“Your ORCA card works like cash or a pass, automatically tracking the value of different fares and transfers so you don’t have to.” —ORCA card website
This is the first in a series exploring the workings of ORCA based on communication with agency staff, contract documents and technical documents received by public records request. One of the key agency benefits of ORCA is automatic apportionment of fare revenues based on actual use. In this post, I am going to use examples to explain how the fare you pay is divvied up among the transit agencies. If you understand the chart above, then you pretty much get the general concept. Otherwise, read on for an explanation.
The scenario is an adult taking a peak period trip on Metro’s RapidRide A Line ($2.50), then transferring to Sound Transit’s Central Link at SeaTac to Westlake ($2.75).
Let’s start with cash. The person pays $2.50 for the Metro bus, then he buys a one-way ST Link ticket for $2.75. Total fare paid is $5.25 since cash users don’t get intersystem transfer credit. Metro and Sound Transit get to keep their respective fares.
The person decides to get an ORCA card with an e-purse, which is electronic cash. The person taps his ORCA card to pay $2.50 for the bus. When he taps his card at SeaTac/Airport Station, he pays only another 25¢ for Link because he gets a transfer credit equal to the fare he already paid (within 2 hours). Total fare paid is $2.75, equal to the Link cash fare. How much do Metro and Sound Transit each get out of that $2.75?
The answer is:
- ($2.50/$5.25) × $2.75 = $1.31 to Metro
- ($2.75/$5.25) × $2.75 = $1.44 to ST.
The revenue each agency receives is the agency’s trip value divided by the total trip value, times the total e-purse value used for that linked trip. The trip value is the full cash fare for that trip. Used e-purse value is transferred from ORCA’s e-purse float account to the agencies’ accounts daily.
Now the person realizes he can save more money by getting a pass, so he buys a $2.75 Regional Monthly Pass for $99 (36 × $2.75) and uses it only for his daily commute. Assuming he works 20 days in a month, he makes 40 one-way trips on Metro and Sound Transit. How much of the $99 does each agency receive?
The answer is Metro gets 47.6% or $47.16 and Sound Transit gets 52.4% or $51.84 from the $99 pass.
Pass revenue is allocated in proportion to the total value of services used on each agency during which the pass is valid (e.g. one calendar month). That total value is added up from all the trips made with the pass. At the trip level, it works like the e-purse case but the trip value for a pass is either the fare value of the pass or the fare for the trip, whichever is least. That $1.31/trip to Metro is multiplied by 40 trips to get the total service value for Metro of $52.40. The same is done for Sound Transit to get $57.60. That’s a total of $110 in service value but he paid only $99 for the pass. So each agency’s share of the $110 is calculated as a percentage, then multiplied by the $99 pass purchase price and the result is the answer above. The pass user never has to think about that and also saves $111 over paying cash. The agencies automatically get their share a month after the pass expires without complicated and costly annual surveys.
When using a pass in combination with e-purse, the above rules apply. However, the trip value used for the e-purse calculation is adjusted by subtracting the pass fare value from the trip value.
The chart below illustrates the scenario where a 50¢ PugetPass is used in combination with an e-purse to pay for a journey involving multiple transit agencies.
If an ORCA pass user pays the difference with cash instead of e-purse, the receiving agency keeps all the cash for itself. There is no systematic apportionment of cash payments.
Next in the series: currently unused features that could appear in the future.