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Is There Any Question about What Date THIS is Valid and When it Expires? by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”)

As part of yesterday’s discussion of the Proposed King County Metro Budget, Mark Dublin notes:

Possibly transit’s worst hemorrhage, in money and passenger goodwill, stems from anything that slows service by a single minute. Especially if it’s five minutes stuck aboard a packed and un-airconditioned bus northbound at Westlake the height of PM rush while the driver argued with a nut over a fare.

In a few past discussions of the problems faced by “quarter fumblers” in downtown Seattle, there have been a few suggestions that peak trip bus stops be equipped with ticket dispensing machines, so that those paying cash (or card since TVMs accept plastic) would be able to purchase a ticket beforehand.

Would ticket vending machines be worthwhile? Luckily, Metro might have the opportunity to run a test without actually buying the machines themselves.

TriMet’s contractors here in Portland are making great progress on the Orange Line, but most of the stations are still being outfitted with shelters, electrical conduit, and elevators. The current TriMet administration likes to open these lines early if at all possible, so there tend to be parts on hand before they are needed, just in case progress of some sort can be made on non-critical path projects should there be a lack of materials on critical path items.  Two cases: the rails were on hand and waiting for installation long before they were needed.  Public art at the Tacoma Street station was installed about two years ago, before anything else was on the site.

Therefore there is a good chance that the ticket machines for the line are still in a warehouse waiting for the proper time for installation. Operator training and other operational testing isn’t scheduled to being until June of 2015, and the line is supposed to open in September of 2015. With any luck, they might be able to push the opening a little early like they did with a couple of the other lines. However, the fact remains, these are some of the last pieces to put in, while many of the stations have much heavy work yet to finish.

The machines would require a bit of tweaking to get them to print a King County Metro ticket (TriMet no longer has fare zones, and there is no peak period surcharge here, so a few different screens would need to be reprogrammed). There is obviously the issue of how to get power and communications to a temporary location.

Due to the possibility of confusion among those that don’t use transit regularly (which of course will tend to be “cash fumblers”), if the experiment is attempted then the best place to try it would be at extremely busy bus stops only served by King County Metro. That reduces issues when a Community Transit or SoundTransit bus appears at the stop and someone attempts to claim their KCM printed ticket is valid.

Sure, there will still be cash fumblers entering the buses, but how many? If the ticket machines prove to be an unreliable way of reducing cash transactions on the buses, then no big deal. The TVMs were never intended for Seattle anyway. Turn the concrete pads they sat on into additional bus stop benches and soon everyone will forget they ever were there.

On the other hand, if the experiment works and cash transactions are reduced significantly, then maybe it will be worthwhile to purchase a permanent set of TVMs for popular bus stops.


Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is a native of Portland, Oregon and works as an engineer / technical writer / technician at a small company that builds electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.

19 Replies to “Test Downtown Ticket Machines?”

  1. OK, I will admit that the ticket shown is a day ticket I purchased on a bus, so it isn’t a product of a MAX ticket machine. However, the bus printed tickets and MAX printed tickets now look exactly the same.

    1. I agree and I got an ORCA card back when they were mailing them out free of charge – even to people down here.

      There are several groups that use cash for various reasons.

      Some are suspicious of ORCA technology. I don’t think there’s any convincing them.

      Some are able to find an advantage of using transfers. A HUGE date on the ticket helps solve that problem.

      Some don’t feel they use transit enough for them to see an advantage to using ORCA. The huge crowds at sporting events, or who just come to the area on an occasional basis? I’m not sure there is much that can be done to convince them to get a card either.

      1. Sad to hear that – all good points. I like an ORCA because transferring from Community Transit to Everett Transit to Sound Transit becomes seamless and doesn’t hold up the line for other commuters using the bus. Also when I use Sounder North at Mukilteo, I need to be able to prepay before the 90-120 seconds the Sounder North is at Mukilteo Station.

      2. And others, especially visitors and those who only ride transit occasionally, find the cost of a $5 ORCA card excessive. Drop it to $2, like every other city in the country, and it looks a lot better. Combine that with transfers only on ORCA coupled with ORCA machines at every bus hub in the region, and ORCA only payment in the tunnel during peak hours (i.e. cash customers are turned away during certain hours of the day).

      3. I visit other places and I find that even the most expensive all inclusive type option (day pass, ORCA-type card) is worth it to me because I can make mistakes. $5 compared to a cab? $5 compared to parking? $5 ORCA compared to $5 venti-coffee drink which is consumed once? You can’t even buy a lunch for $5.

      4. I understand all the reasons ORCA use should be encouraged. However, try explaining that to those who decide not to use it.

        My only goal is to encourage faster boarding for the rest.

        I’m not sure what to do with the rest other than educated trial and error to see what works.

        Here, I’ve seen a lot fewer cash sales on the bus now that mobile phone ticketing has started. I thought this would be a catastrophe, with huge numbers of people fumbling for their phones when getting on the bus, but it doesn’t seem to happen that often. However, we don’t have anything like ORCA. Thus, I don’t think that would work as well in Seattle.

        Before transfers were eliminated and replaced with on-bus ticket printers, the transfers had a date code on them that would be very difficult to reproduce, so I don’t think TriMet ever had anything like the fraud problem that KCM has. There was a bizarre black market forgery scheme for monthly passes at one point, but that was a completely dofferent thing. Maybe just buying TriMet’s old transfer patterns (with the complex date code scheme) would be good enough?

        The ticket printed above has an obvious date, but I don’t think bus ticket printers would work that well on KCM buses. There are simply too many busy bus routes. Here, the busy stuff (1/3 of transit riders) is MAX and thus pay before boarding.

      5. “try explaining that to those who decide not to use it.”

        That’s the ultimate point. Many people make a single trip once in a blue moon, or they make a few occasional trips and prefer to pay for each one as they go rather than prepaying. They also have an idea in their head how much it should cost: $2 or $2.50 is OK but not $5. People have a loss-adversion mechanism that makes them hold onto things sometimes more than their intrinsic value, in this case the $5. “Free transfers” doesn’t help because not everybody transfers and even fewer make inter-agency transfers; that’s what makes Link tickets viable and in demand.

        I’ve never been in another city that charges $5 for a transit card (because there are none). Normally such a charge would include a day pass or multi-trip discount ($6 for $5). The agencies only need to compromise a little bit to make a significant part of the opposition evaporate. Lower the fee to $3 or $2, or include a $3 or $2 credit. It’s not like that one fare makes or breaks the agency. The vehicle already has an empty seat which can’t be easily removed, and if the vehicle is full, this trip alone isn’t going to force the agency to buy another vehicle. Because the number of people buying ORCA cards one day is infinitesimally small compared to the total number of riders that day.

  2. “if the experiment is attempted then the best place to try it would be at extremely bus bus stops only served by King County Metro.”

    I’m not sure at all what this means. I don’t know what an “extremely” bus is.

  3. So many things would be simplified if we unified the fare policies and prices between Metro and Sound Transit and including Link. People can buy a ticket and not have to worry about whether Metro or ST shows up first – there are plenty of destinations where both operate – or what they will transfer to

    1. Also convince Peirce Transit, Community Transit and Everett Transit make fares the same and to take each other transfer this would make your transit systems a lot easily to use and quicker at stops because people already paid a fare. I would also think Sound Transit should take over ALL transit in their district for they can take transfers and introduce paper transfer to allow buses to be quicker at stops because already paid the fare. They would also allow people to transfer to Link without paying another fare.

      Both of these ideas would need zones to make it cheaper to take local transit. I would say Zone 1 could be $2.50 a Zone 2 could be $3.50 and Zone 3 could be $4.50.

      1. Sure, it could be zonal, kind of the way ST already does it, but it sure would be nice if all the agencies adopted a common model, common fares and common media.

      2. Zach: That would result in PT, CT, ET, and KT raising their fares. Suburban and rural agencies usually have lower fares because they have a level of magnitude less service and their average population is poorer (no high-paying businesses: Boeing Everett being the exception). Equalizing the fares may be good for those who transfer between agencies, but it may not be good for those who only travel in their local area.

      3. Each county can have its own in-county fare. Then all operators charge the in-county fare for in-county trips. And then there is an inter-county fare, and all operators charge that. It’s not that hard to have unified fares between operators.

  4. Maybe just get KCM a some date stamp machines, set the date on them a day in advance, and run the transfers through the date stamp machines the day before they are put on the road?

    1/4 inch tall lettering doesn’t sound that huge, but that is what TriMet used on its tickets, and all of the bus drivers on the routes I use are able to tell at a very brief glance – faster than an ORCA card read – that the above ticket is valid or not. Even I can tell it is valid or not from at least 7 feet away.

    Or, maybe when the transfers are printed, they should have a two week or so expiration date printed on them. That way, they can at most be abused for two weeks or so, with the color being used as an additional indication.

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