Getting cash paying passengers to switch to the ORCA card can speed up bus boarding for everyone and save operating costs. However, there are many who continue to use cash. There are many reasons for this but I would like to focus on just one: the lack of places to buy and reload a card.
There are only 139 locations in the entire four county area where one can add value to their ORCA card, only a quarter of them sell new adult cards, and a handful (with very limited hours) sell youth and senior cards. This is inadequate. Retail locations cannot sell new cards which is a step backwards from the pre-ORCA era and a big mistake. The coverage of ORCA outlets really is pathetic by comparison to Chicago, London, or ORCA’s sister system in San Francisco.
In spite of the limitations, ORCA is now used on half of the region’s transit trips. That was most likely achieved through conversion of pass users to ORCA, many of whom have employer managed passes. That was the easy part. The challenge now is to convert the other half to ORCA users and attract new transit users.
Not everyone has a debit or credit card for online or over the phone transactions. Not everyone can use the Internet nor can they afford to go out of their way at inconvenient times just to get a card. It is even more inconvenient for youth and seniors. And while one can buy an adult or youth card and fare with checks or money orders through the mail, it can take days to process.
If ORCA is to be used by over 80% of transit riders, it must be easy for all users to get a card and add value to it near home or work or on the way. King County’s approved 2012 budget provides funding for eleven ORCA vending machines throughout King County, one of which will be installed at King Street Center. That is a good step towards making ORCA more accessible but vending machines are expensive and other card distribution channels like retail outlets should be studied for expansion.