As the county council urges King County Metro Transit to look for more change in the couch, it is time for the county council to consider finally embracing ORCA. For reals. The extra 4.5 to 6.7 seconds it takes for a cash fumbler to board (vs. tapping an ORCA card) adds up, especially when it happens downtown with a dozen buses held up behind the bus on which the rider is fumbling change.
Here are nine awesome policy changes the county council could enact, thanks to the low-income ORCA program removing the excuse that these policies could somehow hurt poor riders. Bring on the efficiency!
1. Enact an ORCA discount / cash surcharge on every other category of fare payer. Where possible, round the cash fare to the next dollar up. King County Ferries and the Low-Income ORCA have paved the way for charging more for cash fares than ORCA fares.
2. Eliminate paper transfers and the cottage mass fare evasion industry that has evolved around them. Keep paper slips only for use on fare-enforced buses (i.e. RapidRide), good only on that one trip.
3. Remove the peak / off-peak differential. The differential has been ineffective at pushing riders to ride off-peak, and now will be a discount for non-low-income riders off-peak, since the low-income fare doesn’t change by time of day.
4. Ban cash payment at bus doors in the transit tunnel. Add more ORCA Boarding Assistants where needed to smoothe out boarding bottlenecks. Moving some buses from the overcrowded Bay A to Bay B will also help, or just move up the timetable for having only one bay per platform.
5. Turn 3rd Ave into a proof-of-payment / fare inspection zone, with cash payment at the door banned. Riders can handle the one-time inconvenience of going to get an ORCA. Low-income riders will have gone through much more hassle than that.
6. Create an express fare, as suggested in the American Public Transportation Association’s peer review of Metro (p.8). Low-income riders on those routes will already be paying a flat fare, so Title VI shouldn’t be an issue for routes going to poorer suburbs. This express fare would help improve some performance measurements, most notably fare recovery.
7. Create a separate, higher DART fare, or a diversion fare, as suggested in APTA’s peer review. (p.8)
8. Create a low-income Access fare, set at the current regular Access fare, and raise the non-low-income Access fare all the way up to the same as the regular peak fare ($2.75 after March 2015). Tack on a cash payment surcharge matching the cash surcharge on the regular buses, so that riders have an incentive to take advantage of the pre-payment program. Do like many other agencies are doing, and give Access riders and a companion the freedom to ride the fixed routes for free. This might actually yield the largest operational savings in the whole list.
9. Now that there is no card fee for the low-income ORCA, eliminate the $5 card fee for everyone else, and require at least $5 of loaded ORCA product to be purchased when getting a new card. 8 of the 17 bus smart cards around the country are free after rebates, and the rest cost no more than $2.
The problem with riders nonchalantly throwing out ORCA cards will now be just among riders who don’t have a low-income ORCA, so target the don’t-throw-way-your-ORCA incentives to the middle-to-upper-income demographic.