lot of the menu items are useless without logging in and lead to the same page, which makes it pointless. Links to information should be more exposed. Compare the ORCAcard site to the Clipper Card website.

      1. Nice map Oran.

        For ORCA’s part, I don’t like the big glaring lack of any form of value-add stations within my community of 100,000 people.

  5. Anyone ever had the autofill rejected by their credit card company? When that happens, you can’t just set it back up online, you have to actually go into a service center and wait an hour, then pay the failed autoload in cash, and then finally get it sorted out again.

    And then there’s the complicatedness of all the different transit systems. Do I tap on, tap off, both or neither and still have to buy a separate ticket anyway?…

    I’ll echo Brent’s conclusion though: we’ve already got something useful, and it could be great. Let’s just get it right.

    1. I have to agree that autoload still has problems. My credit card expired, they finally contacted me 3 months later. I got the same email. I called them but I had to come in to their office to pay the charges which hadn’t gone through, they couldn’t just put it on my card. My kids’ cards are associated with mine, I had to reestablish autoload for each. Orca is great, but the kinks need to be worked out!

      1. Your credit card expiring does’t seem like an ORCA caused problem. Do you expect Safeway or Macy’s to tell you when your card is about to expire?

        It also seems you should be glad they don’t just cancel your card for non-payment. You and you rkids kept riding, then a tax-payer paid employee had to ‘handle’ your card expiration issue. That seems like a waste of my tax money.

  6. Some research on ORCA this morning found that ORCA was setup/IT integrated by an Australian company called ERG that has created many of the transit fare collections systems including Bay Area Translink (ne CLIPPER), Hong Kong Octopus and several other cities.

    At first I had surmised that the poor browser performance of the ORCA website was perhaps Sound Transit’s reliance on Microsoft technologies that are not always friendly with modern non-Microsoft browsers. But closer inspection it appears that the ORCA website is built with JAVA Struts and built to HTML 4.01 rather than the new HTML5 standard. (that’s ok, HTML5 is still very new and not fully adopted)

    This leads me to believe that ORCA is not an in house system at Sound Transit. I don’t know to what degree of control that Sound Transit may have over some procedures and there may well be a fair amount of human intervention involved if they are using an outsourced system.

    1. And now ERG’s US operations have been swallowed up by CUBIC, so expect everything to be even worse.

      1. Someone down thread seem to indicate that Sound Transit may take operational control over the system. I hope that will be the case.

        But I’ll also say compared to for example Translink err CLIPPER, ORCA provide more and timely user information. For example, if you actually want to see your card activity on Translink (at least as of this past winter) you had to submit a request, a job gets run and a PDF gets emailed to you hours later. With ORCA it’s all right there instantly.

  7. One thing that might improve auto-load rates and why I manually load my pass every month, is that they don’t send you monthly receipts, or at least didn’t when I contacted them at the end of 2009. I get reimbursed for my pass, but only if I can provide a receipt. When I manually load, I get the nice receipt which I can print for my records and reimbursement.

    1. I use Autoload and get reimbursed by printing the day’s transaction of the autoload day from the web which shows “Add Pass Value”, the pass amount under “Txn Value” and “Postbill Autoload” under “Payment Method”. Then I go into the Update Autoload Online page and print out the default information which has the pass information, monthly rate, and payment information, but don’t actually re-save the information. This appears to be enough at my firm for reimbursement as it has worked since January.

  8. I agree with most of the comments above and would add a few more:

    It’s amazing that since the ORCA card officially launched, there have been no improvements in either the ORCA website or the TVM ORCA experience (which is also surprisingly kludgy). Normally after a product/service like ORCA launches, you would observe user response, and then improve the on-line components (website and TVM). But this has been completely static. That’s consistent with it having been outsource, and not having any “owner” or product manager within the transit agencies. If ORCA is going to be our primary payment system, it needs a product manager or champion who has some resources to improve things.

    ORCA customer service must be costing the agencies a fortune. There seem to be too many reasons why you need to call them, and many things seem to take a long time or require a supervisor (that was my experience when I wanted to transfer the value of a lost ORCA onto another card – which is something that should be allowed to be done easily and automatically.) Before anyone says that they don’t have the money to improve the website (or TVM), think of the money that could be saved by reducing customer service calls, and spend some of that money.

    If ORCA is to be our universal payment system, it should be easier and cheaper to get ORCA cards. I don’t know how much the cards cost, but I hope it’s not much more than $1-2. Let’s sell them for $2 instead of $5, at least when you buy them from a TVM or a merchant, with no labor expense (maybe keep the $5 charge for mail or in-person service, which must be higher.) Sell ORCA cards with $18 loaded for $20 at drugstores and supermarkets. Put TVMs in high volume bus locations like transit centers, maybe some malls, so people who rely on buses have easy ways to buy and reload the card. But “Buy ORCA card” as an easy option on the main TVM screen (right now, I think you have to select “ORCA Options” as a small button on the bottom of the screen.)

    All in all, ORCA feels like it was half-finished and then orphaned. In its orphaned state it cannot live to its potential (a reason why Metro hasn’t given up paper transfers and maybe ST was too quick to do so) and its cost must be way too high for its non-transit-pass usage.

    I don’t have a pass, so maybe it works great for passes, but for e-Purse it is only doing a fraction of what it should.

    1. Actually when I talked to the ORCA Program Manager at Sound Transit he said they wanted to make a lot of changes and improvements to the system (they have a “laundry list” of items) but it has to be after final system acceptance, which means the vendor delivers to the ORCA agencies what was specified in the contract and receives a lump sum payment. Simply put, the system isn’t even functioning the way it was designed, as it is, and it is way behind the original schedule. Card readers at stations still freeze up and not respond for minutes. This has been a known problem for months that the vendor still can’t figure out how to fix.

      I would agree with the comment below that the vendor is incompetent.

      1. I’ve experienced that at Seatac Airport station, all four readers near the bridge to the airport won’t respond, but the one by the bridge to Int’l Blvd did. I didn’t realize it was a systematic issue. Kind of hard to understand that if ERG has implemented the system in Hong Kong, which has to be much higher volume, that they can’t make here.

        Thanks for the explanation about the ST contracting issue. I would hope they can set a deadline, and if it still doesn’t meet spec, withhold some money as a penalty. But it seems like it’s time to get on with it and make other improvements. Maybe ST would have been wiser not to eliminate transfers until it met spec, but since they have, they need to get a process to start addressing the usability issues.

      2. These are not off the shelf systems though, each one is tylor made for each customer (or customers) and there probally is a lot of politicing to hassle with especially in a system of our size and complexity.

        One has to wonder though if ST’s POP checkers on LINK will ticket you if you board at a station where the stand alone readers are not working properly. i heard they will….

  9. The web interface is not intuitive at all. I purchased an extra ORCA to have separate for guests out of the TVM while they were still free in January. Two weeks ago when I tried to add money to it online the website rejects the ORCA. I figure it’s not a huge deal because I can run down to the Westlake Customer Shop on my lunch. The man I spoke to couldn’t get my card attached to my online account but did offer to get me set up with more cash on the card. He then says to have my online issue resolved to call the 800-number on the ORCA instructions. The man on the phone tells me to go back to the Customer Shop and have my card replaced because it’s mysteriously not registered with their system online. He assures me I can use it on the bus but it will never be in their system to reload online. So I reiterate that I purchased the ORCA from a TVM it sounds a little fishy that it’s “not in the system.” He tries to log in as me to add the card, gets the same error message and is very confused. He took a screen shot and supposedly forwarded this to his manager and emailed me the case number. Two weeks later, still no answer. I need to reload the card again before I have guests come for the Torchlight Parade and at this point hearing how long it takes to transfer $$ to new cards, it’s probably all a lost cause.

    1. From what I understamd when the same thing happened to me months ago was that there was an issue with some of the TVM’s issuing cards but not recording them with the main computer so the main computer had no record of the card being issued. I took mine into the office at Jackson street and they switched me out with a new card once I explained the situation. A bunch of other people were having to do the same thing at that time as well.

  10. Orca can be a useful tool if you are a frequent rider. Many seniors and know which features apply best in your case. It seems that occasional

    riders and non locals are struggling the most to understand how orca features apply to them. Orca is not intuitive itself, even printed materials still being distributed have incorrect information, for example current brochures state that seniors must appear at one of two or three office locations to obtain the reduced senior rate card. The. Application clearly states that seniors (over 65) can apply for the reduced fare card my mail. It seems that the goal for these agencies would be to make access to obtaining a card to use the bus as simple and effortless as possible.
    Having seniors take unessarry trips to an often crowded customer service office is not helping anyone. There is also no indication that for seniors with an older reduced fare card can still use it if they are paying cash. After all the negetive press that happened with the initial roll out, I am surprised that orca.hasn’t focused more on clearing up misconceptions.

  11. The physical Orca card itself works great. Never a problem.

    I agree the website is a bit confusing or else nonsensical.

    My own example I got an Orca card one day while walking down 4th avenue — they were giving them out as promotions with $5 value.

    So, since I had just set up my existing Orca card to the website, I added this promo card “just to see”. When I used it up, I figured I could delete it. But no…that’s not possible! There was (is) no way to remove the Orca card, and I had already thrown it away after using the $5. I called customer service and they confirmed…you can’t delete a card. Why?

      1. I don’t recall how I did it, but when I was working for NWCN, I got a free Orca annual pass, which I added to my account. When I moved downstairs to KING, I had to get a different card, so I called or e-mailed and had the NWCN card removed from my account online. Was done pretty quick.

  12. The system seems to be set up to take a number of floats, and to make it hard to get money back out, once it is transferred to ORCA. Every time ORCA holds money longer than necessary, a bit of interest is collected, though these days it is not very much.

    Who operates ORCA? Who collects that interest?

    1. I think ultimately its run by Sound Transit but it seems that most agencies have to fend for themselves.

    2. There are 9 accounts: Regional Clearing, Float, Regional Pass, Institutional, Distributor, Distributor 2, Cardholder Claim, Unclaimed Property, Participant Claim Fund.

      Sound Transit sets up and maintain those accounts on behalf of the ORCA program. Pass revenue is distributed to each agencies’ account on a monthly basis by ridership, e-purse revenue within 3 days of fare payment. The costs of running the system are shared by the agencies.

  13. “half-engineered” is being extremely generous. The vendor is completely incompetent.

  14. Personally, I prefer the paper card with a magnetic strip that are used in most other major cities that I have visited. Having a vending machine spit out a 7 day pass for a fixed cost that I can use for my entire visit is awesome, and Orca really doesn’t have anything that compares to that.

    1. There was supposed to be a low-cost paper ORCA ticket for that kind of use but it wasn’t rolled out initially due to security concerns. There is now a higher-security paper card product from the vendor. We’ll see one in the future but I don’t know when.

      1. It would be nice if our agencies would offer a day pass and a week pass, whether on paper or ORCA medium. Maybe one for in-county, and one for intra-county. Making it loadable onto ORCA would allow people to load it online if they don’t have a TVM. Or drivers could sell it like Metro drivers sell weekend day passes.

  15. Truly, the only reason I *must* own an ORCA card is that I sometimes use ST560 from the Fauntleroy Ferry to the airport and then transfer to a Metro route. It confers absolutely no other tangible benefits to me, as I don’t use a monthly pass product.

    I’m shocked the delay between “load” and “funds available” hasn’t been mentioned. I have been known to reload my Good To Go pass from my iPhone (from the passenger seat!) and have the funds available for my bridge crossing in ten minutes. This 24 hour thing is beyond nutty. WSF Wave2Go and WSDOT Good To Go both update effectively instantly.

    The other serious shortcoming of the system, which I think was designed in for political reasons, is that it’s really hamstrung when it comes to Washington State Ferry products. I use a combination of multi-ride 90-day books and ePurse, along with single cash-paid vehicle fares, and ORCA is spectacularly useless – while it’s handy in case I get caught with no money and no working plastic (happened once, I admit, after I dropped my wallet), I can’t use it in lieu of my current four multi-ride products from WSF (10-ride passengers and 20-ride car-and-driver for South Sound and Central Sound routes). I’ve got four barcoded cards floating around at any one time. More inanely, I can’t use the ORCA ePurse for vehicle fares. COMPLETELY INANE? No use for bicycle surcharge!

    I get that the transit providers want to get people out of their single-passenger vehicles, but to say “Oh, no using ORCA to pay for the bike you’re gonna use with the bus” is utterly nonsensical.

    So at any given moment, I’ve got money hanging out in six stored-value transportation payment accounts – ORCA ePurse, four Wave To Go products and Good To Go tolling and I *still* have to maintain an alternate form of payment for the sum total of ways I use public transit. Half-engineered? No, half-assed.

    1. The delay between loading your card online and when it gets to your card (24 hrs) is mainly due to how the system receives the information about your order. WSF and WSDOT systems are hardwired so that the order is transmitted right away where as each bus uses a physical transmitter that picks up your order when it passed a transmitter at the bases and is uploaded to the ORCA machine onboard. The files are uploaded to the base transmitters twice in a 24 hr period so hopefully, if the driver set the machine correctly, can be uploaded to the bus morning and night as they enter and leave the bus bases.

      Regarding WSF product offered – that is the decision of WSF to offer those products and only those products on the ORCA card, not the ORCA people. Same reason for Car and Driver/Motercycles, etc.

  16. The website always strikes me as a poorly executed student web design project. Clunky and counterintuitive.

  17. Only sometimes? :) Honestly, my experience has been only positive, but that’s because I only use it in the most limited of ways. I have an employer-supplied card and that’s it. I’ve never gotten a second one with an e-purse or anything (because I really don’t need to). My girlfriend got one of her own and loaded a bunch of money on it but hadn’t used it for some months. I was actually a little shocked it worked based on the stories here I’ve read about needing to reactivate the cards after periods of non-use. The worst I’ve had to deal with are multiple tap-out machines not working at the ID station. I still think requiring the bus drivers to change the reader between 1 and 2 zones between riders is silly. There must be a better way.

    1. Tap when boarding and tap again when leaving the bus!

      I was surprised to learn that Golden Gate Transit does that with the Clipper Card. They have 6 fare zones. I don’t get what were the people developing ORCA were thinking.

    2. I hate having to remember to specify how many zones I’m going before tapping. It’s easy to get screwed for the multi-zone fare. I don’t suppose they’re too concerned about that :P

      On the bright side, when the driver can’t figure out how to set the fare, or doesn’t feel like fiddling with it for one person in a long line, they usually just let you on for free.

  18. There may be a reason why ORCA never got Vancouver to buy in, then came down here and sold it to us…

    The problem, as I see it, is that ORCA tried to solve too many problems. This is consistent with outsourced projects, where the sales guys never say no to a customer request, leaving the engineers to figure things out.

    Compare with NYC’s MetroCard system:
    – ORCA cards can be reloaded online vs. MetroCards which can only be reloaded at subway stations.
    – ORCA distributes fares among 8 different agencies, including figuring out who gets what when I transfer from a ST bus to a metro bus. MetroCard only serves MTA, you gotta pay separately for the Path train, etc.
    – ORCA uses touch-free technology, MetroCard uses (secret, proprietary) magnetic strips. Hence, MetroCards are slim, disposable, tourist-friendly and don’t cost $5.
    – If your job gives you transit benefits, with ORCA, they give you an E-Voucher that you can use to buy a pass, or use as fare, but it’s kept in a separate ‘bucket’ than your E-purse which comes from your after-tax money. In NYC, your employer will just give you a new MetroCard each month.
    – ORCA can hold a monthly Regional pass, multiple monthly Agency passes, E-Purse $ and E-Voucher $. MetroCards can only be monthly passes for metro, or cash, and you if you want both, you get 2 cards.
    – ORCA handles multiple zones, distance-based fares, different fare structures for different agencies, transfers, ride-free zone, and the pay-as-you-enter-or-leave madness. NYC has only one zone, and all fares are $2.25, except express buses at $5.50.
    – ORCA handles balance protection & autoload. You can now get a MetroCard linked to a credit card, which presumably you can cancel if lost, but otherwise, if you lose a MetroCard, it’s gone. (The credit-card MetroCards are also new in the last few years, long after the system launched)
    – With ORCA, you can check your balance online, buy passes, and do all kinds of other stuff. With MetroCard, you, uh, can’t.

    The result of all of this, is that MetroCards do a lot less, but do so very reliably, and pretty much everyone in NYC understands the capabilities & the rules. They also do so very cheaply, since they use magnetic-strips, not touch-free wizardry.

  19. Is this where we register ORCA complaints?

    When ORCA came out I set up online accounts for each of my nieces, and had them each sent an ORCA card. I even added $10 to them as a gift, and to get them to use the bus (their parents always drive them down to visit me in Seattle from Bothell – a terrible waste of time and fuel).

    The first time they went to use them, they had to pay cash because it turns out they needed special children ORCA cards to qualify for the children’s fare. This has to be done in the Seattle office, which was an unreasonable amount of effort.

    Then their dad tried to use one, but apparently the value goes away if you don’t use your card within a month. He had to pay cash.

    Then one of my nieces started an internship in Seattle, and we took her into the Seattle office to get her card changed to a children’s card. But even though the cards are identical, they can’t switch cards – she had to pay $5 for a new children’s card.

    Having to go into the office for any reason makes the ORCA cards almost worthless. Not allowing senior/childrens cards without visiting the office was a terrible policy decision, yet won’t remove fraud.

    1. I was typing in an older window and didn’t see this comment until I wrote mine. Sounds like a common problem. The website doesn’t say anything about a children’s ORCA card–does it look different?

      1. It looks like they’ve made a tiny step toward adressing this issue. You can now mail in an ORCA card order form and send with it proof of age. Also, a youth can now show up in person at the ORCA office to get a card without proof of age if they clearly look under 19. The website used to say that all children need proof of age.

        It’s in the FAQ Section.

    2. Then their dad tried to use one, but apparently the value goes away if you don’t use your card within a month.

      They’ve upped the time limit from 30 days to 60 days which helps but I don’t understand why they have this PIA restriction at all. The money doesn’t actually go away it just gets “frozen”. If it’s an individual card you can call the 800 number and the nice person at the other end of the line can reset the clock. But you can’t do this yourself after logging into the website? Silly. Now, if you’re like me and have a card owned by your employer the registered company contact person has to go through a painful process of emailing ORCA to unfreeze the money and while I can add funds on line via my registered credit card I’m not allowed to use that same card to set-up autoload. Dumb!

      1. It’s my understanding that you can reactivate the card by adding money to it (or reactivating autoload) either online or at a TVM. Doing it online is not immediate but at a TVM should be immediate. On my last trip (last month) to Seattle, I added cash to my epurse at TIB station TVM to my card that had not been used since Christmas time. The card worked immediately.

  20. For a long time now I’ve decried the fact that ORCA online loads take 24 hours to apply. This really screwed me when I had a plan to take the Link the next day and it was evening when I went to to add funds. When I complained to ORCA support they offered to add a Sounder Round Trip ticket to the card. Which would also take 24 hours. Never mind the fact that Link != Sounder.

    If you can do immediate loads via kiosk or window, there’s absolutely no excuse why online loads take 24 hours.

    1. The excuse is that a kiosk or window can update the database in your card to reflect the new money/pass, but when you do it online that’s obviously not possible. The only way to get the data to your card is to tap it on a reader, and the readers on the buses don’t update while they’re out driving. Hence the delay: after you pay online, the buses have to update overnight when they’re back at the base before your card will work.

      It seems to me that this shouldn’t be an issue when riding Link, though, since the readers are presumably continually attached to the back end.

      Does anyone know if the new bus radio/data system will support updating ORCA in real-time?

      1. The excuse is that a kiosk or window can update the database in your card to reflect the new money/pass, but when you do it online that’s obviously not possible.

        I’m pretty sure that’s not at all how it works. Imagine if there was a database on the card. Not only would that make these cards much more expensive than they already are, but it wouldn’t take long for enterprising digital tinkerers to figure out how to edit that database to contain $999,999.99! Systems in NYC and Boston that contained value on the card have been hacked in just that way.

        No, I’m pretty sure the ORCA card is mostly just a chip with a unique number, and the only thing the card “knows” is that it is Card Number 00343452873462345 or whatever. Maybe it’s more than that, but I’m pretty certain it doesn’t contain how much is in your epurse or what passes you have. It tells the reader what its number is and the reader looks that number up in an ST central database to get your epurse and pass info.

        Which means there’s no reason at all why the online system can’t update your purse info much sooner than 24 hours.

        Even if this were the case — that the value was stored on the card — why couldn’t it update immediately upon my using it at a reader? It will after 24 hours, but not before.

      2. Nope, all the value is stored on the card encrypted including a record of the 10 last trips you made. The buses don’t have a constant connection to the central database which means it can only be updated once a day when the bus is at base, then the updates are pushed to the card next time it’s tapped.

    2. Why were you trying to reload online when you could have just used the TVM when you got to the Link station?

      1. For starters, I wanted to avoid the lines that pile up at TVMs. I was planning to take the Link in for a Mariners game.

        But let’s say it wasn’t Link I was planning to take, but a bus. And I don’t have $2.50 in exact change lying around and won’t be able to go to a bank.

  21. ORCA is great for frequent users. I have no problem as a literate adult loading my E-Purse. Our guests have been confused, but we usually travel with them and try to have cards on hand for their use. I was less confused using the system in Madrid as a non-Spanish speaking tourist.

    My biggest complaint is that I can’t get a card loaded with reduced fare without going in person. I have to decide between paying extra fare for my 9yo niece or spending our vacation time together trying to prove her age. Is there a serious problem with adults loading youth fare onto their cards? Why can’t I load a youth-only card online?

    1. You can load a youth card online – but you have to obtain a card specifically coded as a Youth card, then register it.

      Many adults have found a work-around for this. They simply purchase a regular ORCA card at a TVM, then register it, load money on it, and set the default charge rate for the card (from the web site) at .75.

      What happens then is that the card when tapped deducts .75 from the e-purse and registers “Adult Owe $X.XX” (depending on peak vs. non-peak, zones, etc.). Drivers have to accept this because if Youth pay cash – no ID is required.

      It’s confusing, and a definite hole in the system, but there’s no arguing that it isn’t legitimate.

  22. Was in town for a boat show, got an ORCA. Only good for me!!! I miss out east were you swipe it twice for two people. Really makes it easier for traveling.

    1. Actually you can pay for multiple people with the same card but the process of setting up the reader when you first pay and when you transfer is so convoluted many drivers forget how.

      I wouldn’t want it to work that way either. I don’t want to worry about getting charged multiple times because I thought I tapped the card incorrectly and tried again.

      1. I’ve tried this 3-4 times, when I had friends in town. I’ve got an MS-issued ORCA, with a regional pass, and I put $10 in the E-purse for just such an occasion.

        In no case did the driver set it up correctly. In one case, he upped the fare to 2x the normal fare, but since my pass is for whatever-the-highest-normal-bus-fare is, my pass covered it, whereas I should’ve had to pay one of the fares out of my e-purse. The other couple of times, the driver shrugged and let us both on fare-free.

    2. My understanding is that you can pay for two or more by asking the driver to set the machine for a group fare. Swiping twice would work on buses but with the train where you are supposed to tap out tapping twice at the beginning of a ride would I believe cancel your trip.

      1. No, tapping twice just shows a “xfer” or “passback” on the second tap, depending on how much time passes between taps.

      2. That’s just it. The “Swipe twice” works because that’s what people expect when traveling with two people. And when I tap, I look at what the screen says to not only make sure it took, but to check my balance. And yes, it was Link but I knowing this next time in town I’ll do things differently.

    3. There isn’t a way to share a card when using light rail. Glad to know you can for the bus.

      1. You can use e-purse value on your ORCA card to buy Link tickets from the vending machine for people you are traveling with.

      2. Do those tickets cost full fare or are they transfer upgrades in which you only pay the difference?

        In any case, I don’t think the group fare function has been well thought out with regard to transfers between bus and rail.

      3. I was just reading a pamphlet on using ORCA to pay for group fares, but now I can’t remember where I saw it. It did say specifically though that you can use ORCA e-purse to buy Sounder and Link tickets at a TVM for multiple people, so I’m assuming they meant full fare tickets.

      4. So if you buy a paper ticket at a TVM am I correct in assuming that it will serve as a valid transfer on a Metro bus but if you need to transfer to an ST bus you’d have to then pay another full fare?

      5. I don’t know. I have a pass so I’ve never had to worry about transfers or what costs what. I don’t think that Link paper tickets are valid as transfers on Metro though.

      6. A Link or Sounder paper ticket isn’t a transfer to any buses or trains. And if you have multiple transfers on your ORCA from the bus, when you get to Link they’re absolutely useless. Multiple fares & transfers are doable on buses, but once you try to go multi-modal, the system breaks down. So much for seamless transfers with ORCA.

  23. I got charged for a failed transfer a bit back (rode at 10am, waited forever for a bus scheduled at 11:45, ended up catching another bus at 12:10) Since two hours had passed, I didn’t get to use a transfer. I called KCMetro to see if I could have the fare refunded to my card. After a while on hold the guy heard my story and said that the guy who does such things only refunds trips once a week. He said he’d submit the report to him and that I should call back later the next week to see if they had refunded me.

    Not worth my $2.

  24. I have a monthly pass loaded on mine. My first card stopped working. Since it was issued by my work, I couldn’t swap it out for a new one at a customer service kiosk (I called first to find out what to do, but neglected to mention that I purchased it through my workplace). I got a new one from work, but it took them two days to transfer the balance. It’s a pass, so it’s not like I can just use it later to make up for the trips that I had to pay cash. Luckily, the drivers seem to be just as frustrated by ORCA and they waved me through for two days.

    I ride the bus all over town; I miss the plastic metro passes that we used to have. ORCA doesn’t do a thing for me.

  25. I’ve been using the ORCA card since almost its first public inception in May of 2009. ORCA is an exercise in frustration. It took me two views of the web page to actually figure out how to load a card. Whoever designed the pages to purchase product doesn’t think very user friendly. Why should I have to tab through multiple fields to enter a credit card number or a phone number? I should be able to enter data and have it stand as is or the data entry program should automatically parse the digits if it’s really necessary.

    My next beef is why it should take from 24 to 48 hours for credit that I’ve purchased to credit my account? If the system is connected the credit should appear immediately to my account. If they system can talk to other parts of the system to deduct fare from my account why can’t it credit my account when I’ve given money to the system? It makes no sense to me.

    And why are the sign out readers at University street up on mezzanine level? What if I get off a link train and want to catch a tunnel bus? I have to go up to the mezzanine to sign out so I can go back downstairs and take a bus! Not too smart is what I think.

    1. I guess the question would be why are you riding Link one stop and getting off to take a bus?

      1. what if you were just trying to move through downtown and wanted to take the next coming vehicle?

      2. Okay? Why would you get off one stop later if you’re just trying to get through town? In fact, it would be to your disadvantage to get on Link as that is pay as you enter and the bus would be pay as you leave, gaining you time on your transfer, assuming you are leaving the ride-free zone.

      3. Because i have a pass, and i dont care about transfers, and want to traverse downtown as quickly as possible and not play the bus or train game, even though i know i’m not going to get fare inspected in the tunnel, but still wanting to make sure i dont have to fork over $124 to Sound Transit needlessly…..

      4. If you have a pass, just tap when you enter the station. It’s not like you would be out any extra money if you are tapping a pass in the ride-free area. I guess I don’t see what the problem is for you.

      5. What if you hopped Link from somewhere in S. Seattle, to transfer to a cross-lake bus? That’s pretty obvious.

  26. They should have implemented a dual system with ORCA. fareboxes with electronic transfer printers like vancouver bc (or any number of other urban systems) and ORCA itself. Those paying with cash, would get an electronicly printed transfer/reciept with full transfer benefits of orca, and those regular riders could use their orca. By having the electronic transfers, it takes the operator out of the fare evasion problem “the machines issues and accepts or rejects the transfer”. Also, more though should have been given to having 24/7 telephone support for ORCA plus longer hours at major customer service shops. Adding ORCA TVMs at major transit stations and park and ride locations would have also been a good thing as well. But all it takes is $$$, and when your ten years behind schedule as it was…

    1. There isn’t a secure, commercially available implementation of the disposable magstripe. Even though it’s totally technically feasible. All of the systems that use it are wide open to fraud.

      The supposedly secure, encrypted magstripes on their paper tickets/transfers are actually very poorly secured – there’s only a very basic checksum, and you can’t really call that secured at all, since you can just recalculate a valid checksum for any changes you make.

      That was a big part of a pretty well known Defcon talk a few years back. It’s trivial to forge a magstripe that gives you free rides for life, with $5 of off-the-shelf equipment.

      The RFID cards (like Orca) aren’t much stronger. The encryption is almost trivially weak, but the equipment needed is 10x more expensive.

      1. Many academics broke the encryption to Mifare Classic which is used in many systems like Boston’s CharlieCard and London Oyster. That’s why you haven’t seen the disposable ORCA ticket yet because that card stock uses the older, weaker encryption, until recently. ORCA uses Mifare DESfire which supports DES encryption or the much stronger 128-bit AES encryption. If AES is broken we have greater things to worry about than people getting free rides but of course there may be other security vulnerabilities.

  27. OK, here’s a subtlety. The premise is that ORCA’s problems are from under-engineering. But my perception is that the project was *over*-engineered, not under. Rather than to purchase an off-the shelf product that had been refined based on industry experience elsewhere, the ORCA approach was to design a specification from the ground up, producing a huge spec that required a ton of custom and non-reusable product development. There were tons of potential agency requirements identified, but are Puget Sound transit agency needs that different from the rest of the industry? Why not let the industry do some of the development and testing, rather than to engineer our own solution?

    Most of the development effort was focused on a non-problem — improving the reconciliation for transfers between agencies. The other focus was to make sure agencies were not forced to rationalize or integrate their fare systems at all, so the ORCA system needed to accommodate each agency’s separate fare structures and business rules (despite fare integration having been one of Sound Transit’s initial charges). Customer needs were not represented as directly in the design process (especially customers who want to transfer between bus and rail, and don’t want to maintain a pre-paid balance). With all the attention on agency needs, and little on the customers’, it’s not surprising that some customer service issues remain. So in a sense it’s fair to say it was half-engineered (since the customer needs weren’t a major factor in the design process), but I think in fact the over-engineering to meet every possible agency platform requirement was the biggest factor resulting in some drawbacks to the customer experience in implementation. Personally, I’m actually surprised that the system is working as well as it has so far.

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