In October 2012 Metro implemented a number of techniques to speed up fare payment in the tunnel, as the Ride Free Area expired. I asked Metro how things are going, one year plus later:
Q: When exactly (and at what stations) are the loaders deployed? Has their deployment evolved in any way since the beginning?
A: Three ORCA Boarding Assistants are deployed at Westlake Station, two northbound and one south bound, from 3:30 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. on weekdays. There is one boarding assistant southbound at IDS but all boarding assistants can be reassigned as needed. When boarding assistants were first introduced in the tunnel, they were deployed at all the stations except Pioneer Square Station. Once we had some experience with boarding assistants, we adjusted their deployment to maximize their benefit, which is to reduce dwell time for buses in the tunnel. This was one of a number of measures we took to minimize the added tunnel travel time required with pay-on-entry. A comparison of PM peak travel times before and after the service change showed that by January, northbound travel times were about one minute longer than before the service change, while southbound travel times were nearly the same as before the service change. Boarding assistants were not expected to be a permanent cost of operation once the system settled down after the end of the RFA. We have adjusted the use of boarding assistants and will continue to evaluate where and how to most cost-effectively deploy them in the tunnel.
Q: Is there any firm plan to do something about cash payment in the tunnel?
A: Metro transit has no firm plan to do something about cash payment in the tunnel. Having said that however, Metro continues to take actions to expand ORCA use throughout the system and reduce cash payments. These include recent changes to allow retailers to sell ORCA cards, adding ORCA Vending Machines at additional locations, continued outreach with our ORCA To Go van to help customers get ORCA cards and learn how to use them, continuing to expand our employer partnerships to provide employees with passes on ORCA cards, and working with our regional transit partners to implement a regional ORCA day-pass demonstration beginning in April [more to come on this — Ed.]. We are also exploring fare structure options such as a low-income fare implemented through ORCA and ORCA fare incentives that would increase ORCA market share. Finally, we are also exploring other options such as new ticket vending machines and mobile apps that would allow customers to pay their fare with their smart phones. About the time Link service is extended to Northgate (2021) and operated at a much higher frequency, buses are unlikely to still be operating in the tunnel, hence major investments to make the platforms paid zones would not be cost effective. Given the volume of bus service, a universal proof of payment system is cost prohibitive.
Q: As a stopgap, why not have someone sell transfers in the tunnel stations during peak hours? Existing media presumably wouldn’t require much in the way of study.
A: Selling transfers or tickets and not allowing cash on the buses would require that we have a secure customer service location at each station, conveniently placed. We would need a secure facility to store cash, and we would need to have a point-of-sale system that provided an audit trail of sales and revenue. We currently don’t have budget or staff to provide this service. We are exploring concepts for a ticket vending machine and have federal funds to initiate a project. We are currently focused on deploying machines on Third Ave to help reduce dwell times on the surface.
Q: Is there any special way that Metro handles bus exits from the CPS bays into the tunnel? For example, are certain bays supposed to yield to other bays?
A: Buses exiting from CPS bays into the tunnel during peak hour are supposed to exit going into the tunnel in a manner that maximizes the number of buses that can service the station platform. Ideally, a platoon of five buses would leave CPS such that 2 south end buses exit CPS first (rts 101, 102, 106, 150), followed by 1 bus that is dropping off customers only ( rt. 41, 316, 71,72, 73, 74, 76, 77, followed by 2 eastside coaches (rts. 216,218,550, 255). Service supervisors when available oversee the platooning of coaches at CPS. Otherwise, the drivers take it upon themselves to determine who should go first when exiting from the bays at CPS. Except for brand new tunnel drivers, drivers know what order they should leave in so as to expedite loading in the stations. Metro operations is aware that scheduled coaches can be late and the ideal platoon might not materialize, but more often than not, buses in the tunnel leave in the correct order and operations run fairly smoothly.