On Monday, the ORCA Joint Board met for its monthly meeting to discuss the regional fare collection system’s technical, operational, and policy issues. There were a lot of things discussed which I have omitted for this report since I didn’t find them too interesting for the general public.
After a late start due to a special press conference on federal transit funding (which STB received very late notice of and no one made it there), the meeting started with one public comment, probably the first ever to the Joint Board. Deborah Seymour, a resident of Belltown, commented on the triple-fold increase in senior pass prices, the loss of the annual pass and resulting inconvenience of having to buy a new pass every month. King County Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond responded that the King County Council made the decision to increase fares and pass prices. Seymour had written to Councilmember Larry Phillips but didn’t receive a response. Desmond suggested she try the e-purse which may cost less than a pass depending on how often she rides and requires a single load for a year’s worth of rides.
Vix, the system vendor, reported that the migration of operations from Cubic in California is now complete. Cubic bought the US assets of ERG (now Vix) related to the Bay Area’s TransLink (now Clipper) Card project, some of which were shared with Seattle’s. All of ORCA’s operations are now in Seattle, fully under Vix’s control. This means better communication and support on the vendor’s part. For example, on-board card readers and driver display units (DDU) at the new Seattle-based workshop are now repaired in 2 days compared to 9 days from a year ago, on average.
On the ORCA Vision, key questions are how to fund additional work and how to move towards new technology. Desmond said Metro has hired the IBI Group to write a white paper to figure out “what would it take [for Metro] to go cashless?” The paper would answer what sort of policy, equipment, and direction they need to move towards a cashless system. Phase II of the work would be to write a business plan to place a dollar figure on potential changes for a budget request this summer. Work on the white paper is almost finished and is expected to be presented to the Joint Board in April.
The next Joint Board meeting is on March 12, 10:30 am at King Street Center 8th floor Conference Center.
Update on new work, ORCA statistics, and ORCA’s annual budget are below the jump.
New Work Update
On January 23, the Joint Board approved the new work for Maintenance Release 18. For background on MR18 see last month’s report. Some items previously reported to be on MR18 were taken off the list due to cost. The work approved are:
- Security Roles for Ad-hoc Reporting
- Youth Card Replacement
- Portable Customer Service Terminal (most costs are for development, the Portable CST itself costs $13,470 per unit which will be purchased by agencies)
- Institutional Reports (reduces Business Accounts dependency on Lead Agency to set up or run reports)
Total regional cost is $296,047 with $1,390,970 remaining for new work.
Fourth Quarter 2011 ORCA Statistics
ORCA staff produces a quarterly report for the Joint Board that gives an overview of the system’s key performance measures. The Program Management Report for Q4 2011 (scanned PDF) was discussed in the meeting. Also see the third quarter 2011 report (PDF). Below is a summary of figures I found interesting.
The business account website accounts for 40% of total sales, followed by the regular website (18%), Ticket Vending Machines (15%), customer service offices (12%), and retailers (6%). The share of sales at customer service offices dropped from last quarter as more people switch to ticket vending machines.
Out of 26 ticket vending machine locations, the top 5 in sales are Westlake, University Street, Bellevue TC, International District, and Pioneer Square stations. Westlake blows out the others with over $1.2 million or 37% of total TVM sales, followed by 11% at University Street, and 6% or less for each other location. The top 10 locations made 80% of total TVM sales.
There are currently 103 third-party retailer locations. The number one retailer in sales volume is Bartell Drugs’ 3rd & Union store with $354,103. This is Bartell Drugs’ sole location that revalues ORCA cards. It’s also the only third-party ORCA retail location downtown. It exceeds the sales volume at 43 QFC locations combined and is slightly less than the sales from TVMs at nearby University Street Station. The top 10 locations made 49% of total retailer sales. Retailers recieve a 2% commission for fare product sales. Note that “retailers” don’t sell new ORCA cards, they only add value to existing cards.
On to ORCA marketshare, which I define as the proportion of average weekday boardings paid with an ORCA card. For the region as a whole it’s 57.6%. By agency, Sound Transit leads the region at 79% (Express Bus 89%, Sounder 78%, Link 61%), followed by Community Transit at 74%, Everett Transit and Kitsap Transit at 56% of each, King County Metro at 55%, Pierce Transit 38%, and Washington State Ferries at 31%. The addition of UW students with their ORCA powered U-PASS helped increase boardings.
The expansion of retail outlets in the past year has helped increase ORCA card use. Martin Munguia, spokesman for Community Transit, told me in January that “among the population that has no Internet access and no credit cards the key to ORCA success will likely be even more ORCA outlet saturation, i.e., it’s easy to get and load money on a card” (link added by author).
Community Transit stopped giving paper transfers along with Sound Transit on January 1, 2010. Riders have adapted by converting to ORCA. “Change is always difficult”, Munguia said of the public reception to the loss of paper transfers. He notes that “The separation anxiety was relatively short-lived and we get only a couple comments every now and then about not having paper transfers, typically from people who are transferring from Metro or another agency.” The result is one of the highest ORCA use rates in the region.
The largest group of ORCA users are those who received their card from their employer or institution and have a Regional Bus & Train Passport, which allows unlimited rides. They account for 44% of total boardings. The share of Regional Passes, E-purse, and agency specific product are 29%, 22%, and 5%, respectively. Note that a single boarding may include multiple product types.
Just over a million cards are in circulation with roughly a third in active use. An active card has been tapped at least once in a month.
How much does it cost to operate the ORCA regional fare collection system? $4.8 million for 2011 according to a budget summary sheet. The largest cost item is services provided by Metro ($2.4 million) which includes operations management, the mail center, and the regional distribution and inventory center. Second largest is services from the vendor Vix ($1.7 million) which includes clearinghouse services and customer service among others. The rest are for services by Sound Transit and other agencies.
Non-fare revenue for 2011 totalled $171,309. I’m not sure what Card Fees ($147,105) means but if its supposed to mean revenue from selling $5 cards, that’s pretty low compared to the tens of thousands of new cards issued each month. The rest are interest earnings.
Who pays for the operating cost of ORCA? Costs are shared regionally based on ORCA ridership. For 2013, King County Metro will pay 64.28% of operating costs, Sound Transit 18.85%, Community Transit 6.75%, Pierce Transit 5.34%, and the rest approximately 1-2% each.