In the category of small victories this past year, one that went barely noticed was the elimination of the card fee, for first-time recipients, for the soon-to-be-rolled-out King County low-income ORCA.

Regional Reduced Fare Permit ORCA Card
Regional Reduced Fare Permit

Currently, applicants for a Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP), which comes in the form of a special ORCA card, have to pay a $3 application fee, so that was originally envisioned for the low-income ORCA application fee, until multiple people in the right places realized what an administrative nightmare it would be for all the human services agencies to track all this fee collection.

Meanwhile, applying to become a paratransit rider is free. So, the incentive is to apply to become a paratransit rider or to apply for the low-income ORCA, rather than apply for an RRFP.

Chalk these up as more perverse incentives, up there with the $5 fee to get a regular or youth ORCA card. Speaking of that $5 fee, one of the justifications I’ve been given that it can’t be reduced to $2 or less is the $3 application fee for RRFPs.

Triple Facepalm

Another justification for having a fee has been the need to keep people from treating the card as disposable. Given the effort it takes to get an RRFP, I don’t think the argument applies at all for RRFPs.

The agencies might be concerned about frivolous applications. If that really is a problem, then charge a token buck, and download that dollar into e-purse for the newly-registered RRFP.

The $3 RRFP fee is a ludicrous defense for charging $5 to get a regular ORCA when the fees for getting the other public bus smart cards in the United States are $3, $2, $2, $2, $2, $2, $2, $1, $1, free, free, free, free, free, free, free, free, and free, after applicable e-purse rebates. Let’s at least remove the silly hurdle of that $3 RRFP fee, so that the only silly hurdle left is the agecies’ concern about having cardholders not treat the cards as disposable, when the agencies pay the vendor, Vix Technology, a pass-through cost of $2 and change per card.


Riders on Utah Transit Authority can avoid the $3 fee for getting a FarePay card by tapping their private contactless debit/credit card when boarding, or getting pass-only cards. Chicago Transit Authority allows passes to be loaded directly onto private contactless cards, and still makes the Ventra card free.

Other agencies have solved the please-don’t-throw-away-the-card problem in a variety of ways:

The Clipper Card is free if you order online and sign up for auto-reload. Metro’s Go-To Card is free with registration. A few are advertised as “free, at this time”, hinting that the card may someday cost, even if it never acually happens. Several require purchasing some fare product loaded onto the card. There exist multiple field-proven ways to get cardholders not to throw them away, without resorting to a card fee that incentivizes not getting the card in the first place, costing untold millions in long dwell times at bus stops.

20 Replies to “$3 RRFP Application Fee, Begone!”

  1. Well, at least we’ve got photographic evidence for what we always knew about who writes ORCA policy, and in what space-time dimension. Right now, though, somebody put in a trick question about which planet Earth is away from the Sun.

    What Transit, and especially KC Metro has to realize is that whatever the rationale, every nuisance of any kind both repels would be passengers and costs fortunes in operating delays. Three dollars, five dollars- even having to dig out fifteen cents pushes the balance one click closer to fury.

    Incurable itching is worse to most people than a cut that draws blood. The world of travel has enough of its own temper-eaters without adding anymore.

    Joint Base Lewis-McChord is in Sound Transit’s territory. Every week have a flight of C-130’s take off headed north, with crewmen pushing bales of ORCA cards out the cargo doors into the slipstream. Maybe reserve one day a week for RRFP’s.

    And for days when weather won’t permit, have a backup plan like being able to pick up cards at every grocery and convenience store and public buildings like the library. And during perfect flying conditions too.

    But also, keep issuing five dollar ORCA cards as well: with a one-time all-day pass already loaded on it. But above all, don’t bug Air National Guardsmen about southbound transfers from Sounder to ST 592 from Lakewood to Dupont.

    Mark Dublin

  2. “other public bus smart cards in the United States are $3, $2, $2, $2, $2, $2, $2, $1, $1, free, free, free, free, free, free, free, free, and free,”

    I’ll order the Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, $5, Spam, Spam, and Spam please.

      1. It refers to a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch at a restaurant where every menu item has Spam in the description several times. A customer tells the waiter he doesn’t like Spam, and the waiter replies something like, “Well, you could get the ‘Spam, Spam, eggs and Spam’, that hasn’t got much Spam in it!”

  3. Instead of making new cards cost money, just make used cards more valuable. Give $5/year in free fare value to customers on their ORCA “anniversary date” as long as the card is registered (you’d have to require registration so that people can’t hoard 100s of ORCAs and never pay).

    1. You would probably also want to limit this to active cards only. Some minimum amount of useage in the prior year to earn the ‘reward’.

    2. That’s a cool idea.

      The most classic method of preventing people from throwing the cards away is to give people $5 back if they return the cards for proper recycling.

    1. just gonna put this out there: Ventra is the most hated thing in CHicago since the parking privatization. It sounds great in theory but its a big pain in the ass. the machines are really glitchy and most of us yearn for the days when our CTA card could do everything we need.

  4. Would like some solid stats about this: In a given month, how many people actually pay fines for either missing a “tap” for a LINK ride, or tapping one time too many-with a paid-up monthly pass on their ORCA card?

    For years now, I’ve always bought monthly passes- precisely because since the system already has my money up front, it really has no further court-enforceable claim on me. Since my purchase fee is non-refundable, the system gets to keep my money even if I don’t take a single ride.

    So as far as the courts are concerned, I should be completely immune to any charge of “evasion”, at least for any LINK service, since the system is already holding my whole fare for any number of trips, over any distance. An inspector’s determination that I have a legitimate card should be the end of the matter.

    If incorrect number of taps costs the system any extra money, or otherwise violates the purchase agreement, the court system doesn’t need to be involved at all. Too many violations, and my card can be turned off with a keystroke.

    Fair penalty might be that I just have to pay for another card, and at the max, lose whatever e-purse is on the misused one.

    But fact I’ve got a legit paid up monthly pass should throw any evasion charge out of court. First breath about “subareas”, and my attorney will ask: “How is his money apportioned if my client doesn’t use a single one of the rides he pays for?”

    I believe in the ORCA program, and my cooperation, like everybody’s is a matter of minute record. But the two drivers’ license pics over whole LINK lifetime both happened under already stressed conditions that left me in no mood to have a mistake criminalized.

    Bottom line is zero percent money and a hundred percent personal reputation. Nobody should be able to sit there with my money in his pocket and call me a thief. Comments?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Yes, Mark, Sound Transit should not be citing anyone with a monthly pass of $99 or more, since that rider has paid for the ride, even if she/he forgot to tap, or accidentally double-tapped. To not honor the monthly pass is theft, in my book. When I got a warning for double-tapping, and still had a valid transfer from the immediately previous trip, on top of my sufficient monthly pass, I should have been gently reminded not to double-tap, not threatened with a citation if I goofed up again.

      ST police dept gave me a lame excuse about the need to get paid properly for the number of trips taken on ST services. But really, the accounting extrapolation for calculating the number of failures to tap and double-tap by sufficient monthly passholders is straightforward.

      It is also not the fault of monthly passholders that ST uses the same sound for tap-on as it does for tap-off, which is itself an ADA issue.

      The basic question ST needs to answer is whether it wants Link riders to get monthly passes or to use other payment media. If it wants to discourage the use of monthly passes, then I suppose the current policy makes sense. Otherwise, add it to the facepalm list.

  5. So how hard is it to make if free the first time and charge a replacement fee. After all to get any kind of RRFP one has to identify oneself. It’s a few lines of code to check for the previous issuance of a card.

  6. I wonder if I’ll be able to get a RRFP with my expired driver’s license? I would get a state ID if they were affordable but last time I checked is was $50 ( now it’s $54) that I didn’t have. I still haven’t renewed and occasionally have to suffer the indignity of an officious idiot refusing to sell a beer to somebody born in the 1970’s.

    1. Expired state IDs are specifically accepted for RRFPs, according to the linked RRFP webpage. I assume that means expired drivers’ licences are also accepted.

      IIRC, the Washington Head Tax was implemented when the Democrats had absolute control in Olympia.

    2. That’s completely outrageous.

      In NY, the fee for a non-drivers ID card is $10 for 4 years, or $14 for 8 years if you apply at the right time of year (yeah, I know it’s weird). If you’re bankrupt enough to get SSI, it’s $6.50. There are complaints that that is too much, and there are complaints that many people can’t get the required documentation to prove their identity or date of birth.

      $54 is enough that there are gonna be a lot of people with no state IDs.

    3. What? I renewed my ID in 2011 and it was only like $24. I went through my old bank statement to find the exact amount but there’s no check or POS for it so I must have paid cash, which again suggests it was a smallish amount.

  7. It probably cost more than $3.00 to administer it. Now, if they could substantially expand the number of outlets that sell the RRFP and youth cards, but also “regular” ORCA cards (which could be machines in libraries, schools, malls, stadiums, the Seattle Center, and other places where large numbers of people gather), that would be great.

    In the early 1990s, when I belonged to Group Health, the instituted a $3.00 co-pay in order to thin the herds that were using their emergency rooms for every little ailment. It worked. With ORCA, this is the opposite: we should not be discouraging people from using the card, and believe it or not, $3.00 or $5.00 is enough to do just that. At worst, a nominal fee to cover the cost of the card and/or that plus some pre-loaded value.

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