King County Metro’s 2010-2011 budget (p. 28) set aside $5.5 million to implement ORCA card readers at all doors to speed up boarding but the project has been cancelled due to issues with implementation under Metro’s complicated fare structure. The readers would have saved about a hundred daily service hours. The funds from the cancelled project will be available for projects in the 2012-2013 budget that weren’t previously funded or which require additional funds.
Determination has been made that rear door ORCA readers are not feasible at this time given Metro’s varied zone and special fare structure which require operator interaction with ORCA equipment to provide exceptions and correct fare categories for different riders. This continues to be an area of interest, but there is no solution currently identified and funded. Metro also continues to look for ways to increase the number of ORCA card users and off-board fare purchase.
Metro’s problem lies with the zone system and how one would pay the correct fare without driver assistance. Metro will have to face the same problem when the RapidRide E Line (Route 358) begins service in 2013. It is the only RapidRide line to cross a zone boundary. Metro has not decided on how off-board payment on that line will work but it is being discussed.
There are a few technical and policy solutions to this elaborated after the jump.
One would be to install ORCA readers with buttons that let the passenger choose the destination zone. Interestingly, the ORCA contract for stand alone readers at rail stations and BRT stops has an option for up to 10 zone/destination selection buttons.
Another solution would be a tap-on & tap-off system, like on Link light rail. The initial tap charges the maximum fare to encourage users to tap-off. The exit tap allows the correct fare to be deducted based on distance traveled. Golden Gate Transit in the San Francisco Bay Area, Singapore, and Brisbane do that on their buses.
The third solution, which everyone seems to hate, is pay-on-exit. This is how fare payment currently works under the Ride Free Area for outbound buses from downtown. It is incompatible with a proof-of-payment system since passengers don’t pay until they’re done riding.
Or instead, abolish the zones for a countywide flat fare, with or without a peak surcharge. There will be a ridership and revenue impact in exchange for a simpler fare structure with this action which has been discussed in Metro’s Fare Coordination Report.
In related news, San Francisco’s Muni announced that it’s considering systemwide all-door boarding for passengers with proof of payment. They already have Clipper card readers at every door installed in preparation for this. Unlike Metro, Muni charges a flat fare for riding buses or trains with no zones or peak surcharges.