Be kind to your fellow passengers:  Please don't pay with cash.
Be kind to your fellow passengers: Don’t pay with cash.

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.

120 Replies to “Nine Awesome Revenue-Positive Policy Changes Made Politically Possible By Low-Income ORCA”

  1. I want all of these. If cash transfers are eliminated, I wonder how much of an increase we’ll see in pay-by-story versus pay-by-cash.

    1. As long as Metro maintains their no fare disputes policies, technically you don’t even need that little slip of paper to get a ride. Fare enforcement isn’t an issue on the vast majority of the routes.

      So that being said… Story time!

      1. I warned you about this last meet-up we met at, Lake City. A band with a name like that has to maintain an image like Freewheelin’ Franklin Freak on a Harley, except smoking something that presently is not legal- like maybe a Marlboro filter?

        With a client waiting for him under a code where breach of appointments go the coroner rather than court, and knowing pharmaceutical effects, Franklin wouldn’t want a driver to even make average scammer find the words for a story!

        Talks about getting thrown out of the Robert Crumb club!

        And Kelly, I really hope you’re not regretting end of fare disputes- though you might be proud by how many drivers get disciplined or fired by getting into them whatever The Book says.

        My appreciation dropped considerably every one of the thirty five minutes I had to wait aboard an AC Transit coach in Oakland while a supervisor had to show up to deal with a young man who absolutely refused to pay a thirty five cent shortage on his fare.

        Incidentally, re: interpretation of fare policy- not refusal to pay. Transit Prime Directive: warp speed until Worf transporters aboard with guys in ST Fare Inspector uniforms with phasers set to “Deduct from Credit Card!”

        Check your back Treks.


      2. As I have reported before, transit police can escort riders off the bus for fare evasion, without the driver having done any more than state the fare. I have only seen this done when the riders were breaking other more subjective rules, though.

        Paper is unlikely to go away completely, but paper slips can be maintained as POP for the remaining cash payers. They just wouldn´t be accepted when boarding another bus. I would assume Metro would get rid of the letter/color scheme in favor of something non-reusable. Otherwise, clever collectors could still try to dupe the transit police.

  2. You know cash does not have to take any appreciable time if the fare payer has their fare ready when they enter the bus. It doesn’t take more than two or three seconds to insert $2 and 25¢ or 50¢ and the driver likely has already ripped a transfer. The problem is people who seem to have no idea that yes you need to pay your fare and you don’t really need to be ratting around in your pocket/pocket book after you have entered the bus. I’m willing to bet that ORCA is faster but not by a whole lot of the fare payer has their fare ready when entering the bus. And as far as paying with ORCA it goes really fast (if you watch students enter and “boop” their ORCA. Some people however still haven’t mastered how to use ORCA and probably never will. Just think how many people never “got” pay on enter or pay when leaving or don’t understand when someone before you has signaled that the bus should stop no matter how many times you pull the cord there’s only one beep per stop request.

    1. You know cash does not have to take any appreciable time if the fare payer has their fare ready when they enter the bus.[emphasis added]

      That’s a pretty big “if” you’ve got there, Mr. Singer. Don’t you think that sufficiently intelligent cash payers today would already do this if only to make their own trip faster?

    2. True but irrelevant. We need to make policy for people as the cash fumblers they are, not the efficient payment machines we wish they were.

      Besides, ORCA is faster for the efficient boarders and the unprepared and confused bumblers alike.

      1. Cash fares are not so slow when the fare is something really tidy like 25 cents or $1 or $5, but when it involves multiple coins or bills, people are gonna be slow.

    3. There’s literature that shows exactly how much more time a cash fare takes than a smart card. It’s measurable and on high ridership routes does impact running time.

    4. If we really want speed, ORCA should scan faster. Right now, even if everyone is a perfect ORCA user, that is, no one moves their card too soon and has to try again, you can’t do better than a slow walking pace.

      ORCA is faster than cash because you can extend your arm as you board, keep your hand over the scanner, and continue to walk on the bus, finally taking your arm with you when ORCA scans. The key here is that you keep moving. With cash, it’s a lot harder to keep moving as you pay (I suppose you could drop in some dollar coins in the space of one stride).

      1. Sounds like my ORCA technique – far too many ORCA users just stand at the reader seemingly in awe of the fact that their card scanned correctly. Then you’ve got the aggressive “wavers” who can’t figure out how it works.

        I’ve seen some really badly-positioned ORCA readers where that doesn’t work, however. Some of the 3600-series low floor buses I’ve been on recently have had the reader facing backward, instead of more towards the door, and very near to the driver. I can’t keep walking in that setup. I don’t know if that is normal (those aren’t my usual buses) but it is a little annoying.

      2. Maybe we can use one side of the OBA screens on 3rd to show ‘best practice’ videos to model good ORCA practice, moving all the way to the back, putting your bag on your lap, etc. Local filmmaking orgs could help out.

        Then again, this might be in the same category of improvements as coordinating the music played at the 3rd Ave MCD with Benaroya Hall’s offerings, including / especially the [untitled] series, and displaying the track information regardless.

    5. ORCA boarding can become faster than it is; it just takes passenger training. It’s not really a “tap”: you hold the card in front of the reader, a slight distance from it, at a certain position. I’ve figured out the approximate position but not the exact position, so I hold it up, wait a moment, and move it slowly until it beeps. Regular passengers can be encouraged to observe others who successfully tap quickly; while occasional passengers may need explicit examples (a picture or video).

      1. That’s almost hysterical “regular customers can be encouraged” when people who have been riding Metro literally for years cannot figure this stuff out. Some people are just not teachable.

      2. All you need is one levitating smiling whale mascot to remind people to _hover_ their ORCAs.

        (Is that any clearer? Hover conveys that you hold it still for a while, eliminating the wild waving. Any case, language change + mnemonic)

    6. I like to measure the difference by counting the number of people who can scan their ORCA card and pass behind someone paying cash, even if that person has three singles ready to go. It’s usually at least two people, frequently three.

      1. I notice that too. Of course, in that case the cash users are really not holding anyone up.

        But even with correct change in your hot little hand, ORCA is several seconds faster. Just for the fact that regular fare involves 3 separate pieces of money, vs. one card. I’ve never felt that the ORCA card’s scan speed was a significant impediment to boarding. So much faster than cash already.

      2. I’ll admit that I didn’t realize we could do that. I had assumed that if the person in front of me was in the middle of paying cash, and I scanned my ORCA, that bad things would happen, like maybe the system would lose track of what the cash person had inserted. Now I know! Also, most ORCA users I’ve seen won’t pass a cash payer, which does create a bottleneck whenever someone pays cash..

      3. I used to do this until one driver stopped me and told me to wait for the cash payer to finish. He was upset that I tried to jump ahead, claiming he couldn’t tell whether I had paid or not if he couldn’t see the reader. Needless to say he was almost 15 minutes behind and didn’t seem to care.

      4. I also assumed the system couldn’t handle two transactions simultaneously — either while a person was paying cash or in the second after somebody taps until the screen resets. Then a driver said it’s OK to tap while somebody is paying cash. Then the problem becomes having enough room to step behind the person.

      5. … or not running in to a driver like the one Gabe encountered. I have run into the same driver(s), so I now won’t pass a cash payer. If Metro intends to permit it, they need to tell the drivers, and then tell the passengers who have been soured on the possibility.

      6. Now I’m prepared in case a driver admonishes me for this. To be sure, the equipment is fine with simultaneous cash / card, just not the driver and his estimation of his ability to pay attention, right?

      7. I do tap now when I’m behind a cash payer, and no driver has admonished me. I just try to fit through the space, or wait if there’s absolutely not enough space. The driver shouldn’t have to see the screen because it’ll make one happy beep if it’s OK, so it only matters if it makes some other sound.

  3. 4. Ban cash payment at bus doors in the transit tunnel. Add more ORCA Boarding Assistants where needed to smoothe out boarding bottlenecks.

    Agreed. But there’s a cheaper way to do this than using ORCA boarding assistants. The TVM’s that are already installed on the mezzanine of every station should be perfectly capable of spitting out a ticket for King County Metro. Have cash fare customers purchase the proper fare (that will be the challenging part under the current structure) and insert it in the farebox or hand it to the driver.

    It’s been discussed here before, but the city just announced that they are buying new parking meters. I encourage everyone here to email the city at and ask them to program these meters to sell bus tickets as well as parking permits.

    1. Yes, the TVMs should print bus tickets if the agencies don’t want to go to two kinds of ORCA cards (regular/plastic and disposable/cardboard).

      1. That’s what I meant by the second kind. Atlanta had them when I was there. It was something like $5 for the regular card or $2 for the visitors’ card but it has changed since then.

        There was also an obscure rule that the visitors’ card could only have an even number of trips (i.e., round trips). So I bought two trips for the airport and back, but then the next day I ended up walking somewhere and taking the train back to my hotel, so on the last day I needed one more trip to the airport. The agent said I had to buy two trips or have the other kind of card, so I had to buy two trips and throw away one. That was screwy and never made sense to me.

  4. Number 5, making Third Avenue a fare paid zone, is completely impractical. If you want to encourage massive fare evasion, do this. How much incentive would there be for a person riding out the #7 (for instance) to get on at Main Street for free, gambling that no fare enforcement would happen before Seventh and Jackson? After that point, no fare enforcement is possible because a person can argue that he or she got on at Seventh or later, unless the entire route is run like RapidRide.

    The same is true of any route which uses Third Avenue. As soon as the bus turns off Third, the assumption by a fare inspector must be that a person claiming she or he paid at the first non-Third Avenue stop or later is telling the truth.

    To do this would force half the in-city bus lines to become fare-enforcement throughout.

    1. I don’t think this is so hard… you could have a security guard sitting in the first seat of the bus asking to see transfers as people board. Sure, someone might notice him sitting there and then not board, but if you’re going to go to that much trouble to evade the fare you’d probably just get on without paying under the current regime.

      I wonder how this is working on NYC’s SelectBus service. In that case, you have to get a proof of payment receipt before boarding (even if you have an unlimited MetroCard) from machines at each stop. If it’s effective there, it will probably be effective on Third Avenue — there is much more social pressure to pay the fare in Seattle than in NY.

      1. That sounds similar to Swift. Even though I had a monthly pass loaded onto ORCA, I still had to tag in at the Swift station to “acknowledge my ride” and yes, I’ve been spot-checked before.

      2. (need a darned edit button)

        Yes I do know that MetroCard isn’t a true smart card like ORCA, but the idea is still the same: you have to Acknowledge your Ride at the station (get a receipt with MetroCard, or tag in with ORCA) before getting on board the bus.

      3. wonder how this is working on NYC’s SelectBus service. In that case, you have to get a proof of payment receipt before boarding (even if you have an unlimited MetroCard) from machines at each stop. If it’s effective there, it will probably be effective on Third Avenue — there is much more social pressure to pay the fare in Seattle than in NY.

        I have never sene a fare inspector on an SBS at all & I have ridden the BX12 line numerous times from Bay Plaza to Webster & Fordham. It would be so easy to catch fare evaders along that stretch, but the MTA does almost nothing about it.

        On the ORCA front, I endorse all ideas mentioned above.

    2. POP is not really viable unless the entire route uses it. But the driver could simply tell passengers they can’t pay with cash; they have to get a ticket offboard and take the next bus. That’s not much of a problem peak because the next bus will probably come in a few minutes. It’s more of a problem evenings when the next bus might be half an hour or hour. But that’s where signs on the stop post come in, saying to buy an ORCA or ticket off-board. If it’s right next to the route numbers or schedule and has large letters, few people will miss it.

      Also, soon a greater percentage of riders will be taking Link, so the volume of bus-cash payers will go down. If the 71/72/73X and 550 aren’t running, people won’t be paying cash on them, and they won’t slow other buses down.

    3. Andy,

      Transit systems eliminated conductors in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, cutting direct operating employment costs in half. That’s essentially what you want to reverse.

      I like Mike’s elegant solution, but it would be very unpopular with tourists and therefore would be very unpopular with downtown merchants and ipso facto the City Council.

      1. Tourists have to accept different things in strange cities. It’s reasonable to make them to read a large sign and buy a ticket at the machine at a stop. It’s not reasonable to ban them from buses if they’re at a residential stop and the nearest Safeway is a mile away and no way to get to it (because the bus to it is hourly or there is no bus to it, and they can’t ride the bus anyway without a card).

      2. For instance, my friend’s house on 24th Ave S at 136th, and visitors he lets stay there. He doesn’t take transit so he doesn’t know the rules, but visitors sometimes do and don’t have cars. The nearest bus routes are the 124 and 132. TIB Station is two miles southeast with rolling hills in between. The nearest supermarket is a mile in the opposite direction in Burien.

      3. The large sign might be a reasonable expectation in the tunnel, but not on Third Avenue. It’s just a bus stop; why would different rules apply there?

  5. 6. I like the express fare. Those are premium services – they should have premium pricing. But I think the Council will hate that idea since most express riders are suburban peak-hour commuters, and they vote.

    9. I’d make it a minimum $11 fare add to get the card free ($11 gives 4x $2.75 fares). Most tourists can spend that easily. Give free ORCAs to monthly pass buyers – a $99/month rider in the $2.75 fare will spend almost $1200/year. Why go after another $5 from your best customers?

    NEW. Make senior fares $1.25 instead of $1.00. There is no reason why Metro should be giving seniors a discount in excess of the 50% required by the Feds. It is ironic that the senior fare will be less than the low income fare ($1.50), even though the argument for heavily subsidized senior fares is that seniors have low incomes.

    1. The way to make the express fare work is to put it in place at the same time as either improved service or increased tolling on routes used by the buses. E.g., if they start tolling I-90, Metro could more easily sell a concurrent fare increase on riders crossing Lake Washington.

      OR, if they can put some minor improvements on these buses that commuters will like, they can probably impose a fare increase at the same time. For example,
      -pay-before-boarding at P&Rs
      -newer coaches with more comfortable seats.
      -more frequent coaches to ensure everyone has a seat

      But, I agree that raising the fare for an existing express service is not politically viable. Riders on these services will feel “singled out”.

      1. Andy,

        For the three-thousand, two hundred and eighty-first time here on STB, I-90 can not be tolled. It is an Interstate System facility (thus the “I”) and therefore subject to the Interstate System Act as amended. One of the most important clauses in that act mandates that Interstate System Facilities may not be tolled except those “grandfathered” into the system at its inception and to initially build, expand or replace Interstate System Facilities crossing a barrier which is extraordinarily expensive to cross. For instance, the Mackinac Straits Bridge, though a part of I-75, has been tooled since it was built.

        Washington could have built the existing I-90 crossing replacing the Lacy V. Morrow bridge using tolls had it chosen to do so. But instead it received Federal Matching funds at the then-typical 90% level and paid for the local match from state highway funds and possibly others.

        The upshot is that I-90 as now configured can not be tolled, either to pay for SR520 or to control congestion.

      2. Just a small note on the seats, Metro’s newer coaches are actually designed with less comfortable seats so that (in theory at least) they reduce the number of people sleeping on the bus. I think the jury is still out on that one though.

      3. Anandakos:

        Thinking outside the box…

        Interstate Highways can be “de-interstated” and then tolled. As far as I can tell, there is no legal reason why I-90 has to end in Seattle rather than Bellevue. This is complicated and probably forfeits some future federal money, but the tolls might more than make up for it.

      4. Nathanael,

        That’s an interesting idea. I’d certainly support it if it’s possible, but I would like some sort of attribution that roads can be “de-Interstated” (it really should have a capital “I”).

        However, even if it’s legally possible I expect that the autoistas will kill such a proposal dead, dead, dead in the state Legislature.

    2. RE senior fare, there is no federal requirement that senior fares are discounted during peak times. A policy question should be if seniors get any discount during peak times.

    3. I still don’t get why Metro has express routes. Shouldn’t that be handled by Sound transit? I think Metro should create a network of all-day frequent, reliable routes that offer connections to Sound transit for the “express” routes to downtown seattle/bellevue or the other destinations. A ton of Metro routes are duplicative with ST, for example the 21x routes could be routed to 554, tho 19x could be 57x or 59x, the northern routes to 512 etc…

      1. When there’s a lot of one-directional peak demand on a route, it’s faster for everyone to have an express version available. Route 28, for example, goes through a big stretch of mostly single-family housing. A whole lot of people use it to commute to their downtown office jobs (as evidenced by the fact that the combined route needs to run 14 trips between 7-9 AM but only half-hourly service at mid-day). The route gets decent-but-not-great ridership most of the day, but gets pretty packed at the peaks even with so many more trips.

        The express gets downtown about 10 minutes faster, so each express trip theoretically saves Metro money compared to driving those same people down the local route. Whether they actually are able to schedule drivers for more runs because of this time difference is something I don’t know the answer to. I hope so, but either way the expresses are better for passengers.

        I’d like to see an analysis of express riders based on whether their employer pays their fare. Riders in that situation literally don’t care about whether there’s an express surcharge. People who buy their own fare could go either way. Even a 50¢ surcharge adds $18 to the cost of a monthly pass. I might choose to take the local bus most days and get some extra reading in rather than pay the extra cost. If enough people make that decision, then Metro would have to change some express trips to local trips, which would reduce the net benefit Metro would see from implementing an express surcharge.

      2. The original intention for ST was to provide all-day bi-directional service, not peak direction peak hour service. granted they have strayed from that some but that was the original intention in 1996.

    4. Community Transit has had premium fares for years, and it even has two levels of premium fares. Everett to Seattle is $4.00; beyond Everett to Seattle is $5.25. That’s significantly higher than Metro’s maximum fare ($3.00). The council has never been asked about premium fares so we can’t assume it’s against them.

      Metro’s fare structure and express routes come from the 1970s, long before Sound Transit existed. The network was much more peak-oriented then; with long milk runs and many areas having only peak-expresses to downtown. The 150 was downtown-Auburn; 174 downtown-Federal Way; 210 downtown-North Bend; 307 downtown-Woodinville. Peak-expresses paralleled these and also served other neighborhoods in those cities. Metro’s fares were two-zone regardless of local vs express; and then the peak surcharge was added to both local and express identically, under the reasoning that peak times have more costs because local frequency doubled too.

      When ST came around it took over mainly the all-day trunks: 522, 545, 550, 554, 577, Tacoma trunk (594), and new Snohomish County trunks (510, 511 — both now 512). Most of these have more express segments than their predecessors. ST didn’t touch some routes: 255, 271. Probably because of limited budget. The ST peak-only routes were really secondary: some of them were originally all-day routes, some were intended to grow into all-day routes, and some just provide relief capacity for all-day routes (59x). Only Pierce Transit’s peak routes were converted to ST; Metro and Community Transit kept theirs. Those were considered outside ST’s “regional transit” mission because they’re specialized fill-in services, not normal regional mobility. And ST’s budget did not include money for them anyway.

      So the city council may have been against premium fares in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, but many things have changed since then: the population is larger, the urban village goals are in full swing, all-day transit demand is up, and there’s less slush money available. So if Metro proposes it the council might go along. And even it doesn’t the first time, maybe it will a year or two later, especially as part of a master plan integrated with ST3.

      1. Paid parking at the P&Rs is another opportunity, but since most of those parking are also boarding expresses, the combination of paid parking and express fares would likely generate substantial opposition from the suburban Council members.

        Metro is absolutely giving up a lot of money with free parking: I figure Eastgate alone could generate $1MM/year in gross revenue with a $3 weekday parking fee.

      2. @Alex A nominal fee SHOULD be charged to park at P&R facilities, to help with the M&O costs of said facility. Also, depending on the way paid parking was implemented it may also reduce crime as any Ne’er-do-well’s would have to pay to exit the parking lot instead of simply driving out, making it a somewhat safer facility.

    5. To keep things simple, make the senior and youth fare the same, one-half of the regular adult fare.

    6. Well, it’s like this, Alex. Respected hyperconcatinated calculations prove that old people are so slow getting out hard-to-handle coins like a quarter- just think if we’ve only got dimes, and maybe five pennies!

      You young people, in addition to not knowing how good you got things, don’t remember how slow a glacier was when this part of the world was covered with ’em! And waiting ’til the mammoth that had sat down on top of you got up so you could go catch the bus! Well, quarters are just like that!

      But more important: We old people could be the one force with enough clout to end poverty among people of all ages by putting everybody that wants a job back to work at decent wages.

      Since of the entire voting population, we are the only ones who personally remember what working life in a productive US industrial economy looked like.Including building and running public transit. At a time when transit worked.

      With US made equipment unequaled in the world. Whose succeeding machines would still be providing excellent service if they, and the plants that made them, hadn’t been scrapped along with the rest of the industrial United States forty years ago.

      A system which enabled good workers to earn a very good living in a time when someone didn’t need a certificate of dubious value, whose cost can’t be paid off in a lifetime at current wages on any job.

      So since the AARP scares politicians a lot more than the NRA, it would be highly advantageous for people approaching, let alone past, voting age to form a coalition with us- for a political force as powerful enough get back the civic vitality that you youngsters can’t be blamed for not knowing ever existed.

      And first item on the agenda after Victory: elimination of all the transit fare breaks that will never again be needed by anybody. Now where’s my consarned quarter….

      Mark Dublin

  6. I’m a bit confused about 4 and 5–if we’re going to ban cash payment downtown, why keep it at all?

    1. Because there are thousands of bus stops throughout the county and you can’t install TVMs at all of them.

      And you can’t expect people to go to stores for ORCA cards because (1) there’s not always a store within walking distance of a stop; (2) it’s not open 24 hours; (3) occasional passengers don’t know that stores have ORCA, or which ones do, or where they’re located; and (4) disabled passengers may not be able to walk or wheelchair to a store and back to the bus stop, much less in time before the bus comes.

      1. And you can’t expect people to go to stores for ORCA cards because (1) there’s not always a store within walking distance of a stop; (2) it’s not open 24 hours

        Metro and ST should look at expanding the range of retailers where you can buy or add value to Orca Cards. According to the list on the Orca Card web site, it looks like there’s only 28 retailers in the city of Seattle that offer Orca services, and most of them restrict the hours they offer Orca services, even when the store is open 24 hours.

        It should help Orca adoption, especially for people not buying monthly passes, if everyone could count on being able to walk into any Safeway, QFC, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Rite-Aid, 7-11, Walgreen’s, Bartell’s, etc any time of day and buy or add value to an Orca Card.

        I don’t know what the hold up is- if stores don’t want to deal with Orca, or if ST/Metro doesn’t have the budget for it.

  7. I agree with djw’s last comment. One of the things that turns away casual riders (and frustrated the hell out of me when I first moved to Seattle) is the complexity in the transit system. I’d never ridden on a transit system so complicated (ok, the RFA is gone but you still need to know peak vs. off peak, and how many zones and what bus system you’re on!). We need one fare structure (ORCA fare is x, cash fare is x+$1) across the board, and one payment method (ORCA readers at all doors, cash sales with driver only) and not a bunch of rules and exceptions like, “Rapid Ride allows you to board at any door……except after 7pm” or “you can pay with cash anywhere except in the following areas”. Things end up being so complicated that people get flustered and say, “F this, I’m just going to drive. It’s faster anyway.”

    I think the suggestions here are good ideas, but I’m definitely in favor of increased consistency in the rider experience too.

    1. That’s where budget restraints and tax caps impede consolidation. If you unify the fares, some fares will have to go down, and that money has to come from service hours or higher taxes. It’s hard to increase taxes, and “service hours” means cutting routes and frequency. So it’s a major integration job, and these artificial tax caps make it significantly harder. So it may take five or ten years to do, as part of a big reorganization for ST2 (2023 phase) or ST3 (2031).

  8. I’ll say it again — all 5 transit agencies should sit down and work out a single fare system, one that’s simple and understandable. Why is this so hard? What is gained by having 5 different fare structures?

    1. Imagine if all five agencies had to agree on a change to the fare system before it could be implemented.

      ORCA might never have happened.

      At the very least, we´d be institutionally incapable of getting rid of the inexplicable and costly-to-the-system $5 fee for getting an ORCA card. Oh wait, we already have a mult-agency group in charge of that decision, and no single agency wants to take the blame for the institutional inability to get rid of the extremely counterproductive $5 fee.


    this is step in the right direction but needlessly complex. Get low-income Orca out there and just take the fare box off the bus. The time saved for travel would be significant and there would be no cash on board to manage – you could board and deboard from all doors at all times. Europe has been doing this for how long? Time to move Seattle into the late 20th Century as far a fare collections go.

    1. What about visitors when they’re at a bus stop and there host has left for the day. Or people who never take the bus but their car broke down and they didn’t know they have to obtain an ORCA before going to a far-flung bus stop? 90% of the riders on the 168 and 169 in Kent are cash riders and many are low income. Some of them are regular riders and could obtain a low-income ORCA one-time, but others are occasional riders who don’t have card, or they can’t afford a low-income card or prepaying a block of fares: they only have a few dollars at a time, enough for one trip or one round trip.

      1. Heck, people may have to pay cash just to get to the place where they complete the applications for the low-income ORCA.

        It’s very reasonable, however, to make the cash fare more expensive than the ORCA fare and to make it a round number of dollars — speeding up cash payment substantially and discouraging cash payment for anyone who can get an ORCA.

    2. And in those European countries, those people probably have cash assistance or free transit passes or better unemployment insurance.

      How does Europe implement a no-cash policy at bus stops? Is it just that train stations are more ubiquidous and everybody knows where they are? Or do they have this policy even in areas without train stations? Do they expect people to go to stores to get transit cards? Are the stores located right near the bus stops?

      1. In many parts of Europe (Germany for example) drivers will sell fares and make change but the bus operates on POP. Thus, they are not enforcing the fare.

        In other countries (Italy, nearly all of Eastern Europe) no fares are collected on board and the driver does not enforce. Tickets must be purchased prior to boarding; they are sold at nearly all stores, newsstands, etc. You must validate the ticket in a machine once you step on board (the SLUT cars actually have these validation machines – the yellow box with the green arrow and the slot) or risk being fined. In some places, you can purchase a ticket from the driver but there is a surcharge (Zagreb springs to mind).

        Also, it is common that if you are caught without a fare by the POP officer, you can pay the fine directly to him on the spot (for a much lower penalty but don’t forget to get a receipt) or you can mail your payment in. Most people seem to pay on the spot.

      2. In Geneva the buses all have TVMs on them. Riders without passes board and then buy their tickets. The more-heavily used bus stops (and all tram stops) have TVMs, also.

        Fare enforcement is serious. I forget what the fine is but it hurts.

    3. My European travels are far from extensive, but they are recent, and every bus I’ve been on in Europe allowed cash payment. On some the drivers even made change.

      1. London is cash free on buses now. Before that the cash surcharge was in the punitive range (over a pound as I recall, on a system that doesn’t allow free transfers between buses for cash fare payers).

    4. I always get a weekly pass when I’m in Europe so i don’t have to deal with cash or e-purse. But the buses in Germany (Duesseldorf suburbs) were more like RapidRide; enter in back if you have a pass, half-mile stop spacing, although they were still half-hourly rather than frequent. So I could see them going cashless with a small step and public acceptance. The nearest train stations were several miles away (S-Bahn on the other side of town and just inside Duesseldorf; U-Bahn in cities not nearby.) So people could not just walk to a train station and get a transit card. So, did they implement cash-free buses? Where do people get transit cards, and does the entire population know this?

      1. I replied above but will reiterate … what you describe is common for *most* of Germany. Tickets can be purchased in advance from ticket machines, subway stations, and *the driver – who will also make change.* But the bus is POP.

        However, in much of Europe (Italy, all of Eastern Europe, etc) you must purchase your fare before boarding.

        In these countries, this is known and expected. Tickets are for sale literally everywhere, and regular riders either have a pass or a book of tickets. You must validate your ticket on board, or risk fine by the POP officer. I don’t know when these places quit handling cash on board, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem.

      2. @KH: Meanwhile in greater Seattle living within a reasonable walk of any physical retail outlet whatsoever isn’t ubiquitous. To say nothing of a physical retail outlet that actually carries ORCA. Even stores that do sell ORCA run out often enough. General stores and grocery stores are considerably more consolidated (larger and farther apart) in the US (reflecting mass automobility and the attendant willingness to burn some gas for cheaper prices and more selection), and with more and more practical goods being delivered these days that seems unlikely to change all that much in general.

        If we solve this problem it probably won’t look much like it does it Europe — we’d be more likely to do it with something like QR codes that can be displayed by a phone or printed, like airlines do. Or maybe we’ll support general NFC payment fobs like some Asian cities (maybe with a surcharge, considering the cut that payment processors take).

      3. That’s a problem with having a $5 smart card over a paper ticket. Fred Meyer, Safeway, and other stores have TriMet tickets, which are cheap paper.

  10. Not to make fun of the title Brent, but sorry: Too old to be Shocked, by things Awesome only in the same sense as Godzilla. Zipper and all.

    “Ban cash payment at bus doors in the transit tunnel. Add more ORCA Boarding Assistants where needed to smooth out boarding bottlenecks.”

    However quick, at pm rush a tap is still lost time. Otherwise LINK would tap on board too. And how many stations will Boarding Assistants serve? My count now: one. If these people are policy: number should be “all”. Is this intended?

    “Moving some buses from the overcrowded Bay A to Bay B will also help”

    Without at least enough dispatch control keep buses in bay assignment order, there will frequently be a line of front bay buses stuck in the Tunnel until back bay buses clear. Worsening what already causes front bays to be overloaded- all the trapped front bay buses have to stop again at front bay after release from trap.

    Minimal requirement: either reactivate staging signals or have supervisors dispatch by hand-held signal in bay order. And all coach operators trained to understand and cooperate.

    “or just move up the timetable for having only one bay per platform.”

    Do you mean add operating time to every schedule? If so, then be prepared to account to the public for the cost of every added operating minute in addition to the time already lost when fare-box collection came into the DSTT.

    And admit how much additional delay will result from extra number of times every bus will have to stop at each station. And also explain how, instead of passengers’ having to guess where their bus will stop over half the platform, they’ll have to find and access their bus along the whole platform in a rush hour crowd.

    In short, recreating the exact “Wall of Buses” that gave rise to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel in the first place.

    It’s not just money wasted here. It’s time and effort Awesomely trashed. Controlled dispatch at the portals. Proof of payment at stations. For trains and buses alike. Equipment and procedures for fare collection and vehicle control designed to prevent the exact operating problems we’re facing now.

    Behind this whole matter: Does the King County Council really believe that the need to apportion fare revenue to the among subareas, to the penny, takes precedence over transit operations? If so, since my district’s votes don’t presently count in this matter, best I can offer is one man’s opinion:

    If present fare collection and Tunnel traffic control policies are absolutely beyond correction for the rest of joint operations, it’s now time for Sound Transit to do its political best to see to it that the present underground rush hour motor traffic jam immediately returns to the streets from whence it came. Where the county and Seattle can decide whether to let it continue.

    Whatever revenue this will cost ST will be balanced by savings to its own operating budget by the elimination of hours of needless delay. And the restoration of its own reputation for the performance expected by passengers with international plane tickets.

    A reward, incidentally, that both agencies, and their vehicles, can easily share and retain- and maintain their intended close working relationship- by the swift replacement of some completely misbegotten transit operating policies with the good ones worked out thirty years ago.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark. I think you are proposing PoP for all buses in the tunnel. If it were workable, that would certainly be the ideal. However, with crushloaded buses, I have no idea how it could be done in the tunnel, or before the first stop outside the tunnel. Some of the routes would make sense for random checks at the first stop outside the tunnel. Others, not so much.

      Having one bay instead of two would certainly not mean slower operations, since more buses would be able to open their doors at once. My only serious concern with it is ADA compliance, when someone may have to move two or three bus lengths down from the Bay marker to board their bus. As it is, there are frequently a couple Bay A buses waiting to pull up to Bay A, meaning that the Bay B bus (255) also has to wait before it can pull up to Bay B. Having one bay also means the boarding assistants can focus on clearing the front-most buses and then work their way backwards, without having to run to Bay B every 8 minutes.

      Do we at least agree that paying with cash while boarding a bus in the tunnel should be banned, regardless of whether the system is PoP or PAYE?

  11. 1. Add a surcharge for cash versus ORCA to move people to ORCA.
    2. Remove the peak surcharge because it isn’t convincing people to ride off-peak.

    I’m confused. Do surcharges work or don’t they work?

      1. Why is the cash vs. ORCA surcharge any more understandable than the peak surcharge? I think they will have basically the same effect. That is, either…

        A. The cash surcharge will convince about 1% of people to move to ORCA, while everyone with cash will just put in whatever the driver says to put in.

        B. The peak surcharge is working, but the demand for peak service is so great that there are still a lot of people commuting in peak times because they can’t avoid it, so the potential fare savings is not practical for most people.

        I personally A will play out if we add a cash surcharge.

        And if a lot of people are taking the bus at peak times (hint: they are), then a peak surcharge is actually a good thing; it earns more revenue for Metro, which is looking at cutting service because it doesn’t have enough money.

      2. Nah. People need to travel when they need to travel.

        Choosing a payment method at that time when they need to travel, however, can be influenced by comparative price.

      3. 520 tolling is probably a decent example of the principle. I don’t think it’s shifted the region’s working hours. I don’t know whether it’s had much of an effect on carpooling… and it’s certainly driven some people to I-90 and 522. But it’s also driven a lot of people to buy Good2Go passes, even people that only occasionally drive over the bridge.

      4. …I’m not sure I explained this properly. What I’m saying is that peak surcharges tend to confuse people, who can’t remember exactly when the peak surcharge applies, so even if they could schedule their trip to avoid peak, they don’t bother to schedule their trips to avoid peak (“does it end at 9 or 9:30? 10? Oh, whatever…”)

        ORCA vs. cash prices are much simpler to remember.

      5. “The cash surcharge will convince about 1% of people to move to ORCA, while everyone with cash will just put in whatever the driver says to put in.”

        Where are you getting that from? People understand, “This card will save me $1 on every trip.” What they don’t see the point of is a card that saves $0, costs $5, and has a shorter transfer window. Interagency transfers don’t matter to them because most of them only take Metro. So the number of people switching might be 25% or 50% or 75%, but not 1%. However, there are the true occasional riders who only take it like twice a year, and those people may still prefer to pay cash even if it costs a dollar more because that’s only two dollars a year.

    1. The difference is that you don’t have a choice about paying peak vs. off-peak. It just is what it is depending on the time. If there was a cash surcharge, you’re giving riders a choice on how much they want to pay, so they will feel that extra $0.25 (or whatever it would be) since they didn’t have to pay it.

    2. I get a Bus+Train Passport from my employer, so I don’t give a hoot about peak versus non-peak, beyond the question of “is this bus too crowded to get on?”. And someone with a monthly pass who at least occasionally needs to commute during peak hours is probably going to go ahead and buy at the $2.50 rate, and hence won’t care either.

  12. Brent, I’m curious, do you ever pay with cash at a business when there’s also an option to pay with a credit card, and you have your credit card with you?

    1. Contrary to the high-production value advertisements from the major credit card issuers, paying with a card in a retail establishment is not especially faster than paying with cash, especially where the card process requires a handover and a signed receipt.

      Both forms of retail transaction take 15-20 seconds or so. Such lethargy would be disastrous on mass transit.

      On the bus, the difference between a contactless payment and an exact-change cash fumble is proven and quantifiable.

      1. Description of a fumbling, bumbling ORCA user I, and about 10 others, were standing behind today, while he was trying to get his card work … Wave wallet around. Stop. Wave again in figure eights around the reader. Quick tap in wrong place on reader. Tap again in wrong place. Pause. Take ORCA card out of wallet. Wave. Wave again. Tap in wrong place. Inspects card. Waves around again. Five lightening quick taps in wrong place. Three more circle waves. Looks at card again. I say, “Excuse me, but I think what you should …” He cuts me off and snaps in a thick Russian accent, ” I KNOW HOW DO!” Long story short, it took him TWO MORE MINUTES to finally tap his card in the right place and get a beep. Hand to God. True story.

      2. Good story. I agree that it describes about 0.05% of ORCA users.

        It also describes about 40% of cash-payers.

      3. Remember that there have been studies. Real ones, with clipboards and stopwatches. ORCA users are 5-6 seconds faster apiece, observed in aggregate and taken on average.

      4. d.p., one difference between cash fumbling in the supermarket line and cash fumbling in the bus line is that on the bus you can know what the cost will be before you get there. If you get on the bus without having your fare out and ready, you’re hopeless.

        Sadly, many people are hopeless.

      5. a.w.: others have said that the ludicrously complex fare system in Puget Sound means that a fairly large number of people aren’t going to know the cost before getting on the bus.

        Probably you don’t want to make it as rock-bottom-simple as “one dollar for any trip” or “five dollars for a day pass” (some agencies *do* go that simple). But it’s really way too complicated.

    2. Yes, occassionally. However, there aren’t hundreds of riders in a dozen or so buses lined up behind me, paying with debit card takes more than a second, and the extra cashier who sometimes gets called to the front is not earning $30 an hour, or spewing diesel exhaust or CO2 while waiting for me to pay.

      When I do pay with cash, I usually offer a $10 or $20 bill, and the cashier quickly gives the right change.

      1. … which, admittedly, would show a rational basis for ending net neutrality to avoid having everyone else subsidize people who stream HD videos all day. That’s why I’m equivocal on net neutrality.

        But anything else on this point would be off-topic.

      2. You may be right, though my point is that an articulable public interest in differential fares is easily at hand (bus go faster = good for peoples).

        The argument that there is a compelling public interest in allowing content favoritism for profit is quite a bit harder to make. (Net neutrality has little to do with the quantity of content consumed by the enduser, but rather with the speed of content from competing sources.)

        So I guess we’re talking about “heightened scrutiny” here.

    1. [ot]

      There is no equivalent in public transit… though there used to be. Back when you had two competing private bus companies (company “A” and company “B”), if you had city-owned bus lanes which were for the use of company A’s buses *only*…. you would have a similar issue.

      1. …which is probably why Google Buses and other corporate bus shuttles are allowed to use city bus stops in San Francisco. It’s Bus Neutrality! :-)

  13. an overall region-wide cash fare and transfer policy needs to be adopted. I think key elements need to include the use of TRiM units for printing and machine reading transfers, a cash fare surcharge, and implementing PoP on Tunnel routes (to allow back-door ORCA boarding). Transfers could either remain as-is, convert back to a PugetPass like transfer (pre-ORCA), or a day pass. Fare structures should be standardized to the type of service region wide (local service $2.25, Express $3.00, etc.) without any time-of-day or zone restrictions. Furthermore, a nominal fee needs to be charged for the use of P&R facilities, to help cover M&O,

  14. Put a credit card swiper on the buses. Have it always charge a little more to cover the cost of the tech.

    I think some people would use it. Especially if they forgot their orca card and didn’t have exact change. Also if they don’t often ride the bus.

    Second they could give change like buses do in the rest of the world: Slap down $10, say your destination, and they hand you ticket and change. Cashiers are way faster at giving change than customers are at counting it out.

    Last but not least, if it’s busy and the bus is late, just shut off the fare box and tell people it’s free today, just hurry up.

    These are just ideas, but my central point is customer service and encouraging a positive happy experience riding the bus.

    1. Check out Utah Transit Authority if you want to see the acceptance of debit/credit cards already in action in the US&A. Tri-Met is also looking in that direction.

    2. When I rode the public buses in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, they had dedicated cashiers and turnstiles on the bus, along with a small vestibule in front. It worked remarkably efficiently, but labor costs and accessibility concerns mean the model wouldn’t work stateside

    3. Giving change is slower and takes more space in the US than in Europe because we rely so heavily on bills. Bills take more time to identify, store, and retrieve, and take more space when stored (except perhaps in very large quantities of crisp, new bills).

      That said, though giving change is certainly faster in Europe, it’s likely that when people travel to Europe and get change on buses they feel like it doesn’t take as long mostly because they’re the ones receiving the service, while locals (who all used methods of payment requiring no driver interaction) roll their eyes and furiously complain about coin-fumbling tourists on Europe Transit Blog.

    4. It’s an American tradition to pay cash on buses. People remember buses in movies from the 40s and 50s and on Sesame Street because that’s when buses stopped being part of their parents’ lives, so they only encounter them when they’re in a strange city or their car breaks down or they’re going downtown/to a ballgame. They expect them to work the way buses have “always worked”.

      England has coins up to $3.50, while Russia in the 90s had the opposite with bills down to 9 cents. As an American I’m used to paying with bills and receiving coins in change, but in England that led to heavy pockets with $30 in coins in them, so I’d ask shopkeepers to change £10 or £15 in coins for bills. The Russian bills did not bother me although they clearly wear out faster. I didn’t know Russia even had coins until one single store sold produce to the exact fracton of a pound and gave me coins; everywhere else was like 1 kilo for 1000 rubles even. (Now the smallest Russian bill is worth 20c, and the largest coin is worth 40c.) Transit in Russia did not take onboard cash in the 90s, you used paper tickets on buses and validated them on a hole punch, or an all-mode transit pass. (But routed taxis were not part of the system, so you paid cash on them.)

    5. Come to think of it, Russian buses were POP. They just weren’t called that because the concept wasn’t common in the west then. I never saw an inspector; people told me they see them once a month or so. And the validator punches are mounted near the ceiling across the entire bus; you don’t go to the front door to validate.

  15. I like a mixture of some of these, not all, but some. I especially like getting rid of paper transfers, higher fare for non-ORCA usage, and eliminating the fee for an ORCA.

  16. To sum up, everything above comes down to a single question:

    Which does more damage to transit finances- uncertainty about exact amount of money collected and its apportionment- or lost operating time and spoiled service quality?

    It tells a lot about human nature how much effort and emotion people are inclined to spend over the loss of money measurable in metal coins. Even when there is equipment available to completely take care of this someplace where the process does not interfere with transit operations at the time and place where speed is most critical.

    Having recently seen monkeys in action, and still carrying teeth marks from the one we used to own, I think this instinct in humans goes a long way back. A monkey will literally tear you to pieces in a dispute over possession of an inch of banana. A habit that in their natural world is absolutely essential for survival.

    But changed habitat needs changed habits. Rock chip tools replacing teeth leads eventually to off-board fare collection equipment replacing arguments over banana-inch-sized fare differences northbound at Westlake at 5pm.

    Granted, all creatures judge chiefly by personal experience. So suspect that priority here varies mostly with who decides fare policy- someone who frequently rides transit at rush hour or someone who hardly rides it at all.



    Until figures are in- whose collection and evaluation will by itself take money, I’ll leave the answer at this:

    Will the decision be made by someone who uses transit regularly at times of system and personal stress, or someone who drives his or her car to work? Or who can afford Downtown Seattle rents and condominium prices?

  17. Note that the $5 fee for an ORCA card should not be considered set in stone. MARTA uses the exact same fare media but only charges $1 for the cards. I believe the card is free after a certain value is loaded on the card as well.

    Since the cost for the card is so low MARTA can require it for all rides on the rail system. There is no option I’m aware of for getting a paper ticket for the trains,

    I’d say we should look into similar policies here, drop the cost of ORCA to $1 per card. Include the card free over a certain pre-loaded value. Have ORCA be the only fare media accepted by Sounder and LINK. Finally encourage all participating agencies to eliminate paper transfers,

  18. The peak/off-peak hasn’t worked for two reasons: (1) the differential (25 cents for the bulk of the riders) isn’t enough; and (2) there is only a peak differential for adult fares. Perhaps you haven’t resided in the area long enough, but when Metro put in a differential for senior/disabled fares about 2 decades ago – it cost 50 cents to ride during the peak and 25 cents off-peak – seats opened up on the peak-hour buses that had previously been filled with senior citizens. The true test of the value of a peak/off-peak would can only be proven with a meaningful differential for all fare classes. This might be 50¢, it may be more for certain classes (e.g., adult), but there needs to be an incentive for all fare classes before we proclaim what works and what doesn’t. The county council can legislate peak fare increases alone in order to create the fare separation.

    Re: the cost of ORCA cards, I agree, they should be no more than $2 or $3, with that including some fare. However, in addition, the number of ORCA outlets – including machines to distribute the cards – needs to be increased substantially, expanding to places such as community colleges, libraries, and malls. Further, places to be able to get senior, disabled, and youth cards needs to be expanded far beyond the central business district, which is incredibly inconvenient to the masses. Hopefully, someday soon there will also be debit/credit card/smart phone payment options.

    Re: cash transfers, county council staff estimated $4 million a year in savings on printing. No doubt, even more can be added in the form of new revenue that Metro from folks that may pay a fare now that their gaping hole is closed. Adding some fare inspectors, and getting them the authority to issue citations on the spot, would be helpful as well.

    I’ve suggested premium pricing for a long time. Any route that is mostly on the freeway should carry a least a $1 surcharge.

    One you missed: reduce the discount for monthly passes by increasing the number of trips that a monthly pass is based upon from 36 trips (18 days of round-trips) to 40 trips. An average month has 22 days; that’s 44 trips. If someone used 12 vacation days/year (some don’t get this number) and 12 sick days, that’s 2 days a month (4 trips) for that. Metro can safely advocate for a raise in the number of trips to at least 38 if not 40.

    I’d also make fares for the permanently disabled free while raising the Access fares to the maximum allowed, recognize that service as the most expensive to operate – by far. I’d eliminate the zone system instead of peak/non-peak, for the zone system is unfairly administered: someone has to ask the driver to be charged a rate, sometimes the driver forgets to change it back, and so on. By contrast, the peak/off-peak is “one size fits all” under the parameters I outlined previously.

  19. I have reported that Facebook group to Facebook several times to no avail. I even contacted
    Metro via Facebook to tell them and they too confirmed they have reported it to Facebook but gotten no responce. It is time to eliminate paper transfers, and I would go as far as eliminating cash fares. Cash fare payers tend to always push to the front of the line but they never have fare ready or fish through their pockets for it leaving the ret of us standing out in the rain cold who have Orca cards at the ready. Either that or add a cash fare surcharge, it does cost more to collect the cash and coin and then count them and then deposit them to the bank afterall.

  20. #2 is Impossible.
    Paper transfers cannot go away, how else would you transfer from a non rapidride bus to a rapidride one? You have to have something for fare-enforcement. So paper transfer hustling lives on forever! The true low-income fare.

    1. If you want to transfer, you will use your ORCA. Cash payers on RapidRide would get a piece of paper, but it wouldn’t be a transfer, and it would hopefully have the route and date printed on it.

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