53 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Help Yourself to ORCA”

      1. I don’t know what the difference is. Either way I’m asked to approve my post. Every.single.time. My name and email are pre-filled. It’s a PITA.

    1. I have written responses from iPhone, Mac and windows computers and never had a problem.

  1. There are 17 other bus smart cards available for the general public in the US.

    Eight are free after rebates. Two are $1. Five are $2 post-rebate (including one able to go $2 into negative balance). One is $3, but has no more functionality than contactless debit/credit cards on that system, so riders with cards from the right banks will be able to avoid the $3. The average cost of these cards is $1. ORCA costs $5, and Vix gets $2.41 for every card distributed. Yes, charging for the card helps discourage people from throwing it away, but why such a steep price, when you want people to get it and use it?

  2. Only five of these seventeen other bus smart cards in the US have competing paper transfer products. San Francisco prints the date on them, so you can’t collect all categories in order to ride free in perpetuity with help from web and facebook pages disclosing the letter and color of the day.

    I’m not suggesting that Metro go to the expense of printing dates on the paper transfers. I’m suggesting Metro join ST, CT, ET, King County Ferries, and WSF in not using them at all.

    Paper transfers cause more trouble than they are worth, and create a (probably overblown) impression of mass fare evasion. But with thousands subscribed to some of those facebook how-to-ride-free pages, it is hard to argue against the impression, or claim the cheaters are poor or homeless people.

    With the impending low-income ORCA being rolled out, we can dispense with the myth that poor riders are getting some side benefit from the availability of paper transfers. Nor have I seen any evidence that their existence has helped convince commuters to accept 2-seat rides.

    It is time for the paper transfer program to meet the Sword of Damochles.

    1. +1. Once the Low Income ORCA program is running, Metro could easily cut 30 minutes off of paper transfers to keep them around but make ORCA transfers longer in the vast majority of cases.

      I often count seconds that tick by on my DDU as people pay with cash. The most organized passengers tend to pay in about 4 seconds. That’s the amount of time for 2 $1 bills to feed into the machine and two quarters to drop. Experienced ORCA passengers, who tap and hold for the beep, take about 1 second. When you multiply that by the number of people I see filing on/off my bus each trip (easily close to 200 people on a single D/C trip during the afternoon rush) maybe you’ll understand why I’m kind of nutty about this issue. And the disorganized people who put down their bag, fish out their wallet, hunt for bills, put them into the fare box, fish around in their pockets for two quarters, and drop those into the fare box? We’re talking 20-30 seconds or more with ever increasing chances of missing a light cycle.

      Contrast that with off bus payment: You’re talking 40+ passengers turning over at a stop in 15 seconds or less although finding groups that large/organized is still, sadly, rare. (B Line rush hour at 140th and 156th stops were like that last year. Some Seattle stops are starting to get that efficient)

      1. Oh, I forgot we still need slips of paper for PoP on RR for the time being, until ticket printers can be installed at all stops (for which I don’t believe there is a plan to do so). Is there some unique mark an operator could make that would make the current slips good for that ride only?

        We don’t need slips of paper for any non-PoP buses, it they won’t become PoP any time soon, although I am totally in favor of allowing fare inspectors to invoke PoP on any route.

      2. How about building transfer-dispensing TVM’s to allow off-board cash payment at a small number of bus stops that consistently get extremely high passenger volume? For example, imagine if cash payers in the tunnel could use the existing machines that dispense Link tickets to ride Metro buses.

      3. Here in Portland it isn’t that unusual for someone paying with cash to be asked to move over a bit so that those with passes or transfers can board and show them to the driver while the cash payer puts their money in the box. Of course, that can’t happen in the Seattle area with fare box and ORCA reader next to each other. Doesn’t Pierce transit or some other agency put the card reader on the other side of the door so that they are able to board this way?

      4. Also, for cash payers, not all forms of change are equal. A pair of dollar coins and quarters can be dumped in the farebox within a couple of seconds if gathered in advance. Inserting bills into the machine takes longer. (And yes, I have confirmed through personal experience that Metro buses do accept dollar coins, even though almost nobody uses them or knows they exist).

      5. Oh, you’re going to get me started on the rant about how the US should have abolished dollar bills in favor of dollar coins, like Canada and pretty much every other country has.

    2. I’ve said this a few times already, but if you want to encourage use of ORCA (which I completely support), eliminating paper transfers is an illogical way to do so. I agree with Jarrett Walker in that there is no logical reason why a fare system should discriminate based on the number of transfers someone makes: transfers are a geometrical necessity of the system, not an extra privilege. Making someone pay $5-6 just for a single trip, simply because they haven’t managed to obtain an ORCA card and need make a transfer for that trip, is just cruel and turns occasional/spontaneous riders off transit. At the same time, people who are lucky enough to have a single-seat ride have absolutely no incentive to get ORCA.

      Of course, you might ask, “If you don’t want to pay extra for transfers, why don’t you simply get an ORCA card?” Here are some reasons:
      *For youth and senior riders, getting an ORCA card is very time-consuming and difficult: you either have to wait several days for it to arrive in the mail (what do you do before it arrives?), or you have to go all the way to Downtown Seattle, which takes a lot of time (plus for most suburban areas you have to make a transfer just to get downtown).
      *Many people (including tourists or people who rarely ride transit) might spontaneously consider transit for a trip. In these spontaneous trips, there is no time to detour all the way to a TVM and buy an ORCA card, so again, they could be forced to pay $5-6 for a short one-way trip that happens to involve a transfer. This would give them a terrible impression of transit.

      I’m okay with making the cash fare slightly higher than the ORCA fare (for example, maybe $3.00 for cash vs. $2.50 for ORCA), but there is no reason to charge cash payers TWICE AS MUCH as ORCA users, just because for no fault of their own they haven’t managed to obtain an ORCA card and yet have to make a trip that involves a transfer.

      (Regarding transfer fraud, I don’t see how stamping the date, or even just an arbitrary 4-digit code, wouldn’t prevent this from happening. And in any case, the number of innocent bus riders who will have to pay $5-6 for a single trip outweighs the few who seriously try to take advantage of the system.)

      1. I completely agree. Getting rid of transfer slips makes the system less efficient in a number of big ways:

        – It gives people a strong incentive to demand one-seat rides;
        – It blocks the implementation of universal proof-of-payment;
        – Removing transfer slips will probably increase cash payment, and paying cash is significantly slower than showing a transfer.

        The right solution, IMHO, is to keep transfers, but charge a significant cash premium (e.g. 30-50%). That maintains the right incentives.

      2. ??? Why would eliminating paper trasfers incentivize cash payment? If a transfer can only be had with ORCA payment, it seems like that’s the mode of payment that would be favored.

      3. aw,

        Consider someone who currently pays cash, receives a transfer slip, and uses the slip for the second part of their trip. They don’t have an ORCA card because who knows why.

        If we eliminate paper transfers, then each of those riders will switch to one of four alternatives:

        1. They will get an ORCA card.

        2. They will pay cash for their second (or third, etc.) bus trips, thus increasing the total number of cash payments.

        3. They will continue paying cash, but adjust their trips so that they only ride a single bus.

        4. They will stop riding the bus for that trip altogether.

        You seem to be arguing that zero people will fall into the second category. I’m saying that we don’t really know how many people will fall into these different categories, but all of them aside from #1 are bad, and #2 and #3 are especially bad from the perspective of network efficiency.

        Maintaining transfer slips, but changing cash fares to cost 30-50% more than ORCA fares, would be guaranteed not to have anyone in categories #2 or #3.

      4. I’m not saying that there would be zero people in category two, merely that there would more people in category one than in category two.

      5. Category 2 is only bad if the number switching to that is greater than the number switching to Category 1, but I would submit that the number switching to Category 1 should overwhelm the number switching to Category 2. And hey, Metro’s revenue goes up from the Category 2 riders.

        Or it might matter if those second payments are downtown, but once the rider does the math, she/he will most likely avail her/himself of the opportunity to get an ORCA downtown and be on the road to the break-even point within 2-3 trips (compared to the current infinity trips to break even on having bought an ORCA).

        Category 3 doesn’t matter. They are still riding, and only paying cash once. If the one-seat ride goes away (and this would affect a very small percent of the system’s total ridership, given how few one-seat rides have gone away, even *with* paper transfers, and how those who insisted on a one-seat ride stopped riding, even with the presence of paper transfers), most will then figure out how to get an ORCA at the train station or transfer center. What I’m saying here is the presence of paper transfers has almost no effect on riders’ desire for a one-seat ride, and the most entitled one-seat riders already have ORCA, since they are frequent commuters (or were, until their underutilized one-seat ride got restructured). And some of them are (or were) openly hostile to being on the same bus with people who use paper transfers.

        Category 4 is unfortunate, and I say that even for the punks who work the system with their color/letter collection. But as the buses get faster, the number of new riders who hear how fast a Metro bus trip is and start riding will overwhelm the few dozen who think the FBI is using ORCA to hunt them down.

      6. “- [lack of paper transfers] blocks the implementation of universal proof-of-payment;”

        Nope. Universal PoP requires paper records of some sort, but it doesn’t require that those pieces of paper be accepted for transfers. Indeed, having the paper slips designate the route number will help improve the accuracy of PoP. I betcha the driver could write down the time on a slip faster than a machine could print out a slip.

        Those analog tears on the paper transfer make accurate and precise determinations of whether someone paid their fare properly very, very difficult.

      7. Category 3 definitely does matter. Consider the “Save the 2” campaign. For those riders, it was bad enough that Metro was going to force them to connect between two very-frequent buses to get to Seattle center. If those same people had to pay double price for the same trip, the opposition would have been twice as intense.

        If your argument is that the current system of paper transfers doesn’t work very well, then I agree. I think that something like the CharlieTickets in Boston would be much better. But I just can’t get behind any fare change that would make one-seat rides cheaper than two-seat rides for any class of rider, when the biggest problem with our existing network is precisely that it’s so biased in favor of one-seat rides to the exclusion of inter-neighborhood connectivity.

      8. At the very least, if you are going to take away paper transfers, they really need to seriously ramp up ORCA card promotion and make them very easy to get (including for youth and senior cards). There should be huge signs on every bus, train, and station proclaiming, “GET FREE TRANSFERS WITH AN ORCA CARD!!! BUY YOURS TODAY ON ANY BUS OR TRANSIT HUB!!!,” and they should literally sell ORCA cards on every bus. Really, you should be able to simply stick a $10 or $20 bill into a bus farebox and get an ORCA card of that value (with the initial card fee and fare for that trip deducted, of course). There could be a code attached to the card which could be used to add money online. I can’t really think of a quick way to distribute youth or senior cards (due to the need to verify age), but there needs to be more locations for doing so other than Downtown Seattle.

        On a theoretical level, I still don’t think that any fare system should differentiate AT ALL between trips requiring a transfer and one-seat rides, but if everyone (including occasional riders) is easily able to get an ORCA card, there should be no difference in practice.

      9. There should not be an “initial card fee”. Do not underestimate how ridiculous that is. Until you eliminate the “initial card fee”, or reduce it to a minimal level, you will not get full uptake of ORCA, even if it’s sold everywhere.

  3. Five of the seventeen other bus smart cards have a per-ride discount over cash fares. A couple more have multi-ride rebates. All but one have unlimited-ride monthly passes, unlimited-ride 30-day passes, or unlimited-ride 31-day passes.

    1. I procured one of the new ST books that got stocked in one of the trains prematurely over a week ago. I believe there will be a post coming on this, once the link to the online version of the book is available, but there is nothing terribly revolutionary.

      Likewise, expect a post on the Metro service change after the webpage shows the details. Or, offer to write the posts. We know the E-Line is coming, of course. I’m loving those new information kiosks downtown. Thanks, Metro! Some of the RTA signage may go live with the service change, but I believe most are already functioning.

    2. I know they’re also moving some routes around to different stops Downtown to make room for RRE at the RR stops. I’m usually at 3rd & Pine and at that one the 358 is going away to become RRE at 3rd & Pike and the 17X and 18X are moving to 3rd and Pine.

    3. I saw the eastbound real-time display at Campus Parkway. It’s in a recessed corner of the building, close to the campus bus bay (25/67/68/75/372, also 49/70) but invisible from the other bay (30/71/72’/73). So people at the other bay can’t see it exists, and likewise can’t see their stop from the recess. So you have to walk to it looking behind you the whole time, then quickly dart into and out of the recess, in case your bus comes in the meantime.

      The permanence of the recess suggests that Metro intends to keep Campus Parkway as a quasi transit center post-Link. Perhaps their thinking is that the 30/71/72/73 will go away when Link comes and then they can close the stop.

      1. The eastbound display is not as bad as I thought. I looked at it agin, and you can see the further bus from the display point if there’s not a crowd at the closer stop. As for westbound, the display is in the window of the dorm’s cardio room.

    4. The thing I hate is their lack of transparency on upcoming changes. They know and finalized these changes months and months before they actually happen, yet we only find out about it in the last few weeks (or week, singular). Case in point, the span of service of my main route was reduced by nearly two hours last fall, and there was no mention of it until 10 days before the change.

      1. It must be very frustrating for some that there is such short notice from Metro regarding upcoming shakeup changes.

      2. Significant changes were approved by the county council last… Fall I think, so they’re public record. Metro is allowed to make small “administrative changes” without going through that process. I’m not sure how significant it has to be to be “administrative”. Which route are we talking about?

  4. Speaking of cards, I was recently informed by Metro that my ORCA card automatic fill request was rejected by my bank. This was because my card had expired. Yes, it had, and they had sent me a new one a few months before.

    It’s odd because my bank (Chase) has a record of many of the websites (like Amazon, PSE) that had my card on file and suggested I review and update those. Some of these sites also sent me notices asking me to update my card information before it expired.

    Metro may send notices (with an aggressive spam filter, I occasionally miss vendor mail) but if not, they might want to consider doing so before trying to assess a charge against an obviously out of date credit card and then send me a slightly accusatory email about it.

      1. I think the ORCA website was designed for IE6 (who’s release date was in 2001) and has not been changed since…

      2. Internet Exploder was not a suitable browser to design for even back in 2001. It was in violation of all manner of standards.

    1. I originally had autoload set up, but now I make all payments at a TVM where I can get a receipt and check the card immediatley afterward to make sure it was credited.

  5. It seems like I’ve read that the reason they continue to charge $5 for the ORCA is so people don’t treat them like they’re disposable. Instead of an up-front penalty to encourage people to hang onto their cards, why don’t they implement an ongoing incentive to keeping them? For example, on your card’s “birthday”, you get a $5 epurse credit. There are probably much better incentive ideas, maybe ones that wouldn’t cost the ORCA consortium anything, such as entry into drawings, community discounts, or something.

    There is a business case to increase ORCA adoption (otherwise they wouldn’t have implemented it in the first place, nor would they pay for advertisements). Every stakeholder in our transit systems benefits by increased ORCA adoption. Find a way to reward ORCA users who keep their cards in good shape rather than paying to produce and run advertisements.

    1. FWIW, every visitor will continue to use cash because visitors *need* a disposable fare medium.

      The Seattle area doesn’t seem to understand the concept of people visiting the city — or wants to discourage people from doing so.

  6. A non-transit open thread question, for a change. :)

    In a past open thread, (when talking about where the 44 would possibly turn around if construction at NE Pacific Pl affects it) David Lawson made reference to using the turnaround wires near “the Kemper Freeman Mart” near the Montlake bridge. What on Earth is that? I can’t find the previous thread to see if he replied and I’m insanely curious. I’ve been going through that area a lot lately and don’t see anything that might be Freeman-esque.

    1. I’m guessing it’s the Montlake Market at the northwest corner of Montlake and Roanoke. If Google Street View isn’t mistaken, there’s still a trolleybus turnaround there.

      1. Yeah, that market either is or was until recently owned by either Kemper Freeman or one of his relatives. This ownership is (dubiously) notable (on STB) because ST decided to omit an air vent from the U Link tunnel in that location, which limits the maximum frequency of trains through the tunnel according to safety regulations, and it’s been speculated on this blog that avoiding a fight with Kemper Freeman was part of the reason why, though I don’t know that there’s any hard evidence of this.

        Speaking of that turnaround, it probably won’t actually be used for turning around the 44, at least for any significant amount of time. According to some engineering drawings available on the UW website eastbound Pacific Place is being rerouted over the bridge currently used by the Burke-Gilman Trail; this bridge is being expanded, but not enough to accommodate its current users along with the vehicles, because nobody that’s ever planned a construction project in the history of Seattle has ever walked or biked anywhere ever. Anyway, they’re also putting up trolley wire on the temporary road so the 44 can use that.

      2. I was at that trail crossing last week, walking up from the 255. There are some fenced-off areas between the trail and the stairs, and it looks like there’s the triangle road and a second road. But the trail wasn’t blocked or detoured at all, unless it’s already on a new alignment.

      3. @Mike: The big Burke-Gilman detour starts later this month. The detour will be toward campus along the edge of Rainier Vista, across it on Stevens Lane, then back to the trail along the other edge. For trips between the Burke and the Montlake Bridge the most convenient option will be Pacific Street, in the street if you’re comfortable there or on the sidewalk otherwise. Or you could cut through UWMC, which they don’t want you to do… but which I’m tempted to do in retaliation for their obnoxious detour even though Pacific would be faster.

      4. (Also, when you’re biking east there will probably be a way to get down to the road that’s taking over the Burke’s space… using that road would be a satisfying way to piss off motorists and UW, and it would be fast and direct, so that’s a win-win-win. You won’t be able to get back to the Burke from there, it’s only for getting to Montlake Blvd., and only eastbound… but if you’re going to the bridge you just hang a right like the 44 does, cruise down the HOV/turn lane, and hop up onto the pedestrian island at Montlake/Pacific.)

        (Also people heading to the Montlake Bridge from the northeast should use the bridge near the basketball stadium during construction and ride the east sidewalk of Montlake Blvd. all the way to the bridge.)

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