Map of Metro routes with low ORCA use. Most of the routes with the lowest usage, below 30%, are concentrated in South King County.

Metro released a report on strategies to increase access to ORCA cards. The report looks at the current state of ORCA market penetration, who’s using ORCA, who’s not and why, what the agency has done so far to increase use, and what more can be done. Short term plans and opportunities for the next year include: more retail outlets, more outreach, simplified procedures for conducting promotions, more TVMs, considering day passes and disposable cards. Long-term strategies include: fare incentives and new technologies like payment with contactless credit cards and mobile phones. All of these are discussed in the report. Some highlights are presented below.

Key message from customer feedback and Metro’s Rider/Non-Rider Survey: “youths, seniors, and people who have disabilities, limited English proficiency, low incomes, or no bank accounts often find it difficult to get and add value to ORCA cards. The $5 card fee is often cited as a barrier to ORCA use.”

The report gives the reason why we haven’t seen a day pass considered until now: “Before the ORCA system was launched, the ORCA Joint Board … agreed not to introduce new fare products until ORCA was well-established.” Three years since launch, the agencies are reviewing regional day pass options (pricing and validity) with a goal for implementation towards the end of 2012. The report also explains how the day pass would work. No automatic pass/daily fare capping mechanism (patented) was mentioned.

Limited use (disposable) ORCA cards are being considered as a lower cost alternative for infrequent riders and visitors, not people with low incomes. The fee for issuing a limited-use ORCA card would be $2 compared to $5 for a standard card. That includes $1 for the card itself and another $1 in processing costs. The standard card itself costs $2.50.

Fare incentives include discounted e-purse fare and elimination of paper transfers. The e-purse “discount” would be achieved by raising cash fares. Metro notes that such changes would require it to perform an analysis of impacts on and mitigation for low-income or minority riders, as mandated by federal regulations.

92 Replies to “Metro’s Plans for Increasing Access to ORCA”

  1. Metro should focus on providing disposible cards and day passes. Creating a whole new fare structure for Orca I think should wait.

      1. If parking fees can suffer the financial hit of accepting plastic, perhaps so can transit?

      2. ORCA already has VISA/MC capabilities. Accepting VISA/MC on the bus on the other hand is almost a non-starter.. (Possibly contactless credit cards could work, but who knows if they’re even on the same frequency set as ORCA.)

      3. Contactless credit cards would work fine, the ORCA could read them ok technically. However, then each bus would need a secure wireless internet connection to verify the charge. Plus every time someone used the card, they’re be a 5-10s delay to authorize the amount. It’s just a non starter for those reasons.

  2. This is mostly good news. Day passes are needed (I think a cap would be a simpler way of implementing this) combined with incentives (e-purse discount) and increased availability should drive ORCA use. Too bad they didn’t do these things 1-2 years ago.

    I’m not sure I really see the advantage of a ‘temporary’ card versus the more permanent card. Seems like this could mostly result in confusion about which one to purchase…

    1. It’s still difficult to figure out the day or a week pass. Needing 3-4 years to study the issue is shocking yet not surprising. Having those options would be an excellent addition for tourists or people who use a little more bus on one day than another. (In San Diego, the bus money acceptor can issue a day-pass, which looks the same as a Link ticket, and it’s good on nearly everything.)

      And if one becomes confused about whether to get a temporary card vs. a permanent card, perhaps using public transit isn’t for you.

      1. A friend came into town last week from the airport and since the Link has a day pass we stuck to the Link. Had the ORCA had a day pass maybe we would have ventured further.

    2. “And if one becomes confused about whether to get a temporary card vs. a permanent card, perhaps using public transit isn’t for you.”

      Transit is supposed to be for everyone. It’s a baseline of mobility, and those who want premium mobility can drive cars. But right now the baseline is so substandard that many people have no effective choice but to drive. Still, the dichotomy between temporary cards vs permanent cards is a barrier to new riders, many of whom don’t know when they’ll use transit again in the future. I got a visitor cards in Atlanta but it was so limited that I wonder if I should have paid $1 or $2 more for a permanent card. (It had this insane restriction that once the card was loaded with single [one-way] or double [round-trip] fares, it could only be reloaded with the same kind. So I made one unanticipated round trip and then needed a single fare to get to the airport. I couldn’t get it added to my card because I had a “round-trip” card! So I had to buy a ticket instead.)

      1. “Transit is supposed to be for everyone.”
        I think you missed my point. This has nothing to do with social mobility car driving rich poor 1%, etc. It’s about thinking. This, if not done like poorly like Atlanta, should be a very simple situation:
        A) If you just want to try transit or you’re a visitor, get a temp card.
        B) If you like transit and/or Seattle, come back and get a permanent card.
        C) If you know you’re going use transit, get a permanent card.

        With that in mind, I’ll rephrase myself: if you’re staring blankly at an ST TVM in the same manner that we all stare blankly when stopped at a 4-way intersection, unable to comprehend the advantages and disadvantages of a perm vs temp ORCA card, then transit, driving, decision making, or leaving the house may not be for you.

  3. bought an orca three days ago.
    surprised to notice the default purchase path on TVM in Westlake was still a single trip paper ticket instead of an orca.

    defaults really drive behaviour.

    1. I think the TVMs are really intended for Link riders without Orca cards and the ability to get an Orca card is sort of a bonus.

    2. To ride link or sounder with orca you just need to tap on the yellow boxes at both points of origin and destination. You only need those tvm’s to add far or purchase new cards.

  4. Oran’s write-up of the February 2012 ORCA report showed ORCA usage rates by agency:

    ST Express: 89%
    Sounder: 78%
    Community Transit: 74%
    Link: 61% (airport boardings dragging it down)
    Everett Transit: 56%
    Kitsap Transit: 56%
    KC Metro: 55%
    Pierce Transit: 38%

    Hmm,guess which two have paper transfers still? While the day pass and disposable cards need to happen and the $5 fee should be absorbed by agencies (the carrot), it is clear from this list that eliminating paper transfers (the stick) is really where it’s at.

    They can play with CardCase or other mobile payment all they want, but if they really want significant improvements the main nut to crack is access and distribution among those who continue to pay in cash falsely thinking it’s in their best interest to do so. The map makes it clear that the problem is largely confined to central Seattle (CD, RV, QA trolleys), Delridge/West Seattle, and South King.

    1. Kitsap also still has paper transfers, but they are only good at transfer sites, and for immediate transfers.

      Although some limited free ORCA distribution ought to be part of the mitigation plan, charging for the card is necessary to cover the cost of creating the card. If we could make an argument that lowering the price of the card would end up being revenue-positive, we might get somewhere with that.

      1. Many agencies have found the efficiency savings of universal smart-card adoption worth absorbing the creation and distribution costs of the card itself.

      2. MBTA CharlieCard: Planned to start charging $3 after the first few months of distribution. Wound up cancelling the charge entirely. They give the things out like candy; adoption is nearly 100%.

        SF Clipper Card: “Normally, there is a fee to get a card, but, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission will waive the card acquisition fee when a pass, ride book or $5 in cash value is added to the card at the time the card is acquired. This offer is good regardless of where the card is acquired- third-party retailer, Clipper website, Clipper Customer Service Center, etc., and regardless of whether it is a new or replacement card.”

        Chicago Card: “The $5 purchase fee for Chicago Card is waived for first-time users who register their cards.”

        Paris Navigo pass: Free for all residents.

        Among cities with already-high transit usage, totally free cards aren’t as common as “refundable deposit,” but there are four prominent examples for you.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if cities with less functional or less high-modeshare systems (read: like Seattle) were more likely to give away free cards as a sales pitch. Try poking around this list:

      3. Include ORCA in the list, at least as a pilot program. Buy at least $5 worth in fare at participating Saar’s Marketplaces, get the card for free.

      4. Thanks for pointing all these out, d.p.!

        Consider that for every change fumbler who has declined to get an ORCA for the past three years, the cost to the system for their change fumbling is far in excess of $5. The charge has been penny-wise/pound-foolish.

        If all the mitigation that is required to be allowed to raise cash fares is universally free ORCA cards, let’s do it!!! (And throw in mention of the free circulators for good measure.)

        Requiring a $2.25 minimum fare product purchase should dissuade people from raiding the machines for unlimited free plastic.

      5. d.p., another city which provides the cards for free is London. There’s a “deposit” but it’s refundable when you turn the card in.

      6. Nathanael, we’re definitely not the only ones with an outright non-refundable charge. Far from it, actually. From poking around individual cities’ smartcard FAQs, I’d estimated that major cities’ policies are evenly split between:
        – Refundable deposit
        – Fee offset by preloaded balance
        – Outright purchase cost, no refund or offset
        (Boston’s free-without-strings-attached was the rarest approach)

        The difference is that no other city had an upfront cost for the card without also offering a fare discount for using it or making transfers exclusive to it. That’s where Seattle stands alone!

        Upfront cost and zero incentive and sometimes disincentive for card adoption has been our unique innovation. Must be the soil and the hills and the

      7. Okay, d.p. Take out the patent on the idea of charging outright for a transit smartcard, and on the various ways to disincentive its use, and you can force Metro to stop doing it. Whaddya think?

      8. What cities besides London have a refundable deposit? This would be good evidence to give to Metro.

      9. ORCA was initially free, they even handed out free cards pre-loaded with $5 at Link stations. It’s not like they are unaware that it’s an option to boost adoption. I’d be for them having free cards during promotional times, but not all of the time, because then people would just start the cards like they’re disposable.

      10. Part of the cost of using ORCA is replacing it too. My family has broken 4 so far at a cost of $20. They’re not very resistant to bending. My point is the ORCA isn’t just an up front cost, it’s a running cost.

        Put a quarter on all non-ORCA fares and make ORCA cards free.

      11. Interesting, d.p. I’d like to see the list of cities which have an outright cost for the card, and examine what the level of discounts they have for fares is.

        I would expect that cities which have an outright cost, where the only benefit of the card is free/cheaper transfers, would be having a lot of trouble with uptake.

        I would predict that cities where there’s an outright cost, but *all* fares are cheaper with the card, will do a bit better but will still have a resistant core of visitors and really poor people.

        Cities with the more generous policies can easily get 100% uptake and eliminate cash-at-the-bus-door entirely.

    2. “Hmm, guess which two have paper transfers still?”

      Guess which counties have the most poor people. The two are related.

      1. But ORCA saves the poor money. My 82 trips in April would have cost $212 cash, probably about $150 had I used cash+transfers, but I paid only $108 for my $3.00 ORCA pass. My per trip cost was halved from $2.58 to $1.32. ORCA adoption should be seen as a social justice issue, not as a barrier to social justice. Besides reducing trip costs, ORCA+RRFP saves the poor from the indignity of making up ‘lost transfer’ stories or just blatantly not paying. A tap is a tap as far as fellow passengers are concerned. And @Brent, I guarantee that a $1m grant program to give an ORCA card to 200,000 of King and Pierce counties poorest, in combination with the absolute end of paper transfers, would be strongly revenue positive in the long run.

      1. I would guess not high. They don’t issue or accept transfers and all of the orca pass products are available as wave 2 go paper passes as well. Also orca is only valid for passenger crossings, which aren’t collected at all terminals.

    3. “the main nut to crack is access and distribution among those who continue to pay in cash falsely thinking it’s in their best interest to do so.”

      It isn’t (at least if they stick to agencies their paper transfers are good on)? Maybe publicizing why is the way to go.

      Why is Everett Transit in the same range as KT and Metro?

      1. Part of the other 44% for ET may be all the free rides for seniors and disabled. That’s proposed to go up to 25 cents next year.

    1. Cash fare penalties would disproportionately penalize minorities and the poor, and that’s why I don’t think they would ever do that.

      1. Metro notes that such changes would require it to perform an analysis of impacts on and mitigation for low-income or minority riders, as mandated by federal regulations.

        Take steps to institute distribution points throughout minority communities.
        Take steps to get subsidized cards into the hands of low-income riders.

        “Do nothing” is not an acceptable option.

      2. So? Cash slows down the system for every user and increases operational costs for each transit agency. Implement a cash-use penalty and use those revenues to make ORCA cards free for everyone. And develop an ORCA TVM that doesn’t cost $750,000. Or, if we don’t want to feel bad, give an ORCA discount.

      3. I realise that. I’m not suggesting we “penalise” them. Provide the adequate compensatory measures to mitigate that. Exactly what d.p. and Mike say. If people choose not to get ORCA subsequently, that’s their own problem. The greater penalty is being inflicted on the majority of riders, wasted service hours, and basic revenue recovery with the existing system. Anything to discourage that is better for everyone, including low-income and uninformed users.

      4. Chicago CTA eliminated paper fares but does also use a flimsy plastic mag strip card for stored value in addition to 2 RFID Chicago card products. Interestingly the corporate sponsored monthly passes are usually dispersed on the mag strip cards rather than the RFID product. The direct purchased passes which are monthly rolling passes can be loaded onto the RFID product. Visitor day and 3 and 7 day passes are available from a few designated TVM’s and are dispensed on the mag strip cards.

        Initially the Chicago Card products offered a reload bonus of 10% for amounts of $10 or more. But that has been discontinued.

        My anecdotal impressions of card adoption in Chicago was that Chicago Cards were popular with regular commuters but it seemed there was still a large percentage of people preferring the mag strip cards or paying cash. The Chicago card products are only available by mail or from certain retail stores. TVM’s don’t vend them. TVM’s can add value to one of the Chicago Card products the other (Chicago Card Plus) is designed to be direct auto load from a credit card source.

    2. They are mincing terms. A cash fare increase is the same thing as an e-purse discount from a raised fare. The only difference is the verbage. Metro is mistakenly going for the more passive-aggressive language, instead of coming out and saying “If you pay with cash, you will pay more per ride.”

      I just hope and pray that nobody has patented the *idea* of charging more for paying with cash while boarding a public bus.

      1. Let’s make a list of obvious ideas for improving transit, and go get patents on them before it is too late.

      2. Absolutely. I’ll set up the PO Box right now and start fishing for “violators” and lodging complaints. We’re gonna be riiiiiich! Thank you public transport!

      3. Start by patenting the idea of patent trolling, and then sue all the patent trolls. You’d get rich, *and* be considered a Hero of the Federation!

  5. This is an awfully long report to omit some really basic information, such as average fare and trip length by type of ORCA sold. Pricing your product has everything to do with how sales go – duh!
    Only two card outlets in the entire Green River Valley? Am I surprised the south end routes have low ORCA usage? Nope.
    Where’s the section on ORCA discounts over cash to bolster sales and how much that might cost?
    How many trips were ‘linked trips’ by type of service Link to bus, etc?
    I was astonished to see that business ORCA accounts for about 2/3 of all ORCA use, so it’s obviously successful. But at what price?
    I don’t really care they talked to 5 little old ladies at some senior center, but that’s in there!

    1. “Pricing your product has everything to do with how sales go – duh!”

      You have to quantify it to see the extent of the problem, and then to tell how well solutions are working.

      “I was astonished to see that business ORCA accounts for about 2/3 of all ORCA use”

      I was astonished to see that overall ORCA use is above 50%, and that in Bellevue it’s above 50% on all routes except the 240. But that’s what these statistics are useful for.

      “I don’t really care they talked to 5 little old ladies at some senior center, but that’s in there!”

      You don’t care but somebody does. Presumably the councilmembers who want to know what Metro is doing and how much, and the Metro administrators who are deciding how much more of that outreach to do.

      1. A very small amount of research showed me that Boston had CharlieCard adoption rates of 80% in *2007*. It’s practically universal now. A bit better than 50%.

        Of course, I don’t recommend using the particular proprietary system they (and most other transit agencies, including London) use; it’s hackable to get free rides. Though the fact that so few people have done so just shows how honest most people are.

        But anyway, the point applies to any new fare system: NY got everyone to switch from tokens to Metrocards by making it consistently slightly cheaper to get Metrocards, even for a single ride. The same applies to any fare system change requiring a transition. Once you make the new system easy enough, then the number of people using the old system will be small enough that you can shut it down.

  6. Great idea. I recently visited Seattle and did not purchase an ORCA card because:
    A) Hard to find for anyone not taking Link or Sounder
    B) $5 for convenience of not using cash not worth it on a short trip

    When we visited London, I was able to purchase a preloaded Oyster card prior to the trip at below face value, then sell it back at the end of the trip. The incentive made the effort well worth it.

    1. Unfortunately, our ORCA vendor is horrendous. No way to sell/giveaway an ORCA–or unwise to do so–once it has been registered online. Sigh. I have 4 unused ORCAs that are active.

  7. I don’t know why pre-loaded cards aren’t sold at every grocery store. Put them in the cash register, with $15 worth of fare pre-loaded and sell them for $20. Celophane wrap them for security.

    This is how I bought my first BART pass years ago. While ringing up my beer and frozen pizza I asked for a roll of quarters, some stamps, and a $20 BART card at Safeway. Easy. We need more easy.

    1. I’d be really interested in seeing how the Saar’s pilot works. Ideally it’s preloaded cards ready to go, and the ability to immediately add value if you want more than $5 on the card, but I haven’t heard any reports on the subject.

    2. Just like having a day pass (which needing 3-4 years to study is a horrible excuse), it would simply make too much sense.

      1. I’m just glad that they’re making progress and realize that improvements need to be made. It took ten years for Oyster to get where it is, and was a complete nightmare for a lot of users in the meantime. In the Netherlands they’re just now getting disposable cards for public transit, 7 years after first introducing the OV-chipkaart smart cards. These things don’t happen overnight anywhere.

  8. Re “No automatic pass/daily fare capping mechanism (patented) was mentioned.” Could somebody please describe this, and why/how it’s supposedly patented?

    1. If you use ORCA, your daily cost would be capped at some universal limit, say $10.

      I don’t know whether someone patented the technology to make it work (although it ought to be straightforward coding), but all anyone had to do was patent the idea. Google “patent trolling” and ArrivalStar to get your blood boiling.

      1. I like this idea of a daily limit, but ORCA works on the ferry system, too, and some of their passenger fares are quite high. And they’re considering adding the ability to pay for a vehicle trip with ORCA. A $10 cap may be too low if a ferry ride is in your day.

      2. The ferries don’t honor transfer credit from other agencies (and vice versa), so I don’t think that would be an issue with the day pass. They might exclude Sounder from the regional day pass, because its maximum fare is so high, to keep the day pass cost down.

      1. Oh, cool. The patent is owned by a public transit provider! So, they probably don’t waste their money going after public transit agencies that provide fare caps.

        (not that I’m necessarily suggesting Metro implement a fare cap)

      2. CUBIC, a rival company to ORCA’s vendor Vix/ERG, owns the patents to fare capping. They implemented the Oyster card system.

      3. *eyeroll*

        This is obviously unpatentable. Hopefully the Bilski ruling will help get rid of some of these bogus patents.

  9. It is in no way surprising that business-distributed ORCA passes account for 2/3 of usage, or that (by way of corollary) the “50% or better ORCA usage” routes on the map correspond with service areas populated by people with white-collar jobs.

    As bad as South King ORCA adoption clearly is, though, do not ignore all of the light blue lines (40-49% usage) clogging up the center of the map. (Hey look — the “productive” #2!)

    The future of transit in Seattle is dependent upon Metro combining all of the carrot+stick options Oran describes in order to push the near-total smartcard usage that is vital to any bus behaving remotely like a part of a mass-transit operation.

    1. As a regular ‘productive’ rider of the #2, I’m curious if the Metro numbers are for people who actually paid, or if they’re including all the people who don’t pay fare at all. There are mornings when I think the latter are almost as many in number as folks paying cash.

      [and yes, d.p., I got the joke]

  10. Sounds like Metro is looking at all the right things, which is nice to know. The big question is what actually gets done.

    1. Yeah. If the September service change fiasco has taught us anything it is that just b/c Metro recognizes a problem and even knows how to fix, in no way means they will go through with it.

      Especially if one or two people complain.

      1. [standard disclaimer]

        As long as Metro is a creature of the County Council, blaming Metro for these things is probably not going to get anyone anywhere. Many of the changes Metro’s planners brought up were shot down by neighborhood groups who complained to their County Councilmembers.

        In other words, “in no way means they will go through it” really means “in no way guarantees the political will is there to go through with it at the County Council level.”

      2. Amen, JohnS. It’s really insane that our transit system is the only city service under the control of a district-elected board, when it is the one that is most damaged by parochial squabbling.

  11. I’m just relieved someone is looking into this.

    $2.50 is a lot of money to pay for a bus ride. This is true in economic terms, but it’s also true in a more physical sense. Shoving $2.50 into a farebox just plain takes a long time. Three dozen people are sitting patiently waiting for you to play with your dollars and quarters and some of them just plain have to go to the bathroom.

    It would also help to stop making the one dollar bill, but that’s a topic for another rant.

    Another stumble is the tiered fare system. No one can seem to remember to put in that extra quarter. This is also true of Orca users who buy a $2.25 pass. Did you know

    — that if someone uses a $2.25 pass during rush hour, the Orca reader basically locks up until the driver pushes a button to clear it?
    — the thing won’t make a warning beep to stop the rider and remind them to pay the quarter. (More importantly, the driver needs to be told to clear the machine. Do we want drivers staring at the screen or greeting passengers and watching for problems?)
    — that the cash portion of the farebox is NOT tied in with the rest of the system (yet)?

    So, fix those little items, put Orca readers at both doors and turn the whole system into a proof-of-payment system with frequent spot checks.

    1. Seriously, “added pass/value” is two beeps but “owe X amount of money” is the same single beep as “pass”/”paid”?

      1. @Morgan Wick: Yup. Then, when I don’t hit the button to clear it, the next person in line just stares at the terminal blankly going tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. I notice eventually :-/

    2. But it is understood that the $2.50 that you put in the fare box only accounts for less than 36% of the cost of moving that person on our bus system. So, in reality, $2.50 is dirt cheap and no one, not even the most indigent among us has cause to complain about the fare. Further, the county makes significant efforts to provide human services organizations with transit assistance. Many people who utilize these services may qualify for a reduced fare permit further reducing their fare to $0.75. A monthly reduced fare pass is $27 per month.

      But what I observe among Cash fare payers is that transfers are worked ingeniously as they are often dispensed with more time than the official 2 hours that you would get using ORCA.

  12. Getting rid of paper transfers and getting an e-purse discount is a matter of counting to five votes. It simply requires the proper mitigation.

    Include the new free circulator as part of the mitigation, and we may have the votes for the free circulator. ;)

  13. Are they doing usability studies? Done by people who know what they’re doing?

    My experience has been that Orca cards are extremely confusing to understand, to buy, and to use. Go ahead and call me an idiot if you like, but if you’re setting a bar that says “only guys smarter than this guy are allowed to use the system”, you’re going to have problems.

    The website is competely terrible. Poor people get their internet on their phones; it’s even worse on a phone. It seems like a system designed by engineers for engineers with no usability thinking at all.

    The signage in Link is awful. The first time I used mine, I didn’t understand that I had to scan both going in and going out, so I didn’t — and then when I used it a second time it just beeped at me and displayed some incomprehensible message. It’s still sometimes unclear to me whether I’ve successfully registered a scan or not.

    I’ve ridden metros in many other cities and Orca seems to me to be a more confusing pay system than any of them.

    1. ORCA is definitely a complicated system, though it could be worse.

      Meh. I was just in the Netherlands and one of the guys I was with forgot to tap out when leaving the station in the morning. When we returned in the evening, his tap-in registered as a tap-out. He then had to wait 5 minutes before he could tap in again, which made him nearly miss the train.

      At least with ORCA it times out after 2 hours, and I believe you can tap-in immediately after a tap-out.

      Also, the colored lights on the ORCA readers are your friend. Green means you’re good-to-go. Yellow means you’re good-to-go, but the system is trying to tell you something (that you have less than $5 left, or it has just added a pass or e-purse value that you added through the website). The red light means there’s a problem.

      There really should be good educational pamphlets made for this in the various languages used in Seattle.

    2. I completely agree. The website is horrendous. I bought my first card at a the transit shop and tried to register it online, but it said the card was already registered. I had to get a new card in order to set up autoload. Luckily that’s when it was still free. My boyfriend has a similar problem, and he has never been able to set up autoload, he just loads at the machines. Plus, when you call customer service, they ask you to leave a message and then call you back a few days later when you’re inevitably busy. People in working-class jobs can’t just take a break to answer Orca customer service, sorry. In my experience, Orca is incredibly convenient once you get an autoload set-up, but otherwise it’s a nightmare.

      Does anyone know if you can set up an autoload by phone? Seem like a good way to get people with no internet access or who don’t trust online transactions. Also, they should sell cards at the DSHS, and really, give them away to clients there.

  14. I wonder if Metro has costed out the lost service hours and budget hit if 3rd Ave and the tunnel come to a standstill on September 29.

    I bet that cost, calculated over the course of a year, is larger than the cost of making ORCA free. And if making ORCA free is the holdup to getting rid of paper transfers and instituting a cash surcharge, then it is definitely worth the hit to Metro’s budget. (Or rather, Metro will probably make a profit, and most poor riders will end up saving money.)

    If too many people get lots of cards and don’t use them, the cost can always be raised back up.

    I recall around 5 million cards were obtained during the free period. If half that many are obtained over a year for free, that is a mere $12.5 million in lost potential revenue. That may be the cost the first year, but I think it would go down dramatically after that. I’m pretty certain the cost of downtown gridlock will surpass that number.

    Run the numbers, please. I bet we may have a win-win deal that benefits Metro, taxpayers, the poor, and every rider.

  15. There’s a dilemma between the desire for a universal day pass and the extraordinary fares of some services (a long-distance Sounder trip). But I think this can be overcome by setting the rate to $7 and issuing a $3.50 one-day pass. That would cover ST’s 2-county fare and all local buses. Then cap Link’s maximum fare at $3.50 to match. The only things left are long Sounder trips and some CT-commuter trips (Seattle-Stanwood). So just treat it like an ordinary pass and charge people’s e-purse for the difference, and warn people ahead of time that certain high-fare services have surcharges, and direct them to Link or ST Express if they don’t want to worry about surcharges.

    1. I’m wondering what the reason is for charging a higher fare for Sounder than for express buses serving the same trip. Yes, I know Sounder is a very expensive service to operate, but the cost of running the train is the same whether the train is full or empty, and if we removed the price incentive to take the bus over the train, maybe the train would be a little bit fuller and the competing buses emptier. If this can get us over the political hump to finally kill these bus routes that serve no purpose except to duplicate the Sounder (*), we’ve saved money operating the buses, while paying no more to operate the train.

      Yes, I realize the inter-agency bullshit about how lost fare revenue would be coming out of Sound Transit, while all the bus savings would go to King County Metro and Community Transit. But this should be a solvable problem. The multitude of agencies here need to work with each other, not compete against each other.

      (*)See routes 152, 157, 158, 159, 162, CT 416 and CT 417, all of which are slower than the trains they compete against. I am not including routes 510 and 59x, which take a more direct route than the train and can be faster, when traffic is reasonable.

      1. Perhaps the funding problem can be solved by having KC Metro pay Sounder a fee equal to the cost of the duplicative bus route being removed, in order to provide an equal number of seats on Sounder at the KC Metro price, with revenue going to KC Metro. Basically, declare the particular route to be a “trainstituted bus route”. Convoluted, but something convoluted may be the only way to get through the “interagency bullshit”.

  16. If you are low income and primarily travel on Metro, an Orca card makes no sense.

    1) You may not have money to put on a card. When you need to travel on the bus, you can round-up enough change to pay fare. Money on an Orca card makes that money inaccessible to you for other (perhaps more urgent) purposes.

    2) Your transfer gets reduced to two hours. No exceptions. With a paper transfer, you can stretch the transfer out to at least three hours, and if you have a nice bus drive, they might just give you another transfer for free. Or if you are like some AmeriCorps kids I know, you just save up transfers and can reuse them.

    1. If the ORCA card were free, and ubiquitously obtainable, would you still say that?

      If paper transfers were never good for as long as an ORCA transfer (or didn’t exist), would you still say that?

    2. Also, if the cash fare is $2.25 and the e-fare is $2.00, getting the ORCA loaded with $2 means the rider has a quarter left over that he otherwise wouldn’t have had.

      And I am getting tired of the suggestion that poor people ubiquitously engage in fare evasion using old transfers. There certainly are a lot of people who try, but I believe the vast majority of the poor population pays their fare if they can. Please don’t stereotype poor riders as all being panhandlers and fare cheats.

      Looking at it from another angle: Removing old paper transfers as a tool for paying fare doesn’t hurt the general poor population. It just hurts the hustlers (who, I suspect, are generally not getting away with it anyway).

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