Atomic Taco/Flickr

The ORCA consortium is selling a limited number of cards at seven Saar’s Market locations in South King and Pierce Counties.  They’re open 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, but only for a limited time. Those seeking a reduced fare ORCA are out of luck.

In more permanent news, PSRC has $1m in FTA money and is considering spending it on ORCA vending machines, and they’re taking public comments:

The machines will be located in existing public places, such as King Street Station, community colleges, shopping centers, libraries, municipal buildings and park and rides throughout King County. The public review and comment period for this transportation project will run from April 3 to 26, 2012.

How to make a comment:

Mail: Puget Sound Regional Council
ATTN: Kelly McGourty
1011 Western Avenue, Suite 500
Seattle, Washington 98104-1035

In Person: April 12 at 9:30 a.m. or April 26 at 10 a.m. at PSRC

59 Replies to “ORCA Becoming Slightly More Available”

  1. The Saar’s experiment will be interesting. Saar’s is definitely not aiming for the QFC or Metropolitan Market type of consumer. The only Saar’s location within Seattle’s city limits is across the street from Rainier Beach High School.

  2. So yesterday morning … my Orca Card died.

    It wasn’t broken, wasn’t bent, wasn’t damaged in anyway … it just stopped working.

    This happened when I arrived at Campus Parkway … luckily I had an understanding driver on the 72 who let me ride back downtown without paying so I could go to the pass office in Pioneer Sq.

    When I got there … their computers were down. (yay technology)

    Anyway … about an hour later I was able to get a new Orca Card. Problem is … I still got charged $5 for the replacement.

    Now I can understand getting charged $5 if you lose your card … or it is physically damaged … but there was no obvious cause as to why mine no longer worked. I kept it in its sleeve … and I took care of it.

    I don’t think that it is fair to be charged when the problem isn’t of your own doing. But … since one has no choice in the matter … I paid the $5 for the new card. My 4th since Orca began … 2 Failed (mysteriously), 1 Cracked.

    Anyway, the folks at the pass office were nice … but they were unable to waive the fee for me.

    1. If the card stops working and you didn’t physically damage it, they should replace it for free.

      We must be just about the only transit system that not only doesn’t provide any discounts or incentives for using an electronic fare medium, but also has such user-unfriendly policies – like limited availability, long lags to recharge, blocking it if your autocredit fails, and a high charge for the card…

      1. Last time in LA I paid cash fare on a Culver City but and I think a transfer to an LA Metro bus was an extra 25c – no electronic medium required.

        We had intersystem transfers prior to ORCA, ORCA didn’t create them, and we still have Metro paper transfers. You are right, they created a fare increase for non-ORCA users who need to transfer. And a screwy system where paper transfers are usually worth around 2.5 or even 3 hours but must be bought with cash and limit you to Metro, while ORCA transfers are stricly 120 minutes.

      2. After visiting LA i think its appropriate to add a suitable surcharge to our paper transfers. Say .25 for Inter-County, and .50 for Intra-County transfers. This would help offset the cost of printing and stocking them, provide an incentive to use ORCA, and restore some fairness to cash transfers incase your ORCA isnt working for whatever reason. I still think that more needs to be done to improve the ORCA program. Improved website, better hours for the telephone call center and customer service rep’s, and increased availability with added machines at popular locations.

    2. Same thing happened to my son’s Orca card when it was only a couple of months old. It was a royal pain to get replaced. They should have a clause in the vendors contract that reimburses Metro for the full cost of issuing replacements and a penalty that covers lost fares.

      1. They’re working on making it easier to replace youth cards. Unfortunately, improvements to make balance transfer easier have been postponed due to cost.

      2. Actually it wasn’t even a youth card, he’s in college. The pain was that we’re on the eastside and the only face to face place to deal with it was DT Seattle. WSDOT openned an office less than a mile from our house to sell Good2Go passes. I’ve been by a few times and never seen more customers than employees. A little interagency cooperation here would have been nice and saved everybody some money and a lot of hassel. And speaking of interagency cooperation, I still don’t get why you can use Orca to pay a passenger’s fare but have to use cash or credit for car and driver on WSF.

  3. Is there any word on whether KCM, or the ORCA governing board, will introduce policies to incent ORCA adoption in conjunction with RFA elimination? E.g. discount for ORCA ePurse vs. cash, all-day-pass?

      1. The agencies don’t have to agree with each other to each individually raise their cash fares. They never have had to before. They don’t have to start now.

        The interagency agreement is about revenue and expense sharing.

    1. One of the King County Metro transit planners I spoke with at the RFA Open House told me that they are talking about a day pass as part of the RFA going away. Not guaranteed, but they are talking about it.

      They had also heard lots of ideas about creating a cash incentive, but seemed a lot more pensive about that idea…

      1. Day passes are great. But they won’t do much to stop the meltdown on September 29.

        ORCA-based day caps would be revenue negative, so I doubt they would happen, but that would be somewhat of an ORCA incentive.

        Paper day passes sold at the front of buses, just like the old weekend day passes, would be a strong incentive to pay with cash, albeit mostly outside the RFA, since few live inside it.

        Intra-agency day passes could be done easily, but a lot of thought needs to be given to how they are done. Inter-agency day passes require agreement of all the involved agencies. I don’t see that happening with much speed.

      2. BTW, Will, thanks for the inside gossip.

        My greatest fear about day passes is getting realized: that political leaders are fooling themselves that it is an alternative to cash fare differential. They don’t seem to realize that day passes and cash fare differential solve different problems, and the problem the day passes solve has almost nothing to do with September 29.

        Advocacy for day passes is hindering our readiness for September 29.

  4. I recently got back from a trip to Dubai. Dubai has a newly open (last few years) metro system. It is a state of the art (and very expensive) system. What i noticed most was that they use a contactless card system like orca. However their normal tickets and day passes (yes they have day passes) are simple paper ticktes about the size of a normal orca card. I put one up to a light and noticed that they have the same internals of an orca card (chip, antenna) but the whole card was just paper. This has got to be cheaper than a full plastic orca card right? Why cant we do a similar system. With ticket and day pass dispensers that dispense disposable paper contactless cards.

    1. This has got to be cheaper than a full plastic orca card right?

      Yes and no. Those limited use RFID cards are less expensive than the ORCA cards, sure, but plain paper tickets are less expensive than that.

      I’ve seen this type of ticket used in many places successfully (I think I have one from Lisbon that was a gift), but I’m not sure if it’s right for Seattle at this point. We would have to load buses with pre-authorized day passes to sell and the ticket vending machines aren’t set up to do those types of tickets smoothly. It would have to drop the paper ticket, then ask the user to drop it in the little card holder, authorize it, and then they could go. A lot of people would skip the last steps leading to confusion. Our system could accept those cards with some massaging (they are not incompatible), but it wouldn’t be as easy as flipping a switch (correct me if I’m wrong about the ticket vending machines not being able to write to a paper pass in the machine. I’ve never seen the guts).

      Now, if we had a solid system of resellers, off-board ticket sales, and read/write on the bus that would be a possibility, but at this point it’s less expensive to offer paper day passes ticket like Sound Transit does.

      1. I would think that if the TVMs can write to an ORCA card in the machine then they could also write to any limited use paper passes. The readers on the bus are also read/write AFAIK.

        My understanding of the limited use cards was that they didn’t actually store any value or pass info on the card, which is why they’re less expensive (no encryption needed because there’s nothing on the card to hack). I don’t know if our current ORCA readers are compatible with this.

        Additionally, if no data is stored on the card (just an ID number) then we run into the same update problem we have now with recharging ORCAs: a reader on a bus has no way to know that a day-pass sold at a TVM is valid until after the bus has been back to the base and updated overnight. In order for the system to work either the card or the reader has to be able to prove that the card is valid. With a simple RFID tag and bus ORCA readers that aren’t updated in real-time this isn’t possible.

      2. Aren’t the single-use tickets you get from the machines paper? I don’t really know as I’ve had an ORCA from the beginning, but I seem to recall friends with paper single-use tickets riding in to events on Link from Tuk-town or on the Sounder from Tacoma.

        Of course, I have no idea if they could change to an RFID card system.

        (It seems as though everybody has day passes but us. Greenville, SC has freaking day passes.)

      3. Yes, I think the current Link tickets you buy for a single trip are just a piece of paper with ticket info printed on it.

      4. Link does have cardboard tickets. But they’re not refillable or usable later in the day, or on buses. That’s what people are asking for. A cheap temporary card that’s accepted like ORCA, but with a lifetime of somewhere between one week and two months like MARTA’s visitors’ card.

      5. @David Seater: I would think that if the TVMs can write to an ORCA card in the machine then they could also write to any limited use paper passes.

        Do the machines spit out ORCA cards with the pass/value on them? I actually don’t know. You would still need a mechanism to feed it two different RFID cards and I am willing to get that whoever put out the order for the machines didn’t think of that. Then again, maybe it’s ready to go?

        @Scott Stidell: Aren’t the single-use tickets you get from the machines paper?

        Nope. Plain card stock with information printed on it. Nothing fancy with it at all and no RFID.

    2. The great thing about simply raising the cash fares is that it doesn’t require any new technology (as in, new to Metro/ST/CT), or rolling out any new fare medium. All it takes is a vote of the county council, reprinting a few signs, and adjusting the counter on the cash fare boxes.

  5. How many ORCA Vending Machines can $1 million buy?

    Has Metro decided where they will place the ones for which they budgeted, or is this them?

    This time, can they be properly called “ORCA Vending Machine”s? I bet a lot of riders are still walking right in front of “Ticket Vending Machines” and don’t know where to get an ORCA.

    1. At roughly $750,000 a piece, they can get 1 and some spare parts. It’s almost comical.

      1. There’s no way those machines are $750k a piece. Remember, accounting tricks can be deceptive (see the uproar over the $16 congressional muffins as one of many examples).

      2. It’s hard to swallow they cost that much. (ref?).
        Swift or Seattle parking TVM’s range to about $20k ea, so for $1m you’d get 50 machines. That’s a lot of stops in the RFA….or just…
        Retrofit the parking TVM’s for a “Transit 2hr Ticket (ride anything to anywhere) for say $3 bucks would really help out at the farebox in the not-so-RFA in Sept.

      3. I find that I am able to use my credit and debit card near field capability at more and more stores. Why can’t we just use those?

        Visa payWave lets you breeze through check out faster since you don’t need to fumble for cash. Simply wave your card in front of a secure reader and you’re on your way. Most of the time, you don’t have to sign for purchases under $25, making checkout even faster.

      4. There is no way they cost $750k each. That cost must include something in addition to the machines themselves. The city of Zurich is installing 1100 machines nearly identical to the ones ST purchased, and they’re not paying a billion dollars to do it.

      5. The TVMs that Sound Transit use appear to cost roughly $66,500 each. The 2012 Proposed TIP (page 130) shows the lifetime TVM capital cost to date as $6,849,000 for 103 purchased TVMs (95 installed). ST is budgeting $829,000 over the next two years for additional TVMs; at the average cost to-date that would buy roughly 12 more.

      6. Hi the post button too quickly… you need to remove the 61 TVMs at Link stations because ST included those in the Link capital budget, not the Service Delivery capital budget. Average per-unit cost once you remove the 61 Link TVMs is about $165,000.

      7. I find that I am able to use my credit and debit card near field capability at more and more stores. Why can’t we just use those.

        Seriously, long time gripe of many. But the technical answer is that we don’t currently have good enough wireless data connections to the buses, and the financial answer is all the transaction fees Metro would end up paying.

      8. @John Bailo: I find that I am able to use my credit and debit card near field capability at more and more stores. Why can’t we just use those?

        Do we want to? I’m not in favor of giving 1-2% of the fare revenue from metro to VISA just because they are an established player with wireless payments.

      9. Given the huge cost of each ORCA VM, that 1-2% fee to credit card companies doesn’t seem so huge. Besides, people have complained about how difficult it is to find an ORCA vending location.

        At any rate, I know there are a few agencies around the country that work with credit/debit cards, so anyone who wants to can call them up and find out how it has worked for them.

      10. Note that allowing other devices for fare payment is part of Metro’s year-long study on increasing ORCA use (which, btw, will probably be cited as another illogical reason not to alter the fare system until the study is completed).

        I hope several of you bid to perform the study, or form a consortium to do it. Several bloggers here already know most of the answers Metro is seeking, and will gladly go on some paid junkets to observe the cutting edge of fare technology, and talk with transit agency heads from around the continent.

        I think Metro will get more bang for their buck giving the contract to a group of freelance transit engineers than giving it to whoever contributed to the right officeholders’ campaigns.

      11. @Brent: Given the huge cost of each ORCA VM, that 1-2% fee to credit card companies doesn’t seem so huge.

        I’m not saying that it doesn’t have its advantages, but I’d rather keep as much money locally and within the system as possible and I think that some competition would be healthy for the payment processing market. What I’d like to see is a publicly held payment processing company and something like the ORCA card seems like a great place to start.

        It’s not like the idea is so far out there. Japan has been doing it for years with their SUICA card (like in this video: Transit customers paying with their transit passes as businesses near transit would be a great thing and I’d prefer if that 1-2% stayed here, paid for that system, and maybe contributed to funding transit in the long run. I’d rather it do that disappear to New York or San Francisco (at least VISA is on the right coast). And that goes for every aspect of local government. I think that it would be great to be able to pay for Seattle City Light with stored value on your ORCA. Or parking tickets. Or any other fee.

      12. @Nicholas: +1. In today’s digital age, physical coins and bills are increasingly becoming obsolete. It’s entirely appropriate for the federal government to provide a digital payment network. (In fact, depending on how you define “coin money”, it’s one of the few things explicitly authorized by the Constitution.)

    2. I wonder how much will it cost to keep, say, 10 units serviced, maintained and in excellent working condition for a few years.

      After a year or so, I’d expect that the cost of the upkeep for even 10 units spread throughout the area would be a cumulative financial drain unless it’s factored into the initial purchase “price” of the units.

      (And what sort of life expectancy would they have, anyway? I’m guessing the FTA money is maybe jsut a one-time thing, so the future funding for replacements should probably be considered at the start.)

  6. I still say the biggest bang for the buck is to put ORCA VMs at each of the most-used bus stops on 3rd Ave. If not that, then at least put signage up at each stop giving directions to the nearest, and most easily accessed, ORCA VM.

    1. Wouldn’t most people catching a bus on 3rd have already paid for a trip somewhere else in order to get there? We need ORCA VMs (or retail outlets) to be available where people start their trips, not where they ride the bus to. The VMs should be at transit centers and P&Rs before they show up on 3rd.

      Having said that, ORCA readers should be at all the major stops on 3rd so that people can pre-pay like on RapidRide. Signage at the stops can tell people where the nearest tunnel TVM is if they want to buy a card.

      1. Not exactly. We’re not concerned about the one initial trip they have to make to get a card, and these people are already coming downtown so it’s not an extra trip for them. We can put TVMs at 20 downtown stops and all outlying transit centers, or we can put TVMs at all 10,000 bus stops. Guess which one is affordable.

      2. If they’re on 3rd, everyone can get there, usually in one ride, and they’d be visible to a large number of riders. If they’re at King Street Station, or a library, municipal building or community college, they’re all hidden away where no one can get to them unless they know where they are and wouldn’t be available outside business hours. Park and rides and transit centers make sense if there are lots of them; if there’s only four or five, then the transit rich will be just getting richer.

      3. The overriding concern right now is reducing ORCA use for boardings within the current Ride Free Area when it goes away. If people continue to use cash for inbound boardings, that’s a much smaller problem.

  7. Maybe an audio cue, “ORCA cards are available at this machine”, played every few minutes, would help.

    At least this time, the signs are ready, pointing to the machines, when the inevitable two-hour lines of clueless ORCA seekers appears in the Westlake mezzanine.

  8. Today I was looking at my Orca Card transaction history … apparently it lists the 49 as the route 7 (or at least it did for me yesterday)

    1. The 7 is through routed with the 49 on some trips, so the driver probably just forgot to change the sign.

  9. The county council took two actions last week. One of them was the “pilot project” to get ORCA into more people’s hands. The other was the program to incentivize using transit with paper vouchers totalling up to $24 million in value being mailed out to car tab payers, starting in June 2012. Am I the only one who sees the painful miss between these two actions?

    1. I believe that was one of the state legislature’s requirements in exchange for Metro’s temporary $20 car tab fee.

      1. Nope, it was part of the deal to get the sixth vote.

        Ironically, the two elements of the deal to get sufficient votes might cost more service hours downtown than the total service hours Metro is saving on its other efficiencies. They didn’t figure on Metro employeeing a rope-a-dope strategy with encouraging ORCA use or with assisting with back-door boardings. But then, that rope-a-dope strategy to get the council to cry “Uncle” and change their minds on eliminating the RFA is a function of lack of votes on the county council to actual incentivize ORCA e-purse use.

        Sausage is on the menu.

      2. What is Brent talking about? The vouchers are worth only five or so trips per person. It’s an introduction to transit for occasional riders, or a half-week’s worth of trips for regular riders. The number of voucher-trips is so tiny compared to the total number of trips that it won’t make a blip of difference to drivers or other passengers. How often do you see people using jury-duty bus tickets? Many households will donate the vouchers or give them to transit-riding relatives. Yes, it would be better if the county sent out ORCA cards with $10 on them instead, and we should focus on pushing for that.

      3. The vouchers are 8 free tickets, worth up to $3, per tab payer.

        Why not give recipients the option to request an ORCA with $20 of loaded value?

  10. they should sell Orca cards with special designs on them like Starbucks does with the Starbucks card …

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