[UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: According to Metro’s press release, the machine will accept cash, debit and credit cards, but cannot make change. So it is useful to riders without exact change and also in possession of one of these cards. I made the change in the text below as well.]

Metro is finally taking the first concrete step since ORCA of moving towards a cashless system, or at least one where the most congested bus stops don’t aggravate delays by allowing riders to pay cash on board.

Back in August, the Transit Fares Report announced this experiment:

We are installing a ticket vending machine on the Macy’s block in downtown Seattle to test market response and operating cost of this approach to off-board fare payment, to help determine if it can be a cost-effective way to speed buses through downtown Seattle.

Spokesperson Rochelle Ogershok added:

We want to know more about how the machine itself performs, its durability in this busy location, and how transit customers may use it.  We are eager to get feedback from people during the pilot to determine if and/or how we might want to expand this type of TVM in the future. We want to know how this might compare to other approaches to reduce cash payment on board and whether they might be a good fit for future Third Ave. improvements.

Metro estimates that 10% of riders at this stop pay with cash.

By all means, Metro should learn all it can about deployment of these machines. These trials are an important step toward a faster system, as widespread deployment downtown would help buses in that corridor. On RapidRide especially, universal off-board payment and all-door boarding are plausible goals and would be transformative.

It would be nice, however, if there were stronger incentives to use the machine instead of pay cash. As it stands, the machine is great for riders that don’t have change and do have a credit or debit card. Otherwise, users must use an unfamiliar device to obtain fare media with in practice a smaller transfer window than a paper transfer. A ticket machine with a small discount would be a much more effective means of determining “if it can be a cost-effective way to speed buses.”

55 Replies to “Metro Launches TVM Trial”

  1. Metro should just ban cash payment at stops with these machines. If they get extended to all rapidride stops, drivers could have a little bag to cover the onboard payment machine while running through such stops.

    1. you know…I was first introduced to kiosks, and purchasing tickets to be used on public buses and street cars in Frankfurt, Germany in 1974. They also had articulating buses. Where have we been?

      1. I know, right? In Sydney, they banned cash payment from 7am-7pm in the whole CBD, all express buses, and all major CBD feeder routes for miles around. They don’t even have ticket machines! Paper tickets have to be bought from stores in advance.

      2. That requires setting up relationships with stores. Metro is apparently allergic to commerce in all forms, so that’ll never happen.

  2. Im hoping since the low fare program will be ORCA only, that this is the last piece needed to finally dump paper transfers. The cry has been the low income folks need them, but now they will have a fare just for them not available with a paper transfer. This does solve the RapidRide problem if we dump transfers, so let’s do that next!

    Also, Metro will need to put a handful in at busy stops. MTA in New York forces you to obtain a paper receipt prior to boarding their BRT (SelectBus service), even if you have a pass on your metrocard. The stop we got on at had one machine, and a blob of people trying to use it before the bus left. Finally, a problem could be, how many people will try to hold the bus while their friend is still buying a ticket?

  3. Here’s an idea… design the ticket machines so they can charge ORCA cards too. I would certainly appreciate that.

  4. A single TVM! at a single stop, with no incentive to use it. Meanwhile, when SDOT wants to try out parking meters, they install nine of them all over Belltown and north downtown so they can take comparative data.

    Metro is setting this trial up for failure so they can justify keeping on-board cash payment sans disincentives.

    1. I read a strong desire in Metro management to go cashless from reading the report linked in the post. I am guessing it would take action from the county council to ban cash payment on the buses at even one stop. This experiment is incomplete without banning cash payment at this stop.

      Still, the TVMs are a far inferior solution to making ORCA cards free (with a minimum fare product purchase). The most valuable study Metro could do now is how to incentivize ORCA holders not to throw the card away without charging for a new card. I am sure the eight agencies that provide their bus smart cards for free will gladly provide those answers.

      The TVMs will work okay for new and infrequent users, but will be overwhelmed (due to long transaction time) until the ORCA Joint Board agrees to get rid of the extremely counterproductive $5 ORCA card fee.

      1. I think Metro needs to push both better ORCA adaption AND off-board cash payment. The issues with ORCA will take time to work through and even if metro is handing out free ORCA cards there will always be people who pay with cash even if they have to pay more.

      2. I think the best incentive to not throw away your free ORCA card is to make “old” ORCA cards more valuable than new ones. Obvious answer, of course.

        One solution would be to add some free $$$ to old ORCA cards. Even $10/year probably makes it worthwhile to the customer to hold on to their ORCA. It would be a nice benefit, particularly for low-income riders, and given that taxes are up significantly to support Metro, it is at least a small sign of goodwill to taxpayers. Higher-income ORCA users probably place a high-enough value on their time to not use it to find a new ORCA card every time they want to ride Metro.

        More complicated would be a matching program (add $X get $Y more) that would only be valid on old ORCA cards.

        There are probably some other ideas would work too, but bottom line the card needs to be worth more to keep.

    2. Simply not having exact change is already an incentive to use the TVM, especially if you’re standing around waiting for your bus with nothing else to do.

  5. It seems like making Orca cards cheaper – both the physical card, and also charging a 25 cent surcharge for cash would be an easier way to encourage people to use Orca.

  6. The Link TVM cycle time is probably about 90 seconds (that is, the time for one customer to complete a transaction from start to finish – there’s also a delay between when the customer completes the transaction and when the customer waiting behind actually starts using the machine).There is a lot of variability as well – most TVM users are tourists or infrequent riders so they can get stuck for 3-5 minutes figuring out how to use it.

    Link’s TVM interface is surely more complicated than this TVM, so let’s say the cycle time is 60 seconds for Metro’s TVMs. The best case capacity per TVM would then be 60 transactions per hour. Queueing will be higher with only one machine, so the actual customer wait time will often be 1-2 minues more.

    Metro would need more than one machine to get meaningful rush hour benefits, but it is a great payment option, especially for tourists who can use plastic or larger bills.

    1. This is why the TVMs should also vend/refill ORCA. Turn your cash into plastic now and save a future trip to the TVM.

    2. You mention people with larger bills, but will it actually give change? If I put in a 20, will it give me $17.50 back with my $2.50 ticket? I haven’t seen the machine they’re installing, but I was picturing something like our parking ticket machines that don’t give change.

      1. Actually I don’t know if it can break large bills, I was just assuming it could. Even if it took $5s that would be helpful. I doubt Metro wants to be frequently replenishing coinage in the machine to make change.

      2. And we have $1 coins too — but we choose not to use them. Wouldn’t it be easier if we did? We wouldn’t be discussing cash fumbling since we wouldn’t need to push in paper bills into a bill acceptor. TransLink buses don’t even have bill slots because they’re not needed.

      3. I sort of remember that the machine on board the bus I rode at Lake Tahoe last summer gave a credit on the ticket for the remaining amount for those who did not have exact change.

      4. “we have $1 coins too — but we choose not to use them.”

        I’d use dollar coins if they weren’t so difficult to obtain. Whenever I’ve asked for them at the bank it takes two tellers scrounging for ten minutes to find $20 of them. Then since they’re so time-consuming to get, I don’t want to part with them. They’ll only catch on when stores start giving them as change.

      5. Mike, if you want dollar coins, try putting a lage bill in a stamp vending machine at a post office. It’s been a while since I did it, but I got dollar coins in change.

        I think I recall getting dollar coins from a Link TVM when I bought a ticket (once again, years ago).

    3. If we can put in a row of bike racks hither and thither throughout town, we can do the same with TVMs. One machine is absurd at best, indeed almost counterproductive.

    1. I saw it standing there shrink-wrapped yesterday evening. It’s so narrow it could be a little bookcase.

      The study will at least show how well logistically it works, and how much people respond to one kiosk at a non-RapidRide stop. The stop has a next-bus screen now, and the 26, 28, and 40, so that’s enough to attract a sizeable crowd around the machine where they might use it. It clearly says “metro tickets” or such, next to the next-bus pedistal that says “metro bus”, so it should be prominent in people’s minds. (Unlike the streetcar ticket machines, which a surprising number of visitors don’t notice and then ask me how to pay.)

  7. I think a study like this could be helpful to test the technology but I’m highly skeptical that such a limited pilot can accurately asses the cost effectiveness of a large scale deployment of these machines downtown or on RapidRide. It adds confusion and risk without any upside for the individual user on most bus routes. The only users that have a personal incentive to use them will be RapidRide users so they can then board at the back of the bus and maybe get a seat or more conformable place to stand.

    1. By the time someone gets a ticket printed out, a few more riders will have gotten in line for the backdoor seats.

    2. Starting small may make sense. Do a tiny test, get the obvious operational kinks out, then do a larger test. If that works, then scale it up.

      As we’re just testing, it should be voluntary. We shouldn’t be requiring cashless entry until it’s sufficiently painless that most people will do it voluntarily. If too many people need to be coerced, then that’s a design issue and coercion is just ducking the problem.

      1. Even if the machines operate perfectly and magically take only a second, there is still no incentive to use them.

        Metro’s goal is to go cashless on the bus, so I assume the intent is to someday ban paying with cash on the bus, starting with where these machines are located.

    3. “The only users that have a personal incentive to use them will be RapidRide users so they can then board at the back of the bus and maybe get a seat or more conformable place to stand.”

      Here’s the problem with that… no RapidRide buses serve the stop at 3rd & Pine… they all stop at 3rd & Pike.

      (Also… how do I do one of those nifty quotes of another user?)

      1. The tag is “blockquote”, so you need to type “less than” ( “” ). I can’t type it all together because the HTML will be interpreted and you’ll see wat I’m writing in one of the nifty quotation blocks).

        For some reason, the version STB uses puts in the opening quotation marks, but not the closing ones, so you need to add the closing quotation marks manually at the end of your quoted text.

        Then follow that with “”.

      2. Arrgh. I never realized that you simply can’t type the word b-l-o-c-k-q-u-o-t-e and have it visible, even without the less than and greater than signs.

        I am here trying to do so: blockquote

        Do we see it?

      3. Another test
        <block quote The only users that have a personal incentive to use them will be RapidRide users so they can then board at the back of the bus and maybe get a seat or more conformable place to stand.”

      4. Yeah, pretty much any HTML seems to work in these comments. For example, here is a link to a page describing blockquote. I occasionally try and create links (or anchors) that way, but have avoided it because it is really easy to make a mistake. Since there is no editing or previewing the comment, you have to live with what you type.

        One tip when using HTML is to put the HTML in, then the text. So, for example, write the starting blockquote tag and the ending blockquote tag (the one with the slash) and then insert the text into it. Otherwise you might be like me and forget to close the tag, and the entire thing (including your comment) will be in blockquote.

        Another alternative would be to use an editor like the one found on the page I linked to:

        (http://www.w3schools.com/tags/tryit.asp?filename=tryhtml_blockquote_test) and just copy everything (on the left hand side). You can play around and type anything in there (italics, bold, anchors, etc.). That’s not perfect, because as you can see this software adds paragraph tags (p) but at least you can tell if you forgot to close your tag (or if your link works).

      5. Okay that’s a much better explanation. Hopefully this works now.

        “The only users that have a personal incentive to use them will be RapidRide users so they can then board at the back of the bus and maybe get a seat or more conformable place to stand.”

      6. (Completing my thought above.) The pilot will at least show how well it works logistically and how many people use it in its minor deployment. It does say “metro tickets” or such prominently, which stands out next to the “metro bus” sign on the neighoring pedistal. Occasional riders don’t know the intricacies of which buses they can enter in the rear or which payment method has the longest transfer: they’ll just see the sign and go to the kiosk. Which is exactly what we want them to do because they (the occasional riders) are the ones who most pay cash and get confused on entering and hold up the line.

        The result of this study will be a “floor” on the amount of usage to expect with this kind of kiosk. Hopefully Metro will realize that widespread deployment would have significantly higher usage than this, and not kill the program even if this result is mediocre.

      7. I agree this will help determine a “floor” usage rate… I’m skeptical, but would love to be proven wrong, that infrequent riders will use a ticket kiosk even if it says so clearly. Most people in the US wouldn’t think twice about paying for a bus anywhere else but with the driver… especially if this is just at one stop.

        If the kiosks takes credit cards (which I didn’t realize at first) then I’m much more bullish that this trial will show value.

  8. TriMet’s old form transfers looked a lot like KCM transfers, except they had a date code on the transfer. Switching to those (I’m sure someone at TriMet still has the form for the printer) would eliminate one of the huge incentives to pay cash.

    Switch to a day pass that is available by cash and makes sense as far as the purchase price, and you eliminate a number of cash payers at peak period headed out of downtown as they will prefer to purchase day tickets at the start of the day. From what I have seen, this has worked very well on TriMet for reducing the sheer number of cash transactions during the mid-day.

    Both could be done cheaper than a fleet of TVMs.

    That said, I like the idea of TVMs at peak stops. TriMet also did this on the transit mall for a number of years. There are now enough MAX TVMs through downtown that general purpose ones at bus stops got eliminated.

  9. Suggestion: call KC Metro information right now, tell them you’re at Freighthouse Square, the Tacoma Dome Sounder Station, and need to know fare to Westlake Station and how to pay it. Tell them you’re just in from Sand Point Idaho.

    Ask where where you could find that information posted next time. And since you were just in Portland two days ago, ask about an all-day pass, like the one they have at every MAX TVM. Best of all, ask why Portland can offer these (including at new TVM, BTW) and Seattle can’t?

    Caveat: “Separate agency” answer is prosecutor’s evidence, not public defender’s!

    Consider both the answer and your call time to get it. And the general image of our system left in a traveler’s mind. Makes you call your broker to have him put your life savings into Farwest shares, doesn’t it?

    Waiting for the 8AM Sounder to arrive, I talked with the security guard, someone I knew, who helped these passengers the best she could in the time available. Her comment? “This is what you get when you have all these liberals involved!”

    Number of times word “disincentives” appears in comments above, meaning either “punishment” or electric shock and no cheese for the rat, pretty well sums up an attitude toward the public that should merit termination if exhibited by a driver in service.

    Also reason that these last forty years, the “L” word is worse than the F one for the very working people whose total well-being the concept was born. Every pernicious complexity is Transit’s job to eliminate before passengers even see it. “Lazy” also starts with “L”.

    My only published article went through New Electric Journal. Publisher Paul Weyrich thought Louis XIV was a sissy. But doubt he’d ever stand by and watch Uber get a passenger of his for lack of informatin. Glad I’m covered.

    Mark Dublin

    1. For what it’s worth, day tickets are also available using the printers on the buses.

  10. I’ll say it again. It’s time for a single fare structure for all transit agencies in the region, with full transfers between all trips. Couple months ago, I was helping a traveler at Link’s SeaTac/Airport Station. He bought his ticket to Westlake, and then he asked expectantly, “is my train ticket good for my bus ride to Capitol Hill?” I was embarrassed to have to tell him No, our transit system is just not that advanced.

    1. Here’s a worse one, RD:

      How do we explain why a passenger can’t use a LINK -or Sounder- ticket as a transfer to an ST Express Bus?! Or why, even as a temporary measure, ST Express can’t have a cardboard ticket usable for both rail systems? Forget the “Separate!” Same damn agency!

      Also, what would Freedom of Information Act reveal about the actual cost of a plastic ORCA card by itself? Wouldn’t a five dollar day pass on the card when it clears the slot, pay for itself in convenience and good will, let alone money re: lost operating time to transit, and lost passengers to Uber? Costs less than purple mustaches on LRV’s.

      Whole “Separate Agencies” excuse is a violation of campaign promises of an integrated regional system, especially 18 years after the 1996 vote. John Niles and associates must be chained to a radiator in a motel somewhere with their parents paying to have them de-programmed like Moonies.

      But ’till they chew their way loose, anybody who cares about transit should tell the ST3 campaign they’ll lead the “NO” vote if structure doesn’t include single leader with both mandate and guts. And also start effort to attract new residents from places like Brooklyn, Jersey, Chicago, Odessa, and everyplace else aggression isn’t passive.

      Maybe promise Vladimir Putin if he’ll leave Ukraine alone, he have run regional transit here. We might even get the Route 7 wired to Ellensburg with a stewardess, like in Crimea!.


    2. For a very short time in 2009, your LINK paper ticket used to work on the bus system, and for a long time your Sounder ticket did as well. Than in 2010 PugetPass inter agency passes, and interagency transfers was eliminated in favor of ORCA. I think a lot more could be done on the surface to integrate the agencies and provide a more seamless expierence without merging them into one nightmare of a super agency (think Metro’s woes on a regional level all the time). Start with the simplification (no more zones and peak/off peak) and standardizing fare structures and media like with the old PugetPass program (although I like the direction of either a single trip fare, or day pass for cash customers – and it should be based on type of service (Local, Peak Express, Regional Express) with a single fare on a route, providing a consistent look and feel to timetables, signage, and other information. later phases could include creating a regional route numbering program instead of every agency having routes 1, 2, and 3… regional bus stop database so you can type in *any* stop number into OBA and have it pick it up without hassle and setting home, and improving amenities at bus stops (real time info, ticket/orca machines, etc.)

    3. Usually I’m negative on these calls for a single fare structure, but RDPence brings up a case that happens every day downtown. Many times I’ve been at Convention Place and people have asked how to get to the airport or the train station or Redmond or Everett. Same thing with the old Greyhound station, people going to Amtrak or the airport or vice-versa. And at Westlake, people going to the airport or Amtrak. One problem at 9th Avenue is telling people how to walk to Westlake Station and find it; the other problem is telling them their fare and transfer fare and return fare. And that’s exasperated by the one-station difference between Convention Place and Westlake, and Link being a separate fare from both Metro and ST Express. Inevitably these people don’t have ORCA and are only making one trip, so it’s hard to tell them to spend $5 for ORCA.

      Sometimes people ask me the bus fare to the Eastside, and I have to think carefully because I don’t go there all the time. So I say it’s about $2.50, and then I wonder whether to say their return fare will be higher if they’re coming back between 3 and 6pm, or whether that’s too much detail. And sometimes I give them the wrong information when I forget about a fare increase or a rule or ST Express’s fares and zones.

      So a unified fare would help downtown visitors’ and occasional riders’ frustrations immensely. And it would cut down on fare evasion, especially when people are taking Link for a short distance and transferring to a bus.

  11. Maybe I’ll buy a ticket to try it out. It is a bit strange to have them at the non Rapid-Ride stop, as mentioned upthread.

    TVMs are great — it’s amazing that they’ve been adopted so late in the US, whereas they’re a way of life in Europe (acc. to the one visitor I had who was aghast at how bad Americans were at using kiosks).

    The point, to me, is helping people be less bored when waiting while benefiting others by speeding boarding. One can prod at Macy’s purses only so many times. To this end, if there’s any extra space on the tickets / receipts, it should be filled with (short) poetry.

  12. Give someone paying at the machine a little discount, say 10 cents, for the effort.

    Long term KCM should go to fares in whole dollars for cash customers, no transfers, no discounts for S/D/M outside of Federally mandated off peak hours except on ORCA, combined with lowering the ORCA fee to $1 or $2 like it is in most cities.

  13. I really think they should save money and follow TriMet’s lead. The TriMet TVMs are easy to use and have all sorts of different fare options. They also have an app that lets you purchase tickets on a smartphone. All MAX and Portland Streetcar stations have machines as well. It’s quick, easy and DOES give change. I don’t understand why KCM/ST and other agencies around here always seem to come up with some “great new” idea. Just follow the system that works and save time/money.

    I do understand how government agencies work. It’s not that easy. They have to get new stuff approved, as well as a funding source. As far as I can see, there’s no way to change the way an agency operates because of all the politics. I just think that it would make so much more sense to look at those who are successful and follow their lead when practical.

    1. What works for Portland may not work for us. They have one agency. So they really don’t have to coordinate services like we do. They pocket all of the revenue, and don’t have to share it with anyone. Here, we have six agencies which accept the ORCA card for fares, issuing and accepting transfers from other agencies. The WSF are not included because they do not accept or issue transfers, and the regional pass is not valid.

      So bottom line is that we need to focus on making ORCA work for us as best as possible. We need to eliminate as much as possible people fumbling around for change, and provide an incentive for people to use them. Eliminating paper transfers is a good first step.

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