Link ticket
A Link round-trip ticket was a de facto regional day pass until Jan 1, 2010. Photo by l0st2

Like I said in a previous post, getting riders to switch to pre-paid fare media speeds up bus boarding. The discontinuation of the Ride Free Area next October makes fare payment more critical to transit operations than ever, of which its impacts will be felt throughout the network, including Link light rail.

A set of affordable 1/3/7-day passes could get more cash users switching to the ORCA card and reduce the number of cash transactions on the bus. It will also make transit easier to use for visitors and infrequent riders. This works best with a robust network of fare retail outlets and a lower cost ORCA card.

Read on for my conceptual proposal that works within the existing regional pass system without changing individual agencies’ fare structure. Note that I have not calculated the fare revenue or ridership impacts of my proposal.

One Pass for All for One Price?

Ideally for the rider, there would be just a pass they could buy for a single price that allows unlimited trips for a day. There are challenges to implementing a single price day pass good on all services in this region, due to the multiple fare structures in use by the many operators.

An alternative would be to have a “Regional” day pass good on all regular all-day bus and rail services (Link and streetcar) and a “Regional Plus” day pass that includes premium commuter services like Sounder and CT’s commuter routes. Another alternative would be to have a day pass good for all travel within one county and another one for multiple counties. Whatever the alternative, the idea is to simplify fare payment and speed up boarding, which makes transit easier to use and faster.

Cooperation among agencies to offer a day pass that ignores the minutia of fare structures would be a boon to riders but such a quantum leap appears to be too much for agencies to handle. That is why I propose extending the existing pass system as an incremental step towards that goal, much like how the original PugetPass and regional transfer agreement set up the framework that created the ORCA card. In fact, prior to the expiration of the regional transfer agreement on January 1, 2010, it was possible to buy a round-trip Link or Sounder ticket and use it as a de facto regional day pass! In a sense, we have regressed.

Regional Day Passes

Transit riders who have a monthly pass know how convenient it is to not worry about paying for each trip and expiring transfers. The pass allows for unlimited use within a calendar month and is priced at 36 times the fare value. Make more than 18 round trips and every trip after that is essentially free. The problem is the upfront cost required to purchase the pass, which can cost over a hundred dollars.

To entice cash users to buy passes, more options are needed. I propose a set of 1-day, 3-day, and 7-day regional passes. The passes would work like the regional monthly pass, which lets the rider choose the fare value based on the service they ride most often. Unlike the monthly pass, the day passes are rolling passes which are valid from the first time it is used until its time is up. A 1-day pass would be valid for 24 consecutive hours, 3-day pass for 72 hours, and 7-day pass for 168 hours.

The typical price of a day pass is between 2 to 3 times the fare value. I think pricing the 1-day regional pass at 3 times the fare value would be more acceptable to the agencies, due to the way revenue is apportioned between agencies under ORCA. Reducing the multiplier to 2 or 2.5 would save riders even more money at the expense of agency revenue. The day pass is intended to get occasional users using ORCA instead of cash and paper transfers.

A 7-day pass has the potential to increase overall pass use, as seen in Chicago. Quote from TCRP Report 94:

Studies also show that the 7-day pass, to which much of the pass use increase is attributed, has been successful in diverting many users of cash and tokens to pass use. It is estimated that as many as 60 percent of 7-day pass users were previously using cash or tokens. … In fact, since implementing the 7-day pass, CTA has found it to be extremely popular.

The 7-day pass would be the affordable option for regular transit riders whose limited budget cannot afford a monthly pass. It would be priced at 10 times the fare value, like Portland’s weekly pass. A cash user switching to the 7-day pass would save hundreds if not a thousand dollars annually.

The 3-day pass is aimed at tourists. It would be priced somewhere between the other two passes. For example, it would be priced at 7 times the fare value.

To make these short-term passes work, they must be easy to purchase. That is why more ORCA vendors are needed. It should be possible to load at least two passes on one card to reduce the number of trips to a fare vendor.

Selling day passes (paid from e-purse balance) on the bus would be convenient but may create delays. To simplify the process, there should be a “quick day pass” mode that sets the ORCA reader to sell a day pass for the current fare set. For example, a 1-zone rider purchasing a day pass on a Metro bus during peak hours would get a $2.50 day pass for $5. Day passes of a different fare value must be purchased off-board.

Best Fare Guarantee

This idea is borrowed from London’s daily price capping scheme used on its Oyster card. Like Oyster, you, the rider, will never pay more than the cost of an equivalent day pass and the system “will work out the cheapest combination of fares for all your journeys in one day”.

All ORCA e-purse users would receive the benefit of a day pass without needing to purchase one. They do not need to think about which pass to purchase either. This would be one way to replace the Ride Free Area’s function of facilitating intra-downtown travel.

The concept could be taken further to a weekly or monthly price cap, effectively giving people a weekly/monthly pass after they spend an equivalent amount of money in fares without needing to put down the cost of a pass beforehand.

The bad news is it appears that daily price capping or the “best fare” method has been patented by Cubic, the company that implemented the Oyster card in London. This may mean that implementing the same system may not be possible until the patent expires in 2022 or after licensing the patent or an alternative work around can be found.

Limited-use (disposable) ORCA card

I have heard that the disposable ORCA card is still in the works with no target date for implementation. Based on experience from other cities, such a card would be priced at 25¢ and would last 90 days. Its functionality would be limited i.e. single product type, no balance protection, etc. This comes out to $5 over 5 years, matching the cost of a plastic ORCA card with a 5 year life expectancy. This would be a good option for tourists and people who want to try the ORCA card or for some reason do not want to spend $5 up front for a card.

Do not forget to send ORCA your feedback if you think we need more pass options. Everyone at ORCA will see the feedback, not just individual agencies.

53 Replies to “Day Passes and the Ride Free Area”

    1. Everybody paying $5 for a new card. That will be the peak of opposition to the $5 fee, which currently hits only those who didn’t get their card early or lose the card or it stops working. It’s like a bubble with a known bursting point.

    2. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t think the passes expire after exactly 5 years–I thought it was just a reasonable estimate on the physical lifespan of the plastic card.

      1. I had my original card die after about 3 months use. It was in my pocket with my keys, and one of the keys crunched up against it hard enough to dent it, right in the antenna area.

        I’m still trying to get the $48 I have on the e-purse transferred to another card.

      2. Pain in the ass (literally) isn’t it. Our son tweaked his free card too. He could should have gotten it replaced at the service center in the Bus Tunnel but the wife got him another card and is still hassling with getting the funds transferred over. Good To Go isn’t doing any better.

  1. Several days ago I followed a trail here on STB looking for an annual pass, for which I was told that none exists. Not only do they exist for a select group of transit riders, they are incredible deals. Metro provides ORCA cards to employers for as little as 3 cents on the dollar of value. (Snohomish employer with 20 employees can get a $4.75 annual pass worth $2,052 for a mere $63.92 each) For the employee, you can ride anything to anywhere in the Puget Sound for about 10 cents a trip. Here’s a link to the program. Seattle employers pay more.
    I’m all for increasing transit usage, but kinda feel screwed because I don’t work for Corporate America. I pay full the full meal deal. Where’s the social justice in that rewards system.
    I’m tempted to buy one of these cards on the black market. Craigslist has them listed all the time. But I won’t. I’ll just bitch about it!

    1. Still need an edit feature. Let’s call the program the “Nearly Ride Free Area Everywhere”

    2. I see where you’re coming from but you have to understand the background of the system. The rate employers pay for the pass is based on the actual usage of the system for employers within that “passport zone”. An area with low usage, has a lower charge. The objective of this is to allow for an employer to buy passes for every single employee regardless of whether or not they will use the bus.

    3. No wonder my employer offers this deal! As a bicyclist I enjoy having the backup of an ORCA pass, but if I had to spring for it, it would be far cheaper for me to buy individual rides in cash that way I never have to worry about losing money from a pre-loaded card that isn’t being used all that much.

      And my employer gives them to people who also get the parking subsidy. Still I find that having a pass, I ride the bus more than I would otherwise at lunch time. (vs walk)

  2. I just want to say I was in London earlier this year and I loved the Oyster daily price capping. I didn’t need to know the intricacies of the fare structure (which had both zones and varied by time I think, in addition to there being distinction between the underground and overground), because I could just trust that I would have the best fare possible.

    We absolutely should do something similar. It’s actually really disappointing that the puget sound area hasn’t figured this out yet.

  3. There also need to be =alot= more places within the Puget Sound region that can SELL =all= types of the ORCA card (adult, youth and senior). The current number of retailers is very weak. With the fare structure being way to confusing, it’s at the point that it’s not working. The only time that fares should be different is when you cross the county line, ride the Sounder train or take the ferry.

  4. There definitely needs to be a better price incentive to use ORCA. I have one friend, in particular, who is a semi-frequent bus rider (but definitely not the type to read this blog) and doesn’t use ORCA because it seems like an extra step that doesn’t benefit her. She doesn’t care how long it takes her to dig through her pocket for change!

    1. I’d advocate eliminating paper transfers but that seems to provoke a reaction from social justice advocates. I’d also advocate a means tested provision of ORCA transit passes for those in need. I’d budget about $3million for them which is the same amount of estimated fare evasion occurring on Metro. each year.

      1. One point I left out in the post: Many transit agencies in the US have eliminated paper transfers and replaced them with an affordable day pass (see linked TCRP report for details). Price it at twice the fare, sell it on buses (or do a price cap) and I don’t think you’ll get much opposition social justice advocates.

      2. or a middle ground would be for drivers to collect transfers when riders board, so the transfers will be only be used once (possible when Ride Free Zone is gone). I know that Whatcom Transit(Bellingham), MTA (Baltimore) and THE BUS (Honolulu) does this. In the case of Rapid Ride lines, where the transfers serve as the proof of payment, then the Fare Inspectors will collect them, when they do their inspections.

      3. The problems with paper transfers are:

        – Holding up the bus for cash payment
        – Fare evasion
        – Incentive not to use ORCA

        How do day passes solve that problem? (Not saying they don’t, but I don’t immediately see it.)

        Warren: That provides a serious disincentive for 3-seat rides, such as bus-Link-bus (which will become increasingly common as we build out Link).

        I can’t see how it would possibly work for fare inspectors to collect tickets. What if the bus gets inspected a second time? What if you transfer from RapidRide to Link?

        In general, collect-on-use transfer tickets work best for small systems with one hub and many spokes. If there’s only one transfer point, then of course you’ll only need to use your ticket once. But as Metro becomes more and more of a network, such a system would become a serious impediment.

      4. Correction: getting rid of paper transfers provokes a reaction from Share/Wheel types.
        They use single bus tickets to force users to keep coming.

        Social service that want to improve the lives of their clients just want a cheap way to allow people to get around. Staff retraining is an issue for any change, but the specific solution doesn’t matter.

      5. Aleks: Paper transfers are not valid on Link, so bus-link-bus is irrelevant. However, 3-seat rides are common in our current system anyway, usually local – ST express – Local

      6. Aleks- collecting paper transfers is an immediate step in eliminating paper transfers period (I know that the social agencies would complain, hence this proposal). There is no paper transfers accepted on LINK, and probably won’t either. Yes, 3+ rides would be affected, but if we followed the CTA model (Chicago), Cash Riders pay for every ride they take. My suggestion is at least to allow 1 transfer. Since I drive Rapid Ride A, there has been never two separate fare inspections on the same trip. There are those so called social agency day passes (square shaped), that has been a thorn for drivers. They are misused, has no accountability (in terms of figuring what riders are riding, that is why we have ORCA, so the rides can be determined and revenue dissed out), and the write in date is too small for drivers to read quickly. It would be nice to replace those with a disposeable ORCA card that can be activated by the tap of the card and be useable for 1 day. those can also be used by tourists and sold at more locations. Just a thought.

      7. Warren: You’re missing my point. If we implement your proposal, then we give people a disincentive to take 3-seat rides. Metro’s having a hard enough time simplifying its system as it is. There are some areas that just can’t be served effectively with a direct bus to downtown or the U-District (e.g. parts of West Seattle, South King, etc.).

        My vote: first, fix the network, raise the price for cash fares, and roll out a low-income ORCA. Then, once we’re done, get rid of paper.

  5. I wonder how much non-orca ridership could be captured by a 1,3, or 7 day pass. My gut feeling is that a good majority of passenger that a day based pass would be helpful for be people using transit for single county and single agency trips. If this is the case maybe the best path forward is to work with individual agencies, Metro being the most important, to implement some kind of day pass.

    1. has Metro (or any other transit system for that matter) ever considered shifting to a RFID card?

      kind of a “good to go” pass for people. it works just fine at stevens pass as lift tickets.

      stays in your pocket. could be purchased “charged-up” with some pre-set value, or be an unlimited-ride pass, or a limited (i.e. one day), or linked to a credit-card for pay-as-you-go. any plan somebody could dream up could be supported (think cell phones– 200 anytime minutes (rides) per month, $1 per call (ride) after that).

      the system could keep track of zones ridden, time of day (peak vs off-peak), and whether a boarding represents a transfer.

      it could be a problem when a whole gaggle of riders board at once (whose RFID signal is whose?) but I think those receivers could be focused so that it was just “seeing” one person at a time as they pass the fare box.

      1. Sounds like scrapping the ORCA system for another. RFID requires a persistent data connection to the central server. If the goal is to speed up boarding, why not just install a second ORCA reader at the front door?

      2. ORCA is a contactless smart card. People call it RFID out of convenience but there’s a difference between the two technologies.

        RFID tags (like the Stevens Pass tickets, Mastercard PayPass, and Good to Go! passes) are read-only, like a bar code. They only store an identifier, not the value itself.

        The ORCA card has an embedded computer chip that stores the value. When you tap the card on the “reader” it actually writes the “electronic transfer” back to the card and deducts value from the card, all encrypted.

      3. When the ORCA cards were first introduced I heard a story about a bunch of passengers that had their cards “tapped” as a bus with a particularly sensitive ORCA reader drove by. It was enough of a problem that they had to “dial down” the sensitivity. Like most rumors I hear around Metro, I have no idea if it’s true but given how RFID works, I could see it. All you need is a more sensitive antenna and you’re set. The problem is, how do you read the cards of everybody getting on your bus but not the people standing at the curb. Stevens pass doesn’t have that issue since they likely are just checking to see if everybody going through the line has a valid lift ticket – it’s a much simpler problem to solve.

      4. The maximum operational range for these kind of cards is 10 cm, about the width of your hand. Being able to read cards on the sidewalk but not on the bus seems far-fetched. The antenna of an OBFTP is not pointed at the sidewalk.

  6. With Day passes, hotels could offer them as a benefit for booking a room with them. And for a tourist, it’s a godsend, no need to figure out both the schedules, and the rates and have exact change or where to buy a pass since they don’t stock them at enough places.

    Ideally you should be able to ride the ferry if you buy the “super pass” as well.

  7. When does the current vendor contract expire? At Year 5? Year 10? Can we advocate to switch to Cubic. They seem to be much better at this…

  8. The survey on the ORCA site is very poorly done. They should’ve hired a professional firm to design it. When listing a bunch of options, always have a “don’t know/not applicable” category. Survey Methodology 101; these guys missed it.

  9. Day passes only make sense if they can be purchased at local outlets such as Bartell’s, grocery stores, etc. Or on the bus itself with exact change. Making people come to Westlake Center or 201 Jackson for such would be a pain for sure.
    Most cities in Europe where I have travelled have such passes available… riding the local bus is the best way to get the true feeling of a new place.

  10. Has anyone ever polled some tourists to find out what at what point they’d resist paying full-price single-trip fares for every ride they take? If tranfers go away and the free ride zone ends, buying six tickets (per person)for a day’s puttering about Seattle might seem a bit pricy to some tourists. For instance, say a trip to Ballard in the morning, and then on to the locks, then over to Fremont and Capitol Hill, and finally down to Pioneer Square and the Stadium area.

    I think that something like a day pass or single-day Orca card would appeal to folks like this, as long as it’s as easy to acquire, use, and understand as the current Metro transfers are.

    Overall, I think that it would be a significant mistake to ignore or alienate the tourist sector, because if a lot of tourists decide to always take cabs instead of the bus, that won’t do anything at all to help resolve many of the long-term problems related to transit around Seattle.

    1. Round trip on the Monorail and an adult ticket on the Duck is about $35. The value tourists put on trips to Ballard via transit… pretty close to zero because it doesn’t sell to that market. At least WSF get’s it and makes a “fare” deal of dough on tourists.

  11. How about just setting up the existing ORCA card readers to read Visa PayPass (near field) cards as well? With PayPass you just swipe the card near the reader, same as ORCA, and it subtracts the amount from your credit card.

    1. The reader on the bus has to be able to communicate with the bank/agency server for that to work. Unlike ORCA cards, your credit card cannot store any value or transfer information.

      London’s deploying that on a grand scale for the Olympics so it’ll be interesting to see how that works out.

      1. It seems to me the problems of using PayPass are solvable with proper software in the right places, rather than a fundamental problem with the method itself. If you could get it to work, it would be huge, since nearly everyone, including those who almost never ride transit, has a credit card and, in the future, RFID-based credit cards will become more and more common.

        For example, the server-communication problem could be solved by caching the credit card number on a computer on-board the bus for the day. Then, when the bus returns to the base, they can get transmitted to a central server over a local wi-fi connection and the base’s internet connection. The server can then go through the transaction logs and implement whatever complex fare policies the agency has. For example, it can nullify charges for trips corresponding to valid transfers, or cap the daily or weekly charges to the same card at some maximum. The sever can then contact the bank to actually issue the charges.

        If a charge is rejected by the credit card company, the card number can then be transmitted to all the buses as they leave the base the next day under a blacklist, causing that same card to be rejected in the future. This would increase the difficulty of using a bogus credit card to ride free. While the blacklist isn’t not absolutely secure (you could, in theory, change the number of your fake card every day), for the purpose of enforcing bus fares, it’s probably good enough, as the bother of working around the system far exceeds that of simply paying the fare.

      2. It seems like the easy way to handle this would be combine the ORCA hardware and antenna with whatever is used by the credit/debit smart card. Arrange it so that the ORCA e-purse is linked to the card account via auto-load. An ORCA transaction uses the ORCA hardware; a retail transaction uses the other smart card.

  12. If I were sold on the utility of N-day passes, I’d really like the pricing structure Oran proposes.

    But I’d want the passes to be sold at ORCA re-load locations, not at the front doors of buses. The suggestion to have the pass go live at first tap makes it possible to pay one fare to get downtown, and then get an N-day pass downtown that starts in the middle of the day. It sounds tricky to enact, probably well beyond anything Metro is ready to handle.

    If the goal is to convert lots of cash payers into ORCA tappers, this approach will have a much tinier impact than simply adding a cash surcharge to every single cash fare payment. Plus, I suspect, it is revenue negative.

    1. But which one generates more ridership? With a day pass you encourage more trips on transit because you pay only once for trips that may not take otherwise. Why not do both?

      Why would one need to go downtown to get the pass? Just go to your nearest Safeway or QFC that revalues ORCA and get it from there (more revalue locations, please). Or eliminate the need to go anywhere and do price capping. Automatic day pass, just have enough in your e-purse.

      Technically, day passes are not anymore trickier to implement than changing the expiry date of a monthly pass to 1/3/7 days. The barriers are making them easy to purchase and getting the ORCA consortium to agree on doing it.

      1. Making transit free would do far bigger wonders for increasing ridership (though at heavy cost to dependability and comfort).

        In order to sell the idea of the pass, you have to get clear on what the goal of the pass is. Is it to increase ridership? By how much? Is it to encourage use of ORCA? By how much? On both those counts, an N-day pass nibbles around the edges, with high overhead.

        If I have to go to the grocery store to get the pass, that makes it too much work just to get for N days. (Although I’ve never lived around the corner from a grocery store, to which someone here might ask “Why not?”)

        I’m not hostile to the idea of an N-day pass. I just see it as a distraction that will improve the lives of a handful of transportation nerds while doing prescious little to prepare us for the wave of bus gridlock that is coming October 2012. It’s not like Metro staff doesn’t already have a long honey-do list from the transit nerd community, far exceeding their staffing level. If anything, the proposal to sell it at bus frontdoors will only exacerbate the gridlock.

      2. On the contrary, transportation nerds are not the target demographic of these passes. Metro has raised fares significantly over the last few years. We’ve eliminated paper interagency transfers (a de facto cash surcharge). What can we do to give people who can’t afford a monthly pass the same benefit at a lower entry cost? A 7-day pass. The results from Chicago are promising. We should look at this.

        I disagree that the quick pass sales mode on buses would cause “gridlock”. When the person first buys the pass, it most likely won’t be downtown but near the rider’s home. It’s no different from asking the driver to switch zones on the reader. How well do you think that’ll work downtown at 5 pm? Just get a day pass in the morning and stop worrying about zones.

        The lack of revalue locations is another barrier to ORCA use and should be dealt with simultaneously. It is embarrassing that this is even an issue.

  13. I’m all for the idea of passes because not having to worry about the marginal costs for additional trips – often the greatest cost is not the actual fare, but the hassle of worrying about whether you have the cash with you or whether your Orca card has sufficient balance on it.

    This is especially good for the agency because, while it’s the peak-hour trips to work that justify getting the pass in the first place, most of the extra trips that people make with a pass that they wouldn’t have bothered to make without the pass are likely to be off-peak, when there’s plenty of extra capacity meaning a cost to the agency of accommodating those trips near zero.

    Some cities have gotten this approach backwards. For example, Houston used to offer monthly and annual passes, but several years ago, when they switched to an an Orca-like system, they did away with all passes, making the full fare the marginal costs for every trip you take, in spite of the fact that during the off-peak (and often, even during the peak too!), their buses are nearly empty.

    I would absolutely like to see an N-day pass in Seattle, perhaps bringing back the $5 weekend pass that was recently discontinued. Even though I personally have an employer-provided pass, the ability to get a short-term pass would still be extremely convenient for when I have out-of-town visitors coming in.

    Similarly, I am also disappointed by Metro’s recent elimination of the family discount on Sundays and holidays. There is a very logical economic reason to offer a family discount, which is that the bus has to compete with driving (including rental cars and taxis), which allows up to 4 people to ride for the price of 1. This means that the per-person fare it takes to make transit an attractive option relative to driving is considerably lower for a 4-person group than for one person traveling alone. Charge one person $5 for a 6-mile round trip, it’s a bit high, but still somewhat reasonable. Charge a group of 4 people $20 for a 6 mile round trip and they’ll likely figure that for the same price, they can just call a cab, or drive and pay for parking.

    1. Bring back the family discount but it really needs to become a region wide policy. No use getting the deal on Metro but not on Link or ST Express in an increasingly multi-agency system.

      1. Agreed. Anytime a user has to know or care whether a trip is run by King County Metro, Sound Transit, or whatever, something’s not working as smoothly as it should be. One of the things I really like about my pass is that every agency in the reason is fare-wise, equivalent, so the only thing that matters is which bus goes where I’m going when I want to go.

        That being said, I can see the merits of not accepting the family fare on special-event shuttles. Since they are both crowded and expensive to operate (every trip requires a deadhead, potential layover for several hours if the Mariners get into a long extra-inning game), the marginal cost of taking on additional passengers is actually real in that case.

  14. Cooperation among agencies to offer a day pass that ignores the minutia of fare structures would be a boon to riders but such a quantum leap appears to be too much for agencies to handle

    It’s really a cop-out that a reasonable proposal for a day pass can’t be done because the agencies cannot cooperate or figure out how to share revenue. Sharing revenue among multiple providers is done world-wide, especially in Europe.

    It’s particularly relevant within King County since we have two providers and four fare structures. (MT, ST bus, ST Link, Sounder all operate intra-county service.) In fact, ST contributes to the problem with 3 fare structures.

    Frankly, instead of having each agency set its own fares and transfer rules, with its own political board, there should be a single fare setting process that covers all King County service. There is no reason why senior/junior discounts or transfer rules need to be different, and there is no good reason why fares should be different. Just set a consistent fare for a journey from one location to another. That will also make it easier to elminate redundant service, like Express buses from Kent to Seattle.

    Once there are common fares, we should eliminate the paper transfers, encouraging ORCA adoption, and provide the daypasses – whether they are implemented by price capping or an explicit pass purchase. The pass could be loaded onto an ORCA via an Internet transaction. That could be made to work even if the data hasn’t been transmitted to all the buses so long as the card had some ePurse value – any fares deducted can be corrected after the fact.

    I do think a daypass is a critical need when the downtown ride free area is eliminated.

  15. It seems to me a better way to get a ‘simplified’ fare structure is to consolidate the transit agencies into a single regional system like RTD in Denver. Probably will not ‘fly’ here, but would be a much better system.

  16. I’ve used passes like this all over: Portland, Vancouver, Toronto, Boston, Barcelona, Chicago. They’re extremely convenient. Either as a tourist or doing business in the town, they were great for not having to know you had the right change (or currency) when you needed to get around without using a car or a cab. With the end of the Magic Carpet downtown, tourists will find something like this quite convenient.

    Distribution is often an issue. In Chicago, for instance, they are available at any subway station, but away from the subways only at odd places like a pawn shop. I don’t know of any that will let you buy one on a bus, which can be a problem if you are staying away from rapid transit.

    This year, I worked out of town a lot and probably didn’t get full value for my ORCA monthly pass. A seven-day option would have been very cost-effective.

    Final point of information: some cities use a 24-hour cycle and some a cycle that ends either at midnight or the close of service for that day (say 1 am the next day). As long as they make it clear, either way was fine by me.

    1. CTA 1-day and multi-day passes are available at most CVS and Jewel-Osco stores, in addition to being at vending machines at some stations.

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