20130722_185459Since May, mobile ORCA vendors have visited farmers markets in Kent and Auburn, with announced visits to senior centers and other venues as well. Jim Hammond, ST customer outreach manager, expounded that ST first thought of reaching out to customers who may not go online ordinarily. Consequently, the ST mobile vending currently targets youth, seniors, and those eligible for reduced rates. On August 5th I tagged along with Sound Transit’s mobile ORCA vending booth at the Mariners game.

“We’re at baby steps here,” Hammond said. “We’ll experiment and learn how to improve protocols.”

He proffered an example: ST could streamline the process of getting an ORCA card, perhaps separating payments and registration, or whatever other options make sense. He emphasized that the mobile vending is in an experimental stage, open for tinkering.

The setup consists of a table spread with ST schedules, promotional materials, general paraphernalia, and the actual station, pictured above. (The artwork is temporary, according to Carol Masnik, ST marketing specialist.) The station’s functional pieces are a laptop, scanner, credit card reader, and Evolis card printer.

You have several options at the station. You can check balance and add value to your card (hence the credit card reader), or obtain a senior, reduced rate, or youth card, per the focus on those least likely to obtain the standard adult ORCA card online. The card reader only produces senior cards (since senior cards are printed with rider name), with the youth cards pre-printed, as they are indistinguishable from adult ORCAs.

Denene Dean, customer outreach specialist, stated that only two people had stopped by to add value to their cards (in the period 5:30-7:30pm). While I was taking notes and pictures, one more gentleman stopped by to chat with Dean and Masnik.

The upshot of his visit was that he had multiple ORCA cards registered, as he had lost a couple. He sought a replacement, but due to the registration issue, he had to go to the ORCA customer service center, Dean stated. From this incident, it’s clear that every once in awhile, a visit to the ORCA center is necessary. (This is rather de rigeur, but still regrettable, at times.)

Despite the paltry number of users, (which may have been due to the venue), the mobile ORCA site seemed useful. People to answer your questions and convenient options for various types of cards are good things. You normally have to obtain senior and youth cards at the Metro office, so providing a different location to obtain those items is quite good. It’s not supremely innovative, nor does the station provide a wide range of services, but what it does do is open up another convenient avenue for riders to obtain ORCA cards, especially for seniors and youth.

This reader produces new senior cards.
This reader produces new senior cards.

I can see it being especially convenient at senior centers, middle schools, and the like; bringing the source of youth and senior cards to those who otherwise would have to go into the Metro office. I think that’s probably the key to the mobile vending. It definitely supports the recent Low Income Fare Options Advisory Committee decision.

Hammond stated he saw local festivals, markets, and events, with scheduled appearances from the ORCA station, as the best ways to popularize the mobile vending.

This led me to question Hammond as to whether this was a push toward cashless fares in general, in line with King County’s general plan.

“A cashless plan is not the cause of the push toward ORCA vending,” Hammond said, however. “It can be helpful overall toward increasing ORCA’s presence, but it’s not part of a plan to go cashless.”

Whether or not it’s part of a push, it’ll definitely provide customers with options to move away from cash. With any luck, the station will soon add even more options and become a fixture at local events.

26 Replies to “Sound Transit Mobile Vending Review”

  1. Glad they’re out there trying to get the card into more people’s hands. Less cash = awesome! It would have been nice to see those free KC Metro ride tickets mailed out to the public on a pre-loaded ORCA rather than paper.

    Also wondering: what is the cost of this outreach vs. sending everyone in the region an ORCA with instructions?

    1. For the standard adult card at least, better would be the way the MBTA passes out CharlieCards. They just leave stacks of them near fare machines. If you don’t have one, you just grab one and then use the fare machine to add value or a pass to it. You can also go online and register to have passes or value auto-added. They incentivise use of the CharlieCards over paper CharlieTickets and cash fares (I’m unclear if they still take cash fares on MBTA buses; the T is cashless) by giving a discounted fare to the Card. The only problem for riders is that the availability of the Cards is inconsistent; sometimes there’s a stack and sometimes there isn’t.

    2. If the ticket value had been on an ORCA card, there was no way to make it expire in 1-2 months. Also, the pass-through cost the vendor charges is about $2. I have yet to get a logical answer from Metro why they charge more than $2 to obtain the card. But I always get a response, regardless of whether they answer the question.

    3. I saw them and rushed over thinking they were giving away something. Once I realized they were just giving me what any transit station would give me I moved on.

      Considering the cost of the two people running the little stand, their transportation costs etc. they probably could have just given away 100 free Orca cards and broke even. I didn’t see them really selling much when I was there.

  2. While this effort can’t hurt, I don’t see it as terribly useful. If I’m in a retirement home and need to take the bus and have no money on my ORCA card, I’m not sure hoping this service shows up to help me would be a great plan. I could imagine it being somewhat useful if the arrived at the same spot every week at the same time, and advertised this locally. Then at least the well organized riders that plan ahead would have another payment option. But I still imagine the number of people served would be quite low.

    That said, good for ST for going out and trying low-cost ideas to see what works. While you’re at it, please install a slide at one of your stations to get to platform level.

  3. or just get one of these at your friendly Craigslist Outlet

    Orca Card – $300 (Seattle )
    Unlimited use/free pass orca card. Goes to 2018 call or text …

      1. Which is to say, you can sell bank accounts from money laundered through Nigeria on Craigslist, so I just don’t see how your comment has anything to do with the credibility of the ORCA program.

  4. When I saw the title of this post, I was hoping for food carts at Link stations.

  5. This is nice to have, but I have to say it’s a labor-intensive, bottom-up approach that doesn’t get to the heart of ORCA’s adoption problems.

    67% of all ORCA revenue comes from institutional accounts (Passport and Choice), 14% from the website/autoload, 8% from TVMs, 7% from Westlake/King Street service centers, and 4% from retailers. (Page 9, here)

    Top-down solutions would seem to work far better: aggressively grow institutional accounts further, get rid of paper transfers, drop or sharply reduce the $5 card fee, focus hard on South King County (the only area where ORCA use is generally below 50%), and make damn sure that the new low-income fare program is ORCA only.

    1. You have to be more precise: Make darn sure that the new low-income fare program is only available via loaded ORCA product. It will be via an ORCA card. We have to make sure the card doesn’t become a flash card that is then used to pay a reduced cash fare. Do that, and you’ve lost my support for the program.

      Just how much are Metro/ST spending to avoid eliminating the card purchase fee?

  6. Is there a list online somewhere of what events they will be at? If I’m trying to get a kid ORCA card, and I need to show them my kid’s birth certificate so I can prove he’s under 18, spontaneously coming across one of these stands doesn’t really do me any good. But knowing in advance that they’ll be at a festival in my neighborhood, I might be more likely to go the festival, plus I’d know to bring the birth certificate with me.

    1. ^^^^^^ This is a problem they really need to work on solving. Coordinating to get my nieces from Bothell to downtown Seattle during business hours and having them remember their school ID’s was a total pain. Having to do it again when one of them lost theirs is insanity. I believe she’s back to using cash.

      1. You can’t get a child’s ORCA by mail order. They need to see the kid’s ID or birth certificate (and possibly need to see the actual child? I don’t remember)

      2. WAIT! I just checked the website, and it looks like you can now get a kid’s ORCA by mail. Yay!

  7. They had the mobile site at Folklife and I thought it would be a convenient way to put some additional e-purse value on my secondary ORCA card (which I give to friends and relatives visiting from out of town). I saddled up to the site and handed them my debit card along with the ORCA card. I was told they only take cash.

    One of the primary purposes of the ORCA system is to eliminate the use of cash. So the fact that I needed to have cash to put value on my ORCA card seemed ridiculous to me.

    1. Odd. The Sound Transit staff person was taking credit cards at the Taste of Edmonds last weekend.

  8. If the child’s card is registered, it can be replaced by calling in through the ORCA phone number or Metro’s Rider Information line.

  9. Fantastic idea. If you want to go after youth, elderly, and low income to a place/situation where there’s a fighting chance of having ID, can’t think of a better place than the library. Any thoughts about taking the road show through to that system?

  10. How about getting a better ATM machine at Kent Station!

    The screen on the one they have is unreadable in sunlight.

    Also, for those who don’t ride the train, only the buses, they probably don’t even know it’s there or that it can dispense ORCA cards! (I didn’t know myself until I needed an extra and bought one while bicycling).

    The machine is up on the platform. There’s no signs explaining what it does or what its capabilities are. I bet almost every bus rider in Kent has passed through Kent Station at one time or another, so you wouldn’t even need outreach or online, but a better situated ORCA ATM.

    Also, get rid of the $5 fee. For folk around here, $5 is lunch money!!

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