Photo by Oran

Jeff Welch at the Puget Sound Transit Operators blog has some interesting observations on how ORCA is being used, misused, and purchased. For example:

Technical Realities – Feel Like Bugs

Buses connect to the master database via wireless connection when they are at the base.  There is no ongoing connection to the database.  This means that when a passenger loads their card online before they leave for work – the bus that they are boarding most likely hasn’t received the database update that includes the information that their card now has a new pass or added cash amount.  As a result, Operators have been instructed (via memo anyway) to accept ORCA cards as “flash passes”, and to let the passenger know that it can take 24-48 hours for an added pass or balance to reflect.  The end result is that the passenger gets a free ride (if they pay by e-purse) or are just confused/annoyed by the error, the delay, and the ensuing (public) explanation at the bus door.

This is also becoming a growing new form of fare evasion, as unrepentant fare evaders catch on to the “I just loaded it this morning” meme.   An empty card can be used for unlimited rides – all over the system (except Link and Sounder) with that brief explanation.

There have also been reports from customers (and questions directed at drivers) about issues with autoload, as well as multiple problems with employers purchasing the wrong passes (off-peak vs. peak; one-zone vs. two-zone, etc.) for their employees.

I wonder it it’s time to add something to the ORCA website that puts in very noticeable type on the payment screen that your purchase will not take effect for 48 hours.

According to ST spokesman Geoff Patrick, the ORCA vendor, Vix-ERG, has not yet been granted Full System Acceptance (FSA) due to persistent bugs in some of the equipment. Nevertheless “the ORCA agencies are looking at options to improve the user-friendliness of the website, with the goal of making improvements by the end of the year.”

106 Replies to “ORCA Suggestions”

  1. How does ORCA keep track of transfers if there’s no ongoing communication between the bus and the database? Contactless cards don’t have any internal storage, do they?

    1. There is an x number of last transactions (I forget the number) that are written to the card.

      1. Are you serious?

        A while back, some MIT students put together a presentation (1) about hacking the Charlie Card/Ticket system. (Boston’s equivalent of ORCA). The conclusion was that hacking the Charlie Cards (which used a central system) wasn’t too useful, but hacking Charlie Tickets (which were just stored-value tokens) could potentially give you unlimited free rides.

        If what you’re saying is true, then the same vulnerability exists in ORCA. Someone could basically write arbitrary data to the card — increasing the value, adding a pass, etc.

        In practice, this probably isn’t too bad, since most people are too lazy and/or can’t afford card writers. But it’s (IMHO) embarrassing that ORCA has such a glaring security hole.


      2. The security concern is one primary reason why ORCA has not issued paper contactless tickets until the vendor can produce a more secure disposable card. However, the fare value on the ORCA card is encrypted, while ID data and trip history isn’t. So far no one has been able to crack the encryption used on ORCA’s MiFare DESfire cards. MiFare Classic, which is what MBTA uses, has very weak security.

      3. Yes, Nathan is serious. I believe the magic number is 10.

        The transactions are also stored on the bus, and when the bus pulls in, it’s like a two-way sync. The bus tells the base “I had card 123, 456, and 789 tap and I took $2.25 off their card” and the base said “Customer 345 loaded $20 on their card” and so on.

      4. Okay, I’m glad to hear about the encryption. But even so, it sounds like you should just be able to write to the card that there was a trip 10 minutes ago with a value of $4.75, and so you’d be entitled to a free transfer to any service. You can just leave all the encrypted data untouched.

    2. This brings up a question I have had for a while. There was a time that used three different buses to get to my final destination using my orca card. All were different agency CT, ST and Metro and all different fares (I believe it was CT: $1.50, ST: $2.50 and Metro: $2.25.) Who gets what portion of the of the fare?

      1. I think it gets divided up. Thats why ORCA is good, because they can track where the fare should be going. Before you showed a CT tranfer on a Metro route……Metro got none of the revenue. That is also why an ORCA loaded with a pass, must be tagged so the money for the monthy, yearly, etc. pass can be directed to the correct agency.
        For example….when I drive a full bus and I need to open the rear door on an outbound trip, with the puget pass, passengers would just flash it as they walked by the front door. Now, with ORCA, I make an announcment and say, “I will opening the rear door at ths stop. You may use it, but those of you with ORCA cards are required come to the front door and tag your ORCA card.” Someday we might have rear door ORCA readers.

      2. Casey,
        I was on a standing-room-only pay-as-you-leave 43 the other morning where the driver opened all door to let people off, and was pleasantly surprised to see the people who got off the rear doors walking back up to the front (outside) and then reaching in to tap the reader. Rear door readers would certainly be nice, especially on busy routes.

      3. We should create a Puget Sound regional fare association like they have in Europe. The association can then set consistent fares and transfer policies, and divvy up the revenue. It could either be divvied up on the basis of the amount of service provided (cost basis), or based on statistical sampling. It can’t possibly be cost effective to try to track every trip traveled by a passholder and then divide up that month’s pass price, nor to try to divide transfers for millions of trips. The burden and overhead and ocst of tracking that can’t be worth it – just do a statistically valid sampling. Or base it on service hours operated or something similar to that.

        Where CT & ST or MT & ST overlap service, have the same fares and transfer policies.

        Today the MT paper transfer is still much more valuable if you can limit yourself to MT routes than the ORCA transfer, especially if your first trip is towards downtown Seattle and your second trip away from downtown. The paper transfer generally gives you 2 hours after your bus arrives downtown, and you just have to board your outbound bus by then. The ORCA transfer is based on when the card is first tapped (as you board inbound, so by the time you get downtown you may only have 75 minutes left, and if you then take an outbound trip, it is tapped as you disembark to see if the transfer is still valid.)

  2. The ORCA site is just a huge abomination. The UI is not intuitive, I can’t give my ORCA cards friendly names (I have a few laying around that I use for guests), and yes, there is no feedback stating that it may be up to two days before your money is actually noted on your account.

    I have written to them several times and have gotten no written response back. I have also called their offices and basically have gotten the “This is what it is, get used to it. We can’t make changes.” line. Perhaps others will have more luck?

    1. I couldn’t agree more. I recently moved and my autoload failed three times in a row. Apparently there are three places where you can update your billing address. Two are easy to find but aren’t actually the billing address sent to the credit card processor.

      To add insult to injury when a charge is declined you can’t update your card and have it re-charged, you must mail a check in to the main office.

    2. It’s been mentioned several times that the ORCA web site is in bad need of a fix, but evidently it’s not a priority since it’s the same as it’s been pretty much since the outset.

      And there’s something wrong with a system if it takes 48 hours to credit your account.

  3. What we really need is something like MBTA’s (Boston) CharlieCard and CharlieTicket

    Charlie info:

    The CharlieTicket would be great for visitors. I think Atlanta (MARTA) does something similar with it’s Breeze Card and Breeze Ticket. Also, we need a daily cap like Transport for London.

    I know, I know, it’s been debated on this blog plenty of times.

    1. I’m currently in Chicago and what a breeze it was for me to get a 3-day pass! I could also get a 7 or 14 day pass, too, or just load up a card with money. It’s amazing that these systems already exist (CTA’s looks surprisingly similar to the MTA/PATH kiosks), and yet Seattle decided to do something completely different. Le sigh.

      1. Well the Chicago “visitor” passes are of the paper mag stripe variety and not the RFID variety. Also, they are only available at certain locations and (as far as I know) cannot be purchased onboard buses.

        Chicago has 2 varieties of RFID passes, The Chicago card is an epurse that is typically loaded from a kiosk at a train station that takes cash only offering credit card loading). The Chicago-card plus is attached to a credit/debit card and can be either auto loaded or a monthly pass can be loaded onto it.

        ORCA I think is a bit more flexible in that it is a single card (as opposed to Chicago’s 2 versions) that can be loaded with cash, via credit card auto load, or passes assigned to them. I think the community needs to be vocal about the improvements they’d like to see and hopefully they will continue to roll out innovations. I’d like to see a paper or disposable card for visitors. I’d like to see the buses with real time communications so that the DB gets updated frequently. Oh btw, because of the last transactions info on the ORCA card, you will be charged for those rides when your account updates. At least that was my experience last year.

    2. Same here when I visited San Francisco. 7-day visitor passport for $26. Buy it at the airport (or other retail locations), scratch off the date and go. Ironically, it doesn’t work on BART to get downtown from SFO.

      ORCA was going to have a paper ticket (specified in the contract) and will have it in the future when the bugs with the current setup are worked out.

      1. Oran, just out of curiosity: do you know why the bugs with the regular card have to be worked out first—is there a contractual or technical reason both tasks can’t be executed simultaneously?

      2. I don’t know the true reason but talking with people working on the project, they feel like fixing what’s already out there before introducing something new, which most likely will introduce new issues.

      3. @Morgan you don’t have to worry about that. The vendor’s parent company, which had financial trouble, sold its U.S. operations to its rival Cubic Transportation Systems. Its legacy lives on in ORCA and Clipper nee TransLink.

      4. @oran so does that mean that Cubic will be dealing with ORCA as well? Or what is supposed to happen after the acceptance event?

  4. Or how about there being no Orca readers installed on the SLU streetcar? I still have to buy tickets with my credit card, because I mainly use my epurse.

    1. actually if you have an ORCA card you just need to show it to fare inspectors on the SLUT if challenged. No scanning required

  5. Here’s my Orca criticism: if I wanted to go from downtown (tunnel) to Stadium or SoDo by the first vehicle to arrive, it may be the light rail or is could be a southbound bus, bu the payment modes are completely different: Swipe in at the mezzanine level for light rail and swipe out at the destination (or get charged for a trip to the airport if a bus happens to come first…) or plan on the bus and if a train comes first risk getting inspected and fined.

    I’m agnostic as to which mode I ride for these trips, I just want to get there.

    At the least there should be a light rail swiping station at the platform level.

      1. At least Westlake and ID station have Orca readers on the platform too. So, if a train shows up, you can conveniently tap on before you enter.

      2. ORCA readers ARE coming to a DSTT platform near you. By the end of the year we’ll have new heads on all the DSTT platforms.

        Here’s why we don’t have ORCA heads on the Link platforms outside the DSTT. It’s a bit of a tangled tale, so stay with me.

        We want to make sure the only people on Link platforms are riders who’ve paid their fare. Legally, if you’re on the platform at one of our stations outside the tunnel without a ticket or swiped ORCA card, you can be fined and/or asked to leave the platform.

        Having that authority gives us the stick to keep folks from loitering or disrupting/hassling/mugging paying passengers waiting for the train. That’s why the ORCA heads and TVMs are at the far ends of the at-grade platforms or on a different level than the boarding platform at other stops. No, it’s not always the most convenient setup but safety and security often trumps convenience.

        And before you ask, it’s not feasible to have turnstiles because we have several at-grade stations where you could just walk on the tracks around the gates if you really wanted to.

        So there you go – some real news and information. I’ll also get the word out via our Twitter feed about the new ORCA heads in the DSTT. I actually just found this out this morning.

        If you’re not following us on Twitter already, sign up!

        Bruce Gray
        ST Media Relations

      3. The location of the readers at non-DSTT stations is not a big deal, since there are no on-platform multi-modal options.

        But having them at platform level throughout the DSTT is extremely important to enable customer flexibility without making fare compliance difficult. I’m glad you’re getting that accomplished.

      4. Platform readers, yaay.

        But the readers really need to get closer to the pedestrian path. At Westlake they’re way off to the side rather than at the top of the escalators. At Beacon Hill, they’re off to the side rather than next to the elevators. At the surface stations, they’re on the sides rather than in front of you so it’s easy to miss them if you don’t know where they are. I understand the lack of turnstyles, but which other city has the readers off to the side rather than right in your face as you’re about to step into the fare-paid zone?

    1. And they’re not even consistently placed at the tunnel stations. Westlake as them at the platform by the elevators, but Pioneer Sq. has them at the top of the stairs before going down to the platform. I’m unsure of University St.

      1. I use the Pioneer Square station daily and I find the ORCA readers to be placed in the most awkward locations. You have to walk out of your way to tap them.

      1. They’re unnecessary northbound since no one is getting on a train northbound. It’d be convenient for people getting off there, but not as big a deal as no platform readers at Pioneer Square and U-Stret.

      2. “They’re unnecessary northbound since no one is getting on a train northbound.”

        They’re necessary for people who are transferring to northbound buses from Link.

      3. They’re not necessary since the downtown tunnel is the end of the line and people already got charged the maximum fare. They tell you to always tap out but to me it makes no difference in how much I get charged.

      4. That depends upon where you tapped in. For a relatively nearby station, the max. charge would be to Sea-Tac, but it would be lower to Westlake.

    2. What frustrates me about the tunnel readers is that there’s NO WHERE on them that tells you there is a minimum charge! I did the honest thing, thinking I would just be charged for the 3 stops I rode, but when I swiped it at my destination I was charged the same as a full bus ride!!! ST needs to assume that there is always going to be new riders using the ORCA system and post that info. Had I known I would have just waited for a bus even though I was in a hurry.

      Overall, I really like the ORCA card and was proud as a long time (40+yrs now) bus rider to be a tester for it.

      1. You need to tap your card again at the platform when you leave the train. You’ll then only be charged for the distance you rode.

      2. (In my opinion, there are already plenty of reminders, posted and verbally announced, that the train isn’t fare-free.)

        (Not that fare inspectors ever actually check in the tunnel during fare-free hours.)

      3. It’s confusing. When you tap in, it charges the maximum fare from that station (the longest possible trip). When you tap out, it refunds the difference between your trip and the maximum fare. If you don’t tap out, it keeps the difference.

        I don’t know what happens if you have enough money for your trip but not for the maximum fare. I assume it gets mad at you. If so, that’s unfair and would trip up visitors on their way home. On BART, you only need the minimum fare to get on.

    3. Which is why something’s really wrong with the card readers being at the mezzanine level. You can’t use both buses and LR together without getting off LR and finding a card reader in the mezzanine and then going downstairs to get a train.

  6. The autoload thing is a PITA. If your credit card rejects the autoload charge, the following happens:
    1) up to a week later, you are contacted by ORCA card services.
    2) you have to set up the autoload again – fair enough.
    3) you have to separately pay $20 to ORCA card services, because for some reason they can’t charge that back to your credit card after it’s been sorted out, OR to a new card. This has to be paid by cash in person or by mailing in a check – if it happens to you, mail in the check because paying in person will waste at least an hour of standing in line at the office.

    This was annoying enough when it was only triggered by my credit card company having stupidly overzealous fraud protection, but at least that wasn’t the ORCA system’s fault in the first place. What I discovered this week entirely was:

    When your credit card is about to expire, you get an email from the system asking you to update the information. So far so good. I went to the website and updated it, and everything appeared to have worked. Then this week I got the “autoload failed” email, phoned in and was told that my credit card had expired. Turns out the update hadn’t taken effect, and judging by the reaction of the person on the phone, it never does – it just looks like it had to the user.

    1. Once I added an Autoload to my card two days before the end of the month for a pass. When the card was tapped inthe new month it did not work and when I checked the site, my Autoload was gone.

    2. Keep pounding away guys. This stuff sucks but if there is anybody listening on the other end they should be getting lots of good ideas. (You’re listening and writing all this stuff down, right Sound Transit !?).

      From my perspective, the system has been getting better. I haven’t had a broken card reader all shakeup.

      That said, I’d still like to see them get rid of this silly idea of forcing the driver to interact with the ORCA system like a computer. Having to press “OK” when somebody owes $.50 is stupid when you’re trying to let everybody off in the UW or at a major transfer point. People DO NOT behave like a FIFO queue when they’re anxious to get where they are going. It would be far more useful to show a running list of messages on the driver’s screen like this:

      Pass – 1 Zone
      EPurse – 2 Zone
      Insufficient Funds
      EPurse – 1 Zone – Owe $.50

      … or something like that.

      The driver could talk to the one customer who owes $.50 while continuing to allow pass holders to deboard. Trust me when I say this would save a LOT of time and frustration.

      A well designed interface would allow us to scroll through and update unpaid/underpaid fares with details. For example: As I scroll through those lines buttons would appear that allow me to indicate whether the fare was paid or not. You’d only need these buttons for things like “Insufficient funds” or “Owe $.50″The key is this: Allow us to update the system but only IF WE ARE ABLE TO AND CHOOSE TO DO SO.

      I’d suggest somebody at Customer service review any card being tagged as evading fares on 3 separate days in any given month. A human looking at an ORCA transaction history should be able to figure out pretty quickly what’s going on and act accordingly.

      For drivers who don’t care and don’t want to interact with the system, you’re not going to get any useful data anyway – no matter how many times you make the rest of us press “OK”. There is a massive amount of pent up frustration among drivers over fare evasion. Trust me: If you give us an interface we can use to report fare evaders and we know it will result in the deactivation of ORCA cards that are being abused, we WILL update the system.

      1. Except that due to the large number of bugs in the system drivers are told to accept non-functioning ORCA cards as flash passes.

    3. I moved last month and thought I updated my autoload billing address. Either I forgot or it didn’t take, because I got that same email. Been trading voicemails with the ORCA people for the last week.

      In the meantime I updated the autoload again with the right address. When I tapped it yesterday the reader made all sorts of beeping noises, but I didn’t see what the screen said. The website shows I was charged for the trip, though, and my card’s been working.

      Who knows what will happen when it next runs out of funds though.

      1. Autoload, when it works, works really really well and I’d recommend using it. Just fix the bugs. Set and forget. If I could use it for non-transit payments, it would be the only card I must carry.

      2. That only works if you’re ever actually going near the bus tunnel. I do west seattle to downtown (on first), which means that I have to go quite a ways out of my way to get to a TVM.

      3. I’ve used autoload since day 2 in April of 09, and have never had a problem – I have e-purse only.

      4. Never had problems with e-purse autoload on my personal card. Passes are more troublesome with my work subsidized card and an employee’s card. They should’ve converted to rolling 30-day passes instead of being fixed to a calendar month.

      5. Same here! I just stop at one of the TVMs at the Everett Station and refill the ORCA as needed:)

  7. As I understand it, if you don’t have enough $ on your card, you are still responsible to pay the full fare. (I’m not sure if you can pay the remainder in cash if the card runs out – though I think I’ve seen that happen). This should be made clear. I have seen drivers handle this situation very differently. Some drivers have a hard-line stance for riders paying with cash, and then give clueless Orca riders a free pass… a problematic scenario indeed.

    1. If you have $1.00 on your ORCA card and the fare is $2.00, the reader for both the passenger and the operator will say “Owe $1.00”. The passenger is required (er, expected) to deposit $1.00 into the farebox.

      1. Oh, is this true? I guess I owe Metro and ST a few bucks. In other cities where I’ve used smart cards (namely, Chicago), you’re allowed to carry a small negative balance. You can never board with a balance of $0 or less, but you are allowed to board in the situation Tim describes above. When you load the card with another $50 (or whatever), you’ll just get a balance of $49. I never really payed attention here.

  8. Online ORCA reloads ALWAYS take 24 hours. ALWAYS. They flat out tell you that and they can’t make it faster. So if you add cash to your card tonight for a train trip tomorrow morning, no dice. (Meanwhile ticket machine reloads are ALWAYS immediate.)

    They have no explanation for why it takes 24 hours, and there’s no real technical reason for it, but they are remarkably firm about it.

    1. From the quote Martin’s post, it looks like the reason is that the readers themselves need to be told that the card now holds valid fare.

      But this whole post just highlight how necessary additional TVMs are. At the absolute minimum, we need them at all the major transit centers, and throughout downtown.

      1. Another bug not mentioned in this or the PSTO article: a monthly pass with an e-purse cannot be used to pay for one passenger as a pass and also have the e-purse used to pay for someone else with the pass owner. Either both have to pay via e-purse, or one uses the pass – which then scans as “passback” when the driver attempts to set it up as a group pay/e-purse transaction.

        The group pay option is more trouble than it’s worth.

      2. I had an operator tell me that if you know how to use it, and if the passenger is aware that they need to tell the operator before they tap, group fare is a breeze. Just as easy as chaning the zone, which most operators know how to do.

      3. Problem is that most passengers *don’t* know that they need to tell the driver before they tap, and as I mentioned you can’t use a pass as both a pass AND an e-purse to pay for someone else. In addition, the eletronic transfer issue; while some know that they need to tell the driver before they tap to pay when initially boarding, almost none know that they need to do the same when they transfer to another bus in order for their e-transfers to register.

        The “if” factor doesn’t translate into usability. For example, IF all drivers called out stops clearly when they’re supposed to, automatic stop announcements wouldn’t be necessary either.

      4. IF all drivers called out stops clearly when they’re supposed to, automatic stop announcements wouldn’t be necessary either.

        Even if they all did it they wouldn’t all do it consistently. That’s another reason why the automated stop announcements will be there–consistency. Volume, speed, pitch, number of announcements, information given. Fire departments across the nation have been migrating to products like Locution for those very reasons.

    2. False. Online reloads do not take 24 hours.

      I had $2.50 on a card. At 1am, I added $5.00. At 7:30am, I boarded a coach to downtown Seattle and had $2.25 deducted from my card. After arriving downtown, I passed through Pioneer Square station. I tapped my card. Simultaneously the balance increased by $5.00 and was decreased by $2.50. I tapped again to cancel the trip and got my $2.50 back. At 8am, the balance on my card was $5.25. 7 hours is less than 24.

      1. Yes it can take less than 24 hours under some circumstances but for most people it’s going to take at least that long. If ST said “Between 4 and 24 hours” some people are going to end up angry when it takes the whole 24 hours so they just say the longest it should be and call it good.

      2. It can take up to 24 hours if you are using a reader on a bus because they are only updated when the bus is at a base. If you use a hard-wired reader (Link, Sounder, TVM) your transaction will be processed faster.

      3. I was told by ORCA customer service a long time ago that online reloads are processed twice a day, at 2 AM and at 2 PM. In an ideal situation, you can do an online reload at 1:59, and then go tap on one of those hardwired ORCA readers on the pedestals at the stations, and get it very fast.

        If the typical user does a reload at 2:01, it’ll be much longer before it shows up on a bus reader.

    3. Strange – I added a $4 monthly for October last (9/30) night online, and it definitely recognized it when I tapped off the Sounder in Tukwila this (10/1) morning…

      1. The Sounder and Link ORCA readers and the TVMs are hard-wired into the system, so your online transaction shows up at those readers as soon as the website processes it. The mobile readers on the buses are only updated when the bus gets back to the base, which causes the longer delay in updating your card when you use those readers. The information about your online transaction has to be sent to the readers before your card can be updated.

    4. Because the bus has to sync with the server so it can update your card. Theoritcally you can replace the bus’s Wi-fi connection with a cellular modem and things should be really fast at that point but that starts to cost a lot of money (nevermind the fact if your in an area with poor or non existant service)

  9. Sound Transit just announced that they are adding more ORCA readers to various platforms at Westlake (nb), pioneer sq, and Univ. stations

  10. I just switched to a new job and had to buy a new ORCA card, because my previous one was paid by my old employer and loaded automatically (and just worked.)

    I’ve found it to be very confusing. The initial TVM purchase worked great, but I’ve gotten several odd beeps and at least one time when I was told I had no money on the purse when I did. I loaded more money online (which thanks to the site was an adventure in itself–it doesn’t appear to work on Google Chrome), and didn’t notice (even though I probably read it in the FAQ) that the money wouldn’t be there immediately. So it worked once with the balance that remained, then failed the next time with a partial payment, and then I had to hurriedly drop quarters in until I had the full fare. This morning, with my first monthly pass kicking in, I got some weird beep and message. I just shrugged and got on, and the bus driver didn’t do anything so I guess it worked.

    I also find that when I’m tired I try to swipe the card on the screen instead of the reader. It’s not that I don’t know where to swipe it; it’s that I’m tired and the intuitive place to swipe is the screen, which is at hand height and much more noticeable than the ORCA logo, which I tend to ignore like I ignore all logos and advertisements.

    Here are some suggestions:

    * Get more TVMs. Put them at every bus stop, and not just in the DSTT. Put them on the platforms. Put them in retail locations, libraries, post offices, and so on. The TVMs are intuitive and work instantly. They’re the only part of the system that didn’t frustrate me. And by being available everywhere people can load their cards without having to set up an online account and deal with the 48-hour delay (which one driver quoted to me as 72 hours).
    * Give people a free day pass valid for the day that they buy the ORCA. Tourists and other one-time riders would just go to the TVM, choose a day pass, and get a standard card without any purse or pass loaded. But it would work all day, for $5. It would be a software change and could be made tomorrow (or with testing, within a few weeks).
    * Institute a daily maximum purse deduction, probably at 2 or 3 times the highest fare in the region. People should not be punished for making multiple transfers between systems. That’s usually penalty enough.
    * Harmonize fares. Just make it $2.50 or $2.75 peak for Link and all buses. Sounder and ferries could continue to use different pricing. This also reduces the complexity of the pass system.
    * Fix the Web site.
    * Add clear signage explaining how cards work, at stations and platforms. My bus stop at a highly-trafficked P&R mentions the word ORCA once and it’s in the fine print. And fix the transit maps at the same time. I should never have to see the useless system-wide Metro map at a station kiosk ever again (the downtown frequent service map isn’t half bad, though).
    * Synchronize bus card readers to the database every morning, reducing the delay from online prepayment to a day at most.
    * Change the reader hardware so that the place where you tap is in the most prominent location and is labeled TAP HERE in big letters. Just putting the reader area on top and the screen below would do the trick. And use the damn logo for branding purposes only, and not to indicate the place to tap.
    * While I’m whining, can we separate branding from agency identity? Create or borrow a system-wide name (like Sound Transit or ORCA). Have all buses and trains and ferries use that brand to indicate it’s a single integrated system on the user end. Use branding distinctions (with colors, logos, etc.) to indicate service differences (such as frequency or Express vs. local). Use consistent numbering throughout, if you use numbering at all. All of the administration and operations and per-agency funding differences can still happen on the non-user side, but for people using the system it’s clutter, and it’s confusing.

  11. The readers on buses are synchronized every time the bus is at the base – more than once per day, and at a minimum once each morning, so that’s already happening. Where people get confused is when they load their card online while eating their Cheerios, then go out to catch the bus 20 minutes later. The synch issue isn’t the only cause for delay – there’s also transaction delays between the customer’s credit card/bank account and ORCA. The only way to get “instant” money or pass is visiting a POS (customer service center or TVM).

    Regarding “weird beeps” – this confuses the hell out of people. The reader will beep twice when it’s the end of the month – just to let people know it’s the end of the month. The last 2 days have been hell as each person with a monthly pass that renews pauses, looks sideways at the reader or worse, continues repeatedly tapping their card even though their initial tap went just fine.

    I also like the idea of replacing the ORCA logo on the reader with the words “Press Card Here”. Too many people lighting tap, or attempt to have the LCD screen or indicator lights read their card. The ones that don’t attempt to run their ORCA card through the fare box card reader, that is. Haven’t had anyone slip their card into the bill accepter yet, but it’s bound to happen.

    1. I put extra money on my card on Wednesday night after getting an error and having to pay out of pocket. When I did that, it showed a $4 balance. Yesterday morning, $2.75 was deducted when I got on the 312. But apparently that was from the previous $4 because when I tapped out yesterday evening I was $1.25 short and had to put in more quarters. So why did it fail the first time, even though my fare was less than the purse balance, and why did it fail again if online deposits are synched every time the bus is at the base? That’s a bug or usability problem, not user error.

      I’m also a bit confused about the distinct beep and message that I got this morning when my October pass (that I bought at the TVM a couple of weeks ago) was used for the first time. And there’s nowhere for me to go to look up the expected behaviors and known messages, so there’s no apparent way for me to figure this out after the fact. That’s just broken.

      1. I’d like to echo the request to be able to look up the actual screen messages on the website. Particularly when there are errors or problems.

        I’m having issues with autoload, and the website just shows, “Enable Product Autoload, Receipt 0” which is also what it showed for successful loads. Not terribly useful.

      2. Yes, it’s confusing that if you buy the next month’s pass on the 20th or 25th, it still says “pass expiring” on the last two days of the month, then on the 1st it says “pass added”. But the pass was already added two weeks ago at the TVM, so ORCA is just being mysterious.

    2. It also can take quite a while for the water taxi handheld machines to get the new information (back when I had an e-purse rather than a pass it sometimes seemed to take a few days).

  12. One possible solution to the lag in loading would be to allow a small negative balance – maybe up to -$5 or -$10. That way if you’re waiting a day to load the agency still recovers your fee, unlike the flash pass method. Already being five in the hole gives the driver more authority in saying too bad, pay cash if the load hasn’t gone through since you’ve already had a few “free” trips. And given that new cards cost $5 you’d probably wouldn’t have that many people scamming two rides and throwing away the card.

    1. What’s to stop me from discarding that card when it goes $10 in the hole? Then the agencies would never get that money.

      1. Just let the negative balance bottom out at the cost of a new card, $5. If the rider wants to keep using ORCA then their net out-of-pocket is the same as if they’d been paying properly and their original card didn’t get disabled, and the cost to ST is just the supplier cost of the card. If they don’t buy another card… $5 isn’t that large of a one-time loss per customer.

        If the agencies wanted to be a little nicer (and accept more risk) the negative limit could be double the maximum one-way fare, so riders who didn’t realize they were out of money in the morning could get to work, get home, and reload before the next day.

    2. Exactly my thought. Most of the people will reload or already have loaded money that’s not being credited. With the present policy Metro is just throwing away the fare anyway. You could limit this function to people that have Autoload, although I don’t think that’s really necessary. I doubt too many people are going to go to the hassle of creating a new bank account just to scam $5-10 in bus fare.

      My gripe is that I can’t use Autoload because my card is funded with pretax dollars through my employer. I can add money from my credit card but can’t use it for Autoload which just seems crazy.

  13. The trouble I’ve had is in seemingly obvious transactions being impossible.

    The latest: I have an employee card. Under the “one card for all” philosophy, I’m encouraged to supplement the card to cover things that the employee bit doesn’t cover, so I add some epurse money.

    The card fails, for whatever reason. No reader can read it.

    Through my employer, I can replace the card, but they cannot refund my epurse value. They cannot transfer the epurse value to my new employer card. They can have ME *buy* a blank card and transfer the epurse to that. WTF? Thankfully, I have a reasonable employer who compensated me directly for the epurse value. I don’t know who gets that money lingering in the twilight zone attached to the defective card.

    So never again will I put anything on an employee card, so I dug out my old card (from before I got the employee card) and carry two, which of course means I have to dig the card out of my wallet to use.

    Gripe #2, can WSF get on board with this Orca thing already, or not do it it all? It is just confusing to sort of do it sometimes. But then, ticketing confusion is something WSF excels at, even without Orca. (And thank you King County Water Taxi for being fully on-board and non-confusing!)

    Gripe #3, why aren’t youth (reduced fare) Orca cards visually different from regular ones? (More clarity on where you can actually get one for your spawn would be helpful too.)

  14. The $5 fee is a significant deterrent to visitors, occasional riders, poor riders, and those who are still fuming about Link on MLK and the bus changes since then. I know several people who have just stopped riding transit since ORCA started and Link started. The psychological effect is bigger than the actual cost, and I doubt the transit agencies are gaining enough in the fee to compensate for the lack of goodwill. Is it really too expensive to give riders $5 or even $3 credit when they buy a card? Especially to compensate for the lack of a visitor’s card.

    1. Don’t forget they were free for a few months. The agencies did about all they could to get people to get the cards while they were free.

      And, Metro has been giving away cards with $5 preloaded at select locations. Here’s an example

    2. When I visited Seattle a month ago (Live in Indiana), I bought an ORCA card. Still have it – and plan on using it again :)

      I was only there for a weekend, 3 days, and rode the light rail from my hotel near SeaTac to Westlake and back every day. Yeah, it was five bucks on top of the fare, but I decided to go for it because I hate dealing with tickets, and having a card ensured that if I decided to take the bus somewhere other than downtown, I didn’t have to worry about finding an ATM and getting out money, or having exact change, etc.

      It was peace of mind, mostly, but also convenience. That said, I would have loved it more if the card came pre-loaded with $5, or if I could have bought a weekend pass. Unless I could have – in which case, it needs better advertising.

      1. Currently you can only load a monthly pass. Rumor has it there is no daily/weekend/weekly pass because the agencies can’t agree on how much it’ll cost or who gets how much of the $$

  15. The last time I was fare-checked on Link, the officer did not have a reader for the ORCA card. He just wanted to see that I had a card. I asked him about it, and he said he already had too much equipment to carry (and he did have a ton of stuff attached to his belt.) But that sure seems like an invitation to fare evasion.

    1. I’ve been fare-checked on Link a few times. Sometimes they read the card with a handheld device, sometimes they just glance at it and move to the next guy.

      1. How does the handheld reader work? Do they just tap the card, or does it get inserted into a slot?

        I’m doing a project to extract the electronics from an ORCA card and put them in the battery door of my cell phone (inspired by some pics someone linked from here), but it would only work if the card doesn’t have to be inserted in the reader.

  16. The weekend all day Metro pass was great for visiting relatives and running time consuming errands. Does ORCA do that? And if so, how? The driver said no, and I still haven’t figured it out. So I haven’t done that for a while.

  17. I’d like to see an Orca Reader on the Sounder cars themselves. There is always that rare day where run to catch the train as its leaving and don’t have time to tap it, or where I woke up late and just forget. I would like to have the last minute opportunity to tap while on the train (and even a button in case the train is too far from the station to let it charge back from where I got on).

    1. I just found out today that the ferry between Bremerton and Port Orchard is run by Kitsap Transit. The logos on the boat itself state “Kitsap Harbor Tours” so I assume the company has a contract with KT. They have a portable reader on the boat (like the KC Water Taxi).

      I was playing tourist today so I used my Orca card ALOT getting from Everett to Seattle to Bremerton to Kingston and so on back to Everett. I used countless busses, 1 train, and 3 ferries. Thank goodness for seamless ORCA transfers!!! That trip could have cost me a bundle! I just wish the 2 hour tranfer period started at the end of the route on which it was initiated…

      1. I did some checking on my ORCA account. Isn’t the pass value supposed to apply to the ferry fare? I have an RRFP. My fare to take the Seattle to Bremerton should be $3.45. If I deduct the .75 value of my pass value then I should have had 2.70 deducted from my e-purse. That didn’t happen. I was charged the full value of the disabled fare. In addition, I didn’t get the transfer to KT. KT fare is $1. I did have to pay the .25 difference. Shouldn’t the ferrry transfer value make it so I should NOT have to pay for the KT? Transfers between the KT busses worked fine. It is the transferring between the ferry system and busses didn’t work.

        In addition, I didn’t get credit for the value of the ST 510 transfer to the ferry. That should have been a value of $1.50

        I hope this explanation makes sense!

        My suggestion for ORCA changes is that WSF needs to make sure their fare system is truly hooked into the ORCA system!!!

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