52 Replies to “ORCA Wants Your Feedback”

  1. ORCA Ticket (think Chicago Card, Charlie Card, or Breeze Ticket) anyone? How about a mobile device friendly website? Oyster’s Daily Cap? Travel discounts as an incentive to switch from cash (not available on ORCA Ticket – like Charlie Ticket vs Charlie Card)?

    I put these here as food for thought – I’m sure it’s been discussed a million times :)

    1. As with most polls they only ask questions that nobody feels strongly about. If they asked questions about things that would be hard to implement then they might have to do something.

  2. By all means, fill out the survey. Then “Save Page” (File/Save Page from pull down, or Right-click/Save Page on mouse) and send the file to your Sound Transit board member, your county council member, and your county executive.

    I would be good if, whatever other comments people make, every communication could include the message: “No Excuse for No Day Pass!” If you want, explain that you’ll accept daily maximum, or any other means of achieving the same result.

    Patience toward anything that continues to make the system difficult or complicated to use does the system and its governance no good whatever. Inter-agency non-cooperation is not an excuse, but an indictment of everyone involved in it. Cooperation with the officials of other voter-funded agencies is an implicit part of every official’s oath of office.

    The transit system is right to view fare-evasion as theft. But passengers’ time, personal dignity and peace-of-mind should be considered valuable as well. Message to our electeds: Vast majority of us don’t steal from you. Please extend us the same courtesy.

    And be sure to add: Happy Holidays.

    Mark Dublin

      1. Certainly do: the locals who keep driving their cars and the visitors who head for the cab-stand because transit is a pain in the rear to use. Added to the dwell-time on buses while drivers have to explain the fare system- I’ve been told a hundred dollars an hour, or about a dollar sixty-seven a minute per incident.

        Since this is Black Friday weekend, put your last three morning papers in a bag and set them on the bathroom scale. Then roughly calculate the percentage of the weight devoted to promising people deals, discounts, and other exceptions to ordinary prices.

        Whatever its other failings, the commercial sector, whose whole purpose is to maximize its funding source, has always considered it prudent to place as few difficulties as possible in paying for its products.

        Portland manages an easily- available day pass, good on four light rail lines, a streetcar, and dozens of bus routes for five dollars. If we need ten dollars a day, so be it. I’m not asking for anything to be given away.

        But if Krispy Kreme made it as hard to pay as we do- with same posted penalties and uniformed enforcement for “getting it wrong”- a lot more people would be baking at home, including laid-off execs.

        Mark Dublin

    1. There has to be a way to have an ORCA dispenser that charges you $5 to buy the card plus a day pass then when you turn it back in you get credited for the $5. If Redbox can do it then we can do it. If you keep the card it’s yours.

      1. When you buy an Oyster card in London, you’re charged a £5 deposit which you can get back if you return it to a ticket agent. There’s no reason Metro’s customer service agents in the tunnel couldn’t do the same—just hand you five bucks when you hand in your ORCA card. No need to reprogram any TVMs. It’s not a matter of technical feasibility, it’s a matter of revenue and of not wanting to have to give people back their $5.

  3. A lot of the problems I know about with ORCA (though as a monthly pass holder, I rarely experience) have nothing to do with the ORCA vendor and everything to do with Metro policies. With the exception of the online issues, I think the vendor is doing a great job, and the project is a resounding success.

    But I have to wonder, is there a point to the vendor doing this survey? Shouldn’t Metro be doing the survey, and then telling the vendor what they want?

    If you take the time to respond to the survey, I hope y’all CC Metro.

    I just want Metro to make the policy changes that will prevent ending the Ride Free Zone from turning into bus gridlock downtown. They know from their own numbers that the time cost downtown is double the time savings of eliminating PAYSTTE, if they do nothing else.

    Getting rid of multiple-zone routes, and just having local and express routes, would make a big difference in enabling more passengers to start using e-purse. A simple 25-cent across-the-board cash surcharge would nudge a lot of riders to start using e-purse instead of gaming the system to save a few pennies using cash. (Or, in the case of the RRFP, it may have to be called an ORCA-use rebate, to meet the terms of the inter-agency contract.) And, yes, ORCA should become more widely available and refillable, which the eleven new TVMs will hopefully help with in high-ridership hot spots.

    Getting political support for these improvements might be a lot easier if Metro were to unveil a low-income ORCA, based on simple and easily-determinable criteria, such as qualifications for food stamps or social security. The qualification list does not have to be perfect in order to roll out the card, as more criteria can always be added later.

    One should not have to own a car in order to get county council members to stand up to regressivism targetted at them. Do they realize that being bus dependent costs over $1000 a year? One council member voted to raise the cost of youth bus dependancy by $216 per year right before complaining about the regressivity of a $20 annual car tab.

    I think the rollout of low-income ORCA and the introduction of ORCA-use enticements should happen as a package, lest we never overcome political opposition to the ORCA enticements. But if the council has the guts to do the enticements first, I’m fine with that. People will avoid taking any hit (beyond the $5 to get a card) by getting a card.

    So, be careful to differentiate between dissatisfaction with ORCA and dissatisfaction with Metro policies on the use of ORCA. I am very pleased with the product and disappointed with the policies.

    1. We’re on the same side on that one, Brent. Worst, and most avoidable hassle I can see regarding the end of the Ride Free Area involves the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. After-7 fare collection down there routinely delays not only buses but LINK trains- which are already Proof-of-Payment.

      Especially galling is that several hundred million dollars were spent designing fare-collection areas into every station. Those mezzanines aren’t there to be echo chambers for musicians. Idea was that every passenger would arrive on-platform with proof of payment in hand.

      Answer to bad fare-related Tunnel delays now and worse to come certainly does involve ORCA cards: have everybody buy ’em, carry ’em, tap ’em and show ’em. Works for LINK. But propose same for buses, and you get answered with a dozen reasons not to, generally involving apportioning revenues.

      Not big on privatization, but “Business” works these things out in its sleep.

      Mark Dublin

      1. I don’t suppose you’ve heard from Metro or ST about any of the steps they are taking to prepare for the end of the RFZ.

  4. Scary question: What happens when the contract on the ORCA project comes up for renewal at the end of ten years?

    1. It’s probably not that scary. The agencies almost certainly could provide continuity of service with a different contractor or by taking it in-house if they wanted. The current contractor probably has an advantage due to familiarity with the system, but probably can’t push it too far.

  5. I’d like to get a uniform policy from KC Metro about entering and exiting a bus on bus routes that leave downtown after 7pm. Right now some drivers will let you exit by either front or rear door while some drivers will only permit front door exit after 7pm. I asked a friend of mine who’s an operator and he said that Metro doesn’t have a hard and fast rule on what drivers are supposed to do. I say make a decision on what drivers are permitted and let the drivers know what that decision is. I get the feeling that these types of decisions are not really communicated well to bus operators.

    1. Drivers are already instructed on door use after 7pm. In the CBD it’s exit through the front; outside the CBD either door.

      1. I’ve been on several buses where the driver didn’t get the memo. Fortunately, this confusion should go away with the RFZ, so it’s hardly worth wasting our breath over.

      2. Actually I see that the new book says to allow customers to “exit through either door” even in the CBD, regardless of time of day. This contrdicts prior mid-shakeup memo language which was as I described above. Opening the backdoor after 7 in the CBD is a problem at crowded zones, as so many will continue to board via the rear door without paying either intentionally or unintentionally. This change has not been adequately communicated to drivers. Metro management does not do a good job communicating policy changes.

  6. ORCA team seems to sit around and figure the most time consuming, complex way to do something, and then they choose that option. It’s like they want the thing to fail.
    Case 1: I just started to fill out the survey, then on page 3 figured out I had 6 more to go. At that point I said screw it and went back to doing something productive (like bitching about it here)
    Case 2: Several weeks ago I went on the ORCA site to figure out what an annual pass would cost me, so I could compare that with monthly and cash fares to see if it was worth it to buy one. Still don’t know if they even sell one!
    ORCA assumes you already know what you want and keeps trying to get you to ‘purchase it’, without any regard for giving you options or information to make in informed decision.
    How long would Amazon have lasted with that attitude? Pick a book and buy it, then we’ll tell you how much you owe us.
    What total BS.

    1. You can no longer purchase an annual pass. This was actually pretty well publicized at the time.

      1. Well, if you have a business in Seattle with 5 employees, you can get an annual pass good for anywhere on anything for about 1/4 the cost of a monthly pass valued at over $2000 per year (Employer Passport Program), or less than $70 bucks a year for someone in Pierce County with 20 employees. That’s an incredible discount to employers as a perk for employees.
        Then there’s the poor smucks that pay full fare.

      2. Most of the info, including annual pass costs, is here here.

        The pass is functionally a $4.75 Pugetpass. Pass cost varies depending on the business location, and if you are a new or renewing customer. For a suburban business just signing up, the cost is around $100/yr/head. For a downtown business renewing their passes,, the cost is around $500/yr/head. By this chart, Microsoft is paying $208.98 per employee annually for their bus passes.

        To qualify, an employer must have 20+ employees (except for certain areas, where the cutoff is only 5), and they must purchase a pass for every employee. No per-person opting in or out.

        Taking all this into consideration, and comparing with retail pass prices, you can see some of Metro’s assumptions.

        They have to be assuming that in most of the county, 9 out of 10 employees will not ride the bus, even when it’s made free for them. They also have to be assuming that most of the 10% who will bother to ride the bus when it’s free are only making 1 or 2 zone trips.

        I notice that the price in different zones roughly tracks with transit modeshare – the zones with the highest per-head pass prices are also the zones with the highest transit ridership.

      3. That’s a hell of a discount. Say I have a business in Bellevue with 4 other employees. I ride transit to work (cross county) and pay $126/mo for my ORCA card. That’s $1512 a year.
        OTOH, I could buy 5 ORCA Annual Passports for $265 each, or $1325 for all of them, throw 4 in the trash bucket, and still save myself nearly $200 per year.
        Or, all five of us could travel by transit for $265/yr/each instead of the regular price of $1512/yr.
        Anytime you can buy $7560 worth of goods for only $1312, it’s a good deal for someone. Not us smucks though.

      4. Or, you could fish those cards out of your trash bucket and sell them on Craigslist, but then that would be gaming the system, and nobody would ever do that.
        Oh wait, look what I found on Craigslist this morning.

        Corporate Orca card, unlimited balance. get in touch with me if you need more details. I can assure you this is no scam and can back it up with a full refund. You won’t find a better deal, and this will go fast. Works for seattle Metro and Sound transit. I have sold two in the past six months. If you know about these corporate cards then you know this is a great deal.

        Asking $400.00
        Text me. (or Email)”

      5. With all due respect, it is easy for phony ads to be posted on Craigslist, and risky to respond. How would one go about verifying that the card has the value the advertiser claims? And how would the buyer know it isn’t a sting?

        A more interesting question would be how does Metro know a company is reporting its number of employees honestly. Do they ask for copies of tax records?

        I bet Metro would gladly offer numbers on how many businesses buy the passport, broken down by zip code; and how many employees participate, broken down by number of employees per business.

        One other takeaway from this program: Metro is, apparently, working hand-in-hand with Sound Transit on this aspect of ORCA.

      6. Yes Brent, that could be the case.
        My point in following the trail was that it seems unfair for one group of able-bodied adult workers to get a transit ride for about 50 cents a trip, and others to pay full stroke of $3.00 per ride.
        Little guys and Corporate America. Where’s the justice in that?

      7. No, but I’m sure it’s their best effort as part of the Commute Trip Reduction Act in getting SOV riders to switch to transit, along with promoting car and van pools. Market conditions probably determine how much they can reasonably charge for the passports, but that’s just a guess.
        Is it better to pry an affluent MSFTee out of their Lexus, or Joe Smuck out of his 1980’s beater? One group is qualified for the huge discount and the other is not. One group is an easier target market, that’s all.

      8. I could buy 5 ORCA Annual Passports for $265 each, or $1325 for all of them, throw 4 in the trash bucket, and still save myself nearly $200 per year.

        But see, that’s exactly what happens. Because the companies are required to buy a pass for every employee, regardless of whether or not the employee is a transit user, Metro is assuming that at least 4 out of 5 (closer to 9 out of 10) do go straight in the trash bin.

        Re: the purpose behind the pricing system

        I think it’s pretty obvious. Transit modeshare by area tracks with their discount pretty easily.

        In the suburban areas where there’s a 90% discount vs. a 2 zone pugetpass, transit modeshare is so low that you can assume 9/10 of those cards never get used, so Metro/ST breaks even vs selling them to the users at retail.
        In the urban areas where there’s only a 60% discount, transit modeshare is closer to 30-40%, and you can assume that only 2/3 of the cards get tossed out.

      9. Tru B,

        Which would you rather accomplish… dismantling the employer passport program, or getting a low-income ORCA?

      10. Good question Brent. I don’t want to dismantle the CTR effort, and I don’t want another means tested discount scheme, but somewhere in there is a fair balance between the two.
        I doubt any employer throws away the Orca cards, but instead hands them all out to employees, as the program is intended to get a mode shift.
        I suspect some of the cards get handed over to family or friends, who are already transit users. So the net effect is to reduce revenue even further.
        I’d be curious if the ORCA program tracks usage, and flags employers with a higher than normal ratio of non-commute transit trips taken. Then the question is… does Metro follow up on that, and what enforcement action, if any, is taken. Probably none to date.

      11. I’m pretty sure each company has a transit coordinator who can access data for all the ORCA cards purchased by the company. It’s then up to the company to decide what it wants to do with that info. I don’t think the Business Passport program itself limits the passes to commute time only usage, but each company can probably establish its own rules and use the ORCA data to enforce them however they see fit. Note that this ability for someone in the company to see the details of all your ORCA usage raises privacy concerns for some.

        Also, regarding giving the ORCA to friends and family, I don’t know if the Business Passport program has any rules about that, but I do know that many companies have rules against it. My company is generally very liberal about the use our business passes (usage during off hours and weekends in encouraged, etc.), but allowing anyone else to use our pass is grounds for termination.

  7. Pre ORCA there were about 33 locations in Pierce County to purchase passes and ticketbooks. Post ORCA, there are only about 23 (If you count the TVMs). While having the automatic reload (if it works right) is nice, there are still fewer places (and only 3 real service centers) to get the more complex cards tended to, and when you really need help those places and the telephone are only open during business hours….

  8. Idea for an ORCA improvement–“self-renewing” transfer windows.

    When a rider taps once, the usual two-hour transfer window begins. However, if the rider taps again within the two-hour window, the window time is extended by 30 minutes. This can be done an infinite number of times until the window time reaches a maximum of four hours.

    1. Before I had a monthly pass: I had that problem tapping on the last bus I needed to get home just outside of the two hour window.

      I wonder if it is possible to reset if you tap on that same route again (a return trip, for example)

      1. No. Your electronic transfer is set to the time of your first tap. Subequent taps will either register as “passback” or “xfer”.

      2. Ah ok. What I was think of:

        The bus system where I’m from – before they switched to Day Passes – didn’t allow you to transfer to the same route (the transfer would be stamped with the route and vehicle number). Trying to get back on that same route (returning trip, for example) would cause the box to reject the transfer.

    2. But if you pay a surcharge, such as 25c during the transfer window, I believe the 2-hour clock starts again.

  9. I got the survey in my inbox the other day, and I gladly sent it expressing my displeasure with certain aspects of the ORCA system.

    An earlier poster here noted how to not always blame Orca for things that lay on the ST side of the Sounder affair. I have to say it, but is this the best it will ever get? Ugh.

  10. This is sort of pie-in-the-sky… I heard somewhere that some Asian cities essentially have something like “SpeedPass” that works on public transport as well as lots of other places. So instead of having an annoying single-use value-store, you use the same value-store (your debit card tied to a bank account). In some ways that sounds really cool. I don’t know a lot about SpeedPass — it’s probably not generally available enough to use for this purpose. This would also require re-thinking security and privacy models. You wouldn’t want your bank balance appearing on ORCA readers, and if readers were widely available you’d want to have to interact with the pass to allow it to send data. It also would be tricky to handle transfers without additional, transit-specific data in the system. On the financial side of things, we have the technology to handle mobile debit card charges, but you have to pay the bank networks per-transaction, which is excessive for small charges.

    On the opposite side of the technology spectrum, the one time I traveled off the continent of North America I used a bus and train system with no electronic passes that wasn’t plagued by boarding delays at all. The system was all POP, all-door boarding and unloading all day and night. Regular riders (most people) carried passes or multi-ride tickets that collected timestamps from machines mounted near each door; occasional riders (me) could pay in cash and get change from the driver without significant boarding delays. There are reasons much deeper than the bus system that we probably couldn’t make that work in any major American city. Thought about from that angle, bus boarding delays are just one minor symptom of major social problems. There’s a widespread lack of engagement with and understanding of the transit system (I don’t think it’s a matter of system complexity — this particular region’s transit system is probably about as complex as ours, with more fare zones and far more modes but almost-universal ticketing and POP), and the transit system is not alone in this.

    1. The Octopus system in Hong Kong was the first widely-publicized use of smart cards for transit, and it’s valid at all sorts of neighboring businesses. I’ve never seen the purpose of it. (Don’t you already have a debit card? Does it really make sense to use your transit e-purse to pay for shopping? Why not just go retro and pay cash at the cafe and newsstand? Wouldn’t it make more sense to put transit passes on your smartcard-debit card than to use your transit card for shopping?) But it is popular.

  11. All the talk about the “unfairness” in ORCA pricing structure brought me to recall the Tao of transit system equity:

    The fairest transit system is the one that doesn’t exist…

  12. (Finally) sent my feedback to Orca. I forget how much I hate the Orca card until I write it all down in one place!


    I dislike the orca card. Supposedly, the idea of a “smart” card is that you have an agent working on your behalf, helping you pay the correct fare for the services you use. Instead, the card is just smart enough to be a thief that I carry around in my pocket, eager to nickel and dime me whenever I’m not giving it my full attention.

    Examples (some of these may have been fixed since I tried them):

    Drivers _often_ forget to change from peak fare to off-peak. They’re human, this is understandable. The ORCA reader is not human, however (as anyone who’s had to pay double-fare on account of a long transfer that was no fault of their own can surely attest), and could easily not allow peak fare to be charged during off peak times. THE CURRENT TIME IS DISPLAYED RIGHT ON THE ORCA READER ITSELF— THE SYSTEM KNOWS WHAT TIME IT IS. Why then does it not automatically switch from peak to off-peak at the appropriate time?

    Ideally, of course, the system would also auto-switch to/from Ride-Free as busses are retrofitted with positioning systems, though I understand the difficulty in getting location data to the reader. This is less important since the RFA may be going away, and people riding in the RFA generally don’t tap at all, but a truly smart system would do this.

    If I ride Link through part of the DSTT, then transfer to a bus, I’m charged for the link ride as though I’d ridden all the way to seatac. The system knows which bus I transferred to. A “smart” system should assume I’m taking the optimal route and automatically tap me out of link when I transfer to the bus. A “smart” system should know that even if it didn’t know where the bus I tapped into was, that there was no way a link train could have gone far enough in that amount of time to charge the full fare.

    Similarly, If I tap-in to Link in the DSTT, but a bus comes first and I tap into that and ride it to another DSTT stop, I’m charged for a full ride to seatac. This is true even if I try and tap-out at the destination. As soon as I’ve tapped-in with the bus, the link ride is charged the full amount, so tapping-out at my destination does not cancel the link ride, or shorten it to the space between the two stops, but transfers to a _new_, _full length_ ride. This is somewhat mitigated these days by having readers on all the DSTT platforms instead of just in the mezzanines (thank you!), but again, a “smart” system would not need this expensive workaround.

    I lost my card. I got a new one for $5. No problem. The E-purse takes forever to transfer— much too long— but whatever. Eventually I find my old card and my new one gets damaged such that it only reads about 10% of the time. I go to customer service and they insist that I buy a new $5 card instead of being able to transfer back to my old one. This is absolutely unacceptable. I have a valid, working card, and I’m forced to pay a fee because your system is too broken to be able to reactivate old cards. Again the E-purse transfer takes forever. There’s no good reason for it this time though, because the reasoning I’ve heard is that with the old card lost/destroyed, it takes time to make sure that all the transactions have been synced with the system. But in this case, I have the card with me, and it’s readable, just unreliable. The transfer in this case should be instant, but it isn’t.

    The monorail should accept Orca, and not just for taking money from the E-purse, but it should accept transfers and passes. I understand the monorail is operated differently than the rest of the transit system. I don’t care.

    Some ferries accept Orca and some don’t? E-purse only? This doesn’t make sense. I can’t even pay with E-Purse for my car, just myself as a passenger? That _really_ doesn’t make sense! I should be able to pay for myself as a passenger with my pass (+ e-purse funds to make up whatever cost difference), and for other passengers and/or my car with e-purse funds.

    Other suggestions for Orca:

    I like that orca can be used for group fares. I dislike that it cannot be used for group fares on link (even though it was originally supposed to be able to do this). I’ve heard the reasoning that it would complicate the reader interface. I think that group fares are enough of an advanced feature that it’s okay to have a more advanced interface for this. I propose that an orca being tapped after having been used for group fare on the bus transfer the entire group. A second tap could reduce the transfer to a single person, and a _third_ tap would cancel the trip. No extra buttons needed! Group trips originating on link/rapidride/swift could describe their group at a TVM and then tap-in as normal. Again, no need to add (much) complexity to the reader.

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