by STEPHEN FESLER

Photo by Oran

I recently bent my $3.50 PugetPass ORCA accidentally near the chip in the corner and it caused my card to become non-functional whenever I tried to tap. I have another card linked to my ORCA account, so I called Metro Transit to see if I could transfer my PugetPass to my working reserve ORCA.

The Metro tele-agent explained that the transfer of the PugetPass to my working reserve ORCA was possible, but that in order for the PugetPass to transfer, staff would have to receive approval from managers and that the queue was so long that it would take 6-8 days. To move faster, I could just go to one of the Metro sales offices in Seattle. I told the agent to go ahead and cancel the non-functional card and put in the request for the transfer despite not fancying the one-week wait.

The following day I rang up Pierce Transit to see if I could get a different outcome, preferably an expedited transfer. No such luck, same one-week plus response. I then tried Metro a second time, but interestingly, the tele-agent said that my PugetPass ORCA was still active and no request had been filed. The agent also gave the same one-week plus response.

I hitched a ride to Metro’s King Street Center—this is where things start getting interesting and murky. The sales agent said that Metro had no such policy/ability to transfer a PugetPass from one card to another under a linked account. This could only be done by issuing a new ORCA altogether. (The same would go for moving E-purse funds as I found out.) The agent also explained that all of the tele-agents were wrong and that they have routinely made promises that are not possible with the ORCA system.

What this meant for me is bruised patience and forfeiting $5 more for a new ORCA card and 3 hours of my time just to get my PugetPass back.

Here are my takeaways:

  • The waters are still murky on who is right about fare product transfer on same account registered cards from a damaged one to a reserve card.
  • The inconsistency is incredibly trying and disenchanting to the patron because a lack of confidence quickly builds up.
  • If the type of transfer as described above is in fact possible, there is little reason why a transfer cannot be done over the phone considerably faster. It should be within 24 hours, not a week or more; otherwise, what is the point of having a monthly PugetPass?
  • The ORCA website should be amended to accommodate such fare product transfers to be processed without having to issue new cards. Patrons do not need to have more ORCAs; card proliferation is cumbersome and a needless expense in time and money.

57 Replies to “ORCA Fund Transfers and Customer Service”

  1. I urge everyone reading this blog to take the ORCA survey referenced a few blog posts down and express your opinion. I am shocked this service started off so badly and after a few years of operation, has gotten worse. I pay cash. It is easier than the stupid card.

    ORCA is so bad, Comcast must run it.

    1. No, ORCA is awesome. Metro customer service is the problem, from what I’m reading, not the card.

      Paying cash by choice adds to the travel time of everyone else on your bus, which is why I think you should pay more for the privilege.

      Speaking of paying more, I’ve lost a debit card a couple times, and had to pay a $20 “service fee” for each replacement. If someone loses or damages an ORCA, I see no reason why Metro shouldn’t charge a service fee for transferring the balance (assuming that can be done safely without the recipient then claiming “Ooops, I gave you the wrong card number” later on). That service fee, of course, should only be if decent, timely service is provided, which in the case of this story, unfortunately, it wasn’t.

      Please provide this story to the Executive and your county council member, and let their staff follow the trail of bad process. I hope you wrote down the names of the service agents.

      1. Credit unions, actually. And, frankly, I find the charge reasonable. Nor would I put my money in a bank again.

        For replacement of an ORCA, which doesn’t carry the theft liability problems associated with debit and credit cards, and has a limit on e-purse, $20 would be a tad high. Zero dollars takes away the incentive to not damage or lose your card.

      2. You don’t need a monetary policy to discourage you from losing your bank card. The fact that you have to go a week to receive a replacement is plenty of motivation.

      3. It’s a stretch to say ORCA is great. If you have a pass, I bet it’s wonderful. But if you have to deal with the epurse, or god forbid, lose the card, it’s annoying. Also, when I have to fight with the driver to let me on b/c the card decided not to load, that takes a lot of time.

        ORCA is an excellent concept if it allowed to be awesome, but our pile of semi-competent transit agencies half assed it’s implementation and it shows.

      4. I’ve never had to pay a fee to my CU for a new card, and I lose the damn things about once a year usually.

        Last week I signed in to ORCA to review my account, and after only a spring and summers use the card number are quickly disappearing. What happens when the security code is gone, can I still look up my acct? It isn’t the easiest thing to do, btw. I had to wade through the looking up of my ORCA password and name since I forgot both.

      5. Out of curiosity: Does anyone have a success story in getting their ORCA balance transferred?

        Not me. I still have ~$50 sitting in e-purse on a damaged card from 2 years ago that I’ve never been able to recover.

      6. I’m not out to exact punishment on staff. Most of them were quite nice and genuinely seemed like they wanted to help. That’s not the problem. But rather it is a problem of communication, process, and possibly ORCA capabilities.

      7. What credit union are you using? I’ve lost my ATM and credit cards multiple times, and never had to pay a fee.

        And yes, as everyone else said, not having your card for a week is punishment enough… no fee is necessary.

      8. On my last trip to Boston, I discovered that my CharlieCard from the original 2006 roll-out had hit its 5-year expiration date (which had been set to the most conservative estimate of wear-and-tear degradation).

        I had to figure out where to go to address the problem (Downtown Crossing, in the concourse under Summer Street), but once I got there it took me all of 30 seconds and $0 to get my balance transferred to a new card. It’s good until 2021.

        Lessons for ORCA: central service location; plenty of open windows; staff with knowledge of pressing fare-media problems and an easy way to fix them; no penalty to the customer.

      9. If the ORCAcard website would permit users to move their ePurse balances between registered cards, it would solve most of the problems of lost or damaged cards and eliminate the requirement to have to contact customer service.

        Same idea for the monthly pass.

    2. JayH overlooks one other obvious point: If you lose your cash, Metro isn’t going to give you a refund. ;)

    3. I’ll admit ORCA is best with an unlimited employer provided pass. Second best is with an auto-loaded monthly pass. Worst by far is with e-purse. Still I prefer e-purse in spite of the hassle to cash during months were I’m not using a pass.

      I wish ORCA/ST/Metro would offer a discount for loading more than a certain amount to your e-purse. If someone is purchasing an ORCA product over some dollar amount the ORCA card itself should be free rather than $5. There also should be “rolling” versions of the Puget Pass product. Why can’t I buy a Puget pass for any arbitrary 7 or 30 day period?

      1. Don’t expect any of these wishes to come true without a funding plan. At least a cash surcharge comes with a funding plan.

  2. Man, I knew the transfer experience was going to be bad, but I had no idea it was that bad. My account has a few cards on it (my wife’s on my account too). We lost a card a while back that still has $5 on it. I tried the email route, to no avail, to transfer the balance over to one of our other cards. They said I’d have to report one card lost / stolen, then they could do the transfer, but it couldn’t be done over the phone or via email.

    I have filled out the survey, but I have to ask… why not give an account free access to transfer balances between registered cards? I don’t know if this is a serious lack of good customer service or if this is more of a stupid technical limitation on their end.

    I haven’t gone in yet to do this because it hardly seemed worth it for such a hassle to transfer the remaining $5 over. Maybe that’s what they want?

    1. I don’t think anyone *wants* to provide poor service. It’s not as if anyone in Metro Customer Service gets a small bonus for denying the transfer.

      It’s more likely that they are either (a) understaffed, underpaid (for purposes of keeping competent agents around), or undertrained; or (b) if you want a conspiracy theory, they want the budget writers to believe (a).

      The best way to test the understaffing theory is to collect data, or at least stories, on *how long* it takes to get a live voice on the line or to the front of the line at the service desk. That, at least, is objectively measurable, and could get built in as a regularly-reported service benchmark.

      1. Well, those are regular call-center performance metrics. You bet your ass the managers at the ORCA/Metro call centers are getting daily reports of average hold times and call lengths, and reaming motivating staff members who have longer-than-average call times.

        That is, assuming that ORCA’s call center operates the same was as the vast majority of call centers. The only performance metrics a typical call center cares about are hold times and call lengths.

  3. My daughter broke a card so we went in, bought another one and they put in the request to transfer the balance to it (at the CT store in Lynnwood). We were told it would take a week. It was NEVER transferred. Maybe the ORCA people need to school the folks selling it what it can do.

  4. At least you have a human with which to interact. The RFID card (“TAP”) users in Los Angeles must do any transaction either online or over the phone.

      1. It’s hard to argue that the balance protection is free when the card has a monthly maintenance fee, reload fees and ATM fees.

      2. $4.95 monthly maintenance fee? I hope the agencies give a fare discount to compensate for that. Otherwise, that would really go over well in ORCA-land. “What, not only do I not get a non-cash discount, I have to pay $5 a month to use the card?!!!”

      3. Both TAP and ORCA are asinine, incompetent implementations of fare technology.

        I really don’t know why LA and Seattle refused to look at what places which *got people to adopt their cards* did. First, the cards are free (no fee to get them in the first place). Second, they are available at all major train and bus stations. Third, they are refillable at all train stations and all major bus stops….

        Not difficult, as a recipe.

  5. “The waters are still murky on who is right about fare product transfer on same account registered cards from a damaged one to a reserve card.”

    As someone who has posting privileges transit blog, it’s your responsibility to get to the bottom of who is right before posting your piece. Think of yourself as a quasi-journalist, if that helps.

      1. If I were a transit blogger and I wrote this post, I would not only have gone through the normal channels, like a regular befuddled customer does, but I would have dug deeper, getting in touch with my contacts within Metro. I would have contacted the the person who’s in charge of the ORCA program in this region and interviewed them. And I would have contacted the company that created and operates the system (Vix Technology)?

        Well-rounded, comprehensive research is one of the responsibilities of a serious blogger.

      2. I appreciate well-rounded, comprehensive research in a blog, and I often see that level of effort here. But it’s far from a requirement. Remember you’re using a free service put together by volunteer effort.

      3. I think the experience someone had with ORCA from a first person perspective is especially important in this case because this problem is all about issues users have with ORCA. Talk to upper management they’ll tell you why it is how it is, but a customer doesn’t give a hoot. They just know its a pain in the ass.

      4. I did try to dig deeper. I spent a half hour waiting to speak to a manager over the phone. (Which, mind you, the tele-agent did not want to do since they thought I was going to complain about them personally. I wasn’t, but rather the whole process.) When I showed up to Metro’s offices, I didn’t want to slow down the process for everyone else waiting in the queue and I had to get going anyway because my ride was heading back south. Maybe I’ll eventually get a subsequent respose from the 6th Metro employee on this matter.

      5. I believe that the fact that “the waters are murky” on the issue is in and of itself part of the story here, so no I don’t think that there was any inherent responsibility to answer the question as part of the issue is that it needs to be asked at all.

  6. I’ve had multiple problems with ORCAs auto load feature, which I will say was my fault for not updating my billing location when I moved. However what was extremely annoying is that Metro customer service is disorganized and not operated like a modern business.

    I tried to call on multiple occasions and wasn’t able to even wait in a line to talk to someone, it just sends you straight to voicemail. Then when I was able to get in touch with someone via e-mail I wasn’t able to correct and outstanding bill I had to Metro without mailing a check or taking it to one of their offices even though Metro has my credit card billing information.

    This creates a system that just begs for people to cheat Metro and not pay.

    1. I had an autoload issue myself (turned out there was one digit off in my ZIP code for my credit card info) and I had to pay cash for “autoload failure repayment”.

      Now, why no agency notified me when the card failure happened was beyond me. In my case, after several days of the $81 not leaving my bank account, I got worried and went into the King Street Center office. Had to ride a bus up to Westlake to get cash, then ride back to King Street and pay the $81.

      Memo to Metro: when a customer has an autoload failure, a timely notification is in order – especially if it was something as simple as a minor mistake in credit card addresses :\

  7. To paraphrase my friend Steve: in a day and age where we can pay for our coffee with a picture on our phone and the balance updates itself in a matter of seconds, why does ORCA have to be so unreliable and slow?

    1. Huh? I’ve heard about how difficult it is to transfer value, but what else is slow about ORCA? It is still way faster than paying cash.

  8. You can transfer the puget pass instantly (I’ve done it twice), but the E-Purse money takes a week. The process is clearly built around having a lost card, so they need to make sure that every orca reader has had a chance to check-in and update your balance before they’ll move the funds over. This doesn’t make sense if you still have a readable card to transfer from, but they don’t seem to care to make the process smooth.

    I had to buy a new card even though I had a perfectly good backup to transfer to— they told me it wasn’t possible since the card had previously been deactivated. Sigh.

    I posted a pretty long rant in the last ORCA thread, but probably too late for anyone to actually read it. I hate orca so much…

  9. I’ve reported two cards as lost or stolen (both times I dropped it, realized, and it was already gone about a minute later). I did it on the Orca card website. In two days, I got a new card in the mail with my pass on it. The E-Purse did take a little longer to transfer. I guess it could have been a week.

    1. Well that’s handy. But did they tell you a week wait time? Considering all the effort I went through, it would have been better to treat it as lost/stolen if the tunraround were that quick.

  10. I agree with two viewpoints here:

    1. Electronic fare cards are a very good idea.

    2. Since ORCA’s inception, the particular system we’re using has given ongoing daily evidence that it was conceived with very little regard for the convenience of either the average passenger or the average customer service person, and downright nastiness for passengers unconversant with computers.

    So, with the arrival of the Holiday season in the middle of a major depression, here is what I would recommend:

    All the participating agencies should cooperate on an agreement to “blizzard” the region with coded paper day-passes, from TVM’s, convenience stores, and transit drivers, for a reasonable sum- if Portland Tri-Met can live on $5.00, how much more do we need?

    Some of the cost can be chalked to the marketing budget. And all the local retail communities might be glad to give people an inducement to come see them on transit these next couple of weeks.

    But in addition, major part of the plan would be to also blanket the region with collection stations- as well as TVM’s, fareboxes, and the rest- where passengers can donate at least their spare change to the program.

    The last one is really my favorite, because it really gets to the heart of the real solution to our current politically-aggravated economic stall: when the system can’t get our work done for us- let’s do as much as we can ourselves.

    Mark Dublin

  11. Ah, Seattle… where everyone in charge of everything suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Combine this with King County Metro’s real reason for being, i.e., as a mobile warehouse for the underclass, and it’s amazing anyone thought this would actually work. In Bellingham, you get on through the front door and put a buck in the farebox. Or you buy a pass for $25. Much too simple for anyone in Seattle to understand.

    And yet people still don’t understand why I bought a scooter

    1. The idea behind RIFD cards is the ability to verify the car’s validity electronically (holograms proved to be not enough) and the ability to add a new month’s pass electronically, no need to mail customers a new piece of hologram-paper or sticker.

      And then there is the e-purse feature which makes exact fare payment a two-second, verifiable action; which is isn’t when one uses coins/bills on the current fare boxes (slow) and wasn’t on the old hopper fare-box (easy to cheat).

  12. I’ve had the same problem as others here. My daughter lost her Orca card and they ordered up a replacement right away, but she couldn’t use the existing balance because it takes 10 days to automatically transfer from the old card. No human can intervene, end of story. When, two months later, I saw that the balance was still shown on the blocked card, I was told that the transfer had actually occurred, but that there’s a system error that continues to show the old balance on the blocked card. I have no way to verify that either way at this point.

    Someday if Orca is ever complete and stable, there ought to be a phase 2 upgrade. The original system was designed almost exclusively around the accountants’ interest in reconciling transfers between agencies. The upgrade would be focused on being usable to customers. For example, I administer cards for two teenagers – why can’t I associate a card with each of their names? Why do I have to conduct a separate credit card transaction to recharge each of the two accounts? Where are email notifications if one of them has a low balance? Why do I need to go down to the customer service center with my kids’ birth certificate to get the youth fare, when they ought to be distributing Orca passes through the schools?

      1. No, I haven’t been in for a couple of months. I went back and forth by email this last time. But it’s nice to know it’s not just me!

  13. About a year ago my granddaughter lost her ORCA youth pass down a toilet at her part time job. We went to the Lynnwood CT center and using her school ID they transferred her pass to a new ORCA for $5.00.

    No hassle. Pleased customer.

  14. As further warning against overgeneralization, I hope nobody draws the conclusion that Metro should slow down their efforts to induce more ORCA e-purse use.

    The time lapse in getting value transferred for a monthly pass is costly to the monthly passholder. If it were consistently successful within a reasonable lapse of time, I’d just say monthly passholders are already getting a sweet deal (compared to pay-per-riders), and an occassional week of paying with cash still leaves monthly passholders coming out winners.

    As to e-purse, paying cash in the interim isn’t a big loss. But when balances aren’t actually getting transferred, that is not okay. If I knew Metro’s policy and practice was that balances on registered cards do get transferred, and in a timely manner (say, not more than a month), then the time lapse really shouldn’t be a deterrent to using ORCA e-purse, given how infrequent it is that e-purse users end up getting a price break over paying with cash.

    Full steam ahead on the universal cash surcharge, I say! As the number of e-purse users balloons, Metro will have to fix the customer service issues.

    1. Putting it a different way, the guarantee of transferring e-purse value on a registered card to another card (even if it has to be a new one) may be the difference between moving the non-commuter ridership to e-purse, and keeping them using cash. (That assumes such a movement gets induced, by making it more expensive to pay with cash than with e-purse.)

  15. Thanks for sharing this eye opening details about PugetPass ORCA, I am sure many of us are facing this issue. I wish the Pierce Transit should create methods for easy transfer of funds. Well in return, I would like to share information about a wonderful website of the South Sound called papakali.com which is promoting the idea of ancient way of story telling by community lore. The most interesting aspect of this website is the readers themselves are allowed to add their own stories to the already existing tales of the South Sound.

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