At the end of June, paper ticketbooks were no longer sold in King County. Metro is innovating in its approach to handling payments, slowly moving forward with a plan to implement cashless fares. The conceptual transit plan from March 2012 and an April 2012 plan to widen ORCA access both address cashless fares, with “The ultimate goal is to reduce or eliminate even off-board cash transactions…”

Metro’s Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee is also moving forward, according to an excellent summary of their recommendations by Brent White.

The conceptual transit plan summarizes rider habits and backgrounds with data from a 2010 survey in order to provide some background: Screenshot 2013-07-17 at 8.14.19 AM Screenshot 2013-07-17 at 8.24.25 AM Accordingly, the plan lays out an agenda of marketing, promotion, and increased access to alternate forms of payment. Incentives include differing fare structures, waiving of fees for cashless payments, free transfers for cashless payment, expansion of ORCA vending locations to retail, and more. The plan also considers the socioeconomic diversity of the population Metro serves, with community partnerships and discount programs targeting specific areas.

Screenshot 2013-07-17 at 8.20.46 AMRochelle Ogershok, public affairs coordinator for King County, told me about the most recent actions to implement the plan:

Metro obtained some portable devices that will allow us to issue Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP)  and Youth cards on the spot (at senior centers, community centers, events etc.) helping us get ORCA cards in the hands of more customers in a more convenient and efficient way,” she said in an email. “The ORCA partner agencies also agreed to a change in business processes that allow retail outlets to sell ORCA cards (in addition to loading value), further improving access to ORCA cards throughout the region.

In addition, Metro hopes to install ticket vending machines in downtown Seattle to prevent cash payments from occurring on the actual bus and increase loading speed. Speed is one of the primary benefits of cashless fares, as anyone who has had to wait in line or had to fumble for exact change can appreciate. Near Field Communication (NFC) and other communication methods can also increase security (though there are also critics of their cost).

Ogershok told me the primary concerns are fare availability for those passengers who only happen to have cash, and whether Metro would continue to allow cash payments if the volume decreased to a level with manageable costs. And frankly, I can’t blame them for thinking hard about this, because there’s no easy solution, as it depends on how much and which people will use cash in the coming years.

Regarding the transit vending machines:

We are in a very early stage in the project, but at this point the operating concept for the TVMs includes both cash and credit/bank card payment,” Ogershok said in an email. “We will need a design that’s suitable for street-level use (e.g. size and ability to withstand wear and tear); cost effective to purchase and operate, and achieves key business objectives (speeding boarding).

Overall, Metro and Sound Transit could benefit from moving away from paper entirely. RapidRide in particular could use this improvement. Currently RapidRide operates under the same paper transfer/cash payments/ORCA options as a standard Metro route. However, the delay engendered by such slow forms of payment betrays the RapidRide name; shouldn’t a specifically speedy line have an updated form of payment?

In fact, papers from as long ago as 2010 make an even better argument for Metro (and Sound Transit by extension) to move away from proprietary payment systems entirely. Imagine being able to swipe your Visa or MasterCard, with no other intermediate card necessary. This would reduce or eliminate the costs of administering payment systems entirely. At the moment, Metro and Sound Transit are a ways away from that ideal, but encouraging cashless fares is the first step. Of course, there is a caveat, and that is un-banked riders, or those who somehow don’t have access to credit/debit cards.A report from the Smart Card Alliance makes some excellent points regarding this issue:

  • Prepaid cards probably offer one of the best transition methods, as customers could pay for a prepaid card with cash or link it to their bank account.
  • Similar to the fare incentives Metro is pondering above, lowering fares to attract customers into buy-in of a card like ORCA may actually be cheaper for lower-income riders.
  • Other agencies can offer prepaid cards, diversifying the market and increasing ease of access to and appeal for customers.

At this point, this seems like the correct approach to take. Cash isn’t going to simply disappear in the next few years. Giving riders the option to pay in paper (well, technically cotton) while slowly weaning it from buses is a middle-ground approach that should do well. And it’s needed; TriMet’s recent thanks-but-no-thanks to ORCA shows even similar agencies think it’s still a ways away from the ideal fare system.

104 Replies to “Metro’s Cashless Plan”

  1. “Thanks for the offer, ORCA, but you might as well be using a Windows 95 PC.” – Trimet

    Well, are the transit agencies supposed to give us a card with Windows 7 or Windows 8 on it? Maybe Windows Phone would be more appropriate? I guess that would be neat, but it would also be a lot more than $5.

    ^^Trimet says, while they are still using disposable paper tickets.

    1. They are using a metaphor. They could have said Metro is trying to sell them a Model T, while what they are looking at is more like Car2Go. They aren’t talking specifically about software.

      For tourists and infrequent users, the ultimate in convenience will be a Utah-style credit/debit-card tapping system, which removes the inconvenience of finding a 7-11 or T&CVM. The UTA readers take both agency products and general contactless debit/credit cards from their list of approved vendors, which covers the vast majority of the card market.

      1. Even downtown parking in Seattle now has a app so you can avoid the sticker system. Just enter the number and go. Why not on buses? We even have companies that use facial recognition systems for payment now!

  2. Why can’t Metro at least install paper ticket machines like the South Lake Union Streetcar has … then cash payments could be done on the street and the ticket could work like a transfer does today. Wouldn’t that solve the problem for folks who don’t have an Orca Card?

    1. The coin chambers need to be larger for all-day use on 3rd. This isn’t impossible, but does cost money. They’re adequate for the SLUT only because hardly anyone buys SLUT tickets.

    2. I think that is the big missing piece. In Boston the Charlie Card is partnered with the Charlie Ticket. Even a seven day tourist pass goes on the paper based ticket. Without a free option at the vending machines the $5 startup cost of an Orca card will loom large.

      1. I think CharlieTickets are also made of cotton. Or maybe Kevlar. Ever try to tear one?

      2. What is the big deal about $5?…”loom large” seems a rather stormy cloud for a few bucks. I can’t imagine there’s much price sensitivity at that level. I’m sure people don’t WANT to spend an extra $5, but that’s a big jump from “can’t.”

      3. The issue is user perception that it’s not worth it, that a “normal” transit fare should less than $4, and the transit system is hard to use. It looks like adding $5 to the cost of the fare, and if you only anticipate making a single return trip in the future, and your next trip might not be for a week or more, it looms large because it almost doubles the de facto fare, and any benefits seem remote and uncertain. The quickest way to incentivize ORCA would be a cash surcharge. The “free inter-agency transfers” isn’t enough incentive because most of them only use Metro and don’t care if they can’t transfer to ST.

        Metro’s complex fare structure adds to the problem, by making the system even harder to use. Many times people have asked me, “How much does the bus cost?” or “How much does it cost to go to ___?”, and I have to decide between a simple answer that’s correct now but may not be for their return trip this afternoon or tonight or if they get on ST, or a complete answer which they won’t understand. Explaining ORCA on top of that just adds to the complication.

      4. To add on to Mike Orr’s point, ORCA is further disincentivized because paper transfers typically last longer than the 2 hour transfer window for ORCA cards. And usually this difference is substantial. So if you plan to make trips within a three to four hour period, it’s cheaper to use a cash far and transfer than an ORCA card. It’s for this reason that it seems obvious to charge a premium on cash fares; a cash fare with paper transfer is more valuable than an ORCA card fare (for most people). Also this seems to be the easiest way to increase ORCA card adoption in the short term, which has all sorts of positive externalities.

      5. If you just got $5 bus fare spending it on an ORCA card with zero value doesn’t get you there (and back). With Visa the minimum value you can add is $5 so you’re into it for $10. If you’re from out of town and don’t know that you’ll use it again that’s kinda steep. If you do want to use it you’ve got to guess in advance how much to add since the ticket vending machines are spread far and wide. On the flip side you do get to “charge it” so if you’re coming up short before payday that’s a plus.

      6. There’s nothing written in stone that says a smart card has to cost $5. LA and Atlanta sell their smart card for $1 and there are no issues. You could easily increase the single ride fare by $1 or $2, give out smart cards upon payment, and then have “back of the bus adders” similar to Houston Metro to take cash so that people could avoid the fee on their next ride. Expanding ORCA is not rocket science when even Houston has increased adoption of their smart card substantially such that over 2/3rds of riders there use it – because they got rid of free transfers on cash. If Houston can do it Seattle certainly can.

      7. Even if there’s not an official cash surcharge today, for people that don’t carry gobs to quarters around, there effectively is one. If you don’t have quarters in your wallet, Orca costs $2.50 a trip, while cash costs $3 (or $5 total, for 2 people).

        While you can keep your wallet constantly replenished with quarters, in the long run, this is more of a hassle than simply going online to refill an Orca card.

        Because of this, my parents during a recent visit opted to each eat the $5 fee for an Orca card, even though they were only in town for less than a week. Although they will likely use their cards again later, if they remember them.

        Similarly, a few years ago I ate the $5 for a WMATA SmarTrip card, which I keep at home and only take out every 3 years or so when I visit the area.

      8. If you charge $5 for a card, I am not buying it. Neither is any typical infrequent user. Neither is any typical tourist. Neither is anyone who is living paycheck to paycheck.

        The $5 card charge is literally INSANE. No other agency in the WORLD charges it. It is the simplest possible thing to get rid of the “Fuck you” charge for using ORCA. Yet Metro apparently won’t even consider it.

        This is pretty damn stupid.

  3. It’s funny that this is being studied as if it’s some sort of new technology. To me, the solution is simple, and has been done in other places with ORCA type cards– make it more expensive to pay cash. If it’s cheaper to ride the bus with an ORCA, most folks will get with the program and buy an ORCA card.

    1. I needed to ride the bus and had lent my ORCA card to my son who is staying for the summer. I figured why not get another and was at Kent Station, and figured I could use the Sounder ticket dispenser.

      Well, after trying to get though the screens which are unreadable in bright sunlight, I got a new ORCA card (at the egregious price of $5) with $25 on it.

      How many people even know those machines can dispense an ORCA card! For those paying cash, since many are in South King, I bet nearly all pass through a transit center that might have one of these machines. In the case of Kent Station, if you’re a bus rider, but not a train rider, you might never see either of the ticket dispensers!!

      1. London found that a $1 *deposit*, which is *refundable* if you turn the card in, is quite sufficient to prevent most people from discarding their cards.

      2. If you have taken notice, those who ride Link Light Rail rarely get asked for their train ticket or ORCA card that they have tapped. Try riding Link on Tuesday where there isn’t a fare enforcement in sight. The way it’s set up you can ride free almost anytime. Fare enforcement take the first person they come across off the train leaving the rest of the “freeloaders” untouched. It’s an amusing observation. How much is Sound Transit losing in unpaid fares. I would guess over 20% or more. Since you don’t have to go through turnstiles to access any platform, all are welcome. I’ve noticed the youngsters wait to see if any fare enforcement board or exit a train before running up to the train and jumping on at the last minute before the driver closes the doors. It’s obvious that these riders didn’t pay fare. As time goes on, this will become more and more common. On days where the trains are so crowded that no fare enforcement can board, most riders have figured out they don’t have to tap their ORCA card for this trip. Sound Transit loses again. They will lose more as time goes on. Even “honest riders” have figured out how to save a few bucks here and there.

  4. Getting rid of paper transfers would be good incentive to move more riders to ORCA, since ORCA will still provide electronic transfers. (I know that riders paying cash in Chicago and Los Angeles don’t get paper transfers, they pay every time they board).

    Provide a small discount for ORCA users over cash users (already being done on the West Seattle Water Taxi).

    Another thing that really needs to happen. ORCA needs to provide the one day (and/or 3 days, weekly) pass option (Would exclude SOUNDER, except on weekends). ORCA is a very UNFRIENDLY system for tourists and occasional users (paying $5 for a card, even other transit agencies charge much less, like $2). once an all day pass option is offered, it will be much easier to get rid of paper transfers.

    I know there is resistance of providing a disposable ORCA card due to security reasons. A disposable card would be perfect for visitors (single day) and replace those Square Paper “social agencies” passes. I thought the purpose of ORCA is to track transit agency rider usage to divy out pass revenue. The square passes defeat that purpose.

    1. “I know there is resistance of providing a disposable ORCA card due to security reasons.”

      O RLY?

    2. Metro Sound Transit et al need to tell infrequent passengers that their ORCA contains an electronic transfer. I’ve seen on multiple occasions where people would tap their card and subsequently ask the driver for a transfer. The driver would try (and fail most of the time) to explain that the ORCA is the transfer. Confused passenger continues to ask for transfer.

      1. This doesn’t happen to me very often but when it does 99% of people get it. The transfer also works for group fares although you need to be sure to ask again for the same group size before you tap. (That said, Metro has specifically asked us to hand out transfers for the extra members of the group to make things easier. Frankly, I don’t see the need, but whatever. If we’re on a path to eventual cashless fares, I’m a patient man)

      2. I’ve been hosting friends who are native French speakers (with pretty good command of the English language) and they told me that the transit system here is pretty simple and easy to use–no matter how many times I’ve told them that it’s confusing and difficult to comprehend.

      3. Metro also needs to figure out what they want to do with OWL transfers. If you’d be eligible for an OWL transfer and you pay with an e-Purse, you still get a Paper transfer.. try explaining that to a driver…

      4. I see no reason OWL transfer policies could not be handled with ORCA. Hell, I haven’t written code in a decade but could probably still cobble together something to handle it. This isn’t rocket surgery.

      5. It’s not about how long it would take “us” to write the code, it’s about how much the vendor would charge for a change order. :)

      6. How about dumping OWL transfers period? They’ve essentially become homeless shelter vouchers anyway.

      7. It seems to me there are three reasons for owl transfers. One, so that people can get home in the middle of the night if they run out of money. Two, frequency goes down so much at night that you don’t get the normal amount of value out of a regular transfer. Three, as an incentive to take transit home from a bar rather than driving.

  5. Cashless fare discount, daily & weekly passes and price capping can’t come soon enough.

  6. Regarding buying ORCA cards in stores, I love how BART tickets are sold in/near San Francisco. Grocery stores keep cellophane-wrapped pre-loaded cards in their cash registers. The cellophane-wrapping ensures the value of the card’s still in there. No going to the special service desk, buying a card, then adding value via a machine. You hand them $20, they hand you a refillable card with $20 value. And if we insist on keeping our $5 charge for the cards then just make them $15 value.

  7. They should lower the price of a monthly pass a bit. Currently, a monthly pass isn’t worth it unless you pay 36 fares per month.
    For trimet:
    Adult pass: 40 fares.
    Youth pass: 18.18 fares.
    Honored citizen: 26 fares.
    Paratransit: 29.39 fares.
    (Annual passes are also available, something we lack).

    Spokane Transit:
    Adult pass: 30 fares.
    Youth pass: 20 fares.
    Reduced fare pass: 30 fares.
    Adult student pass: 24 2/3 fares.

    Adult pass: 35.15 fares.
    Adult pass all-zone: 40 fares.
    Adult pass Portland express: 33.14 fares.
    Youth pass: 36.25 fares.
    Youth pass all-zone: 26.4 fares.

    Grays Harbor Transit
    Adult zone 1: 25 fares.
    Youth zone 1: 36 fares.

    As you can see, the ORCA system has some of the highest monthly pass costs, though a few options from other agencies cost more. This certainly can’t be good to discourage cash use.

    1. You can’t compare Seattle to smaller cities like Spokane, Vancouver, and Grays Harbor. Smaller transit systems have less expenses: shorter distances, fewer routes, a smaller percentage of the population using transit. If there is a long 30-mile route to the next county, there’s only one of them. So their fares can be lower.

    2. 36 fares is 18 roundtrips. On an annual basis, for a commuter that’s 216 days (i.e. slightly more than 4 days a week, or slightly less than 9 weeks of days off — 10 holidays, 2 weeks of sick time and 5 weeks of vacation.

      Just how much subsidy should daily commuters get?

  8. With more phones gaining NFC technology (my phone can read ORCA cards as well as many other agencies cards, so I would assume it could broadcast as one too), Metro/ST should investigate creating an official ORCA program for NFC enabled phones. While this wouldn’t do much for youth/seniors/low income, it would make it a free(?) and easy method to obtain an ORCA card, especially for those that infrequently use the bus or are from out of town.

    I’m sure logistically, this is easier said than done, and there might be various security issues to work out, but it would be a great benefit to Metro/ST riders.

    1. I know that in Singapore you can refill your EZ Link card using a NFC phone. Holding your phone on the orca reader might take longer since the tap zone on the phone isn’t well documented and varies from phone to phone.

  9. What is this about youth cards being available someplace other than at the customer service office and via mail? The ORCA website doesn’t mention this info. Right now you have to send in/bring in proof of age, so you can’t buy them at partner sites or online.

    1. Just use an adult pass with an e purse, register ut online and set the default charge at $1.25. Cash paying youth dont have to show ID anyway.

  10. So TM said “no thanks” to ORCA (or maybe just ORCA style) in favor or credit card swiping/smartphones? I get the smartphone avenue but swiping your credit card is just stupid IMO. It’ll just wear your your strip even faster on your credit card. Now when that goes out you can’t ride the bus or use your credit card. Sounds stupid to me.

    On another note: not sure if this was an option but I think it’d be great if TriMet and ORCA teamed up and you could use your ORCA card in both cities. That sounds awesome to me.

    1. According to the Oregonian story, TriMet is looking to use concactless cards, so there would be no worries about wearing out your magnetic strip. I wonder though whether there really would be any savings over using a closed system. It would be convenient for the users, but would transaction fees cut into revenues to a greater extent than something like ORCA?

      Of course First Data would say it makes sense in their white paper. Being a payment processor, they’ll cash in if any agency uses an open system.

      1. So to be able to use your credit card it would need to be contactless. So few credit cards have this still in America.

  11. Since it was brought up, anyone think there’s a way Metro could get rid of paper transfers with rear-entry allowed on RapidRide?

  12. I haven’t ridden Rapid Ride, but don’t you pay before you board. I assumed that each station was designed like a subway station; you pass through a gate (where a fair is required) then you wait for the bus. When the bus arrives, you just get on. Use your ORCA card or buy tokens to get through the gate. The machine that sells you tokens takes cash or credit card. Is this not the case?

    1. No, that’s the wrong metaphor. RapidRide has stops and stations with the station distinguished by having an ORCA validator. Riders can tap before they board, but they can also tap on the bus or pay cash. At stops, riders must board at the front door and tap or pay cash.

      1. No need to show the driver a transfer at the front door. Transfer holders can legally bosrd at the rear doors now.

    2. You may be confusing “RapidRide” with “anything different from every other lame Seattle bus route”. That would be a mistake.

      1. It even takes slow-ass detours and gets stuck in lots of traffic!

        “Through the gate”. Ha!

        But at least we spent money on a junket to Curitiba so that Ron Sims pretend to know what he was talking about before doing the exact opposite.

    3. There is a small number of rapidride stops with off-board ORCA readers. The rest are normal, pay-on-entry bus stops.

      1. +1 – Please stop spreading misinformation. Sing it from the hilltops and in the town squares: If you have valid fare (an ORCA card successfully tapped at the curb, a valid human services pass, or a paper transfer) please feel free to board the back door. Lining up to board the front door just slows things down. Obviously, if you need the bus lowered, feel free to come up front and request it. (Take note, Metro: As much as I hate (yes, hate) paper transfer, please keep them around until the downtown ORCA readers are up and running)

        If you have a desire to thank the driver, a wave from back is noticed and appreciated but not required.

  13. The Chicago Transit Authority is set to launch their open fare system next week.

    You can use a contactless credit card or you can purchase a Ventra card for $5 which is refunded as transit value upon registration. The cost of a single-ride ticket for the L will rise to $3 as they will now be using disposable contactless cards instead of magnetic media.

    The Ventra card has an optional retail debit account that can be activated, though it comes with all kinds of fees attached that are reminiscent of payroll cards.

  14. It was fun to see the two ‘historic’ Metro busses at the Seafair parade on Saturday. I looked insided and saw the old cash box. I remember as a kid having to fold up my dollar bills(for the all-day pass on the weekends) so it could fit into the tiny little slot. My sister used to rip up her dollar so she could get more for her money. Then the policy became that you had to show the dollar to the driver before folding and she didn’t ride as often. I don’t remember the website for the historical busses that was on the side…does anyone here know what it is?

  15. Metro just needs to do a Jean-Luc Picard and “make it so.” I mean really, just say one year from now only ORCA will be accepted. Plus, the fraudulent paper transfer schemes that people on this site have been describing would be immediately curtailed. Paper transfers and onboard cash payments seem incredibly prehistoric. Metro should pull people (kicking and screaming, if necessary) into the 21st century.

    1. Not. Just two weeks ago, my family from out of town decided to take the bus to downtown Bellevue. There was no time to go to another location to get an Orca card, and we didn’t have a car on hand at the time; it was either bus-and-pay-on-the-spot or taxi. It just so happened that they were boarding at the Redmond Transit Center where they could’ve gotten an Orca (I hope?), but if they didn’t happen to be in that one location, they would’ve needed to pay in cash.

      (The same thing happened several years ago, too: Yarrow Point Freeway Station to downtown Seattle; no Orca vending machine anywhere near Yarrow Point.)

      I’m not saying that the cash payment method needs to be cheap, but it needs to be possible for people to at least ride the bus one-way to pick up their Orca card.

      1. Annoyingly, none of the spots in Redmond (Redmond TC, Overlake TC, Bear Creek P&R, or Overlake P&R) have ORCA machines. Best you can do is get on B at any of them (except Bear Creek) and hope the driver is nice enough to let you ride to Bellevue TC which does have an ORCA machine.

      2. Or go to a nearby QFC or Safeway.

        As if it wasn’t hard enough already to figure out which side of the intersection your bus stop might be at. Stand at an intersection on the eastside and try to figure it out. If it’s near side the printing is on the opposite side so you don’t know if it’s bus stop or a “no parking North or here”; assuming you can even see the signage. Far side it’s probably obscured by construction, street trees, or just doesn’t exist.

    2. For the same reason that every Link station should have a TVM, so should every bus accept cash.

      It should just be sufficiently economically disadvantageous for regular use.

      1. In a number of European systems which use Proof Of Payment, there are multiple cash-based ticket-purchase machines *on every bus*. You don’t have to “walk past the driver”. I have no idea whether this would work in Seattle; they also have a lof of roving fare inspectors on the buses, *and* run enough buses that the fare inspectors *can* walk through the buses.

    3. They WILL kick and they WILL scream – at the drivers. It will never happen. We will always have cash payers. We will.always have fsre evaders.

      1. But, I have a feeling that 100% ORCA would reduce fare evasion by a massive amount. Yes, massive. At full ORCA, the only way a person (at least on the bus, as currently configured…front entry tap) who could allow fare evasion would be the bus driver. Obviously, if things were done as on Link (basically the honor system) then evasion could be pervasive, but at least the boarding process would be efficient. Probably an acceptable trade-off.

        Plus, full ORCA implementation would necessitate a lot more vending machines. I don’t mind cash, I just think the cash transaction should happen before boarding.

      2. 100% ORCA use would require ORCA machines at every thousand-some bus stops, because there will always be visitors or first-time riders. We can aim for 90% but not 100%.

      3. Try diving the 99 during tourist season and let me know how that works out. Or any route serving elderly ESL passengers.

  16. The problem with contactless credit cards is that if you have more than one of them, you’d have to take the card out of your wallet every time you pay a fare. With ORCA (and no second card or stray Clipper card in your wallet), you just hold the wallet up to the reader. I’m not excited about losing that.

    1. I’m not sure how much I care about that. I routinely carry 4 Orca cards — my bus pass, which is loaded with pre tax cash through a commuter plan, my stored value card, and my two kid’s cards, since you can’t [in practice] pay your child’s fare on a bus with your own Orca card [well you can, but they’ll just charge you 3 bucks even though you clearly tell them it’s a one zone kid’s fare before you swipe, and customer support says that a charge of $2.50 is expected behavior.]

      1. Actually if you use an e purse paying a childs fare is no big deal. I routinely set up fares for passengers in multiple categories to be carged to one card.

      2. I’m glad some drivers are able to do that, but I’ve had multiple bus drivers refuse to do so on my e-purse card, and escalation to customer service was a waste of time. They flat out told me that the youth fare was only available with a youth Orca.

      3. Another option is just to use an adult card and set the default charge to $1.25. Since youth paying cash dont have to show ID anyway, Im not even sure why a youth ORCA exists. I have set up ORCA to charge an adult, a senior, a youth and adisabled fare all in one transaction. If you encounter a drver who wont do this for you, do contact customer service so they get training.

      1. That’s the moral equivalent of what I do… one could do the same with a contactless credit card, which is why I’m not sure I care very much about Mike’s objection.

        I’m much more concerned about how easy it apparently is to copy a contactless CC onto a phone and then use that as if you had the CC.

      2. When I first heard about smartphone payment apps,, I thought security vulnerabilities up the gazoo.

      3. The only reason credit cards are “secure” in any way whatsoever is that the customer can refuse bogus charges once they show up on his or her bill.

        Debit cards are completely insecure and nobody should ever have one. They are an invitation to have your account cleaned out by any passing thief.

      4. Frankly, there is almost no security in our financial system — if you want secure transactions, you need to use cash all the time. The whole rest of the system, credit cards, checks, bank accounts, is “secured” solely by after-the-fact auditing.

    2. ORCA has the same issue actually. Enhanced drivers licences, work ID cards, some credit cards and Car2Go passes can all result in a “one card at a time” error when tapping.

      1. @Beavis McGee:

        That’s the point I was trying to make — the problem is already there CC’s aren’t going to make it any worse.

  17. If Metro is looking for guidance on cashless payment systems they should draw inspiration from the brilliant execution of Octopus cards in Hong Kong.

    Credit cards, even the contactless kind, are the wrong direction. Instead, like Octopus in Hong Kong, we should turn Orca cards into a payment system that private businesses can accept for low value transactions (such as those no greater than perhaps $20). For example, when you order your espresso in the morning at your neighborhood cafe they might accept payment through an Orca card reader. Fast food restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, bakeries, cafes, and parking meters, are just some of the opportunities where Orca makes sense for fast low-value transactions. Take it from someone that’s lived in Hong Kong for several years: the convenience of paying for transactions like these using Octopus (or Orca) beats cash, credit cards, or any other form of payment.

    The primary reason credit cards make a horrible choice is their fee structure: roughly $0.30 + 3% of each transaction. Since bus fares are relatively low, this fee, especially the fixed portion of it, extracts a substantial revenue cut. That’s revenue that could otherwise be supporting our transit system. There’s a reason many businesses don’t accept credit cards for small transactions, and a bus fare is a small transaction!

    On the other hand, if we turn Orca cards into a general purpose payment system it creates an additional revenue source for transit. For example, if they charged half the payment processing rates as the credit card companies it would incentivize many local businesses to offer Orca cards as a payment option, help support local businesses, and provide millions of additional dollars each year in additional transit funding.

    1. That sounds like a good idea, as long as whoever runs ORCA would allow it to be extended. It would be even better if some of the lower fee went to the transit agencies.

      I have a feeling though that credit card payments for transit would have a different fee structure. Losing 10-20% of the fare to fees would be pretty bad.

  18. Busride Magazine (a trade paper) recently had an article about the costs of electronic payment – Of course, the lead writer works for a company owned by Crane Co., which makes the dollar bill, so he could be biased towards cash, but it is a good overview of interchange fees and costs that would raise fares easily 10% if single ride ticket payment was implemented. The ideal would be to strike a deal with one of the interchange processors to only use their card network at a discount, similar to what Costco does with American Express. The disadvantage is that only one of Amex, Discover, MC, or Visa would work on the system but you could cut interchange costs substantially that way, allow 80% of the population which has or can easily obtain one of the above cards to pay without a separate card, and have the other 20% use their prepaid product (such as Amex Bluebird, Greendot GoBank, MyVanilla, etc.)

    1. Calwatch, that’s not what the article says at all.

      The article says that the cost of accepting a credit card for purchasing a single ride fare can be anywhere from 9%–13% of the fare.

      How does that compare to the cost of accepting cash for that fare? You always have to spend money to make money.

      Besides, what proportion of credit card transactions would be single rides? Most people would switch to buying at least $5 at a time.

  19. How about a mechanism that would allow business to “validate” the Orca cards of customers who arrived by bus, similar to the way businesses validate parking for customers who park in their garage?

    The way I envision it, an employee would scan your card with a handheld Orca reader and, if you took a bus trip in the last hour or so, your fare (or a portion of is) would be re-credited to your card at the business’s expense.

    Currently, you see lots of employers subsidizing transit fares for their employees, but by and large, business seem wither unwilling or unable to subsidize any transportation for their customers except driving (via parking validations).

    1. What advantage does this give the business owner? The customer’s car isn’t held hostage in a purpose-built lot, costing more and more the longer it’s left it there.

      1. I’m talking about urban locations where customer parking is is garages that would ordinarily be paid, but where the store issues validations. Lots of businesses in downtown Seattle and downtown Bellevue validate parking, as does the Seattle REI and the Whole Foods in South Lake Union.

        If the purpose of validations is to offset transportation costs to attract customers, why would a store be willing to pay $5 towards a customer’s parking fee, but not towards their transit fare? At least currently, one answer is that the technological means for the latter isn’t really there without relying on the honor system (which would get lots of abuse by people who are dropped off in cars, etc.)

  20. Carrot, not stick approach will work best. For many reasons people need to simply be able to pay cash. Friends from out of town, infrequent users, or days you forget your card. Offer slightly cheaper fares for cashless payments.

    Anyone know why the Water Taxi doesn’t provide paper transfers for cash, or ticket passengers? The other day I was going to take friends from out of town to downtown starting with the Water Taxi and then using Metro for another trip. Without the ability to get them transfers, this added up real quick and made taking the car the better choice. What buses do or do not offer transfers now? This has gotten so confusing since they started “rapid” ride.

    1. Thank you SSG. This is a terrible idea that will simply chase away the occasional rider. And imagine the poor bleary-eyed tourist fresh off the plane turned away from the last bus for the evening because he or she didn’t jump through the right hoops.

      Moreover, people should ALWAYS have the option of paying by cash if they don’t want their activities traced. I do not want to live in a 100% cashless society.

      If Metro wants to encourage people to go cashless, provide them a financial incentive, but never take away their choices!

      1. Beavis, when the ORCA card + single fare costs less than the cash fare, and there’s an ORCA dispenser in every station, you will be able to do that…

    2. As I understand it, every Metro-branded bus – i.e. not Sound Transit – offers a paper transfer which will be valid on every other Metro-branded bus. There might be peculiarities with peak fares, but that’s basically it. Am I right?

  21. Just a bunch of wusses, if you want the advantage that cashless travel brings to the bus network (much faster boarding) then do what London did. Still have cash fares available, but at double the cost of the contactless system. No need for many street side machines. Just let convenience stores be your ticket agents, and let them sell the cards and recharge them with credit.

    With such a big incentive to use the card, useage went up to over 95% within a month or so. People moaned before the changes, but no one would want to go back to the old system now. The only people who use cash now are people who have forgotten their cards, or strangers who weren’t planning on using transit.

    1. London has:
      (1) No fee for purchase of the contactless card — refundable deposit, and even that is smaller than the NON-refundable fee demanded by the idiots selling the overpriced ORCA card
      (2) The contactless card is available from every single London Underground station and most of the National Rail stations (no screwing around with convenience stores)

      In Seattle, you have to do (1) before you can get people to stop using cash. And you really ought to do the equivalent of (2) — dispense ORCA cards at every Link station, Sounder station, expressway bus station, “intermodal center”, and ferry dock, at a minimum.

  22. Whenever they finally start the redevelopment of 3rd Ave downtown between Pike and Pine that will allow fiber optic lines to be laid which then will give Metro the high speed internet connection it needs for the Orca card readers for Rapid Ride. Though I know Comcast business has service at the Melbourne Tower so I am not sure why Metro can’t use that for the reader in the meantime?

  23. This really isn’t rocket science. And there are dozens of successful examples.

    1. You provide a meaningful financial incentive (or penalty for non-use) for use of cashless fare payment. NYC gave a 15% bonus for Metrocard initially, now reduced to 5%, and bus-subway transfers. Most every system gives you more value for cashless fare payment, paying you for something that reduces their operating costs.
    2. You make cashless fare payment easy to access – distribute free cards or make them very cheap, and easy to reload via multiple systems, all readily accessible. That means a great website, lots of TVMs that can add value, and maybe allowing it to be done at retailers too.
    3. Also, provide product types that are meaningful for non-monthly-pass holders, like 1-day, 3-day and 7-day passes.

    It’s like we have done everything wrong (at least for ePurse users/non-monthly passholders)
    We charge $5 for the card – it should be closer to $1
    We give zero financial discount for using the card vs. paying cash (nor penalty.)
    TVMs are few and far between if you aren’t a Link user
    The website sucks and autoload is a trap
    We don’t have attractive 1-day, 3-day, 7-day passes
    Transfer policies are convoluted. If you can limit yourself to KCM buses, a paper transfer, which cannot only be acquired by paying cash, is more valuable by far than the 2-hour ORCA transfer

    I’m tired of hearing the excuse that these problems cannot be addressed because it is a multi-agency system. That’s a cop out and a great example of why government organizations get such a bad reputation. There’s no good reason why inside King County there shouldn’t be a single set of policies for fares, regardless of whether the vehicle is branded ST or KCM.

  24. Not only do we do everything wrong with Orca currently, but how often did your old monthly Puget Pass fail because of a hairline crack or some other technical glitch? Never. All ways the customer loses.

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