$3 RRFP Application Fee, Begone!

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.

News Roundup: Happy New Year

Michael Brunk - Flickr CC
Michael Brunk – Flickr CC

This is an open thread.