Metro won't be doing all-door boarding but San Francisco's Muni might do it next year.

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.

Metro’s explanation:

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.

88 Replies to “Rear Door ORCA Readers Cancelled”

  1. Sound Transit went to “flat rate” fare for a single county back in June witch seems to working better. If Metro dose the same thing, it will speed everything up and be less confuesing for everyone.

  2. Or better yet, have a huge ass neon flashing sign over the back doors –
    “Enter here if you’re a normal transit rider. If you are among the hundreds of special fare classes and payment methods accepted by Metro, please go to the front door to engage the driver in further discussions. Please read faster, as the line behind you is growing!”

    1. Are you talking about before or after 7 pm, on weekends, or holidays, or, … in the end the number of permutations is still finite, until operators start making up their own systems, which seems to be more commonplace than management realizes.

      1. Ooops. I meant to say “countably finite”, in contrast to the number of fare rules that have actually been practiced, which is definitely finite, if not countably so.

  3. I don’t see how pay on exit would help the situation. You would still need an exception for a rider who enters the bus after crossing the fare boundary.

    1. The operator could re-set the fare zone on both or all three readers at the entrance to the fare boundary zone, and then again when the bus leaves the boundary zone, which has to be done with or without PAYSTTE. The mechanics of how to make the ORCA reader work are straightforward. The logistics of training operators to follow a consistent plan, much less to train riders, has been demonstrated to be a nightmare.

      I’m very much a fan of having one zone setting on a run, calling it “local” or “express” and designating in the printed schedule whether it is a “peak hour” or “off-peak” run.

      Complicated fare systems are about to cost a lot in capital investment. Simplicity is beautiful.

    1. OMG. There would be hoards of zombies riding the buses to who knows where just because they could. Mayhem I tell you. Absolute bedlam.

    2. Please don’t. My wife’s commute is an 8 mile, one seat, in city ride. Of course, this 8-mile ride often takes 45 minutes, but we get some relief in knowing we’re paying $18/mo less than an inter-city commuter.

      If zones are eliminated, we need tap-on/tap-off. There needs to be a way to charge more for long-distance travel.

    3. Put a surcharge on the peak-only expresses. If you’re travelling across the county, use one of the regional corridors (358, 550, 150, etc) or pay more.

  4. Getting rid of the zones is a terrible idea – we need more zones. Implement tap on / tap off, and integrate it into our new GPS system. Pay per mile.

    1. No. We don’t need even more confusion about how much a trip is going to cost.

      If New York City can operate without zones, we can operate without zones.

      1. I see a flat fare, especially in systems that cover a large area, as inequitable. There was a paper that studied the effect of flat fares on LA.

        Create a simple cash fare like $3 at all times; and pay by distance with ORCA, capped at the cash fare. Gets people switching to ORCA and maximizes transit use and equity. Add a peak surcharge if you want.

      2. That, I can get behind. The maximum fare at all times for cash, tap-on/tap-off for ORCA. We get to incentivize ORCA use, and we get a distance-based fare structure.

        But a peak surcharge has to stay. As much as I’m philosophically opposed to it (local transit should be free, 24/7!), as a practical matter we need to use any method possible to move trips to less congested times, and it serves as a form of congestion pricing on the bus. Peak service costs quite a bit more to operated per hour than all-day service.

      3. I suspect the number of people who shift their trips to off-peak hours is so small you wouldn’t even notice it: less than one person per run. It’s dwarfed by the number of peak riders who have to be at work at a certain time, or who aren’t going to stay at work an extra hour or two to save 25c.

        The purpose of the peak fare is to pay for doubling the amount of bus service peak hours and all those peak-only routes. That seems fair enough. It’s more fare than quibbling over the distance a single passenger rides. It’s especially unfair that trips to White Center cost different than Highland Park (aka “north White Center”), when they may be two blocks apart.

    2. My vote. Go to a tap on, tap off system, with the new GPS the ORCA card reader should know where it is. To eleminate cash problems (and encourage ORCA use) make cash fares a flat $5 (or max fare). That way if you are paying cash it does not matter how far you go its the same price. By using ORCA you can pay less for shorter trips.

      I have lived in Tokyo for a while and their bus system works like this (just like the trains). Works very well for their PASMO/SUICA cards. They also have a board on the back, exit on the front policy (with readers at both locations). But i dont know if that would work here due to security concerns (In japan people behave themselves).

      For my case this would be great. My commuting requires me to travel just over a mile and i think paying 2.50 to travel 1 mile is a little steep. But when it is raining, its better that walking.

      1. A correction to my previous comment. In japan they did not use the max cash fare idea. But since most people use PASMO/SUICA cards cash is not much of a problem. I think it would really help in Seattle.

      2. I find how (some) Japanese buses handle distance based cash fares fascinating. You pick up a number when you board. They actually have a giant board up front that constantly updates the fare for each number as the bus travels. When you exit, you pay the amount listed for that number.

      3. @Oran, yep that is how they usually work. With a smart card it really simple. Cash is more complicated but from my experience most people dont use cash. The farther you travel, the more it costs. Seems simple enough.

      4. The nice thing about a GPS is that you can handle arbitrary trip boundaries just fine. You tap on and tap off, and then you switch buses, and you tap on and tap off again. And maybe you do it a third time. But once your 2-hour transfer window is up, your final fare is computed by taking the two furthest points at which you got on and off, measuring the distance, and computing accordingly.

        (And, of course, this would be subject to a per-trip and/or per-day maximum, and cash users would pay the per-trip maximum in all cases.)

    3. No, we don’t *need* more zones. We could just have shorter local bus routes. If Metro doesn’t want people riding long distances on local routes, then don’t have long local routes.

      1. Sure. We could have all kinds of bus routes. We can run a route from one side of Queen Anne hill to the other. But that makes a terribly inefficient system. It’s really useful to pick up people for short routes while the bus is running a long route – the bus is already running past those points anyway, and having a second bus is expensive and useless.

        Let bus routes be set independantly of prices, and set prices based on distance. That lets you set up efficient bus routes, yet still charge people for the amount of service they’re using.

      2. Thanks, Matt, for explaining why we have long local bus routes. But you haven’t offered a justification for two-zone fares on those routes, other than theoretically “superior” service (which it isn’t).

        Riding the 131 from downtown to Des Moines via Georgetown and South Park, for example, is a crappy ride no matter how long it is. Should they be paying a two-zone fare just because Metro refuses to give the Des Moines waterfront district a one-seat ride to Airport Station?

        And again, why should I pay a two-zone fare for riding from Georgetown to Boulevard Park?

      3. Oh, and FWIW, I was actually a supporter of a gondola between South Park and Boeing, which had a lot of neighborhood interest. No dice.

      4. My point, by saying “more zones” is, well, an infinite number of zones. Charge by distance, with an increase on express routes. The situation you’re describing where the local is more expensive than a theoretical express is certainly backwards (if I’m understanding that correctly).

        Re: South Park Gondola. Yeah, people love their bridge. I get that. But it sure seems like a waste of money considering 99 is right next door. How far did the gondola thing go – was there ever a real plan?

      5. You’re also assuming that the travelling was done on a bus. I’d be kind of pissed if I rode 2 blocks in downtown tacoma. Drove to seattle. Rode 2 blocks in seattle. And then got charged the tacoma -> seattle rate.

      6. Eric,

        You’re right that a naive version of my “two-hour distance” rule would have the problem you described. But that’s easy to fix. The algorithm is simple:

        – Make a list of all origin-destination pairs in the two-hour window.
        – For each pair of trips, compute the price if the trips were counted separately and if they were counted together, and pick the lower.
        – Continue until there are no remaining trips which can be combined.

        In practice, you might also be able to get away with something simpler — just look for origins and destinations which are within a quarter-mile of each other, and combine those trips automatically. That would handle the Link off-and-on issue, and any reasonable transfer between two transit modes.

      7. Why still have a two hour window with tap-on tap-off and GPS distance based fares? I don’t see a need for transfers in this system, if short trips are cheaper than current fares. You’d want the average trip cost to come out to about what current fares (including transfers) cost.

      8. Why still have a two hour window with tap-on tap-off and GPS distance based fares? I don’t see a need for transfers in this system, if short trips are cheaper than current fares.

        The optimal fare structure is probably *not* purely distance-based, but is rather a flat fare plus a per-mile charge. (This is how Sounder works, for example.) That way, you discourage excessively short trips, which is better from an efficiency standpoint (since those people are taking up space and money that would be better used to serve trips that are harder to walk).

        Thus, if nothing else, you need the notion of transfers so that you don’t charge the per-trip fixed fare more than once per two hours.

        Separately, there’s an interesting question about whether you want to charge people for inefficient routing. Let’s say you want to go from Broadway/John to 1st/Republican. Should it be more expensive to take the 43 to the 1/2/3/15/18 than to take the 8? What about late at night, when the 8 runs so infrequently that the transfer trip is probably faster? Should it make a difference if you transfer immediately, or if you spend some time doing errands in downtown?

        And what about forced transfers in the reverse direction? Let’s say someone from 10th/Roanoke, or Eastlake/Harvard, wants to get downtown. Once we have North Link, it’s probably faster for them (in many cases) to take the bus north to Brooklyn Station. But if that will make the fare more expensive, then many people will decide to take the cheaper route (albeit the one which costs Metro more!).

        My point is, it’s not as simple as you might think. (Or as simple as I previously thought.) :)

        And my broader point is, even Metro’s current system would work better with tap-on/tap-off, so let’s focus on that first.

      9. [Aleks] I think you’re making the problem much harder than it needs to be. Capacity is rarely a limiting factor, which makes most of your arguments go away. Who cares which route costs Metro more? Those buses are already driving those routes. And every time you make someone walk on a short trip you’re losing money for Metro.

        Let planners come up with efficient routes, independant of fares. And charge just for distance travelled, from the tap-on point to the tap-off point. Let riders make their own choice of routes.

  5. Tap-on, tap-off seems to be the best solution, as it would accommodate the zone system. As to the other fare categories, I thought they required special ORCA cards anyway. Move the ID checking to when the fare is inspected.

  6. So how is this going to work once the RFA is gone and all buses are pay on enter? For example, you get on the 131 downtown, you could be getting off in Georgetown, or in Des Moines. If you pay on enter, how do they know what to charge?
    I’m confused.

    1. Good question. For cash users, they pay the correct zone fare. ORCA users must ask the driver to change the fare preset if it’s not for the amount of zones they traveled or set a preferred zone through the ORCA website that automatically overrides the preset on the bus.

      This is done often on ST buses that cross a county boundary. Since the fare simplification, I’ve noticed more people doing that because paying the wrong fare costs a dollar more.

      1. Thanks for the explanation, Oran. My work pays for my pass, so I admit I have not really paid attention to the fare policies.

        My initial thought was that they should just get rid of the zones, but it makes no sense to pay the same to ride from Belltown to Downtown as it does to ride out to North Bend. Having a flat cash fare and prorated Orca fare by distance makes a lot of sense. There’d finally be a real incentive for cash users to switch to Orca.

      2. Since Sound Transit hiked the intercounty fare to a buck more than in-county I and many others have been more aware of the fare difference. The drivers on the 535 Bellevue-Lynnwood can switch zones on the reader really fast as a result.

        It’s absurd and unfair that I have to pay a buck more just to ride one stop from UW Bothell to Canyon Park (both in the same city!), or from Tacoma to Federal Way, while a rider from Auburn to Overlake pays less.

      3. The issue should be whether there are enough riders for the Auburn-Overlake bus to exist, or whether there’s a reasonable alternative way to make the trip that doesn’t take three hours. That’s a more productive question than, “Other people should pay more than me because their trip is longer.” The purpose of transit is to facilitate trips, and some trips will necessarily be longer than others. Sound Transit was created specifically to facilitate these regional trips. I don’t know whether an Auburn-Overlake route is necessary but I’ll defer to ST who thinks it does. A Seattle-Issaquah route is certainly necessary as the gateway to the far east side, and it seems petty to grumble that it costs the same as Bothell-Bothell.

      4. It isn’t petty. The fare structure encourages or discourages certain types of trips. It doesn’t cost Sound Transit a lot more to have those short trips versus the longer trips, so why should we discourage them?

      5. I routinely take the one-stop trip from Canyon Park to 195th/Beardslee, because Sound Transit in their infinite wisdom do not have the 532 stop at 195th in the peak direction (Everett to Bothell in the morning and vice versa).

        Fortunately, with ORCA it’s far simpler to accept the default two-zone fare on the 532 and then the transfer takes care of that pesky last stop on the 535. (And of course a FlexPass covers it either way.)

        However, with cash fares that extra $3.50 would certainly suck. One round trip and your ORCA card is more than paid for.

  7. This isn’t entirely back door boarding or fare structure related, but it could help boarding times at least: When I was in the Bay Area recently I noticed that most of the buses had their Clipper smart card readers on the left side as you enter the bus. It seemed weird to me until I realized how much better traffic flows when someone stops to pay a cash fare… on Metro and ST the line typically comes to a stop behind anyone paying cash, or people have to do a little dance to get their card read and then go around. Seems like it could be a change worth considering here.

  8. Most Muni and Muni Metro routes already have all door Clipper readers. Clipper has also only been around for a little under a year…

    1. Maybe Metro, after listening to all the suggestions, and researching what works in other cities, came up with a solution that works *better*…

  9. I have one philosophical and one budgetary reason for not liking zone-based fares:

    Philosophically, I don’t like having to pay a higher fare to ride a mile south of my neighborhood on the zone line than to ride five miles downtown. Plus, all the clever fare-minimizers will stop off in my neighborhood with a transfer in hand, and get on the next bus (if they can stand waiting an hour).

    Budgetarily, if the cost of riding a local or express bus to Des Moines is the same, we’re encouraging the creation of more duplicate-heading express routes. Express routes are a premium service, with lower fare recovery (due to fewer ons and offs and ons and offs). Discouraging long local routes discourages connectivity.

    On top of that, Link’s distance-based pricing makes the trip using Link more expensive than taking the express bus, in various cases. Maybe ST could set the distance fare on Link to not do that, since the perverse incentive is costly in service hours. For those who want to minimize their fares on Link, repeatedly getting off and back on the train is also an option.)

    1. I completely agree with you that express buses (with their far higher operational costs) should cost more. But I don’t see why that stops you from *also* charging more for longer trips, so long as a trip on a local bus costs less than a trip of the same length on an express bus.

      As far as Link fares go, the solution is so obvious that I’m shocked we haven’t implemented it already. During the two-hour transfer window, you find the two furthest stops that the person traveled to, and charge a fare based on those. So if you get on at Beacon Hill, head north to the ID, then south to TIBS, and then back up to Beacon Hill, all in one two-hour window, you’re charged a single ID-TIBS fare.

      Of course, all this works only if you have tap-on/tap-off. Which we could have… if we had rear door ORCA readers. Sigh. Talk about a catch-22.

      1. Making tap-on/tap-off works more easily with off-board readers. On-board readers have to be connected to GPS units in order to do real distance calculation. That won’t be cheap.

        But let me ask this: What behavior is Metro trying to disincentivize by having two-zone fares on local buses?

      2. Metro already has GPS on some buses and will have GPS on all buses by the end of 2012.

        It costs far more to equip and maintain thousands of bus stops with off-board readers (see RapidRide “stations”). Metro already has most of the infrastructure on-board the bus, it’s just a matter of hooking up another reader or two.

      3. I’d be for ORCA readers at all the doors, *if* Metro allowed boarding at all doors on all buses 24/7. Otherwise, it will be ruined by confusing fare policies.

        If a driver wants someone to come to the front and re-tap, or show their transfer, they should retain that perogative. Refusal should be met by a couple Metro police showing up unexpectedly and booking the rider. But the operator should have no perogative not to open the back door(s).

        It also depends on Metro’s willingness to have a fare enforcement work force that works 24/7, and manages to inspect on every route from time to time.

        Just because the $5.5 million may be out of the budget doesn’t mean it can’t get put back in, including in a future budget. But my theory is that that money is being re-earmarked to purchase all the off-board infrastructure for downtown.

        I guess the immediate question is whether some of the money for off-board infrastructure would be wasted if Metro then decides to go to all-door-entry-24/7 a couple years down the road.

      4. “What behavior is Metro trying to disincentivize by having two-zone fares on local buses?” Living far from your work.

      5. I’m with Oran here. Hooking the ORCA readers up to GPS, which buses will already have, can’t possibly be more expensive than putting an off-board reader at each of the 9,590 bus stops it maintains.

        Incidentally, only 1,670 of these stops have shelters. If a stop doesn’t even get a shelter, then surely it won’t get an ORCA reader. So we have to maintain on-board payment infrastructure for the other stops. With tap-on/tap-off, but without rear door readers, that means that buses will only open the front door, *at all times*, except at the 10% of stops with readers.

        In contrast, there are 1,156 diesel/hybrid buses and 157 trolley buses, and 21 vans. If we liberally assume 2 doors for hybrids and 3 for trolleys, that’s 1,470 new readers — less than the number of stops with shelters. And you get all-door boarding at every stop.

        I’d be for ORCA readers at all the doors, *if* Metro allowed boarding at all doors on all buses 24/7. Otherwise, it will be ruined by confusing fare policies.

        Agreed — this is precisely the policy I want to enable by having readers at all doors, so it would just be silly for Metro to not take advantage of it.

        Of course, there’s one exception, which is that you need to use the front door if you’re not using an ORCA card. But that’s to be expected. :)

  10. I reluctantly agree with Metro’s decision not to go to all rear-door readers. Here’s why:

    Off-board ORCA readers enable faster boarding, both by saving the time for newbies to figure out how to “tap” their card, and by providing a visual cue that back-door boarding will be allowed. The desire to place fewer readers may also lead to more stop consolidation.

    The primary benefits of on-board readers would have been more security for the readers, and the possible ability to have all-door boarding with fewer fare inspectors, if operators are willing to take on the burden of paying close attention to the backdoor readers when the doors are open. I think that would make sense only if Metro were ready to commit to go to all-door boarding systemwide, with no exceptions.

    1. That said, I’m dumbfounded about Metro’s claim to be looking for other ways to get more riders to use ORCA. Repeat after me: “Please add a surcharge for paying the fare in cash when boarding the bus.” Write to the County Executive. Write to your county councilmember. The hurdles to fixing the fare payment system are not just logistical, but political.

    2. On-board readers at a back door that automatically opens aren’t a visual cue?

      Metro’s already doing stop consolidation to have fewer off-board readers; it’s called RapidRide. While I agree that fewer stops means higher quality amenities at stops, I don’t see it realistic to have readers at every stop, even if stop consolidation took place.

      1. On-board readers are a visual cue that passengers can get off at the back (until they see the sticker about after 7 pm, yada yada) and the operator says “I don’t care what the other operators do. I’m not opening the back door.”

        Off-board readers are a visual cue that passengers can board at any door, until the operator refuses to open them, in which case, they walk to the front.

        I’m disturbed at Tim’s glib response that, Yes, Metro will continue to have different fare payment methodologies depending on the time of day.

      2. Incidentally, I was on a 49 today — outbound, light of day — that was front-door-only at every stop. Yes, I understand it’s pay as you leave, but if no one’s getting off, and a swarm of passengers are at the back door trying to get on, why won’t you open it? (Especially since it’s policy…)

  11. Muni can have a single fare because the service area is relatively small (about 7 by 7 miles of coverage area) whereas metro provides closer to a 30 mile by 20 mile service area.

    Perhaps King County needs to create an additional bus agency with a different fare structure to accommodate suburban and commuter trips. However, that defeats the purpose of simplifying a fare structure and adds redundant service and overhead. IE Everett Transit, Community Transit, Sound Transit

    1. off topic, so it would be like Detroit where you have a city bus, and suburban Bus thats services outside the city limits of it.

  12. The argument for charging for distance really only makes sense with express buses or rapid transit rail. In that case you are charging more for a superior service, so it makes sense from a consumer point of view. If you do it on a local bus, it might make sense for the transit agency (“this trip costs us more”), but it doesn’t make sense from the rider’s point of view (“this bus is taking forever to get me to my destination”). Thus if you charge a higher fare on a long local bus you will lose a lot more ridership. The elasticity is higher, and the temptation to drive instead will probably win out. Transit agencies need to act a bit more like airlines, which recognize how you can charge more to targeted groups that are willing to pay more, and that allows them to lower fares on the people just looking for a no-frills trip. In this case people can choose to pay with money or time, by taking either the express or the local. It’s a lot like the HOT lanes that allow drivers to pay for a faster trip.

    1. I think you’re confusing distance with time. Yes, charging more for an express bus is a good idea. But it’s also a good idea to charge more for a long distance bus. Both cost the agency more and are more valuable to the rider.

      1. No, the long-distance bus in not more valuable to the rider! Say I have a choice between taking an express bus that will get me downtown in 30 minutes or a local bus that will take an hour. Charging more for express means I get to choose to pay in time or money. Now say my choice is a long-distance local that goes downtown vs. a short-distance local that doesn’t go all the way downtown. But wait! That’s not a choice at all, is it? I work downtown, so the short-distance route is not an option. From my perspective, a short-distance bus taking me to the grocery store and a long-distance bus going downtown are identical in terms of my perceived utility. I can understand maybe adding a fuel surcharge, but that will drop ridership a lot since the elasticity is higher for slow, long-distance travel. It would be better for the transit agency to save on fuel by switching to hybrid buses, or just focus more on developing faster services like BRT. In any case, the zone system doesn’t do a good job as a fuel surcharge since someone can take a short trip crossing a zone and still pay the higher amount.

      2. “No, the long-distance bus in not more valuable to the rider!” I’m not sure I understand your argument. In your example, the long-distance bus is valuable because the short-distance one doesn’t get you to work.

        If we make it the same price to ride from the far suburbs as a 1 mile trip, we’re incentivizing sprawl. It doesn’t seem like much – not nearly as much as all of our spending on highways – but added up every day across millions of people, it’s a huge amount. The city dweller is paying $5 a day for a trip that costs Metro almost nothing, and the North Bend commuter is paying $5 a day for a trip that’s costing Metro a fortune.

        I agree zone boundaries are an issue, but in the past we had to draw the line somewhere. With GPS we won’t have to draw that line.

    2. Has the idea ever come up to only charge certain riders who board/alight at major destinations (ie park n rides, downtown stations, shopping centers. For commuters using park and rides and going to major job centers it makes sense. For residents using transit just to go a few blocks down the street from a neighborhood stop to another neighborhood stop it would be free thus creating an incentive to the casual rider who may not have an orca pass (and without a monthly pass, its just not worth it to ride a mile or two and pay $2 compared to driving if one owns a car. This would also allow offboard payment (ie at major stations, turnstiles are required, of using fare inspectors at major stops/stations where fares are charged.)

      Clearly there would be some major downsides to this idea (such as people parking near a “free” stop to avoid paying the fare at a park and ride but i think it makes more sense. Why should someone taking the bus from ballard to fremont have to pay the same as someone taking it from northgate to downtown…

      1. This idea has been tried before. It’s called the Ride Free Area. It was a beautiful idea, and it will probably take many years after its demise before people realize just how beautiful it was.

      2. Well, in its simplest form I suppose it is, but the premise is the opposite, charge people for using the stops that have the most ridership, don’t charge for low ridership stop riders. example, HOT lanes on 167 work (well, somewhat) because its a high demand facility. Those same lanes would probably not do as well if placed on 90 between snoqualmie pass and ellensburg.

      3. @runnerodb83,

        The least-used stops are actually more expensive. The time wasted to slow down and speed up the bus is the same whether 1 or 40 passengers are boarding.

      4. Well now we get into that whole discourse about what the goal of metro is? To operate as efficiently as possible with as little county financial support or serve the most people possible no matter what the cost…ideally it should be somewhere in the middle, so unless that gets better defined, we are splitting hairs.

  13. How big is Seattle or urban King County (Federal Way-Issaquah-Bothell-Seattle) in area compared to New York City or Chicago? (Two cities which have flat-rate transit.)

    1. Apples and oranges, because both New York City and Chicago have different agencies responsible for the city itself and suburbs and outlying areas (NY MTA runs different services like the LIRR, but they have different fare structures). But for some reason, we have one agency responsible for Capitol Hill and Auburn.

      In Chicago, all but the innermost suburbs have no substantive bus service. CTA buses almost without fail end at the city limit, forcing a transfer to Pace with a 25-cent surcharge. Metra commuter rail has distance-based fares. New York has one flat fare for subway and local bus, but express buses cost $5.50(!) and again, once you hit the city limit you’re on a different service with a different fare structure.

    2. It’s not apples and oranges. My sense is that those cities are the size of Seattle plus much of Bellevue/Kirkland/Redmond. Hundreds of thousands of people rarely leave those cities’ limits, so we can ignore Pace/Metra and LIRR commuters. We can also ignore Lake Washington because we were forced to build around it (if it weren’t there, Bellevue would be less than half the distance to downtown). The difference that remains is the larger population in those cities, but that just means our transit is more expensive to provide and can’t be as comprehensive. Anyway, within that area there’s no reason we can’t have a flat-rate structure. It’s not like downtown-Bellevue is an extraordinary distance. It’s the same as downtown-Northgate, and would be much less if Lake Washington weren’t there (which we can’t do anything about).

      1. The least-dense parts of the MTA’s service area are on par with some of the densest parts of Seattle.

        Take a look at these maps:

        Seattle density

        NYC density (5 pages, one per borough)

        Ignore Staten Island, which isn’t served by the MTA.

        The least-dense census tracts in NYC have less than 25 persons per acre. In Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, these are few and far between, and it’s clear that many of them are either commercial-only (i.e. no one lives there because it’s all office buildings), or have some weird geography (i.e. they’re right next to a park, or full of water, etc). Only on the outer edges of Queens do you see a significant amount of area with fewer than 25 persons per acre.

        In Seattle, the only areas with greater than 18 persons per acre are downtown, Capitol Hill, Belltown/LQA, the U-District, and Fremont.

        So it’s apples and oranges at least in that sense.

      2. But more to the point… NYC is about 450 square miles (300 if you only count land). Chicago is smaller. Metro serves an area that is over 2,000 square miles. (FWIW, the Sound Transit district is about 1,000 square miles, and they still have a two-zone system.)

        NYC and Chicago are *much* closer to the size of Seattle than to the size of Metro, or even the ST district.

        FWIW, if we keep the current zone system, I’m not particularly wed to the current boundaries. I would be just fine, for example, with having the zone boundaries be “ST district” and “everywhere else”. But charging the same for a trip from Queen Anne to Capitol Hill as a trip from Seattle to North Bend is ludicrous.

      3. I did say the urban part of King County. We can leave the part east of Redmond-Issaquah-Renton-Kent-Auburn as-is. And I elsewhere suggested a premium fare for peak-only expresses, which would take care of the Seattle-North Bend and Seattle-Maple Valley routes.

        We can’t just throw up our hands and say King County is undense and always will be, and we can’t improve the transit or make it denser. Our costs will be higher than New York’s but that’s the price to pay for fifty years of auto-scaled development. We can’t just bury our heads in the sand and say things can’t change and we’ll just march blindly till oblivion when people can’t afford gas anymore. Part of the reason suburban King County is undense is because of the skeletal transit, which makes people cling to their cars because they’re afraid they won’t be able to get around otherwise.

      4. We can’t just throw up our hands and say King County is undense and always will be, and we can’t improve the transit or make it denser.

        Totally agreed… but I thought we were talking about the fare structure? :)

        Anyway, the ST district is (IIRC) roughly the same as the urban growth boundary. So I think it’s fair to say that the area outside that district *is* undense and always will be.

        (And until your recent post, I thought you *were* advocating a flat fare for all of Metro, including trips outside that boundary.)

  14. My solution for the E-Line’s zone conundrum would be really simple: Make Shoreline and Lake Forest Park part of the Seattle zone.

    1. Or make RapidRide E an exception to the zone system. If we ever convert the 120 to RapidRide, it’ll have the same problem.

    2. They’re already part of the West subarea, so that seems like a logical next step.

      If we do have two zones, I think they should be “the zone with frequent routes” and “the zone with hourly routes”. Clearly, anywhere that RapidRide goes should be the former, and clearly, North Bend should be the latter. Aside from that, I’m not really sure. I almost want to say “ST district” and “not ST district”… :)

    3. The ST district did not exist when Metro’s zones were set up. Now that it does and it’s a reasonably good boundary between the city-suburbs and the exurbs, it would make some sense for Metro to adopt it. That would simplify the interagency fare/zone policies.

      In spite of Community Transit’s bad level of local service, I’m surprised at how frequenty it’s more innovative than Metro. There’s Swift of course, and the separate fares for commuter routes (with higher fares north/east of Everett). I was in Arlington last weekend and got to see (but not ride) a “rural” route. CT distinguishes between suburban and rural routes, while Metro doesn’t. Maybe it should.

      1. I wouldn’t call it “innovative”, so much as “open to time-tested ideas from other cities”. :) Charging a different fare for commuter routes is standard practice in every transit agency I’m familiar with. It’s Metro that’s the outlier.

  15. I appreciate Aleks’ math on why putting ORCA readers at the rear doors is a fraction of the cost of putting them at all stops. (And maintenance would be a heckuva lot cheaper.) So, I’m wondering if we should be asking Metro to reconsider putting ORCA readers at the downtown stops and instead put them on all the buses serving the Central Business District.

    Secondly, while we have a lot of diversity of opinion on what the ideal fare structure would be, I think the point has been made, without counter, that the rear-door readers can work just fine with the current fare structure, simply by requiring tap-off to get a rebate from the highest fare on a route. In other words, we don’t need to redesign the fare system in order to show that Metro is overlooking the obvious in their decision to cancel rear-door reader installation.

    What are the other exceptions that the ORCA programming currently doesn’t handle well?

  16. It is sad that an opportunity for a capitol investment that would make the bus move more quickly is losing in favor of preserving the things just the way they have always been (zone pricing). Install the readers and end zone pricing, but charge for express service. Or go the extra bit and implement tap on/tap off with distance based fares. Then give a small discount for using a major stop with an off board card reader.

  17. One thing Metro could do to make the two-zone fare system more workable from a programming and operational standpoint is not to run the boundary line down the middle of served streets. This may be a cartographic nightmare, though, for an agency with a skeletal cartographic department.

    Then, in the schedules, state clearly that all the stops up to such-and-such stop are in the first fare zone, all the stops from such-and-such2 stop are in the second fare zone, and that to pay only a one-zone fare, you need to tap out while alighting. Add to that that tapping out early, and then remaining on the bus, may result in a fine of $124 and is considered criminal trespass.

    But please draw the lines so that no stop pairings end up in different zones, as Customer Service would never hear the end of the complaints.

    Worried about people tapping out early knowing there is no fare enforcement around the zone? Well, a lot of the zone-based fares already involve the honor system.

    ***** A tap-on/tap-off system would create new slowdowns similar to PAYSTTE if implemented without rear-door readers, so it should be implemented simultaneously to the addition of those readers. *****

    One could therefore argue that the lack of rear-door readers makes the current two-zone fare system infeasible.)

    1. It’s trivial to offset the boundary 30-50 ft in GIS but streets provide an easy zone boundary to remember. Just because Metro isn’t showing much in the public cartography doesn’t mean they know nothing about using GIS, which is more than just creating maps.

      Singapore and Golden Gate use the same model of reader that ORCA uses. Also worth noting is that Singapore disables readers while the bus is more than 100 meters from a stop to prevent premature tap-out. They also have two readers at each door, front for entry, back for exit.

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