Banner at Tukwila International Boulevard Station promoting the ORCA Card

One of the more striking results from Metro’s RapidRide A Line customer survey is the ORCA usage rate and why people do not use ORCA to pay fares (page 30). 55 percent of those surveyed don’t use ORCA. Of the top reasons for not using ORCA, 32 percent don’t know where to obtain the card, 32 percent say it’s not convenient to obtain an ORCA card, 14 percent don’t know what an ORCA card is, and 7 percent can’t afford to buy one.

I’m surprised to see Metro not promote ORCA more prominently along with RapidRide’s launch. If customers only knew that they could conveniently purchase and reload an ORCA card at RapidRide’s northern terminus, the Tukwila International Boulevard Link station, we wouldn’t have the results we see above.

Tukwila has four self-service fare vending machines (TVMs) that take cash and cards, and speak in three languages. What Metro could do is produce a banner or two (or use existing ones), some in-bus placards and maybe record a message to be played periodically on the bus promoting ORCA (like on Sounder). That alone could eliminate 78 percent of the reasons people don’t use ORCA. Metro does have a brochure explaining how to pay on RapidRide in seven languages but it doesn’t explain what ORCA is or where to get it.

Without TVMs at every stop, RapidRide greatly depends on ORCA and multiple doors to speed up boarding. One less cash payer equals many seconds less dwell time at each stop. Multiply that over each person and each stop and many minutes are saved. ORCA readers at every door would also help.

The good news is when people do use ORCA, 69 percent use the off-board reader at stops (not every stop has a reader). On the proof-of-payment (POP) system, 84 percent said they were checked for proof of payment by a fare enforcement officer and 58 percent thought the number of inspections was appropriate. I hope this means positive encouragement for continuing and extending POP.

For comparison, 44 percent of Swift riders pay fares with ORCA. So Metro, don’t feel too bad. The upcoming B Line also has an ORCA vending machine at the Bellevue TC terminus. The rest of the RapidRide lines do too. And Metro didn’t have to spend a dime for those machines. So please take full advantage of them!

216 Replies to “RapidRide Survey: Fares and ORCA”

  1. However, Swift’s lower ORCA use doesn’t slow it down, since all of the cash payments are off-board. That IS something Metro should feel bad about.

    1. In order to have an ORCA reader at the stop, you need a power source and a data source. Both can be expensive, in addition to the cost of the reader itself. Oran and I speculated on the possibility of ORCA readers being solar powered, and it would take a fairly large battery array to do so.

      Data connectivity should not be an issue along the A-Line corridor as King County Metro already installed a 4.9 GHz WiFi system that the buses use to communicate with along the route. But the data radio would also draw power, increasing the size of the battery array.

      1. ORCA can’t possibly require a constant data connection, can it?

        It doesn’t, and that’s why you have to wait “24 hours” for funds to be available.

        They make it work for parking meters.

        Parking meters don’t move. You can create a mesh network to cover meters that can’t get a good signal.
        Meter rates might be inflated to cover that cost. If a transit agency put credit card readers on buses, they might have to add a surcharge.

      2. I was thinking about the credit card thing below. You can put an ORCA reader anywhere along the RapidRide route. The fact that they exist proves this.

        However many of the lesser stops don’t have power available. Which is why they aren’t lit.

      3. A solar powered setup WOULD NOT require a particularly large battery array. The electronics inside the ORCA readers are no more power-hungry than your average smartphone. The data radio requires more power, but would not be in use the vast majority of the time.

        The most power-hungry component would probably be the RFID radio, which would be on and looking for tapped cards 100% of the time, and would be constantly drawing around 1/10th of an amp. A typical laptop battery pack (around 4 Amp-hours) could keep the whole unit running for a day or more with no sunlight.

        If you put a proximity sensor on it, to only power up the RFID radio when there’s something near the reader, you could probably run it on a cell-phone battery. It’d be risky, though.

        Of course, a malicious person repeatedly tapping a card for an extended period of time could potentially run the battery down quickly, by keeping the data radio active.

  2. 7 percent can’t afford to buy one.

    As my buddy d.p. pointed out yesterday, if we make ORCA fares cheaper than cash fares, the $5/card fee could pay for itself in a few weeks.

    ORCA readers at every door would also help.

    Strictly speaking of RapidRide, I think readers at the stop would help. If you have more than one person boarding at each door tapping an ORCA card, it still takes anywhere from a second (for the pros) to many seconds (for some) to pay their fare with ORCA.

    1. By placing the ORCA readers at stations, Metro would be able to get a lot more useful boarding/alighting-site data.

      However, if Metro is trying to see whether putting ORCA readers at all doors on all buses is useful, then not using station-based readers makes sense.

      1. The APCs don’t provide on/offs for specific stops, Metro still hires survey personnel to collect that data.

      2. The APCs don’t provide on/offs for specific stops, Metro still hires survey personnel to collect that data.

        Funny, because ST has detailed on/off data for their Metro-operated routes.

      3. Metro does have stop-by-stop on/off data for all of their routes, supplied by the APC’s. No idea how accurate it is, but they definitely use the data a lot in their planning.

      4. I guess things have changed since I worked for them. Metro used to send out a cadre of temps whenever they wanted detailed stop usage statistics. I didn’t know that the APCs could provide that fine-grained information.

      5. Well, the APC records the time the mat was pressurized, and with AVL we know how far along the route the coach was at a certain time, so just guess from there.

        I believe RapidRide uses sonic or optical sensors which are apparently more accurate.

      6. Orca readers can provide something much more useful than simple on-off passenger counts. Transfer information.

        Knowing how many route X riders transfer to route Y is WAY more useful than knowing that routes X and Y have a lot of boardings.

        ORCA data can actually provide us with origin-destination pairs for multi-leg trips. We can find common trips that don’t have a 1-seat ride associated with them, and add a route (or a more direct transfer). We can find transfer points that are unnecessary, and streamline routes.

        This is the real power in the Orca system, and I’m dreadfully afraid no one is even looking at the data.

      7. LT, Metro is already presciently finding transfer points that will be unnecessary, like, um, Husky Stadium Station. They didn’t need to spend a lot of money on hiring someone to read the ORCA data to figure that one out.

    2. Even the elimination of paper transfers with no change in base fares would create such a financial incentive for ORCA use that the $5 would pay off quickly.

      Though I wouldn’t be opposed to rolling back the last fare increase and adding a peak-hour cash-payment penalty in order to keep all cash fares in (quicker) whole-dollar denominations

      Proposed:
      ORCA off-peak: $2.00
      Cash off-peak: $2.00 (no transfer)
      ORCA peak: $2.25
      Cash peak: $3.00 (no transfer)

      1. I don’t agree with the dollar amounts, but I do agree with having incentives to ubiquify ORCA. However, the (BRT) data we have disagrees with that. Community Transit has no transfers system-wide, and ORCA usage on Swift is 44%. Metro does have transfers system-wide, and ORCA usage on RapidRide is 55%.

        So there’s something wrong with something.

      2. I’m sure the Swift data is much more reliable than the RapidRide data, as they come from fare enforcement and actual data. If Metro released their official estimates, I’d be more confident in the comparison.

        Swift‘s 44% matches CT’s 44% systemwide ORCA usage, while RapidRide’s 55% is much higher than Metro’s systemwide usage around 30%. The caveat is that the systemwide numbers are almost a year old. More people might have switched to ORCA since then. The A Line’s connection to Link might have an influence on ORCA use rate.

      3. Giving discounts to those who add value to an ORCA card would be easier. Add $20 for only $19 – or whatever makes sense. Washington DC does this with their SmarTrip card.

  3. I can’t recall if all four of Tukwila’s TVM’s are up in the station mezzanine or not, but it would be of great use if one existed down at street level.

    Or more TVMs – if you can buy an ORCA at Tukwila, shouldn’t you be able to buy one at FWTC, too? Especially as it serves routes on multiple transit agencies?

    Also, will this argument be a moot point once paper transfers are eliminated?

    1. I believe ST was considering FWTC to be a potential site for a TVM.

      will this argument be a moot point once paper transfers are eliminated?

      If paper transfers are eliminated. Nobody said when.

      1. I only brought up the elimination of transfers because I recall there being talk of it as part of the initial ORCA rollout. But yes, who knows if that will ever actually happen.

        Financial incentives have a habit of being very persuasive…

      2. Well, technically, ST hasn’t eliminated paper transfers. But you can only get them at a train station TVM. You don’t actually have to ride the train. Just use it for multiple ST Express bus rides during the allotted use time.

      3. But you can only get them at a train station TVM. You don’t actually have to ride the train. Just use it for multiple ST Express bus rides during the allotted use time.

        I don’t believe this is the case any more. Sound Transit says nothing about using tickets from TVMs for buses and I’m pretty sure I recall a bulletin stating that they are no longer valid on ST Bus service. It’s been a year since I drove a Sound Transit bus though so I’m only about 80% sure on that one.

      4. Brent,

        passes ≠ transfers. That passage refers to passes like the U-Pass, Edmonds CC EdPass, Bellevue College GoPass, most of which have switched to ORCA (except U-Pass). On the same page above, “Sound Transit has switched to all-electronic transfers.”

        As for the Link/Sounder round trip “day passes” they are only valid on that service. (“Round-trip – Day pass valid all day on the date of purchase; may only be used on selected service; may be used only between selected stations.”)

    2. They are installing (or may have already) a TVM at the Federal Way Transit Center. There’s also the TVMs at SeaTac/Airport Station, the problem is Metro doesn’t tell anybody about them.

      1. Would they allow distribution of privately printed literature? Would guerrilla signage (such as the one used at Montlake Freeway Station) be tolerated for very long? (The survey indicates No.)

        Maybe send the ambassadors down to the bus transfer areas during periods when there is only one train on the Airport Station platform? Give them a break from pointing out that the only train there is indeed the next train.

        Even for the rent-a-weekend-warriors, distributing pamphlets on ORCA use is not outside their job description. Take a page out of community policing, and let the security dudes engage the passengers.

  4. Speaking of which, aren’t they working on getting ORCA readers at all doors on everybus? That would also make it a lot easier to eliminate the RFA. They could just mandate that cash payers always go up front and that ORCA users always board in the back door(s) Downtown.

    1. “mandate that cash payers always go up front and that ORCA users always board in the back door(s) Downtown.”
      Yes, I’m sure that people who can’t climb the stair(s) in to the bus will appreciate that back door mandate.

      1. So obviously, you make a policy that allows people who cannot climb the back stairs to use the front door. Non-issue.

      2. What if I have ORCA but want to sit in the front?

        So we start adding exception after exception to the mandate, the point where the mandate becomes pointless.

      3. Right. Let me know when Metro puts wheelchair lifts at the back door (RIPTA does that with their older buses and it’s a PITA)

      4. Okay, so at least can we strongly encourage people with ORCAs to board at the back doors? Obviously no one expects disabled people to get on in the back. Anyways, it could be something like the policy that many transit systems have “requiring” that people board in the front and exit in the back, which ends up being more of a strong encouragement.

      5. I think this is an appropriate time to note that Rhode Island is smaller, both in land area and population, than King County.

      6. Requirement, no. Custom, yes. I’ve learned various customs to help my operator, including (1) entering through the back door on pay-as-you-leave routes; (2) Leaving through the back door on pay-as-you-enter routes; (3) getting off a stop early if others are already alighting there; and (4) thanking the operator.

      7. Glad you brought that up, Aleks. There are many parallels between the problems that arise from Metro’s approach to its mandate to serve the entire county and from RIPTA’s approach to its mandate to serve an entire state.

        Whereas the MBTA (also a regional agency) is large and complicated enough to have developed a heightened understanding of the difference between urban, suburban, and rural transit needs, and to administer such services quite differently, both Metro and RIPTA take a “very long spokes stretching across the region” approach that makes hardly any urban/suburuban/rural service distinctions at all.

        The result, in both cases, is some long-distance express service, a bunch of commuter-oriented service, and long, winding, infrequent local routes that meander in so unreliably from the distant outskirts that they provide almost no worthwhile mobility within the Providence/Pawtucket/E. Providence/Central Falls/N. Providence/inner Cranston urban core.

        I would describe RIPTA as a hyperbolic (i.e. even more disastrous) example of all of Metro’s planning follies; most urban Providence dwellers find it basically useless.

    2. It’s not necessary to force people to use the back door. Just tell them it’s OK to and encourage them to. Somebody said Metro has gotten rid of the “front door boarding after 7pm” policy. Are drivers actually honoring this, or are they still refusing to open the back door?

  5. They need to put a TVM at the ground level at TIBS so that people don’t have to go upstairs to use them. Also, SoundTransit (or what ever agency responsible for a particular Transit Center) needs to make sure that such equipment is in good working order because the first time that I cruised through the Bellevue TC, the TVM was busted.

    They also need to aggressively expand participation by retailers to sell pre-loaded ORCA cards that can be used immediately after purchase. Recharging an ORCA card should be as simple as popping into a supermarket, drug store, or convenience store and paying with cash or credit card. ORCA should also not presume that every resident in their service area has access to a computer or competent to use them.

    1. I don’t see what a ground level TVM would do anyways. ST is only installing them so that people who ride Link can pay their fares. Putting one on the ground level doesn’t do any more help than having them on the mezzanines, it just helps people buy ORCA cards easier. ST is not a charity, they’re not going to do things just to make Metro’s life easier.

      ST…needs to make sure that such equipment is in good working order because the first time that I cruised through the Bellevue TC, the TVM was busted.

      They’re not retards. You probably passed it right after it was delivered and hadn’t been plugged in yet. There are separate people that do that.

      1. “ST is not a charity, they’re not going to do things just to make Metro’s life easier.”

        Tim, part of Sound Transit’s voter-approved mandate is regional fare integration and coordination. They are being paid to make transit user’s lives easier, regardless of what color bus they ride.

      2. Spending $50k on a machine that dispenses smart cards is not a good investment. The amount of people using a TVM to buy rail tickets at a station that does not have rail serving it is low.

      3. “Spending $50k on a machine that dispenses smart cards is not a good investment.”

        Based on what math? They’ve decided to implement a smartcard based fare system, they need to provide the infrastructure required to support it. And no, the internet doesn’t count. Every other city that has implemeneted a smartcard system has also provided ubiquitous re-load stations and vending machines. But wait, I forgot, it doesn’t matter what other transit agencies do.

        “The amount of people using a TVM to buy rail tickets at a station that does not have rail serving it is low.”

        Last time I checked TIBS was a light rail station, has something changed? A TVM at the bus level would still be available for buying light rail tickets and would make it more convenient for bus users to reload their cards or buy a pass.

      4. I meant $50k for places like Federal Way or Bellevue.

        And why do we need one at the platform when we have four on the mezzanine?

        I don’t oppose to having a “baby TVM” that does ORCA transactions, but the current ones are unnecessary for places like Federal Way or Bellevue. The question is–does our vendor, ERG, make a “baby TVM”?

      5. A “baby TVM” is what I mean when I say reload station or whatever. The only reason they used the full-fledged TVMs at BTC and FWTC is because they had extras.

        “The question is–does our vendor, ERG, make a “baby TVM”?”

        They don’t have to be made by ERG, our current TVMs aren’t. London, among other places, has small smartcard add-value stations spread around the city that look like electronic parking meters and stand-alone vending machines that sell pre-loaded cards. Counting retail locations there are over 4500 places in London where you can add value to your Oyster Card. Granted London is much, much more populous than Seattle, but if we had even 1/10 as many locations it would still be 10 times more than we have today. And you can still service your Oyster Card via the TfL website or phone center, but they haven’t used that as an excuse for not providing the proper physical infrastructure.

        If they want ORCA adoption to be widespread they need to get away from the assumption that everyone has access to the internet and a credit card. I have both in my pocket, but it did me no good when February 1st rolled around and my employer’s service provider failed to load my monthly pass on to my card. If there had been a machine nearby I could have rectified the situation, instead I had to beg the driver for a free ride. I was even at a major transit center.

      6. I do have to say that I think Metro should look at a machines that just dispense OCRA cards with 5 dollar pre-loaded on them, so a total of ten dollars. If people want to add more money they can do that online or at a full TVM.

    2. I don’t see what a ground level TVM would do anyways. ST is only installing them so that people who ride Link can pay their fares. Putting one on the ground level doesn’t do any more help than having them on the mezzanines, it just helps people buy ORCA cards easier. ST is not a charity, they’re not going to do things just to make Metro’s life easier.

      ST…needs to make sure that such equipment is in good working order because the first time that I cruised through the Bellevue TC, the TVM was busted.

      They’re not retards. You probably passed it right after it was delivered and hadn’t been plugged in yet. There are separate people that do that.

      ORCA should also not presume that every resident in their service area has access to a computer or competent to use them.

      They don’t. That’s why they have outlets where you can buy them.

      1. There are lots of people at TIBS who are just transferring between buses, or between their car and a bus. They would have no reason to go up the long elevator.

        Nevertheless, the pricey TVMs are more secure on the mezzanine.

      2. But if they knew they could get an ORCA card up there, they might. They only have to make the trip up there once. The card doesn’t have to be refilled there.

      3. As Metro/ST should have learned from the three-hour lines at Westlake Station, it is not intuitive that the Ticket Vending Machines also vend ORCA cards.

        It does no good to point out the TVM locations (which I guess many of those 55% ORCA non-users already know) without pointing out that they also vend ORCA cards. Signage. “This machine also sells ORCA cards.”

        Not even the options on the TVMs make it intuitive that buying an ORCA card is an option.

      4. As I looked at a TVM today, it occured to me that where it says “Tickets” in big white letters on a blue piece of plastic, there is room for a sticker with the same font saying “& ORCA Cards”.

      1. Let me correct that: We need more TVMs but let’s get the most out of what we already have before talking about new TVMs. Metro isn’t even trying to promote the “free” TVMs upstairs.

    3. Second paragraph hits the nail on the head, Charles. In Vancouver BC, convenience stores have been selling transit passes for decades.

      Not to be overly critical or unreasonably demanding, but I would seriously like someone familiar with the ORCA program to explain- in language a standard Route 124 or 150 passenger would understand- why the above outlet program was not completely in place before the interagency transfers went away.

      The perverse presumption here isn’t a matter of computer availability or skill.
      Instead, its got to do with the presumption in general official judgment that the comfort and convenience of the average passenger, and most especially the working ones with the worst wages, are ‘way down the list of system priorities.

      Bad enough the political system thinks like that. Expect better out of transit.

      Mark Dublin

      1. In Los Angeles, I bought a TAP card, their equivalent of ORCA, at a Ralph’s supermarket, and got to load whatever product onto it I wanted. This is despite the fact that in many respects the TAP rollout has been much worse than ORCA’s, and not that many people at all are using TAP cards. We should really be selling cards at convenience stores and drug stores and allowing any product to be loaded onto it.
        And on a related note, the product I put on the TAP card was a weekly pass, which we really need here.

    4. “ORCA should also not presume that every resident in their service area has access to a computer or competent to use them”

      THIS THIS THIS.

      The ORCA website is a disaster and everyone knows it. TVM’s, on the other hand, are fantastic. I’m lucky enough to live near a couple, so I use them to reload my cards – instant delivery, no 24 hour waiting. If we could set drug stores up with the equipment to issue/reload ORCA cards, much like they used to sell ticketbooks, we’d see much of the problem evaporate. There just has to be a way for the retailer to turn a small profit on it – a per-transaction fee from Metro/ST for providing the service maybe.

      Eliminating the damn $5 charge to get a card would help, too; replace it with a minimum 1st time e-purse loading. No one wants to spend money for an empty card. The $5 is very little, but it’s a lot more than 0.

  6. It would have been nice to know what percent of riders don’t have the ability to pay with a credit card or don’t have computer access. This issue always comes up and it would be nice to know how many riders are in this situation.

    1. I think there may be some resistance to the ORCA card due to the initial cost ($5.00). I travel several times a year to the Bay Area and I bought a Clipper Card–the Bay Area’s equivalent to ORCA–on my last trip. I put a $10 bill in the TVM and it gave me a Clipper Card with $9.50 worth of fare on it–so, it only cost 50 cents to buy the Clipper Card. I don’t know what it costs to manufacture and distribute the ORCA card, but the Bay Area agencies have priced the card much lower than the Puget Sound agencies.

      1. ORCA and Clipper use the same technology from the same vendor. I have to wonder if Muni is taking a hit on each card in order to spread adoption. Certainly not a $4.50 hit.

      2. I thought you still could get them for free. Last year, I ordered one sent to Seattle, set up Autoload, and when I got off the plane at SFO and on to BART, I just tapped right in. No hassles!

        Right now on the Clipper website:

        “Now, for a limited time, there is no charge to get an adult Clipper card. Normally $5, the fee for a card is being waived with the addition of either $2 in cash value, or a pass or ridebook. This offer is available for a limited time and may be subject to change without notice.”

      3. I was able to save the $5 purchase price of a SmarTrip card in the first day that my wife and I were in DC. The break even for ORCA is two peak trips involving a transfer. Eliminating paper transfers will *dramatically* improve adoption as would random fare enforcement.

    2. Well, I know three people who are more or less in that situation (no computer, no credit card, and the $5 fee makes enough of a dent in their income that they’re inclined to pay cash each time).

  7. Remember, Metro and ST compete for fare share. When someone pays with ORCA to ride a Metro bus, and then hops on a train or ST Express, Metro loses a big chunk of the original fare. When someone pays with cash, Metro gets to keep that full fare.

    Also, Metro and ST habitually wait for the other to pony up the effort and money on most signage. So, Metro lets ST do the ORCA pushing. Metro has to pinch pennies, and ORCA promotion is one easy item to cut, especially if doing so gets them more fare income.

    The RapidRide may end up a little slower, but as long as the number of buses in service doesn’t have to be raised, it doesn’t matter to Metro’s bottom line.

    1. But that all averages out. Most people make round trips, and there’s no reason to believe that people making one-way trips one direction aren’t balanced out by others making one-way trips the other direction.

      1. If someone is travelling Metro/ST one way and ST/Metro the other, it balances out for the rider *if* he/she uses ORCA. If she/he doesn’t, she/he gets to pay four fares, which helps both agencies’ bottom lines.

        What Metro seems to be aiming for is incentivizing one-seat rides over transferring to Link. *That’s* my big pet peave with Metro, as they take it to the extreme of trying to turn Husky Stadium Station into a boondoggle.

      2. Metro may be de-facto incentivizing one-seat rides, but I doubt they’re trying to consciously keep Link out of the picture. They’re dealing with people’s expectations, which is that existing routes should remain, and don’t take away any one-seat rides. Metro regularly makes good proposals for reorganization but the county council vetoes them.

  8. “One of the more striking results …”

    I didn’t find the news about ORCA striking at all.

    What I did find striking is how high the percentage is of people who prefer RapidRide over the route 174.

    “Among RapidRide respondents who previously rode Route 174, 81% indicated
    RapidRide A Line service as better than Route 174 service.”

    81%. Now that, to me, is striking.

  9. Good to see that ORCA use increased from 174 to RapidRide which may reflect increased acceptance and availability of ORCA cards since implementation. It would be nice if the report also compared use of ORCA from RapidRide/Metro Transit/region. Is it different or not?

    1. It varies greatly depending on the route. In my informal observations, ORCA usage on route 577 is greater than 90%, on some in-city Seattle routes, it is less than 50%.

  10. There’s a huge community of casual to moderate ridership that is not covered by the TVM because they do not dispense multiple ride tickets. And while I understand the difficulty here (because fares are based on distance traveled), the lack of a multi-ride option will cap revenue growth and increase headways as riders fumble for cash.

    ORCA is a redundant system anyway. The vast majority of us already carry a wallet sized card that contains encoded financial information used to make point of sale purchases: VISA, Mastercard, AMEX. What’s wrong with CC readers at stations or buses? I use mine at Starbucks to purchase my $2.50 coffee and it is quicker than cash.

    1. How do you deal with a card if it’s declined? How is it going to be profitable for the credit card companies? Metro would have to renegiotiate a separate credit card account and ultimately the extra cost of processing would be passed down to the consumer. This is a horible idea. One of the main advantages of ORCA is that it centralizes credit card processing for the entire region and allow every participating agency to have the convenience of electronic fare payment without having to set up their own individual payment system.

    2. There’s a huge community of casual to moderate ridership that is not covered by the TVM because they do not dispense multiple ride tickets.

      Yeah they do. Put $10 on an ORCA card and it’s good for four rides.

      ORCA is a redundant system anyway.

      Not redundant. ORCA can be used as two ways: e-purse and as a monthly pass. E-purse is pay-as-you-go, passes are pay a chunk up front for unlimited rides.

      The vast majority of us already carry [credit cards]

      Please cite your source.
      Hang out at a check-cashing place on a Friday and notice how many people don’t have credit cards, let alone bank/credit union accounts.

      What’s wrong with CC readers at stations or buses?

      Nothing and everything. Sound Transit’s TVMs accept credit cards.
      But putting a credit card reader on each bus would be extremely costly in both the short and long term run. In the short term, we have to install expensive hardware that has to be able to communicate with VISA, MasterCard, etc. in order to authorize cards. Then, those companies take a percentage off every fare. Not to mention it would take at least three seconds to authorize payment for each rider.

    3. It should be noted that ERG does offer an open payment system solution that accepts contactless credit cards and have tested it in Salt Lake City.

      There are a lot of institutional, financial and legal issues that need to be sorted out to implement such a system.

      1. It can’t. You can’t write to a credit card. ORCA cards store the time of the last tap on the card, so the next time you tap it the reader knows whether to give you transfer credit or not based on whether or not you’re tapping within two hours.

        The only solution would be to maintain a central database with every credit card tapped and the last time it was tapped. Then, each reader would have to query the database every time a card is tapped to see if it’s eligible for a transfer. If you have a bus that’s out of cell coverage (or it’s in an urban canyon) you won’t be able to do a lookup or an authorization.

        The beauty with ORCA is that the card stores the value of its e-purse and/or pass. But when you deposit funds online, the card doesn’t know you did that, and each reader has to be synced with the master database of transactions. Readers in the tunnel are hard-wired in to the tunnel and will update your payment as soon as the transaction is processed. TVMs can write to your card right there to update its balance. Buses do not have a roaming data connection with the central database, which is why you’re told to wait 24 hours, because they don’t download data from the central database until they pull in to the garage at night.

      2. By matching the card number. There is no special transit data on the card itself. It requires real-time communication with the central database which keeps track of all transactions.

      3. I’m glad this comment generated discussion. The transit crowd needs a way to consolidate payments, transfer, build convenience, etc. My sense is ORCA isn’t going to take us there until (a) I can get one everywhere I want to ride and (b) I can throw them away (like starbucks gift cards) and not be troubled by it.

        NYC has a great vending system that dispenses paper cards with a mag stripe. Does everything you want ORCA to do, it’s just not ORCA.

      1. And they should give you a bonus when you add a substantial amount to your e-purse. Maybe 5% extra for adding $20-$40, 10% for $40 and above.

        Of course, to avoid fraud, they would need to make sure you couldn’t get a refund on the bonus value in cases of lost cards.

      2. I think what ORCA is worried about is people just adding 10 dollars, using it a few times and then rather that add more value, just buy a new one and throwing the old one away.

      3. Adam, how is that a problem? ORCA earns interest, and the rider is paying for the cost of the card. ORCA’s only beef is having to continue to stock them in the TVMs, which you have to do regardless.

      4. It’s easy to deal with Adam’s point; the system needs to incentivize re-use. From Oran’s suggestion, the $20 you put in the machine gets you $20 of fare value and a free card. With my suggestion, you have a choice of what to do with your $20. You can either get another free card and $20 of fare value, or you can get $21 of fare value by reloading the card you already have.

        If some cheapskate wants to get a card for $10, charge $5 for the card and give them $5 of fare value.

      5. In Minnesota, our GoTo card, which is like your Orca, works like this: there is a 10% bonus on Stored Value. IOW, for every $10 you load on to the card, you get $11 in credit. The card is free if it’s your first card and you have it registered in your name with ID. Registration also allows the card to be replaced if lost or stolen. Replacement cards are $5 (can be taken off your balance) and un-registered cards are $5. Passes are for a rolling 31-day period starting with the first use. A pass first used on 3 Feb. is good through 11:59 PM 5 Mar. Passes can be combined with Stored Value for fares higher than pass value.

      6. The interesting thing is that “rolling passes” were considered for ORCA but since the agencies were already set up to deal with calendar month passes, they just went with familiarity (i.e. inertia). That doesn’t prevent them from appearing in the future though.

      7. I’d like to see ORCA not tell me “EXPIRES JAN 31” or whatever on the last few days of the month when I’ve already paid for a pass next month. At the end of January it complained about that when the next month’s pass was already loaded onto the card. And why does it give two beeps for that but not when it displays “OWE $.25” or whatever? All it usually means is that someone doesn’t pay the full fare and the driver has to clear the reader to get it working again for other passengers.

      8. @Tim

        The problem is that each time a user disposes of a card rather than re-use it whoever covered the cost of the card is out that amount of money. If the rider covers the cost the agency doest loose money, but if the agency covers the cost of the card they loose money. That is the issue with “free” cards.

      9. If the cards were $1 rather than $5, people wouldn’t be complaining. If you got $3 in e-purse value for the $5, people wouldn’t be complaining. If ORCA gave a fare discount or credited $21 for every $20 you put on it, people wouldn’t be complaining about the $5 fee. If visitors could get a day pass, three-day pass or week pass, they wouldn’t agonize about whether they’ll get their money’s worth from the $5 fee. But ORCA doesn’t do any of these. That’s why people complain.

      10. Morgan, I think the ORCA UI is suffering from a bit of engineeer-itis. Owing an additional $.25 isn’t an error condition, so it gets green-lit. An upcoming pass expiry is a warning, so it gets yellow-lit.

        I think owing additional cash should be a warning condition.

  11. I’ve had my Orca card now for the past few months, and I’ll say it again…Giving preferential free transfer rights to those with Orca cards and those who do not are being discriminated against. Period.

    My computer crashed a month and a half ago, and occasionally I get to use the one here at work, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have that.

    The idea of CC machines by Jack is a good one. But that would cut into Orcas bottom line, they don’t get to control the funds.

    What’s clearly going on here in my opinion is that there are so many governmental agencies “duking” it out over funds, and their continued existence. It seems like so much of this bureaucratic garbage could be reduced and consolidated. I’m personally fed up with the lack of overall facility features, and yet pay these numbskulls WAY to much money from the budget….

    1. Giving preferential free transfer rights to those with Orca cards and those who do not are being discriminated against

      So sue them.
      Metro hands out paper transfers, ya know.

      My computer crashed a month and a half ago, and occasionally I get to use the one here at work, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have that.

      Fortunately we have public libraries that offer computers with FREE internet access!

      1. Hmmm, try coming to Coupeville and using the library at 4:30 am when I leave on Island Transit for Seattle, or at 7 pm when I get home after using public transportation the whole way from Ballard. I love the libraries and supporting them with my tax dollars, and their free ‘net access. But it doesn’t work for all, something you fail to notice for some reason.

        Oh, I guess you must be special and do have those things. As for litigating this, that’s your crazy, inane idea. I prefer to see solutions achieved by common sense and straight-forward approaches to customer service, not by crackpot ideas like yours. Can I take it that you are one of those who prefers to discriminate against those that don’t have an Orca card, because that’s how your statement looks to me so far.

      2. I don’t really know what you’re trying to say, but many libraries here are open past 7pm. Nobody said you have to use public transit to get there. Nor does everyone have a three hour commute as it appears you do.
        ORCA also has a toll free number you can call.

        As for litigating this, that’s your crazy, inane idea.

        It’s yours, since you are the one complaining about it.

        I prefer to see solutions achieved by common sense and straight-forward approaches to customer service

        Right, so because you don’t understand it (or don’t want to understand it), it’s not straightforward. It’s actually pretty easy:
        1) Buy a card
        2) Load it up
        3) Use it
        You get your transfers then. Also, using the card is less expensive and more efficient for the transit agencies compared to paying cash.

        Can I take it

        No, you can not take it. In our current system, there is nothing preventing any user from obtaining transfer credit, and there is no obligation for any agency to give transfer credit. You should be thankful that you get them for free–plenty of transit agencies charge for transfers.

      3. Well, since you’re coming from Coupeville, you can reload your ORCA card at Mukilteo Station. You might have to miss a ferry while you meander over. Or you can go to the Safeway in Ballard. There are two locations, one on your way to work and another in the same community where you work.

    2. It’s absolutely discrimination and we need more, preferably in the form of different cash and ORCA fares. Cash payment slows down boarding by orders of magnitude and should be discriminated against as much as possible.

      1. I don’t know if discrimination is the proper word–there is nothing about social inequality about it.

        Having our transit agencies push towards more uses to use a more efficient means of payment is a great plan, and a discount incentive is right on target.

      2. Certainly wrong word. The correct word would be incentive. On high ridership routes or at high ridership stops cash makes payment painfully slow. There is a cost for that, both for Metro and in terms of travel time delay for riders. Favoring ORCA over cash gives people an actual incentive to move over to ORCA.

    3. In addition, one doesn’t have to go online if you are near a train station, Lynnwood Transit Center, Bellevue Transit Center, or any Safeway store. A person can reload a card at any of these locations.

      As for cash payers having to pay as they enter each bus, there isn’t a transit agency in Snohomish County that has paper transfers anymore. They all rely on ORCA for transfers whether it is between one agency’s buses or if one is transferring between agencies.

      1. In addition, one doesn’t have to go online if you are near a train station, Lynnwood Transit Center, Bellevue Transit Center, or any Safeway store. A person can reload a card at any of these locations.

        Or by calling 1-888-988-6722

    4. “The idea of CC machines by Jack is a good one. But that would cut into Orcas bottom line, they don’t get to control the funds.”

      That is a good one. Let’s enrich the credit card companies bottom line instead!

      1. Oran, I understand your POV. I don’t want to enrich CC companies at all, in fact I can say I have never owned one( a card) in my whole life, and I’m in my forties now. Besides, if they do a better job, then why not?

        My point is that whatever it takes to start streamlining this process for all the transit users; I admit that Orca is a good concept, but who cares how good a concept is if it doesn’t serve the public effectively across the board?

        I reluctantly support Orca for now, if they and ST showed more initiative I probably would recant my position, but until then…

  12. What they NEED to do is:

    1. Fix the damn horrible website.
    2. Get more TVMs in more places, including grocery stores.
    3. If TVMs can’t be installed in stores or if it’s not cost effective, let the store refill cards at terminals or customer service desks.
    4. Fix the stupid bugs in the system

    Mainly, fix the damn website. ORCA was clearly designed to be administered mainly online yet the website is a serious piece of crap.

    1. That’s the problem when you let engineers design the UI. The system for drivers is equally confusing. So much so that Metro created a one-page cheat sheet on how to do common tasks like group fare.

      1. It’s not even just the UI. There are all kinds of formatting problems in browsers like Safari or Chrome. This leads me to believe that whoever made the website did so very quickly.

        In fact, I think it’s a sample template provided by the vendor and quickly altered to the ORCA brand. The stock photography with those people looking up at the camera as if staring into the heavens is way over the top ridiculous and has nothing to do with transportation AT ALL.

        I wonder how, considering the amount of technology companies and design firms in this region, anyone could maintain such a crappy website for so long. It actually pisses me off, maybe a little more than it should. But after using the sites from other transit agencies all over the place, I can say it honestly makes a huge difference how the service is perceived by the public. A good website is invaluable (for anything, really). Look no further than Tri-Met or TransLink for crying out loud. Even Community Transit has a better website.

        All of this criticism can be directed at Metro just as easily, though they can be forgiven more easily considering they are not a new service like ORCA is.

      2. Good systems are done by engineers as well.

        The ORCA site is just bad.

        I suspect the contract didn’t specify usability and contractors don’t do thing the contract doesn’t require.

      3. According to the latest stats, IE still has about half the market share. When ORCA launched, it had almost two thirds. From a business perspective, I can see the reasoning behind supporting IE as it gives the greatest good to the greatest number.

        Or maybe the designer(s)’ personal opinion(s) were that the other browsers are inferior and that “nobody” uses them so they won’t support them.
        Or the project went over time/over budget and they couldn’t make sure things didn’t suck in the “other” browsers.

        I use Firefox and IE Tab which allows me to switch any page to render with IE instead of Geko. Works great.

      4. To me that sounds like ORCA is alienating 50% of their users with poor formatting. Even if it was 33% when the website was first released, that is too much.

        “From a business perspective, I can see the reasoning behind supporting IE as it gives the greatest good to the greatest number.”

        How does it ever make good business sense to treat half your customers with poor design? A properly coded website doesn’t have to play favourites to ANY browser. It might have been the norm in the 90s, but today it is not only unnecessary it’s irresponsible to design a website with only IE in mind. People access the internet on their Android phones, iPads, Macs, Linux work computers and any number of devices that cannot run IE.

      5. “According to the latest stats, IE still has about half the market share. When ORCA launched, it had almost two thirds. From a business perspective, I can see the reasoning behind supporting IE as it gives the greatest good to the greatest number.”

        In this day and age there is NO reason why a site should be out there that supports IE and does not work properly in the other widely used browsers. None. Sure, support IE, but at the same time, support the others. A well-designed website will work in IE, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. Period. Supporting IE does not mean that the other browsers cannot be supported.

        Cost is not an issue here if you hire someone with a modicum of sense to develop the site in the first place. It’s only costly if you design strictly for IE and then have to go back and redo everything to make it work elsewhere.

        The site is awful by usability standards even if you disregard the problems with Safari, etc. When it first went up, we figured that the awfulness was temporary and would go away once ORCA’s launch was well underway. But it never has! It’s crazy.

      6. I should say that when I said “A well-designed website will work in IE, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. Period.” I didn’t mean it should ONLY work in those browsers, but that you cannot consider it well-designed unless it serves multiple browsers.

      7. How does it ever make good business sense to treat half your customers with poor design?

        Design and rendering are two very separate issues. litlnemo explains it:

        A well-designed website will work in IE, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox [and any other browsers people use]. Period. Supporting IE does not mean that the other browsers cannot be supported.

        Right now the design is terrible no matter your choice of browser. The website renders correctly in the most popular browser.

        Cost is not an issue here if you hire someone with a modicum of sense to develop the site in the first place. It’s only costly if you design strictly for IE and then have to go back and redo everything to make it work elsewhere.

        Hindsight is the best foresight. It would be cheaper to have an employee you’ve already hired do it than to hire an new one. ERG doesn’t support any of the end users, so what do they care?

        I don’t disagree with the ORCA website neeing to be changed. I’m just saying that change is going to come at a cost, and I’m willing to hear your suggestions on where the money is going to come from.

        Oran: No, formatting is awful even in IE. I looked at the ORCA Tips page at work on IE 7. It still displays an unreadable mass of text.

        And that was some designer’s poor choice of using a stupid unsupported CSS hack to properly display information, even though the tag has been around for ages, is supported by every browser, and is not deprecated.

      8. “I don’t disagree with the ORCA website neeing to be changed. I’m just saying that change is going to come at a cost, and I’m willing to hear your suggestions on where the money is going to come from.”

        The money will come from Sound Transit. ORCA is a Sound Move project, under Sound Move they can continue to collect sales taxes to pay for its implementation. The board just has to make it a priority, there are plenty of other ancillary items in the budget that they find money for that don’t directly affect their customers the way this issue does.

      9. What could Sound Transit cut that doesn’t affect its customers?

        Last I heard ST was actually hurting for money, so I don’t know where they’re magically going to shift money from.

        And by the way, ORCA is a joint partnership between ST and Metro. I’d post the source for that, but it’s in a job rec that closed.

      10. Tim, I’ll say it again, ORCA is a Sound Move project. They can collect sales tax to pay for its implementation for as long as it takes to do it correctly. No need to magically shift money from anything. Planning & Development, which ORCA was previously under, had an $18 million budget in 2009, with nearly $50,000 set aside for “books & subscriptions.” How much does it cost to fix a website? It’s not like they have to re-do the backend, just the interface.

        And, by the way, ORCA is a partnership between all of the former PugetPass agencies, not just ST & Metro, but Sound Transit is the lead agency and bears most of the development responsibility. They’ve been working at regional fare integration since the 90’s and developing ORCA since 2003, they’ve had plenty of time and money to figure it out and people have a right to be disappointed with the outcome.

      11. Partnership yes, but run by ST & Metro. Link.

        Stop sweeping the issue under the rug and come up with a practical solution. You’re just saying they have income, have a budget and “can get income”. Metro “has income”, “has a budget” and “can can get income” and yet they’re cutting service hours.

        They’re not clueless–if they had money they would have started the project by now. And for all you know, they have started it.

    2. 1. Can’t agree more.
      2. Yes, at major transit centers and stations
      3. A lot of Safeways do card refills but since the website and marketing sucks, no one knows about it.
      4. It’s coming close to 2 years of revenue service and it still hasn’t passed full system acceptance.

  13. It ought to be an easy matter for Metro to provide a list of ORCA vendors along the A-line on the A-line schedule.

  14. We should assemble a list of improvements we’d like to see with ORCA and communicate them to ORCA administration. I know some posts have covered this, and there have been some really great ideas in the comments recently and in the past. Help me get this list fleshed out. In no particular order:

    1. Marketing to increase usage
    2. ORCA fairs cheaper than cash
    3. More TVMs
    4. ORCA cards available in convenience stores, grocery stores, etc.
    5. Some form of 1-day or multi-day passes for temporary/occasional transit users (tourists, people who need to work at different locations temporarily, etc)
    6. Make the card free
    7. Transfer e-purse value between cards via website
    8. Include transfers when paying for more than one rider
    9. more
    10. ideas
    11. here

    1. I agree with everything except the higher fares for cash paying customers. I think back to the times I’ve forgotten my ORCA card or when a friend just needed to jump on the bus with me and it just seems unfair. Eliminating paper transfers entirely, on Metro and Pierce buses seems like it would be enough of an incentive for pretty much everybody.

      1. @Tim

        10 cents is a pain both for riders and Metro. I think 25 cents is more reasonable. Although this then start to increase the complexity of the fare system again. That is just the nature of the beast though.

        I think maybe a better way to do this is give people an few extra rides when they auto load or top up over a certain value.

      2. Adam, how is 10¢ “a pain”?

        Extra rides is a bad idea. A “ride” differs depending on who’s giving it to you and what type of vehicle you’re riding. A ride on Everett Transit is only 75 cents where a ride on Sounder is between $2.75 and $4.75

      3. Look at it as a 10 cent discount for using ORCA, not a 10 cent penalty for using cash. The posted fare can be the cash fare, and some multiple of 25 cents. PAy by ORCA, and you pay 10 cents less. Giving the small discount to ORCA users is trivial since there’s no physical money involved there.

      4. I dont like the idea of charging a seperate ORCA vs non ORCA fare, however since there is an inhearant cost in issuing a paper transfer, Mabye a nomial .10 to .25 surcharge for the transfer would be a small hint and not a big bite on the pocket book for those who still like paper transfers. I’d also make them again universally available as i beilieve that anything you can do with an epurse, you should be able to do in cash as well. Other cities have long had an extra surcharge for a transfer fare…

      5. Make it a .10 surcharge off peak, .25 peak; based on the finish time for the route of course. The surcharge must be paid on entrance except in the free ride zone unless it’s after 7PM. Weekends the surcharge is .10 single zone and .20 two zone. Seniors and youth pay a flat .05 for all transfers just to keep it simple :=

      6. there is an inhearant cost in issuing a paper transfer

        Metro is paying $115,554 for a year’s worth of transfers, which is approximately 50 million slips of paper. This equates to about two tenths of a cent for each individual transfer.

        Make it a .10 surcharge off peak, .25 peak; based on the finish time for the route of course

        Please don’t do that. We already have rules for peak fares: Page 604.

    2. 0. Hire a UX team to revamp the website.

      12. I don’t have a pass provided by an employer, but apparently cards with employer-loaded passes can’t have e-purses due to some legal limitation.

      1. 12. Really?

        I loaded my own cash on an employer supplied ORCA card before. I can also switch from receiving a monthly pass to receiving a monthly e-purse credit. My workplace provides a transit subsidy equal to a 1-zone peak Metro monthly pass.

      2. Something about business plus. I don’t remember exactly. May have actually had to do with the pre-tax payment/subsidy crap.

        It’s not an issue to me, so I haven’t done much research on it.

      3. I don’t know of a legal reason, but my employer discourages it because if you quit or get fired and your pass is canelled, any e-purse is forfeited. There are no tax implications to adding e-purse to an ORCA card for either party.

      4. You can have an e-purse but it has to be loaded by payroll deduction, not at a TVM. It’s to keep pre-tax and post-tax money separate.

        I don’t know about money being forfeited if you’re terminated. It seems like it should be paid back to you at a post-tax rate, like how vacation hours are cashed out when you terminate. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s such a loophole in the law, like the idiotic idea that flexible spending account money should be forefeited if not used during the year (as if you know beforehand whether you’re going to get sick or in an accident). The employer probably just leaves the money at the transit agency rather than going to the hassle of claiming $7.50, deducting tax, and putting it on your check.

      5. “You can have an e-purse but it has to be loaded by payroll deduction, not at a TVM.”

        Not true, at least in my case. I load money into e-purse on my employer-provided pass at TVMs all the time.

  15. I agree with Oran that a lot of the issue comes down to marketing – though I think availability is a big issue, as well. In the Rapid Ride A Line report, ~1/3 of respondents said they didn’t know where to get the card – that’s poor marketing. However, roughly another 1/3rd said getting one was inconvenient. I read that as, “I know where to get a card, and I probably would, but its too far out of the way and the ‘old’ system works just as well, so I don’t.” That is poor availability.

    So, knocking out a lot of ORCA’s problems (perceived and real) can be solved with a little more attention to marketing and a bit more work in establishing availability.

    For example, on the marketing side, I had no idea you could reload a card at Safeway. Why don’t retail locations that sell and/or reload ORCA cards have a sign on their door or at the register, similar to the MC/Visa/AMEX logos you see, indicating that one can reload their card, or buy a new one.

    On the availability side, why don’t bus drivers sell cards? Yes, I know, they have enough on their plates as is, but selling a card doesn’t need to be any more difficult than cutting a paper transfer: Stick $5 in the farebox, and the driver hands you a card. Pre-load the cards with a free-ride token so they can be used as a “transfer.” You could charge fare + card costs, but giving out a free ride as an incentive is pretty easy, I’d think, and it’d likely speed up the transaction.

    If you want to be fancy, toss in some radio ad marketing: “For a limited time, buy an ORCA Card when boarding the bus for $5 and get your bus ride free! You can also reload or purchase an ORCA card at most Safeways, or any one of the [number] participating retailers in the Puget Sound area. Just look for the “Get ORCA here!” sign by the register. For more details, call 1-888-988-6722 or visit orcacard.com”

    As for the website…this is Seattle. We have Amazon. We can do better.

    1. Pre-loaded cards are more valuable than paper transfers. Metro has to pre-purchase and pre-load the cards at their own risk and expense and stock a sufficient amount of them. It would be worth considering as a pilot project to sell them on weekends, much like the former day pass.

      1. The card would be loaded with a digital token valid only on the agency selling the card, though I suppose since ORCA transfers are multi-agency it would need to be multi-agency to prevent confusion. None the less, the token would be only that – a token. Being digital bits, it would effectively have no value until used, the hit being taken by the agency honoring it.

        Even then, it’s optional – I included the idea because it’d be odd to hand out a paper transfer with a new ORCA card, and not all agencies do paper transfers. Alternatively, you could axe the transfer (since in my proposal you’re getting a free ride anyhow) though I think that’d hurt adoption (Pay more for a card and no transfer?).

        As for it affecting Metro only, Metro shouldn’t be the only agency doing this: ORCA is a multi-agency card, ergo multiple agencies should participate in the promotion. Costs would need to be bared by the ORCA Consortium as a whole, either through ST as a coordinating agency, or individually knowing that what benefits one agency in this setup benefits all.

      2. If I understand correctly, one would insert $5 into farebox, receive card from driver, and then tap card to activate it and get the digital transfer, valued at the current fare? I can see abuse in which people get the card, ride “free” and then resell the card.

        I’m also trying to figure out how the backend would handle this.

      3. Close: $5 into the farebox, driver hands the card to passenger. The card would need to be preloaded with a token. As far as I can tell, that’s faster on the front end than making the customer tap (Or, more likely tap three times because the first two tries fail). Also less awkward, since the customer wouldn’t have to reach behind them to tap; especially hard on high floor coaches (where the reader sits rather low towards the floor) and for people in wheelchairs.

        I don’t think abuse would be an issue. After all, the card is more expensive than the base fare, even during multi zone peek periods. If I’m out to scam the system, why pay $5 for a card I can only ride free on twice (counting the token), when I can pay $2.25-$3 and get a paper transfer I can get away with using all day, every couple of days when the letter and color combination comes back up?

        As for selling the card, that’d be a hard sell: no face value, and no way to verify the value without actually using the card. Why risk that when you can pop on the bus and get one there?

        As for the backend, I’m not seeing the issue – though that could simply be my ignorance. Cards would be preloaded with the token, which I’m kinda sure already exists, given that Customer Service can doll out free rides for when a transaction goes wrong. I assume that they’re using a token-like object in that case, rather than refunding an abstract amount of e-cash.

        A bigger problem would be handling people wanting to get an RRFP or Youth ORCA Card, I think.

  16. “Why don’t retail locations that sell and/or reload ORCA cards have a sign on their door or at the register, similar to the MC/Visa/AMEX logos you see, indicating that one can reload their card, or buy a new one.”

    Most grocery stores have product placement fees. They don’t stock certain items on the shelf because that’s what the customers want and buy, but because the producers pay the chain to place their products on the shelves, and buy an amount of space. The cigaratte vendors also pay good money to get their ads placed appropriately in the store.

    Getting Safeway to provide space for ORCA advertisement would mean ST paying a fee to Safeway.

    1. Even so, that fee (if low enough) may be worth it for the increased availability. Plenty of transit systems have a similar deal – I can’t imagine them doing it if the costs were outrageous compared to the benefit.

      1. I don’t think ST considers it their concern what percentage of Metro riders use ORCA, so I doubt ST has any interest in promoting use of ORCA on Metro buses.

        Metro, for its part, has very limited interest in promoting ORCA, given that it just runs buses, and needs to spend its revenue just keeping the current level of service on the road.

      2. This isn’t even about ST. All the agencies are in this together and share in the infrastructure cost of ORCA. They all have a stake in making ORCA work to make their investment worth it. Metro, as the largest agency, spent a large amount of money in ORCA infrastructure. They also handle a lot of the backend. If they want to throw it (and other associated benefits) away by “not promoting ORCA”, then they have a big problem.

      3. Also, my proposal wasn’t agency specific. While the post and survey were specific to RapidRide, I’d bet (and I think most would agree) that this is a multi-agency problem, and as such is going to require cooperation to obtain a solution. Ideally most of the work would be done by ST since they manage the system as a whole, with them providing the cards to individual agencies and receiving the fees paid by buyers in return. As far as making sure the agency gets some of that money back to cover the cost of distributing and selling the cards, I’d be surprised if such a mechanism didn’t already exist. Metro sells cards at their customer shop, after all.

        That all goes into contracts and budget stuff I don’t have access to, and wouldn’t understand if I did, anyhow.

      4. I agree.

        But, ORCA is jointly managed by Metro and ST. I can’t back that up though because the source was a job posting that has since closed.

        “That all goes into contracts and budget stuff I don’t have access to, and wouldn’t understand if I did, anyhow.”
        You do have access–it’s called a public disclosure request.

      5. It’s jointly managed.

        Basically, Metro handles day-to-day operations and contract management. Sound Transit handles policy, budget, customer information, etc. Sound Transit also manages the bank accounts.

        Source

        However, changes to the entire system must be reached by consensus of the Joint Board, comprised of the seven member agencies.

  17. RapidRide did better than the 174 in every grade of “Convenience of the stop to my home or where I was coming from”. This may be counterintuitive in that nobody had a closer stop, and some had to walk farther. I see this as a general satisfaction with the notion of stop consolidation.

    As for those 6% who were less satisfied with RapidRide than with the 174, that’s about the same number who were very dissatisfied with the convenience of their stop. Coincidence? I think not. I hope they kept some data as to what stops people wanted back, in case there was a large body of support for one or two of them.

    1. Think of the selection bias on that question. It only applied to those people who were both on the 174 and on RRA. What would the result have been if they talked to the set of people who had ridden the 174, but didn’t take RRA because of the stop deletions.

      Some people may have walked farther to a stop on the RapidRide route. Some others may have walked to their car.

  18. Seriously, SERIOUSLY?!?!

    If I in NORTH CAROLINA can not one, but two (wife) ORCA cards (for free nonetheless and mailed to me), I have a hard time feeling sympathic for anyone in Seattle that just can’t get one. Metro can only be blamed so much. In my opinion anyone who doesn’t have one just doesn’t want one. Give them an incentive (maybe next time you increase you do it only for cash fares?) and I bet magically they will figure out a way to get a card.

    1. I’m all for upping the cash fare another 25 cents later this year. It’s politically easier than a general fare increase, and less politically explosive than eliminating paper transfers cold turkey.

    2. But you’re a transit nerd, Anc. Not everyone is like us. If they were the “war on cars” would be over. :-)

  19. Apologies for the occasional missing word. I think you can all figure out what I meant.

    (Part of being in NC means that I’m Eastern time, so I’ve been off work and boozin for 3 hours now! :P)

  20. I concur with the observation that there seems to be revenue rivalry between the agencies. I have observed an anecdotal bias in the trip planners that seem to favor either 1 seat bus rides, or exclusive bus rides over transfers to Link. I’ve observed that when they do offer a transfer to Link, the suggested routes have travel times longer than what I know can be accomplished. I tested this by getting travel times for separate segments that I know work and have found that I can plan a route that connects to Link by entering the segments separately and getting faster travel times.

    Now this coupled with the very poor ORCA roll out would line up with the theory that each agency wants to horde revenue. This is very counterproductive to the overall transportation solution in our area and I think we as a community need to loudly tell our representatives to get their collective Sh*t together and fast.

    I propose that each agency should be mandated to align their routes with train (either light rail or commuter) service and the general preference should be to deliver passengers to Link (where truly appropriate) and reduce long haul bus rides. This should free up significant service hours to create circulator routes in neighborhoods that can get people moving along east/west corridors.

    This is where a Boeing Access Road station would make sense because several South King County bus routes could be terminated there in favor of Link or Sounder. (with Sounder having frequent service during work day hours)

    1. the very poor ORCA roll out

      Seriously? You couldn’t ride a bus without seeing two advertisements for it!

      the general preference should be to deliver passengers to Link (where truly appropriate) and reduce long haul bus rides

      We already discussed this. It would not make sense to terminate any routes at TIBS or RB. The amount of time saved was almost always less than Link’s headways, and factoring in transfer penalty of 14 minutes (Part 3 – Exhibit 3.9) you end up with a trip that takes longer and forces a transfer. Lose-Lose-Win.

    2. Route design by legisation is generally a bad thing. Most public agencies are good about serving such facilities, and if its benefical to the service making such adjustments. If they dont make the change, usually its because of finincial constrains (would require more service to adjust the service to the stop, or you could adjust the service to the stop but it runs at all the wrong times, etc). Personally, i think that UTC authority needs to require some of the private carriers in this state to add more stops, such as Sea-Tac Airport, Using central transfer areas inbetween public transit/amtrak/Sounder vs. some gasoline station at the freeway interchange, etc. But than again a while back i had a vision of adding intercity bus and rail to sites such as orbitz and expedia creating a unified ticketing system capable of routing passengers efficently to their destination, for less cost and impact than pure flying. Probally a win-win for everyone but with the way american captalism works…

    3. The problem with truncations at a Boeing Station is that the routes that would be truncated would be headed in the backwards direction to get there (if they are transferring to northbound Link).

      Transfers to Sounder would only work for routes with half-hour headway, and then leave riders having to transfer yet again to get anywhere downtown outside of walking distance from King Street Station. (I’m still a fan of an infill Link/Sounder Boeing Station, FWIW.)

      I think a key to truncating the #101 would be to extend its tail well beyond Renton (down Benson Rd, for example), so that more people would get a one-seat ride to Link, and therefore a one-bus ride to downtown that was previously a clunky two-bus ride, to make up for the people whining about losing their one-seat ride from Renton to downtown. The RRA has shown how to finesse such a move and leave most people happier.

    4. A “horde” of revenues? I guess that would be the sales tax, farebox, pass sales, Federal transfers. A veritable horde indeed.

      I think you mean “hoard”.

  21. The comment thread is an intresting one to say the least. I have to wonder the socoeconomic status of the 55% who dont use ORCA on the rapid ride, and wonder how that affects why they choose their form of fare payment. We can all scream on this board why ORCA is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or why it sucks so badly and get no where. I agree with the side that says it needs a LOT more work. From the customer service side, the website needs a topic in its own right on what to do with it. Secondly, the customer service needs a lot of work. First, 24/7 Online and telephone help should be offered, and their training more standardized. The quality of support often depends on who you get on the phone. The Retailier network should be expanded, either by using desk staff or kiosks to include all popular supermarkets, drug stores, and all transit stations/park and rides, etc. If there are desk staff available, than they should offer services above that of just selling you a card such as card replacement and some of the more advanced tasks. Finally, Policy wise, the whole daypass issue needs to be resolved, even if there is a $5 for the card, and LINK in the tunnel needs to be included in the RFA, or not as thats not only a big money drain, but if your trying to get from point A to B downtown you dont know what is coming next, and probally dont care. If the RFA was gone entirely that would be a big thing as well. Speaking of the “A” line, how come TIB and FWTC dont have the yellow orca stand alones?

    1. If we had a 24/7 callcenter, it would get really expensive to staff that. Sure, we could shove it off to India or the Philippines, but still, expensive. I wonder if their phone system records the date/and time when customers get the “Sorry, our call center is closed” message. Having the center open until 8pm might make more sense than 24 hours a day.

      The quality of support often depends on who you get on the phone

      I have never encountered a callcenter anywhere where this is not the case.

      Speaking of the “A” line, how come TIB and FWTC dont have the yellow orca stand alones?

      Sound Transit owns both TIBS and FWTC, and the necessary data connections were not available, and Metro didn’t have the budget to add them.

      1. I’m pretty sure TIBS has the standalone ORCA readers on the second floor. How else are you going to tap on/off for the trains? Data lines may not be on the bottom floor where the buses are, but they are present on the bottom floor, unless ST is running fiber along the tracks to provide data. Running Cat5e from the IDF to a reader by the RapidRide Bay wouldn’t be THAT expensive. Additionally, the RR Bay is by the bathrooms, allowing Metro to wall mount the reader as opposed to having to tear up concrete to run a conduit for power, etc, making it even cheaper.

      2. Data goes in to the IDF closet. From there I’d expect it to go over a T1 or DS3 depending on how much data they’re throwing around. I’m pretty sure the IDF closet is on the ground floor, but I’ve never gone looking for it.

        Wall mount is a good idea. I hadn’t thought of that. But ST has to allow it, since it’s their station. And they didn’t. That’s how it was explained to me by a stakeholder in the A-Line project.

      3. But i think if you tap on the stand alones for the trains, you’ll get charged a train fare vs. a bus fare and since you dont tap off rapid ride “A”. Anyone want to risk the ticket from the fare police to find out?

      4. Each reader has a unique address and fareset. The ones at Westlake show up as “Westlake Station” when you go online, and the ones for RapidRide show up as, well, I don’t know since I haven’t used ORCA on them. If readers were installed near Bay A at TIBS, we’d just program it to act just like the other readers at the other RapidRide stations.

      5. @tim this is what showed up when I tapped for Rapid Ride A SB at Sea-Tac station:

        Purse Use on Entry KCM, S 176th St SB

        As for my experience on that ride. The wifi was good, but I unfortunately was witness to a drug transaction.

      6. I was at TIBS this evening, and there is now what looks to be the backbone of a tech pylon at the Rapid Ride bay, mounted on the wall where the bathrooms are. There are cutouts for running wire to a real-time arrivals sign, as well as halfway down the pylon, which I’m guessing is for a backlit map like you’d find at other stations, and possibly (hopefully!) an ORCA reader.

        Craptastic photo: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/9043174/TIBS-RRPylon.JPG

        As for data, the more I think about it, the more I think ST has got to have fiber running along the Link right-of-way. It’s the only way to easily trunk data from the various track sensors along the line back to the LCC. Running phone and Ethernet over such a network would make a lot of sense.

  22. We need to go to time-stamped tickets and passes that physically show an expiration date. This is very cost effective. We don’t need all the gee-whiz error-prone virtual technology. Simplicity and predictability win the day. Look all over Europe and you will find that many cities do this. You pay for 30 minutes (or another time incriment). When your time runs out, you buy another ticket. No zones. It’s so simple!

    1. We should’ve done that 20 years ago. Most major European cities do have fare zones but yes, they have been using printed paper tickets with validators on buses and trains for a long time. Despite that, they are moving towards smart card based fare collection technology. They are more versatile.

      1. Even Skagit Transit has paper tickets with magnetic strips and time stamps. I’m pretty sure Metro’s fairbox is capable of reading tickets like this in fact I think I heard it was originally planned.

      2. Even one in bellevue too! i dident know the ZVV ran there, i’m going to have to go over there more often.

  23. They should make ORCA more widely available, for example they could sell them at convenience stores such as 7-eleven.

  24. The main reason I don’t use Orca is that it doesn’t do Night Owl transfers like the paper transers do.

    1. Imagine the effect if ORCA’s transfer time were lengthened, so it becomes clearly better than a paper transfer. The incentivization could happen without political ripples, and with little revenue lost compared to the revenue-positive effect of more dependable travel time.

      Unfortunately, the computers are more strict than the operators when it comes to accepting expired transfers, so ORCA tends to make more sense only for monthly pass buyers. Reversing the ongoing disincentive ought to help.

      1. Brent,

        This is a VERY good point. Most drivers cut transfers for longer than exactly two hours (they rightly “round up”) and if you’re “on the bus” when it expires nobody’s going to throw you off. But if you tap off after expiration, you get dinged for another fare.

        ORCA transfers ought to be three hours, or at a minimum two and a half to equalize the incentive for paper.

        Yes, yes, the agencies are worried that people might make a round trip!!!!! (Horror of horrors!) But workers won’t do that and workers are 75% of transit fare revenues, at least. The folks riding in the middle of the day are either old, unemployed, or unstable bus freaks like most of us. They deserve a break.

      2. This is a VERY good point. Most drivers cut transfers for longer than exactly two hours (they rightly “round up”) and if you’re “on the bus” when it expires nobody’s going to throw you off.

        I’m pretty strict about following Metro policy. That said, I sometimes receive verbal complaints and then have to explain Metro’s transfer cut policy.

        As to the 2nd part of your statement, a transfer is valid if you board the bus before it expires but ride past the expiration time – I think that is even printed on the back. In practice, most of us focus on the rough length of a transfer and decide from that. If your transfer length is in the ballpark, it’s unlikely you will be challenged. It’s not an “I don’t care” attitude, I do care, it’s the reality of trying to examine a large number of transfers rapidly. Since we don’t have any ability to deny rides to fare evaders, what’s the point anyway?

      3. Velo, I certainly wouldn’t accuse operators of being lazy about anything. It’s the policy that’s problematic.

        If I pay cash to get on a bus at 5:00, and then exit a pay-as-you-leave bus at 7:02, the policy makes it a free transfer. If I pay by ORCA, I get hit for the cost of a second bus ride. (Or, at least I would if I didn’t have a monthly pass, so this is only conjecture that the computer follows its own misreading of policy. Could someone put one of those “See Me” notes in the computer’s box?)

        I’ve tended to keep my mouth shut about ORCA problems up until now, as I didn’t mind Metro/ST getting a little extra revenue. But as the survey shows Metro shooting itself in the foot, I think it’s time for Metro to take policy measures. One way or another, ORCA needs to get promoted *and* incentivized on the Line A.

      4. To be precise, I don’t think the policy should or can be enforced uniformly between paper and ORCA transfers. Having two different policies is unavoidable. Given that reality, the ORCA transfer should be good at least two (2) hours longer than a paper transfer, so that there is *never* an incentive to use cash.

        My preference would be for zero (0) hours for a paper transfer, but the politics of getting over the misperception that getting an ORCA card is a burden to the poor is difficult to overcome.

      5. Also, isn’t there a policy that if you board a pay-as-you-leave bus, you can tap your orca card ‘early’ to make sure you get the transfer?

        Admittedly, I’m a Seattle Bus Newbie and tend to tap when I board regardless of what the sign says, and I have a pass so its a moot point.

        This would all be a (mostly) moot point if the RFA didn’t exist and all busses were pay-as-you-enter, but one shouldn’t expect miracles.

      6. Most times that I attempt to tap as I board a pay-as-you-leave bus, the operator tries to waive me away or tells me sternly that it’s pay-as-you-leave.

  25. For me Orca has been a great success so far, but it takes time to develop new systems. The card seamlessly pays for travel on 7 separate transit systems, and provides free transfers in between. (I know of no other US transit cards with that wide of a reach. The only other regions that have tried it, LA and the Bay Area, have failed miserably)

    The larger the system, the slower it is to change, and the more diversity of methods it can support. For that reason, I expect that Metro will and should continue accepting cash fares and transfers for at least 5 years, long after every other Puget Sound agency has adapted them. Orca cards should be available at a wide range of shops prior to cutting off cash fares.

    1. ORCA does need some work, however it indeed must be done over time. The DC SmarTrip card has a wide outreach extending between Metrobus and the Metrorail as well as 9 other local agencies and the local bus, light rail, and the Metro Subway in Baltimore thanks to Maryland MTA’s CharmCard being completly compatible with the SmarTrip. But, whenever fares are increased, for example creating the peak-of-the-peak fares for the Metrorail, they put in the PM fare first, then waited a few months before the AM fare increase. All fare increases have at least a month’s waiting between them and every change is slow. So be paitient, ST and all the rest are doing the best they can. At least it’s better than NCY’s fare system, right?

  26. Even though I’m not commuting by Sounder any more, I keep my ORCA autoloaded and carry it everywhere. It’s just the best thing about transit in Puget Sound…always there for an emergency, say when riding my bike.

    They should sell it to motorists — a $25 Emergency Card — to keep in the glove compartment for breakdowns, etc…

Comments are closed.