Incentivize using this card, please!!!
Incentivize using this card, please!!!

Councilmember Rod Dembowski got the King County Council to unanimously agree to raising the farebox recovery target in Motion 2014-0207 passed Monday. Stating the goal doesn’t automatically result in collecting that amount of money, but hope-based planning is apparently fashionable on the Council given the unfunded nature of Ordinance 2014.0210.2.

The traditional way of calculating farebox recovery does not subtract out the costs of fare collection, including those associated with bus delay. To be specific, Metro’s definition of farebox recovery is “the ratio of bus fare revenue to bus operating costs”. So, Metro might find ways to increase farebox recovery by 4% of total costs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the amount of funding available to run Metro will go up by 4%.

The council seems fixated on the idea that increasing fares will increase farebox recovery. That’s true up to a point, but declining ridership may reduce it instead. Page 46 of the appendices to the report of the Low-Income Fare Options Advisory Committee showed how steep the ridership drop might be among various rider groups with quarter-indexed fare increases.

A more direct way to improve the farebox recovery rate is to cut under-collecting routes and runs, and add service to fuller, higher-collecting routes. In other words, to follow Metro’s Service Guidelines. However, if farebox recovery has the same priority as ridership when restructuring service, that further imperils routes that have the highest percentage of low-income riders. That would be a Title VI issue.

One of Mr. Dembowski’s ideas that should get a serious look is to increase the monthly pass multiplier, from the current 36 times the single-ride rate, to 40 times the single-ride rate. The 36 multiplier is a legacy of the age of magnetic-tape monthly-pass cards. The cards were Metro’s best tool for speeding up boardings at the time. Now, monthly ORCA passes and e-purse are equally great for minimizing fare payment delays. But if Metro increases the multiplier to 40, one would hope those who choose to switch to paying per ride would choose e-purse. With the $5 cost of getting an ORCA (by far the most expensive bus smart card in the country after rebates), the existence of seemingly-unexpiring paper transfers, and identical cash and electronic fares, that is a bad bet.

That leads me to my second point of agreement with Councilmember Dembowski’s proposals: eliminate paper transfers. Ideally, I’d like to see the low-income fare program implemented first. Of course, that means finding the money to implement the program. Eliminating the $4 million annual cost of printing and distributing paper transfers would be a start, but nowhere near covering the annual cost of the program.

The council has, thankfully, already moved beyond the philosophical debate about cash fare equity. If and when the low-income fare program begins, riders will have to pay electronically in order to get the reduced fare. That makes it more acceptable to raise cash fares for the rest of the ridership. Indeed, I would suggest that a cash fare surcharge would be more effective than a flat increase in increasing net fare recovery. Net farebox recovery calculations would include the cost of the bus idling while a cash payer spends an average of 4.5 to 6.8 seconds longer than an ORCA user (See page 17) to pay their fare. In high-volume areas like Downtown, each delay also impacts other buses and trains held up behind the cash payer.

Unlike most other suggested “efficiencies,” improving net farebox recovery would actually improve the rider experience by reducing travel time. It also creates savings that can (partially) offset service cuts. (albeit nowhere near Metro’s current deficit). Net farebox recovery would be a more useful measurement and planning tool than the traditional gross farebox recovery.

72 Replies to “Two Good Dembowski Ideas”

  1. I’m tired of all the bus transfer fraud. People with binders of old transfers as well as the Facebook groups dedicated to cheating everyone else.

    Low income riders are already used to electronic payment if they have The ebit card for foodstamps.

    1. I don’t quite get why Metro doesn’t have a date code on the transfers. TriMet had been doing that for decades, until the advent last year of dated ticket printers on the buses. I too have seen the big plastic bags of old transfers carried by some on Metro, but never on TriMet due to the six letter date code.

    2. Just to be clear: I don’t expect any significant increase in fare revenue if paper transfers go away. Metro has estimated fare evasion (including underpayment) at 2.5%. Those who can’t afford to pay will continue to not pay.

      The savings is really just the $4 million saved in printing costs, and any time saved when riders switch to ORCA.

      1. I don’t know, but I bet fare evasion of the old transfer variety is not included in this statistics. I mean, to do a valid estimate you’d have to put fare enforcers on a statistical sample of routes and then do the calculation. I would love to see their methodology for arriving at 2.5%…guessing it’s, well, basically just guessing in order to make the rest of us feel like it’s not that big of a problem.

      2. Well $4M is over 5% of our revenue shortfall, so that alone is worthwhile. As I recall, the performance audit recommended this step, so it would be good to see its recommendations being followed.

      3. There’s no way transfer fraud can be included in that 2.5%. It’s not tracked or counted in any way. For nonpayment, the driver just pushes a button to count the rider, but an old transfer just looks the same as a new transfer.

    3. Yes! This should be a top priority. It’s really frustrating to pay a fare, and then see a bunch of peeps flashing crumpled up and faded transfers as they board (often not looking very “needy”). Most of these same people wouldn’t walk into a store and steal + $2.25 in merchandise, so we just need to make it harder to do or the penalty bigger. The way I feel about public transport, it’s like stealing money from your grandma’s purse (benevolent do-gooder getting ripped off).

      Maybe it’s just me, but as of late it seems like fare evasion (with or without driver approval) has been getting more prevalent. I understand why the driver can’t be an enforcer, but they should at least be more sad faced/snarky about it, especially when it’s blatant.

      1. Please, no snarky driver commentary. Let the cheater sit down, then hit the button, and drive.

        “The fare is $2.50. Please have exact change ready when paying with cash. Thank you for riding Metro.”

        Oh, and that would be the button that summons the Metro security department to meet the bus down the road, now that the riders have been verbally warned. I’ve seen this happen, with several riders being arrested when the bus got to Convention Place.

      2. Brent, I agree. That said, some drivers are just not helpful in discouraging transfer fraud.

        This morning I (finding myself, unusually, by Green Lake) took a RR E bus downtown. At 3rd and Pike, a couple got on carrying a supply of bus tickets and asking “Do you go down 3rd?” The guy got out two tickets and started to put them into the farebox. The driver said “You only need one today!” and gave the couple two transfers. What’s more, it was around 9:45, and the transfers were good until 2:30.

        Only my general sympathy for anyone confronted with “SEE CHIEF” on the sign-in sheet kept me from making a complaint to Metro.

      3. Ah, David L, upholder of the fabled Green and Yellow Wall of Silence.

        It’s not cool when cops do it; it’s not cool when you do it either.

      4. I have to agree with Kyle. When you see someone allowing passengers to behave inappropriately, do you stand in solidarity with the one driver not reporting it, or with the many drivers who have just had the ability to do their job undercut?

      5. Stealing is a harsh word. It’s not like they’re getting an iPhone in just the right shade of pink. Some of the people who don’t pay really have no money, or only have a few dollars at a time, but thay need to get around town like everyone else. That $2.25 is a lot if it’s 50% of the money you have available that day, and the other $2.25 doesn’t go far, you can buy two apples with it. At some level the county should be providing a basic social service like transporation. Or do you really expect them to walk everywhere, 100% of where they go, because they may be able to pay $2.25 sometimes but not on an ongoing basis. Even that low-income fare, though it helps, is too much for some people, including some elderly people.

      6. The passengers did nothing wrong. The operator committed theft by giving away something of value (the paper transfer) that was not his to give away.

      7. I pick my battles. I’m a knowledgeable enough observer that I see operators violating the rules almost every day. I have no interest in filing complaints almost every day; I don’t want to become one of the serial complainers whose complaints don’t even make it out of Customer Service, and I have better things to do with my time. Therefore I file complaints only for serious safety issues, or other things that are really, really egregious.

        For example, the last complaint I filed was against a 522 driver who blew through the metering light on the NB Pike Street Express Lanes onramp (which is there partly to give a margin of safety for merging tunnel buses) at 50+ mph and full throttle. That’s a vastly bigger problem than an inappropriately given transfer.

  2. I’m concerned about the pass factor going from 36 to 40 rides/month. While we’d all like farebox recovery to be higher, the revenue gains from increasing the cost of the pass would be fairly minimal, especially as some people would switch to ePurse. Additionally, the purchase of a pass for commuting encourages someone to potentially take a non-commute trip on Metro, which is a goal I think most of us can get behind.

    Other agencies of similar size don’t charge 40 times the single trip fare. Minneapolis is 38X, Denver 35X, San Francisco 33X. 40X would just continue to grow our highest-fares-in-the-nation status.

    1. If you’re going to increase the monthly pass multiplier, you may as well just get rid of monthly passes entirely. 40 trips is 20 round-trip work trips and the vast majority of people who buy monthly passes are commuters. 20 round-trip work commutes is 4 full weeks’ worth of work commutes. Even the people I know who live in Seattle and ride the bus, rich and poor, don’t pay for a monthly pass because it doesn’t pay itself off by the end of the month. Especially with ORCA now, it’s just a fast to pay with your e-purse as it is with a monthly pass.

      You need to incentivize people to buy passes so they don’t have to worry about paying money instead of driving. Increasing the multiplier doesn’t help. You’ll be able to milk more money out of large corporations who already pay for employees’ passes but it doesn’t really help increase ridership.

      1. You are correct that increasing the multiplier will have a negative impact on ridership. The goal of increasing the multiplier, though, is increasing fare revenue. That is why Metro needs to compare the likely lost ridership with the likely gained revenue, and not just have the council pass this idea from the dais.

        I would also like to point out that if you combine raising the low-income fare to $1.75 with raising the multiplier on low-income passes, those monthly passes will have just gone from $54 to $70. That’s the *low-income* pass. Again, this is why proposals like these need to go through Metro staff. They know a lot about transit that the councilmembers do not.

      2. What the three of us are suggesting, Brent, is that this may be one of those situations in which a peer-group-influenced understanding of “value” (as relative to service quality) and a precedent-based understanding of the relationship of fare/multiplier levels to policy aims (broad-supported versus commuter-exclusive transit) trump any bean-counting on revenue.

        Especially when any additional short-term revenue raised is likely to be a drop in the bucket compared to the long-term damage you do to the perception of transit as a worthwhile urban mobility option.

    2. Agreed.

      The pass multiplier in Boston is 35 (compared to the smartcard base fare). As a result, monthly passes have long been the default payment mode for an overwhelming majority of the transit-riding public. Essentially, a large portion of the citizenry “buys into” the system each month, at $70 a pop. This is one of the reasons transit usage — and transit availability — is ubiquitous in the city, and political support for it ubiquitous.

      You can’t get that with a multiplier that views monthly passes as the exclusive domain of those with an unwavering 9-to-5 routine (a demographic that, in Seattle, rarely pays its own way). Your suggestion would minimize the portion of the citizenry for whom a monthly pass would prove useful, when the goals of transit growth and expanded usefulness demand the opposite.

      A better way to recoup more from downtown peak-trippers would be to impose a premium fare on premium express services. One should not penalize the rest of the populace by further jacking up a monthly pass that is already $30 higher than justified by the mean quality of service.

      1. I’m a sometimes e-purse/sometimes monthly pass kind of rider. If I know that I will be making lots of trips in a month, I buy a monthly pass. If I’m not sure that I will be making 36+ roundtrips, I stick with the e-purse. The difference, however, is that when I have the pass, I make many more trips on transit than when I have the purse because I don’t have to shell out any extra money for the extra trips–a $90 pass covers almost all my trips . With the e-purse it costs me an extra $2.25-$2.50 every time I get on transit and is a bit of a disincentive to riding transit. If the multiplier goes up, my transit usage might go down.

        …or maybe Metro and the local governments could try adopting more of the German system. I don’t have any knowledge of how Germany’s labor costs compare to the labor costs in Seattle, but the real success to the German system is to make auto drivers pay the true cost for their motoring. If drivers pay nearer the full cost of driving their cars, a monthly transit pass will look cheap.

      2. Revenues were increased through fare hikes for single tickets while maintaining deep discounts for monthly, semester, and annual tickets; and raising passenger volumes by improved quality of service, and full regional coordination of timetables, fares, and services.

        Basically sounds like the same push for a broad-based public buy-in to the system that I was describing in Boston.

        Guess it’s a fairly ubiquitous approach in places that genuinely wish to be transit-enabled, rather than just pay lip service to being transit-enabled.

      3. Freiburg’s VAG prices single tickets at 2.20-5.40 Euros depending on the amount of time the ticket is valid (2.20 Euros($3) for 1-hour validity, 3.80Eu for 2-hours, 5.40 Eu for 3-hours, round trips are not allowed on single tickets, however). A monthly pass costs 50 Eu ($68) which is about a 23x multiple of the single ticket price.

      4. Transit for London, which probably knows what they are doing more than any transit agency in the US does, has multipliers starting from 43.something and going upward from there. I’m sure there is a reason for the various disparate multipliers, but I cannot readily discern it.

        That, at least, puts an upward practical limit on how far the multiplier can be pushed.

        Of course, owning a car in London is probably a financially stupid thing to do, so losing ridership is less of a concern there.

        But let me change up the question here. Given the need to raise fare revenue (and ignoring, for the moment, the low-hanging fruit of incentivizing ORCA use), which does more harm: raising the monthly pass multiplier by 11%, or raising the per-ride fares 25 cents across the board?

      5. NYC is also around 41 times their single fare. The highest multipliers (NYC, London) seem to be in the cities with the high levels of transit service and low levels of car ownership. This is likely due to more non-commute transit trips occurring on top of the commuting trips, which allows the market to bear a higher multiplier.

        Germany treats things a lot differently. As noted by Guy, there are some extreme discounts for monthly and annual passes. In Stuttgart (VVS), the one-zone fare is 2.20, and the multiplier is 28 times with a monthly pass, 23 times with an annual pass.

      6. Transport for London is an exceptionally (and famously) expensive system to use: high base fares (even at Oyster rates), significant surcharges in the AM peak, and high multipliers. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ranked the most expensive urban transport system in the world. This in spite of being one of the most overcrowded, least well-organized, most quirk-ridden and poorly disposed to multimodal integration, messiest-to-use transport networks anywhere in Europe.

        But for all its many flaws, TfL is extensive and ubiquitous and benefits from being the most logical choice for most trips made throughout sprawling Greater London: taxis have long been expensive; the Congestion Charge driving deterrent merely underscores parking costs that have long been exorbitant; taxis are expensive for more than the occasional use; and the city is far too sprawling to walk or bike for the preponderance of one’s trips. So it’s not so much the 43x is a mark of wisdom, as much as that TfL has an unusually captive audience and a cultural willingness to squeeze as much out of them as possible. (London is also famously a harder place than most to make below the median income.)

        If you attempted to follow London’s pricing model anywhere that reasonable cost- and time-competitive alternatives exist — which is to say, in any place with less comprehensive congestion-bypassing transit and with relatively inexpensive parking away from downtown, including the Bostons and Stuttgarts and definitely the Seattles of the world — not only would you fail to encourage “buy-in”, but you’d send your transit into a death spiral of questionable-commute-option-for-some-and-completely-worthless-for-most civic irrelevance.

      7. Can’t speak for NY, but at least wrt London buses, there are no transfers, so the natural multiplier is probably a bit higher anyway. London’s also well into its final month of accepting cash payments on buses.

        Don’t know that I’d agree that transit is always the sensible option for journeys in GL. Once you are outside the North/South Circular (and sometimes even closer to town) orbital journeys can be a bit of a chore on public transport. [Although I’m told things are much better now than they were when I lived there.]

      8. I mostly agree with d.p.’s criticisms of TfL (and then some). However as I’m always reminded when I whine about costs here in Seattle, the cost of _everything_ is high in London. Moreover, when one talks about most expensive, what you really mean is expensive at the point of use. Most systems in the world get more of their operating budget from taxpayer subsisidies than does London.

      9. I was also just reminded that New York’s multiplier rose, along with its base fares, during a recession-era budget crises. The 41x is more a case of the MTA’s hand being forced than an expression of ideal policy adjudicated under neutral conditions.

        As Drew explains, that city’s hundred-year track record of transit as a default all-purpose mobility enabler has allowed it to bear such a change in multiplier. Seattle…not so much.

    3. The other problem with increasing thei multiplier is tha all orca agencies except wsf use the same pass product and they would all have to agree to it. Raising fares is painful enough, charging more for passes (in addition to the resultant increase in pass price) is ridiculous.

    4. 36 to 40 is four trips, or $10 for one-zone peak and $12 for two-zone peak. That’s not much difference on top of $90 or $120. I doubt most people are so borderline that four trips would make them switch to e-purse, and even if they do, so what? They must be close to 36 trips or they wouldn’t be getting the pass now, or else the value the convenience of a pass so much that four trips wouldn’t matter. I probably make sixty or seventy trips a month, but at the same time I also buy a pass if I’m going out of town for a week or two, because (A) I don’t want to be agonizing over “Is this trip worth $2.25”, (B) I can use the pass to/from the airport, (C) I don’t want to pay more than the pass price if I end up making more trips in the month than I expected, and (D) I don’t want to get into a situation where I forget I don’t have a pass and get on a bus without money. (In spite of what I said above, that I understand some other people I know can’t pay, I don’t want to be not paying.)

      1. You couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

        $90 versus $100 (x12 annually) is huge fucking difference, especially for a transit service that is often unpleasant to use and that routinely fails at its basic purpose of getting you places.

        It would be a huge fucking difference even in a vacuum, but it is especially egregious when viewed in comparison to our (better) transit peers: San Francisco ($66), Boston ($70), Los Angeles ($75), etc.

        Unlimited life-enabling New York City transit is only $112. You’d set us up to exceed that the next time the KC Council gets the bright idea to raise “all categories of fares” another quarter! (At the rate we’re going, that will happen by the time I’m done typing this comment.)

        If your aim is to permanently kill transit as a remotely rational option for any significant portion of Seattle trips, and to send pretty much everyone back into their cars most of the time, this would be the way to do it.

      2. Well, you have to move to San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, or New York to take advantage of those comprehensive services. All those cities are larger and/or more dense, which is probably why they afford to offer more service at less cost. Meanwhile Metro and Sound Transit are more frequent and comprehensive than some 90% of American cities, where it’s significantly harder to live without a car and and your job is less likely to have a bus stop near it.

      3. Sorry, but who gives a fuck?

        The system doesn’t work, it’s still rife with waste and overlap, its controllers still can’t see the difference between incentivizing efficient passenger behavior (ORCA) and fucking over its worst-served riders with endless across-the-board fare increases.

        Like pretty much everything else represented in Dembowski’s proposal, this is a triumph of brainstorming by people who don’t actually give a shit about the health or quality of the system they are charged with maintaining!

        When did you become STB’s resident defender of Every Stupid Seattle Transit Notion, Mike? You weren’t always so knee-jerk defensive. Back when I started coming here, that role was played by Atomic Timco. But even he grew up and realized that Seattle transit is fucking awful and overpriced for nearly all possible trips, and now he frequently notes his cynical switch to driving most of the time.

        You’re much better traveled than Tim was five years ago as a callow locally-raised undergrad. You really should know better by now than to defend our broken process, its warped aims, its unreasonable financials, and its uniformly terrible outcomes.

      4. And keep in mind for a 2.50 pass today with both the enacted .25 increase and the proposed increase of another .25 (which I don’t object if it helps keep service) the pass price would jump to $108. With his proposal it would jump to $120 after the multiplier increase. That’s a 33% increase on a fare increase of 20%

      5. None of the above is supportable.

        $2.50 for ineffectual base service and $2.75-$3.00 for downright awful non-express peak service is just as indefensible as a $100-$120 monthly rate. There would be a passenger revolt and a mass exodus from non-essential usage, and frankly those results would both be justified.

        You just can’t charge that much where so many people have other options that are faster and more appealing in so many ways… and oftentimes just as cheap or cheaper.

        A $3.00 cash fare is only justified because it serves a valid efficiency purpose, and because the surcharge can easily be avoided. A cash-fare hike should be accompanied by a potent ORCA advertising and distribution campaign, along with a temporary waiver of the ORCA purchase price.

        I spoke repeatedly above of the “broad buy-in” in Boston and in many Continental cities with reasonable monthly passes. Well guess what? That anti-transit faction you see screaming in every Seattle comment thread, asking why we shouldn’t just triple the fares to “make transit riders pay their own way”? That literally does not exist where ubiquitous monthly transit is a fact of life.

        Those who accept a perpetual fare-hikes-without-improvements cycle as some “fact of Seattle life” are the very people who will keep Seattle transit forever a fringe mode, and forever under fire.

    5. Agreed on all counts.

      A 40x fare multiplier for monthly passes makes the monthly pass obsolete. That’s just face value for a 5-day-a-week commuter.

      1. Right. We know that transit in this region has a decent modeshare for commuting and a poor one for everything else. That suggests there’s a decent portion of the population taking the modest savings and convenience of a pass for their commute. This multiplier change could make that decision irrational for a non-trivial number of people. That’ll make it less rational to ride for a weekend event, drive just today because I’m running late, switch back to cash fumbling if I lose my ORCA card, etc etc. Lots of bad outcomes.

        Looking for more money from fares is the wrong place to look right now. The council’s transit thinking is incurious and indifferent to riders.

    6. A comparison with Vancouver:

      Cash Fares – Pay on board bus or at Skytrain vending machine and farebox counts money and prints magnetic-stripe ticket. Valid for 90 minutes travel. Retain ticket as proof of payment and feed into farebox of transfer buses – farebox makes nice beep if still valid and not nice beep if after 90 minutes. No limit to transfers and round trips permitted. As you can see, these fares are high:

      1 Zone $2.75
      2 Zone $4.00
      3 Zone $5.50

      Fare Saver Tickets – These are pre-printed booklets of ten tickets that are sold at a discount to their face value. They are magnetic stripe tickets just like the cash tickets and when you use one, you feed it into the farebox or the ticket validator on Skytrain and it codes the expiry on the magnetic stripe the same as the cash tickets. These are quite popular with non-commuting transit users because of the discount and convenience of them. I always keep a few with my keys and cards.

      1 Zone $2.10
      2 Zone $3.15
      3 Zone $4.20

      Monthly Passes:

      1 Zone $91
      2 Zone $124
      3 Zone $170

      Monthly Pass Multiples – The multiples over the Fare Saver Ticket price (because that is the realistic per trip cost for anyone but casual users and tourists):

      1 Zone 43.3
      2 Zone 39.4
      3 Zone 40.5

      There is less rhyme and reason to this than I would have expected, but it might be that the one zone users are less likely to be strictly commuters and would be making trips in the evenings and weekends as well.

      The touchless electronic card system, Compass, is still in its testing phase. It is mostly installed and some beta testers are using it, but it isn’t ready for its big debut.

      Translink’s farebox recovery ratio is around 40 to 45% depending on how much of the “social service” parts of the transit service that you exclude. The rapid transit lines have 100%+ farebox recovery ratios.

  3. Regarding transfer slips, I want to propose the following guideline: Metro’s fare system should never penalize any rider for having to take two vehicles.

    Connections/transfers are not something that any rider volunteers for. Nobody prefers to take two buses instead of one. But due to the laws of geometry, a bus network built around one-seat rides will never be able to provide the same frequency, span of service, trip speed, and coverage as a network built around connections.

    The biggest problem with buses in Seattle is not that some percentage of people are riding for free. It’s that it’s impractical to live car-free outside the center city, because there just aren’t enough buses. They don’t go to enough places, and they don’t run often enough or late enough. We have the service hours to fix that problem, but not if we’re spending them the way that we’re currently spending them.

    If we eliminate paper transfer slips without eliminating cash payment, then some people will switch to ORCA, and that’s good. But other people will start demanding one-seat rides, because they don’t want to pay twice for one trip, and they’re not going to get ORCA (for whatever reason). Unless we start giving out ORCA cards on board buses, there will always be a subset of the ridership that won’t have an ORCA card, and the last thing we want to do is give them even more reason to want one-seat rides.

    Now, having said that, I think there’s something really cheap we could do to fix this issue, which is to print new transfer slips that have the date on them. This shouldn’t be any more expensive than sending a new design to the printers, and it would eliminate 99% of transfer fraud just like that.


      In the case of TriMet’s low floor buses, there is enough space for someone boarding the bus with a pass to walk past someone paying cash into the farebox. As our passes or transfers require only a glance from the driver to see the date, it isn’t a huge issue.

      If the ORCA card readers were moved to the other side of the door, people with cards could board while someone was paying cash. So, faster boarding while still dealing with cash.

      1. Indeed – one of the joys of riding MUNI is back door Clipper readers, and at the front the reader is on the LEFT as one boards – intelligently thought out by a system with multitudes of other issues.

      2. @Lloyd: The same is true in Chicago, or at least it was last time I rode the bus there. I think the front doors on at least some Chicago buses are wider than typical Seattle buses, too.

        Of course, you can usually manage to tap your ORCA and walk around someone paying with cash here. It just feels a bit awkward, and I think most people try to avoid doing awkward things. So while I regularly walked around people in Chicago, I rarely do it in Seattle. /part-of-the-problem

      3. Walking saround change fumblers is frowned on. Ooops, guess I’ll have to stop doing that.

      4. Wait, walking around someone is awkward? Isn’t it more awkward to slow down the boarding line by NOT walking around the change fumbler?

      5. It’s awkward to reach around the person to touch the ORCA reader, particularly when accustomed to west-coast norms regarding personal space (and especially when that person, accustomed to those norms, is standing well back from the fare box or leaning right up to the ORCA reader). If possible, moving the reader to the left, so you don’t have to find space on both sides of cash-payers to pass them, would certainly help.

    2. Metro should never punish anyone for getting an ORCA, but it does.

      For whatever minute increase in the vocality of the one-seat-ride lobby getting rid of paper transfers will create, the impacts of convincing more riders to use ORCA, and to make the riding experience less painful, will far outweigh that hypothetical concern, in my estimation. Indeed, if you ask most one-seat-ride insisters, I think they are more likely to list the heavy use of paper transfers (and in too many cases, the presence of the people who use them) as one of the reasons they find riding the bus intolerable.

    3. Tell them to get orca cards. Problem solved. Bonus: those transfers work on other agencies. Our paper doesn’t. As of November metro will be the only orca member besides possibly kitsap that still issues paper transfers.

      1. When I visited Nashville I rode the bus and they do the magnetic strip “cards” to issue change when you deposit cash fares. I don’t believe they have an RFI card reader system. It seems sort of silly. Fare was $1.70 from my hotel by the Grand Ol Oprey to DT so I feed in $2 and got a 30 cent ticket. Going home I thought the fare was going to be $2.25 since the route was badged as an Express so I feed the cash box my ticket (driver had to turn it over as there was no way to no which side was “up”) and gave it another $2. As I tried to walk away the driver gave me a new ticket worth 60 cents; which I gave to a regular rider who was happy to take it. How many of these disposable tickets do you hand out before you could have just given away an ORCA type card that could actually be used as a coin purse when paying cash. I know people want to get away from cash because of faster boarding but I don’t believe any public transit agency can function without a cash fare. I think a lot of people would use ORCA if they could stick a $20 into the fare box and have it automagically add value to the card.

      2. +1 to bernie’s statement.

        If you could feed large bills into the farebox and have the change loaded onto your Orca, that would be nice.

        But you also don’t want people holding up the bus to load their cards, either.

      3. Oh God. Bernie’s story sounds like like riding in Dayton, where I spend part of the year. Fare is 1.75, and transfers are .25 (and most people need a transfer because they routes are spaghetti that meets at the downtown transit center. There are, like, three crosstown routes). If you put in your two dollars, you have to tell the driver whether you want a change card or a transfer. Also: If you think slow cash fumblers are bad, try waiting around while someone tries to pay their fare with SEVEN DIFFERENT CHANGE CARDS.

        I try to buy tokens (reduces the cost to $1.50 when you buy ten at a time) but I’ve always got a few change cards in my wallet. Once I had to pay with a $5, so one of them is worth $3.25, but I don’t know which one since value isn’t printed on them. My apologies to the riders when I finally try to cash those in.

    1. As Brent has documented extensively in the form of peer-agency comparisons and relative system-investment recoupment, it is because Seattle is dumb.

    2. Metro/ST pay a pass-through cost of $2 to the vendor for each card, on top of the cost of the contract. The first $2 covers that cost. The rest discourages holders from treating the card as disposable, and helps pay off the contract. Yes, I know it is extremely counterproductive logic, when we are trying to encourage every rider to get an ORCA. The efficiencies in buses moving faster ought to be paying off the contract and the card passthrough fee.

      1. Counterproductive is an understatement, Brent. Since a missed connection can cost me a thirty mile walk home in the dark, the amount I could care about contract arrangements and waste of plastic needs an electron microscope to see.

        Frankly, from a lot of the comments this subject always draws, it seems like vengeance on fare cheats trumps operating efficiency every time. Night before last, cash fares in the Tunnel cost me a missed Sounder train and a two-hour extra trip home. Talk about primitive thirst for revenge!

        Best fraud prevention and efficiency booster is to get a hundred percent of passenger’s fare money up-front. With day-passes (do we have them yet, or not?) to monthly passes like I’ve carried for years- fare disputes would just go away.
        Same with lot of police time better spent on assault and theft prevention.

        My personal estimate over thirteen years’ driving on heavy city routes is that even with cash, overpayments over not giving change outweigh loss to evasion. Wasted time over obstacles to payment? No contest.

        Whatever cost of no-cash system- time and hassle saved will cover it. And leave the public a lot happier.


      2. Okay, fine $2 then. I vote this is the way things work:
        * On each bus, the drivers have some ORCA cards with $3 and $8 loaded on them. Cash riders can either pay exactly $5 or $10 to get one of those cards respectively (ideally a $18 card as well for $20, but I don’t know if you want drivers out there with a bunch of $18 cards).
        * The $2 surcharge will prevent people from using them disposable, and covers the incremental cost of the card
        * There is no other cash accepted for anything — all transactions will be via ORCA cards, so everyone gets to transfer reasonably
        * Low fare riders should have some way of activating their ORCA card to be low fare and pay lower rates (but it still will be ORCA only)

      3. I don’t expect ATU to allow the additional duty of selling ORCA. However, a cheap, dictatorial approach that would get most of the bang for almost no buck would be to ban cash payment at all stops within a few blocks of a downtown tunnel station. Post service alerts directing passengers to the nearest ORCA vending machines.

        And, oh yes, at least reduce the cost of the card to $2, so it is only tied for “most expensive bus smart card in the country”.

      4. If selling orca cards replaces accepting cash fares. The orca cards ideally would be issued non activated so if I rob the driver of all his orca cards they’d be worthless.

      5. Selling deactivated ORCAs on the bus wouldn’t make any sense. They need to be immediately usable to be able to speed up boarding.

      6. Though, keeping track of the numbers so Metro can deactivate them in case of theft would make a lot of sense.

      7. I’d recommend against banning cash fares within certain zones. Between passengers who don’t speak English and tourists, you’re just asking for more confusion and delays. Make the system as simple and easy to understand as possible: No paper transfers, higher cash fare, and ORCA use gets you unlimited (monthly/daily pass) rides or two hour transfers on all agencies.

    3. MARTA in Atlanta charges just $1 for their Breeze card! However, they don’t have an option for any other type of ticket on the rail system. You buy a card with your fare or you don’t ride. I agree that charging $5 is really silly and counterproductive, but charging less than the cost of a boarding is very reasonable..

    4. The only reason they cost $5 is because all the agencies involved want users to treat them as if they are valuable, rather than to think they’re something disposable.

      The agency cost of the card is around $2 (and our government is getting ripped off at that price, honestly).

      It’s retarded and everyone knows it.

      1. Yet, I’ve gotten three free ORCA cards. Better than free actually, one came pre-loaded with $120 and the last “reward” from Bellevue was a $25 preloaded ORCA. Third times the charm as I finally got one that allowed me to set up autopay. The problem seems to be that when issued by most organizations they are then the only one that can set up automatic payment even though I can use my credit card to add to the e-purse value. Dumb and dumber.

  4. I agree that we need to modernize transfers. Technology is easily available to make that happen. The only cost is in replacing fareboxes and in central recording equipment. Still, a conversion would pay for itself in a matter of months from reduced fare evasion. Finally, any changes to fare policy become much easier to implement if policies change.

    A good example of the effects is seen at AC Transit in Oakland (noting that they have a 25-cent transfer fare). in 2000, they introduced a farebox that issues coded transfers and their web site says that they were the first to do that. Since then, all transferring passengers were required to insert their coded transfer to prove it was valid before boarding the bus. I read that they are now getting a second generation system that is newer and faster this year. It’s reported to drop fare evasion quite a bit.

    I also found an article that says that the London underground dropped fare evasion from 9 percent to 2.5 percent with a smarter system.

    I do caution that I am not sure how eager Metro is to change fareboxes. It’s one of those things that there is often internal pressure to keep things the way that they are, so any changes must be supported by leaders like Dembowski in addition to those in the transit advocacy community.

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