Although its practical impact has likely been minimal, one might find it a bit sloppy that the Seattle Streetcar has no way to properly accommodate ORCA cards, so that fare inspectors must accept the mere presence of one as a valid fare. SDOT’s Ethan Melone confirms that those days are soon gone.

For the South Lake Union line, here is timeline:

1.      Prep Work – Brackets (By SDOT Structures), ORCA Post/Baseplate/Conduit (SDOT Signal) – Completed end of March

2.      Router Cabinets/Final Wiring – Completed April

3.      Metro Testing/Startup – May

The First Hill Streetcar will open with ORCA support later this year.

51 Replies to “Seattle Streetcar to Get ORCA Readers”

  1. Great to hear!

    My first time riding the SLUT with an Orca card was really confusing. I must have read and re-read the posted fare rules three or four times. It talks about fares for adults and children, how to pay cash fares, and mentions somewhere that “Orca is accepted”, but never says explicitly “if you have an Orca card, you should sit down and do nothing”. Because of this, I spent several minutes going in and out of the trolley (it was waiting at the terminus) looking for an Orca reader and trying to tag my orca card at any likely spot on the fare machine, to no avail… finally I gave up and just sat down.

    I may be a bit slow, but at least in the end I did the correct thing…

    1. Made worse by the fact that the regular ticket validator on board is yellow, the same color as the stationary readers elsewhere throughout the system. Sheesh!

  2. My first trip in the SLUT was when I was visiting Seattle over a weekend, before I had an ORCA card. I spent ten minutes trying to get the broken TVM on the platform to give me a ticket, before giving up like everyone else. I boarded the train, and a fare inspector got on at the next stop; everyone told him the TVM was broken. He said “Oh, yeah that thing’s broken all the time, don’t worry” and got off at the next stop without checking any fare. It was a great introduction to Seattle transit.

      1. A fare inspector asked to see my Orca card on the SLUT once, shortly after it first started running a few years ago. It has not happened since.

  3. I hope Seattle Streetcar takes a different approach from Sound Transit on double-taps. I watched yet another Link passenger the other day get issued a warning for double-tapping, and shown that he had single-tapped on trips the day before and two days before.

    Until common sense prevails, and a different sound is used for “Trip Canceilled” than for “Permit to Travel”, just count the number of double-taps that get caught, and let the pencil pushers work out the formula for how many passholders and how many e-purse users rode and double-tapped, based on extrapolation.

    And then move on to the next passenger and catch the real fare evaders.

    1. Double tapping is an unintentional method of fare evasion. No money changes hands on a double tap so it’s the passengers responsibility to make sure a fare is paid.

      1. It is Sound Transit’s responsibility to consider basic accessibility issues, including having tap-on, tap-off, and cancel sounds that blind passengers can distinguish. It is also Sound Transit’s responsility to devise an accounting formula to handle passholders who occasionally double-tap, rather than refuse to honor the pass. Of course, if they handled the blind accessibility issue properly, the number of passholders who double-tap would drop significantly, and a legitimate case could be made that non-pass-holding double-tappers did so intentionally.

  4. I believe First Hill opens in May(?), but I’m not clear from your statement whether it opens with Orca, or Orca is added later in the year.

  5. To some extent, you can blame Portland for part of this.

    The Seattle and Tacoma orders were tacked on to the back of the first Portland Streetcar order. Someone here in Portland realized that there were far more platforms than streetcars, so they decided to put the streetcar fare vending machine inside the car rather than at each platform, and let everyone else use their bus or MAX issued paper ticket / day ticket / monthly pass / whatever.

    Unfortunately this fare collection method doesn’t really work that well when translated to a city with an actual electronic fare card.

    1. Those internal pay machines being cash only is pretty troublesome. The addition of orca pay stations is very welcome.

  6. “SDOT’s Ethan Melone confirms that those days are soon gone.”

    If RapidRide’s ORCA / RTIS reliability is any guide, I wouldn’t speak too soon. ORCA readers at the curb are often out of order – right now, there are several hooded along the D line for unknown reasons. Thankfully, the ORCA readers appear to be more reliable than the RTIS, which often reads “Refer to schedule”. Perhaps all Streetcars should have on board readers as a backup?

    1. It’s almost impressive how often those RTIS and ORCA things go out. And of course, since they’re going out left and right, nobody ever gets in the habit of using them so people still tap upon entry for RR.

    2. From what I know, the SAFTPs actually run Linux, and I imagine they have a decent amount of online storage (relative to what they do). As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if they can operate in an offline mode for a while, storing transactions until the data connection comes back up or they run out of space, in the same way portable or bus FTPs work.

      Speculation, but it would make sense. :-/

    1. Because it’s never happened since the SLUT opened that someone would, say, run a block from a 40 at Westlake and Mercer to catch one and get there just in time to get on board. There would always be time to tap an off-board ORCA reader which would, because it is exposed to the elements and vandalism, never be other than perfectly operational. While having it onboard would just confuse folks.

      1. I think it would be far less confusing and inconsistent to have them on-board the vehicles, like we do on every bus in the region, than, say, RapidRides random placement of ORCA readers.

      2. How the heck does having an onboard reader confuse folks? They can already buy a ticket on board with cash.

      3. A foolish consistency with the practices of Sound Transit for a transportation service that has nothing to do with Sound Transit sounds like the hobgoblin of bureaucratic minds.

      4. Breadbaker: how about instead of aphorisms you actually defend your accusation that onboard readers are “confusing”?

      5. That was sarcasm. You might learn how it works. I support the onboard solution because it will be completely understandable by people who board the trolley. Any other solution is fraught with peril.

      1. Consistent with other Puget Sound rail services. SF Muni has Clipper readers at all doors on their streetcars.

        There’s no reason we couldn’t do it here. (In fact, RapidRide was originally planned to have them at all doors.) It’s not unduly confusing, it’s not expensive, it’s just that nobody in a high-enough place has realized it’s a great idea.

      2. Link and Sounder also have distance-based fares, requiring fixed ORCA readers at platforms for a tap on/off system. The Streetcar will have a fixed fare for the entire length, thus Streetcar platform OCRA readers will be inconsistent with regional rail because the Streetcar only requires a single tap upon entry.

        This certainly isn’t meant to suggest that the Streetcar should have distanced-based fares either. Oh goodness that would be awful…

      3. After experiencing the magic of all-door boarding on SF Muni this past weekend, I want ORCA readers everywhere.

      4. I understand that. Personally, I think all services should have ORCA readers at all doors regardless of rail or bus. However, I think consistency matters so as not to confuse riders. No rail services have this. If we want to start with streetcars since they’re operationally identical, we should do that. But SDOT chose not to with the FHS. Therefore, unless both launch simultaneously with said feature, we should not do that.

        I also think it’s probably feasible to have in-motion updates for locations to ORCA reader consoles. I think they probably can still accurately calculate distance-based fare dependent upon train location via GPS, just a matter of programming/turning that feature on.

        However, you do have the operational challenges: 1. deploying a lot more readers, 2. ensuring all of these readers are consistently functional (we already have a challenge doing that now). It’s not cheap, but I think as a policy change regionwide in the future, we should do it. I loved backdoor tapping on TransLink buses. We should have that here, too, and a for all modes. RapidRide would have been a good pilot for this had they done it when they activated RR-A. I suppose the fleet is still small enough that it’s feasible and fare enforcement are already unleashed on it.

      5. What Kyle and Bruce write – I was in San Francisco on Wednesday – Clipper readers are at all doors on all streetcars and busses, vintage and modern. I want a forest of the damn things, please at stations, stops and on board.

  7. Low hanging fruit matters. Good to see they’re making this consistent amongst the other services. :)

  8. Removing useless and confusing fare collection equipment from a three streetcars is True Value Hardware technology, not Cape Canaveral. Not attaching it in the first place should be an e-mail or a phone call. Haven’t noticed- is it still there, or did it finally get removed?

    We are now in campaign stance for an election that could decide the existence of our transit system. I wonder if either Sound Transit or King County are considering the idea that every screw-up on the part of the system, and every instance where somebody innocent gets treated like a violator for a mistaken number of taps counts as a potential negative vote?

    It wasn’t very reassuring how little argument I got over my own approach to the campaign. I hate to think it’s because underlying all my criticism was the strong belief that the system can do better- but that even its supporters disagree, but won’t say so for fear of helping the enemy.

    Incidentally, Martin, and seriously: thanks for every OT. Every good editor needs a sharp red pencil, and every chairman a good loud gavel. And from all the history I read, every winning commander has always been pure hell on his troops re: performance.


    1. I always wondered why they left the ticket validators on the streetcars, maybe they want people to feel like they’re in Europe when they’re aboard?

      1. I have never seen anyone even use the ticket validators onboard the SLUT.

    2. As to:

      We are now in campaign stance for an election that could decide the existence of our transit system. I wonder if either Sound Transit or King County are considering the idea that every screw-up on the part of the system, and every instance where somebody innocent gets treated like a violator for a mistaken number of taps counts as a potential negative vote?

      It wasn’t very reassuring how little argument I got over my own approach to the campaign. I hate to think it’s because underlying all my criticism was the strong belief that the system can do better- but that even its supporters disagree, but won’t say so for fear of helping the enemy.

      I really think we need to fear just that. There will be an opposition campaign and having been part of anti-tax opposition campaigns in the past all this one would need to do to oppose us is word of mouth and with Facebook that’s ea-sy, catch us contradicting and a few well-placed letters to the editor & news stories.

    1. After probably about ten years of monthly passes, long pre-dating ORCA, the transit system already has all the money I owe them for my every month’s travel. I certainly appreciate the convenience of not having to remember to carry change.

      And I make it a point to tap my card because I can foresee times when the record will be useful in testifying to the amount of my experience as a passenger.

      But I’ll do everything I can to embarrass the system if I ever get fined one dime for a wrong number of taps. And I’ll contribute what I can to the legal defense of anybody else who challenges this particular element of the rule in court.

      What this amounts to is a criminal penalty for causing a minor inconvenience to an accounting system that in itself to my mind violates Sound Transit’s founding promise of an integrated system. And is presently responsible for hundreds of needless hours of operating delay in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.

      Formulas and fare counts should really be close enough to apportion revenue among agencies.

      You know, the bloodthirst about catching fare evaders, like all these last four decades of putting society right by punishing the poor, is more a diversion from blame for bad upper-level performance than simple due diligence. Those lost hours cost money that doesn’t appear on the balance sheet- exactly like forcing the police into their unwilling takeover of public mental health.

      Ink color should not be red, but brown.

      I’ve got no problem with reasonable fare inspection. The DSTT should be using it throughout, and San Francisco MUNI tells me it works system-wide, all vehicles. But my major measure for maximizing fare revenue is to make payment easy.

      Try to get a bank loan for a doughnut stand with transit’s present fare system.


      1. Mark;

        Great comment.

        I am all for busting fare evaders who cheat the system. The current Sound Transit way of randomly having a few cops check fare on the light rail is about right to me.

        I do tap my card and pay cash to pay my fair share into the system. It was nice when the Streetcar was a reward to ORCA adopters worldwide.

        I see your point that fare payment and fare enforcement could be easier…

      2. Mark,

        Since everyone is used to hearing that beep for everyone who gets on or off a Muni vehicle, they’ll call out people who don’t tap. Jeez, the Muni pass cost is so low in San Francisco and the cost of living so high that every freaking person who lives there MUST be able to afford a pass if they want one.

        Yes, I know there must be some exceptions but they’re damn few.

  9. The official fare for the South Lake Union trolley — and the anticipated First Hill trolley fare — is equivalent at all times to Metro’s peak-hour rate.

    This also makes it more expensive than any in-city Link fare… including, of course, the one that in any sane world would have served First Hill in the first place!

    On the rare occasions that I might ever have the need to use this thing, if I don’t already have a peak-hour transfer from a prior bus swipe, I shall be dodging the fare on principle.

    1. I agree! Since all I need is an Orca card as proof of fare nowadays, it doesn’t matter that the supposed fare is $2.50. But when I have to start tapping for payment, I will be irritated that the fares don’t match Metro and I may just stop using the SLUT and avoid the FH streetcar altogether.

      1. I know such a pronouncement might seem counterproductive, but my first and only reaction to being asked to pay extra to switch to a 15-minute-wait, stuck-behind-a-line-of-cars gimmick train — just to reach the very place where the subway stop should have been to begin with — is HOW DARE YOU…?

      2. Fortunately for us all Metro fares will be increasing soon, limiting grounds for streetcar complaints to… every other thing about the streetcar.

      3. No such luck. The FHSC page explicitly states that it will be synced to Metro’s peak fare.

        We can look forward to the streetcar trying to scrape an unwarranted bonus ding off all begrudging bus and Link transferrers until such time as someone with influence calls them out on it.

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