RRFPs may soon get to carry $4.50 regional day passes.
RRFPs may soon get to carry $4.50 regional day passes.

Last year, the ORCA Joint Board conducted a pilot project, to test the long-term feasibility of a multi-agency regional day pass.

A press release from Geoff Patrick at Sound Transit informs us the day pass may be coming back, and the ORCA pod is taking input on a proposal to do that:

ORCA agencies plan new Regional Day Pass options
Joint Board seeks public comments on plans for implementing program

Following a pilot program last year, the transit agencies participating in the ORCA smart card system are proposing to implement a permanent Regional Day Pass program. The agencies are seeking community input on the program, which would consist of two new ORCA pass products:

A $8 Regional Day Pass for adult riders valid for unlimited rides on services with fares up to $3.50
A $4.50 Regional Day Pass for ORCA Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP) holders (seniors and riders with disabilities) valid for unlimited rides on services with fares up to $1.75.

If the fare value of the regional day pass ($3.50 adult, $1.75 RRFP) is less than the fare for the service, the rider can pay a fare upgrade using E-purse stored on the ORCA card or with cash on buses.

The regional day pass is intended to make it easier for tourists and visitors to use transit while in town. Local residents can also purchase the regional day pass anywhere ORCA cards are sold.

A new ORCA card costs $5 for adults and $3 for seniors (65+) or riders with disabilities. The day pass will be available at ORCA revalue locations or online, by mail and phone.

These new products will be accepted on bus, light rail, commuter rail, streetcar and foot ferry services operated by Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit and Sound Transit. As with the current ORCA PugetPass, the ORCA Regional Day Pass will not be valid for fare payment on Washington State Ferries service.

To provide comments on this proposal:
Email contactus@orcacard.com
Call 888-988-6722 / TTY Relay:711
Attend a public hearing before the ORCA Joint Board. It will take place at 10:30 a.m. Monday, April 13 at King Street Center, 8th Floor Conference Center, 201 South Jackson St., Seattle.

Learn more about ORCA or purchase cards and products at orcacard.com.

One difference between this version of the day-pass program and the previous version is that it will cost $1 less. Last year’s day pass cost $9 (plus $5 if buying an ORCA card).

A related difference is that the previous version covered fares up to $4 before taking the difference out of e-purse.

Another difference is that there was no Regional Reduced Fare Permit regional day pass last year. There still is no youth or low-income regional day pass on the table.

The day pass would be accepted on all services in the ORCA pod except Washington State Ferries. It would cover full fare on all services except the King County Water Taxis, the longest trips on Sounder, and Community Transit’s commuter routes.

There are several paper day passes among agencies in the ORCA pod, but none of them are accepted on more than one service. Sound Transit has Sounder and Link day passes, each not accepted on the other train service. Pierce Transit recently started a Pierce-Transit-only day pass, available both on ORCA and as a paper day pass purchased while boarding a bus. Seattle Streetcar offers day passes by advanced mail order, and will be making day passes available at its ticket vending machines later this spring. In each case, these day passes have a version for full fare, RRFP, youth, and (where honored for a reduced fare) LIFT.

It seems conceptually straightforward to offer a regional youth day pass only on the youth ORCA card, and to offer a low-income day pass only on the ORCA LIFT card. Indeed, a low-income day pass could be a piece of the puzzle to replacing the administratively-expensive Metro free-tickets-for-the-homeless program. However, ORCA LIFT is currently not honored for a reduced fare on ST Express, Sounder, Pierce Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, and Washington State Ferries.

92 Replies to “Multi-Agency Day Pass May Return for Good, $1 Less”

  1. Can anybody tell me what is so hard about a day pass? Portland has had them for what, thirty years?

    If it’s got to do with using “Separate Agencies” as reason for doing anything that interferes with the transit system these agencies are responsible for running, like every time that term is expressed, the whole ridership ought to lose their tempers and tell their representatives just that.

    There is no reason on earth why agencies can’t cooperate- exactly like people do to hold civilization to together, let alone a region-full of transit systems. Can anybody tell me a single instance in which the term “Separate Agencies” does anything for transit except make it worse?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Portland / Vancouver.
      C-Tran accepts the TriMet day pass on everything except its premium expresses, and TriMet likewise accepts C-Tran passes.

      So, sometimes agencies do cooperate.

      1. Thanks, Glenn. Good to know. Because it proves my point that there’s no reason in the whole subarea known as the Universe that the transit agencies here can’t.


    2. So many cities I have traveled in have day passes in various forms. Even Lake Tahoe’s TART.

  2. This sounds unbelievably complex and expensive. Portland and Dallas (at both ends of the transit spectrum), for instance, each offer a $5 all-day pass that covered all services. It was a paper pass you just show your bus driver or fare inspector on trains. That’s it. No exceptions or complications or barriers between transit agencies. The ORCA program needs to take a cue and be simplified.

    1. $8 is an insane price. A Paris metro day pass is 6 euros, and converse a hell of a lot more of what you’d want to see than ST and metro do. I think in Tokyo, it’s 600 yen, but that would just be for the subway, which is a small part of the Tokyo rail system.

      I think it should be about $5 a most.

      1. The price looks to be set high enough to discourage local commuters from using it regularly. So it has to be a little more than 2x the peak two-zone Metro fare. Metro’s hope must be that the convenience outweighs the higher price.

        The real difference between Paris and Seattle is how a tourist might use transit. In Paris, a tourist might take their Metro five times in a day. Nobody’s going to do that in Seattle. A tourist might take Link from the airport to their hotel. Then an occasional bus to a destination that isn’t downtown. But it’s not likely they’ll use this enough to make it compelling on price alone.

      2. Well the base off-peak Metro fare is $2.50. So that would make the day pass cheaper than the typical daily commute. Comparing the prices of other cities without reference to the underlying fare neglects the funding and cost issues that have us here in the first place.

      3. @Andrew Smith

        Tokyo is a bad example. Day passes in Tokyo are basically useless unless they are for specific trips (like Enoshima/Kamakura or Hakone).

        The problem with a subway day pass is the same problem with just having a JR pass (although JR Passes are extremely expensive). Tokyo is not well experienced by limiting yourself to either the subway or the JR system. You need both and you need the other independent systems. Of course the JR pass is actually a bit worse because its so expensive. The only time its worth buying is if you are going to three different cities in the same week (Tokyo to Kyoto and then Nagoya for example).

        Its also worth noting that the IC card in Tokyo is also $5… but at least its a refundable deposit. That is one thing I wish we would replicate. Making ORCA cards returnable/refundable would help mitigate the cost of being a tourist.

      4. Paris metro fares are about the same price as KC metro fares, $2.50 versus 2 euros.

      5. Remember the ORCA pod agencies are transfer agencies. Transfer agencies (agencies that offer transfers) always have higher multipliers than day pass only agencies (Tri Met is the only exception I can think of). The multiplier is essentially 2.9 ($8/$2.75 one zone peak base fare) which is on the high side but not unreasonable.

      6. A cash fare on Metro is essentially a 3-hour pass (paper transfer) and a 2-hour pass on all agencies on ORCA. So the multiplier should be lower for a “transfer agency” since you will likely not need or use more than 2 or 3 such time blocks in a day. It’s when the fare doesn’t include any transfers that you could price it at 3-4 fares, not when it does includes them.

        You’d virtually never pay 3 peak fares in a day. The multiplier works out fine if you want to come from Snohomish or Pierce to Seattle for the Day. But it’s too high if you are just staying inside King County.

  3. The biggest problem I see with this is that you still need to pay $5 for the Orca card itself. If you didn’t have to do that, this’d almost be a good deal.

    They should give the cards free with the purchase of a pass, or at least make the $5 a refundable deposit.

    1. Exactly. I’d rather they keep it at $9 for the pass, but give the ORCA card for free. Especially if we could sell more disposable paper versions as an option for tourists/convention-goers.

      1. Even a refundable deposit is more reasonable than the current system. Included in the cost of a day pass would also be acceptable though.

  4. Since I live on the eastside, let me ask an example of how the day pass would work for a tourist staying over in, let’s say Kirkland. Let’s say they’re going to be in town 4 days. Each day, are they going to have to find their way to an ORCA machine to buy a fresh day pass? And then if their day pass expires at, let’s say 3 AM, then they’ll have to pay a cash fare for the first bus trip to the ORCA machine to buy the day pass since the previous day’s day pass has expired? Or can they just buy a 4 days worth of day pass value at one time on one card when they are at the ORCA machine?

    Also, some of our transit agencies are horrible at advertising and marketing what services they provide. Will this be another thing that’s buried so deep in the fine print, that the majority of tourists and visitors won’t even know it’s exists?

    1. You can do it on the web site, but for me this would be a pain because I would arrive in Seattle sometime in the afternoon or evening, and then need to take the bus to my friend’s place. Buying the day pass on the web site means it would become active for that half a day as it becomes active the first time you tap the card after buying the day pass, if I understand the day pass instructions correctly.

      I might try to use it just once to see how it actually works. I’ve got a couple of highly rated tourist tips about Seattle on a certain nearly unknown tourist web site, and to keep things up to date and informative I should at least try it once to see how well it works.

    2. A bus-riding tourist in Bellevue would almost certainly be at the transit center sometime anyway if they’re doing any trip large enough to make a day pass worthwhile. (I.e., not just Crossroads to Bel Square or Crossroads to Redmond). It’s not as easy in Kirkland, but then a bus tourist in Kirkland would almost certainly be going to Seattle, not just Bellevue or Redmond, and could get a pass there, or get one on the way to Kirkland in the first place.

      1. Oh, the B doesn’t go to Bel Square; I was thinking of its predecessor’s route. So even they would be getting off at the Transit Center.

    3. WIth the previous implementation it just deducted a day pass on the first boarding of each calendar day. You could load a maximum of five or six day passes on the card at once.

  5. $8/day is still too expensive, especially when one of the “trips” that the daypass is supposed to cover, you had to have already paid for just to get to a vending machine that will sell you one.

    E-purse is still looking like a much easier and simpler option for anybody just visiting Seattle for a few days.

    There is still the issue of the $5 fee to buy the card, which is somewhat outrageous. But I have met people who have done it, in spite of only being in town for a few days. They justify the $5 cost with the convenience of doing a quick tap and not having to carry quarters around, even if they don’t intend on making enough inter-agency transfers to allow the card to pay for itself. (I’ve done the same when visiting other cities.) It also helps that opportunity to buy the card exists at the airport Link Station – the first transit ride that most visitors to the area will experience.

    1. Tourists have already spend $300 or $1000 to get here, and another few hundred on hotels, and if they didn’t use Link they’d pay $30 for a taxi or $15(?) for a shuttle. That $5 is equivalent to one extra whiskey or appetizer or Starbucks coffee; it gets lost in the expenses for the “tourism experience”. Budget-minded backpackers who stay in hostels are likely to think public transit is cool, especially trains, and to treat the $5 card as a souvenir.

      What’s missing is the homeless travelers who only have 2 or 3 dollars at a time, or are trying to get to Portland on 50c. (I met one once. I said you could take local buses to Olympia but I didn’t know beyond that; there’s a gap between Centralia and Vancouver that may not have any service.) Those and the local working poor and local occasional riders are the ones who balk at the $5 fee.

      1. Was going to make the same comment, Martin…”you need to drink better whiskey!: ;-)

      2. Yes, it is true that the cost of a daypass would be noise in the tourism experience, it’s beside the point. Getting the daypass is more hassle than using E-purse because you have to keep getting another one each day, and there are limited locations where you can do it. So, unless a daypass is a clear win financially, most will simply just use E-purse (or cash).

        Given that you would have to use the daypass 4 times to make it cheaper than alternatives, it is easiest for a visiting tourist to simply not bother with it.

      3. “Was going to make the same comment, Martin…”you need to drink better whiskey!”

        Or less expensive coffee. Who needs a latte, a mocha or a Frappacino when you can get an Americano?

      4. Who needs a latte, a mocha or a Frappacino when you can get an Americano?

        Considering that this is Seattle – the home of Tully’s & of course Starbucks, isn’t your comment something of a sacrelige? LOL

        I did like the above whiskey remark though.

  6. Many of the “must see” tourists attractions are walkable from downtown. For a lot of tourists, especially the 1-day cruise ship people, there’s no need (or, perhaps, desire) to venture further afield. But I can’t relate to being a tourist in my own city.

    Unless going to SAAM, Museum of Flight, UW, the Locks, Kerry Park, or want to experience an actual neighborhood, tourists may not have a reason to take transit to get around the city. To/from the airport is not enough of a reason to drop $8 (+$5) on a pass. And, of course, if you’re visiting anything more remote like Mt. Rainier, you’re already going to get a rental car.

    1. People who just want to “see Seattle” and don’t know much about it stick to downtown. It’s a mile to Seattle Center so they might take the monorail or cash-fare bus there. Then there’s the visitors who know more about Seattle and want to see Capitol Hill, the UW campus and stadium, the Center of the Universe, and Ballard. They’ll need a day pass for that, if they’re going to all those places in one or two days. Plus some of them have friends or colleagues on the Eastside.

      1. Perhaps a tourist-oriented pass, similar to the ones some European cities have, would be a good solution. The “Seattle Card” would function as day pass (probably in 3- or 5-day versions too), and come with a coupon book for, say, a couple of free drinks at a participating bar, a free museum admission or two, a snack in Fremont, as well as being a transit pass. It could be sold exclusively at the Airport, the Amtrak station, and hotel desks throughout the area. I’m thinking of a price like $20 for one day, $30 for 3 days, $40 for 5, or $50 for 7.

    2. Other than UW and the SAAM (slightly), the rest of those are mildly painful to get to by bus.

      1. Actually, I take that back, Kerry Park isn’t bad by bus. The locks is just enough out of the way to be, though.

      2. Kerry Park is an isolated place near an unremarkable neighborhood, so it’s not going to get many bus visitors. That’s different from the U-District, Fremont, Ballard, or Capitol Hill where there are several things to see within walking distance of each other once you get there.

        In another city all these neighborhoods might be next to each other, but here they’re too far to walk between so you have to take a bus or some other vehicle. Especially if you’ve only got two or three days, you’re not going to spend 1 1/2 hours walking from Capitol Hill to the U-District, and then another 30 minutes to Fremont. Unless your name is asdf2. :)

      3. @d.p. The price for the emerald trolley day pas ($29 for just downtown, an additional $29 for access to Ballard) makes the region wide pass look like a steal. Even with the cost of buying an ORCA card.

        There is a guided tour as well so you do get something for the extra cost, but the time between trolleys is also pretty ridiculous ranging from 30 minutes to an hour between rides.

        I would never advise anyone I know to ride that unless they absolutely wanted a guided tour.

      4. Kerry Park is packed with tourists 365 days a year. I can only presume the majority come in rental cars or ferried by hosts, because contrary to kneejerk-environmentalist dogma, our current trolleybuses are an teeth-pulling experience even for this barely-more-than-a-mile journey halfway up the near side of Queen Anne.

        Anyway, as Andrew said, most of our “further afield” explorations are too excruciating to impose upon visitors who are supposed to be enjoying themselves. I nearly always encourage people visiting with diverse itineraries to go ahead and rent a car.

        This should serve as a reminder of just how much debasement we predominantly-transit-users have accustomed ourselves to suffering on a daily basis, and just how complete an overhaul of the systemic structure and experience are truly necessary before we can label our system easy, convenient, and versatile enough for the wider public.

      5. Charles,

        Doesn’t that seem high even by guided-tour standards? The hop-on-hop-off is the only advantage they offer over, say, a Duck Boat, so it seems nuts to me that it would be double the price. (Also, no time on the water.)

        You could rent a car just for the day you were coming to Ballard for a fraction of that price!

      6. The few times I’ve been to Kerry Park it was either empty or had a few people who didn’t look obviously like tourists.

      7. Are we talking about the same Kerry Park?

        I’ve seen flocks of tourists there in pouring rain. One out of every two times I pass by there’s a full-on camera crew.

        I’m not sure where you think tourists are wandering off to. There are gems and vistas and quirks and some generalized loveliness scattered around this city, if you know exactly where to look — a resident acquaintance is far better than a book for these sorts of things — but these tourists-on-transit discussions tend to remind me just how dull a proposition it would be to “simply wander the neighborhoods” of Seattle, compared to so many less rote cities.

        I don’t blame tourists for not bothering to stray from the beaten path. Frankly, if you aren’t hungry or thirsty, this can be a remarkably dull place to visit.

      8. Honestly, the best way to visit Kerry park from downtown is to take the monorail to Seattle Center and walk the rest of the way. Or, if you’ve never seen Belltown before, just walk the entire way. If you’re not pressed for time, walking really is the best experience.

    3. Increasing numbers of muti-day to full week visitors ARE asking about all day passes to get away from the CBD. A pass ought to be available that will get them to/from everywhere in The ORCA Pod at a reasonable price with or without the $5 charge. We’ve needed this for 6 years, now – let’s get on with it.

      1. @d.p. yes its stupidly expensive. I would never pay that much given the metro options available.

        Here is their price list: https://my.getinsellout.com/providers/emerald-city-trolley/list

        It looks like there are combo packages that are not quite as terrible per day as the individual day passes, but its still a bad deal compared to the proposed mutli-agency pass.

        That being said, people appear to be riding it.. perhaps from a lack of information?

        More than a few of my friends bought J Rail passes ($240+ for the week pass!) when they intended to just stay in Tokyo before I could tell them not to, so people do make ill informed decisions when on vacation.

        If tourists do move from the “trolley”* to the Streetcars we have already built, I won’t be shedding any tears for the overpriced private tourist “trolley”*.

        *fancy trolley themed bus

    4. Actually, if you read tourist comments, Seattle isn’t that bad by transit. It’s slow, but you can at least get most places by transit. The only major ones with terrible transit are the Future of Flight and the Magnolia Cruise Ship Terminal. I once came across a pretty big group of tourists from Europe walking to Magnolia on the Elliott Bay Trail as that was the only way they found to get there.

      Oh, and Snoqualmie Falls now that there isn’t bus service by the falls site.

      It’s not like so many places in the USA where transit service simply doesn’t exist.

  7. I think it would be really good if people read the February of 2015 opinion piece “No, Not Quite That Easy” by Leah Harnack, the Editor of Mass Transit Magazine:

    Sure, it may be easy for people who have ridden transit in a number of cities over the years to understand how this day pass system works, but for someone who doesn’t regularly use transit this could be an obstacle.

    Among them the fact that you either have to get the day pass using the ORCA web site, or travel to a place that can charge the card or has a machine.

    You want to eliminate the barriers.

    Sure, the $5 charge to buy a card isn’t that big a deal, but it is still a barrier to using transit that will exist for some people.

    Sure, most tourists will probably stay in a hotel within a 1/2 mile walk of a place that has a machine or sells the cards and can put day passes on the things, but it is still a barrier.

    Some cities have it so that you can purchase the day ticket from a bus.
    Some cities have it so that you can buy a $30 regional 7 day pass from a bus.
    Some cities have it so that you can buy a package that includes admission to tourist highlights and a transit card.

    Those types of transit fare purchases have less barriers to use of passes instead of cash.

    1. Most medium-to-smaller-size cities in the USA don’t have transit smart cards. For many of them, fare collection is a much larger obstacle to keeping the bus moving. Paper day passes sold at the front door may help them, but here it would come with an operational and utility cost. I certainly would oppose having Metro sell paper day passes, for many of the same reasons the paper transfers have become a nuisance.

      1. If you’re going to have to go to an ORCA machine to get the pass, you might as well get a date stamped piece of paper from a TVM. That eliminates the fare cheat issue that you have with the transfers, and eliminates the cash fumbling on the buses.

        It’s no additional hassle since you have to go to a TVM anyway.

        The only reason I can see to require this on the ORCA is to argue about who gets to split the revenue.

  8. I don’t understand the sticker shock in these comments. Obviously the day pass will cost at least two fares to avoid cannibalizing regular commutes. Link to the airport is $3.00, the two-zone peak Metro fare is $3.25, and ST Express inter-county is $3.50. So if you’re going to take 3 trips or more with most fare combinations this will save you money. If you restrict yourself to off-peak Metro travel the threshold is 4 trips, which is hardly draconian.

    In an ideal world you might have one-zone and two-zone day passes like they do in Vancouver, but let’s give them credit for rolling out a regional project that is a useful first step in making it easier to get around.

    1. I’m trying to envision the person who would actually save money buying this pass versus using e-purse. As you say, making it more than double the one-way fare makes sense, otherwise everyone would just buy a day pass for their regular commute.

      However if you’re going to make the pass cost a little more than 2x what the one-way fare costs, you should base the pass value on a ride that people are actually going to take more than twice in a day! $3.50 is the amount Sound Transit charges for inter-county trips. Who’s going to be riding from Tacoma to Seattle and back more than once a day? Who’s going to be riding a two-zone Metro peak bus ($3.25) more than one round trip per day? Not tourists, that’s for sure.

      I would make a $6 pass that covers a $2.75 fare. That’s basically the same multiple of the one-way fare as an $8 pass for a $3.50 fare: you save money starting with the third one-way trip. If you’re staying entirely within Seattle, or riding Metro buses across city limits off-peak, or using Sound Transit buses in-county at any time, that pass is all you need. If you’re staying by the airport and taking Link downtown, you’ll need to pay an extra 50¢ e-purse to cover the Link fare.

      1. Eric is correct that the failure of the previous pass attempt, and the seeming inability to learn lessons from that, have much to do with its concoction on a conference room by people with little interest in parsing how such a pass would be used, by whom, and why. (Most of our transit troubles derive from our overlords’ divorce from enduser experience.)

        But I agree that $7.50 or even $8 begins to approach a reasonable access price, leaving the refusal to address the ORCA access penalty the only blatant boardroom crime here. If the ORCA penalty is not addressed, this program will bellyflop again.

      2. Though I would note that the 3-day and/or 7-day passes offered by many peer cities — at prices that earn the agencies significant chunks of revenue while still offering a healthy discount to anyone who makes transit their primary method of urban access for the duration of the pass, thus contributing to a sense of broad-based “buy-in” — would be a more productive model to chase than edge cases like a local using >6 hours worth of transit in a day, or a tourist going out of their way to buy a new 1-day pass every morning (after experiencing the mediocrity of our system).

      3. Who’s going to be riding from Tacoma to Seattle and back more than once a day? Who’s going to be riding a two-zone Metro peak bus ($3.25) more than one round trip per day?

        In either of those cases, the day pass offers a savings with a third transit trip of any type. That’s my point. For this to not to pencil for a 3-trip day plan, one must use exclusively off-peak Metro and short Link hops, or have at most one one-zone peak trip on Metro.

        I think the best solution is multiple zone tiers. It would be possible to have a $3.00 fare cap, for instance, and make more people use e-purse for longer trips, but it’s not clear to me that that is superior.

      4. Visitors appreciate the convenience of a pass as much as the cost-savings. They may even consider the pass worth if they lose a few dollars compared to e-purse, or if they end up taking fewer trips than expected (because somebody drives them sightseeing or they do a 1-2 day trip out of town).

        In many cities with ubiquidous day passes, they cost 2X the regular fare and are encouraged over transfers (or have completely replaced transfers). But these cities don’t have such a wide variations in fares because (A) commuter rail and express buses are outside the system, (B) light rail fares and zones are the same as the buses, (C) express routes aren’t as necessary to use — there’s no equivalent to the 71/72/73X or the soon-to-be-more-important 26X, 28X, or 372X. In Metro’s case, short-distance expresses make up for crawling-slow local buses and lack of light rail, and are becoming an all-day sweetener to make reorganizations politically palatable.

        Capping the benefit at $3.50 or $3 is the only way to make a reasonably-priced day pass coexist with Sounder. Link fares will also be an issue as extensions open. Link’s highest fare may reach $3.25 next March, and on a popular trip pair (airport to UW dorms and conferences). When Lynnwood and Des Moines open, $4. I think the base pass should cover at least Seattle to Kirkland, Shoreline, and Renton. That’s a reasonable distance. But Metro’s 2-zone fare should be abolished, replaced by a surcharge on 2-zone peak express routes.

    2. The issue isn’t the $8, it is the $8+$5 ORCA fee making the 1-day pass $13 (5.2x multiple at $2.50). If you’re staying for multiple days and want to reload, then you’re spreading the $5 out so it becomes a better deal, but how many people will do that?

      For reference, MBTA in Boston is at $12 ($2.10 fare with a Charlie Card, 5.7x multiple) and WMATA in DC comes in at $14.50 (variable fares based on peak/off-peak and distance, but probably a ~6x multiple for ordinary tourist uses). Those are among the highest cost 1-day transit passes in the US. NYC (MTA), notably, does not offer one. Many others are $7-10 with multiples of 3-4x.

      Thinking like a tourist, though, I can’t see more than 4 paid trips per day being that common if your hotel is downtown. Let’s say you hit the Museum of Flight in the morning (1 trip), then go to UW (1 trip w/ transfer) before returning downtown (1 trip) to visit the Market, eat dinner and ride the ferris wheel at night. You didn’t breakeven, despite leaving downtown twice. The next day, you go to the Locks (1 trip), then to the Space Needle (1 trip), EMP, Kerry Park (1 trip using the transfer to get back). I think it would be hard to break even for lots of tourists unless the $5 ORCA fee is reduced or eliminated.

      1. Another reminder that the MBTA’s 7-day pass is only $19, that the one-day is vestigial, and that no one ever buys the latter.

      2. (Vestigial = the 1-day pass might have made a lick of sense three fare hikes ago, when it was only $7 or $8, and also there used to be a nominal charge for the CharlieCard which getting a 1-day pass avoided, but now the CharlieCard is free because the agency learned that pervasive medium adoption is more important than being knuckledraggers. So people either get their free CharlieCards from literally any MBTA employee anywhere, and then use the discount-incentivized e-purse, or they buy the 7-day pass at a far better value.)

      3. Why isn’t ORCA available on iPhones (passport) and Android? That would seem to be a reasonable way to ditch the 5$ card fee.

      4. I’m curious how fare enforcement officers would prevent someone from buying a ticket on a smart phone right after they saw the fare inspection team board, if buying tickets on smart phones became an option.

      5. Okay, have it prominently display the time of purchase, and refuse to accept anything purchased in the last three minutes. (And say so in the small print.)

  9. “Comparing the prices of other cities without reference to the underlying fare neglects the funding and cost issues that have us here in the first place.”

    Martin, the price of the fare isn’t the issue here. It’s the fact that our transit system cannot develop a fare system that its passengers can access and use without Hell’s own amount of needless effort.

    It’s worse than fare evasion by passengers. It’s welding the chute to the farebox and the card-slot to the TVM’s shut!

    We’re supposed to have a market economy here, and we’re constantly being admonished to “run transit like a business.”

    What commercial enterprise from here to Mongolia- definitely the entire developing world- would essentially make it almost impossible for customers to give it money? Certainly not any packed dented van in the Nairobi market named “The Lord’s Own Deadly Comet!”

    You’re a smart, knowledgeable transit advocate, Martin. And a fantastic grasp of interagency matters.

    Can you deny with a straight face how many of our funding and cost issues are the direct result of the exact mentality that makes mandatory business decisions impossible to reach?

    Lord, I wish the kind of Republicans in business suits with business priorities- like the ones that founded the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle- would regain control of their party from the precinct level up and win about five elections.

    Because whatever the faults and injustices of commerce, no business model on Earth can survive on policies made deliberately convoluted to serve our officials’ paramount goal of avoiding ever having to make a decision.

    Mark Dublin

  10. The day pass is being created largely for visitors, folks who don’t already have an ORCA card in their pocket — so the real cost to them is $13, not $8. Don’t advertise this product as costing only $8 when the true cost to acquire is $13 (at least for the first day).

    And it needs to be made crystal clear that the day pass expires overnight on the day it’s first used. A visitor arriving late, who takes Link from the airport to a hotel, is going to be disappointed when they try to use their day pass the next morning.

    And senior visitors don’t have the RRFP, so they aren’t eligible for the reduced fare day pass; they will pay full price. I just got back from Italy and was regularly offered senior discounts, no special ID card required. I can’t understand why senior visitors should be ineligible for the reduced price day pass.

    1. Who said it’s largely for visitors? Other occasional riders also have days where they make a 3-4 point trip or two round trips that don’t fit into two 2-hour transfer windows. I know a lot of people who don’t use transit enough to make a monthly pass cost effective but could use a break on high-use days (or would use transit more if they got a break on those days).

  11. Brent’s post runs 686 words to explain something ‘simple’ to a bunch of savvy transit nerds. Nuff said.

    1. Hear, hear. In this region, we’re masters at complicating things. When it comes to transit, one large factor is that decision-makers are not regular transit riders. For them, Link is an occasional ride to the airport and nothing more. Bus rides only occur at occasional ribbon-cutting events; a photo-op.

      How about a single transit authority in the region, with only regular transit riders eligible to serve on the board? Results would have to be better than what we get now. They couldn’t possibly be worse.

      1. Hmmmm.
        A single vast pan-region agency.
        For some reason SEPTA comes to mind.

        Somehow, the Oregon Coast manages to have a single 3-day or 7-day transit pass that works across 5 agencies.
        If those guys can work together for a common pass it seems like Puget Sound agencies could.

      2. Roger, I first came to Seattle in 1974, and after a few years away, came back to stay in 1981. So I don’t have a really good handle on this, but maybe residents of longer term can advise me of the atmospheric change as Boeing and Kenworth went out and Microsoft came in.

        The sense I have is that when an economy moves away from manufacturing actual objects subject to laws like gravity and momentum, the professional classes truly lose the “feel” of reality.

        Starting with any sense of the real-world consequences of abstract decisions. Or the mandate to make any decision at all. So it’s natural to accept- and become extremely comfortable with-an increasing amount of complexity which does nothing but harm to work that involves people and machinery.

        If input that damaging to transit operations actually caused mainframes to crack and servers to crash in ways that involved firefighting and rubble clearing, damage to both IT and operations would swiftly become a lot less frequent than at present.

        A falling fuel gauge on a machine idling for hours is a good accounting visual. And the smell of burning metal followed by the distinctive reverberation of a breaking shaft comprise an powerful gavel for ending a meeting.

        Over the years, giving the people in charge a healthy sense of ideal decision-making time being closer to ten seconds than twenty years.

        Mark Dublin

  12. Having had the luxury of an employer-subsidized monthly passes, a U-Pass, and now an ORCA pass that works on everything but the ferries (which I also can’t add a separate purse value to, though this is a separate rant), I’m a reflexive transit user when it competes with walking (which, being a first hill resident, it often doesn’t).

    I did, however, spend the better part of four years in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a broke student. It took me a little bit to discover the MetroCard, but that system seemed far and away the best from a legibility/incentive perspective.


    Buy the card for NZ$10 and forced to top it up to NZ$20. That buys you a maximum daily fare* of NZ$5, (equivalent to two single fares) where each trip comes with a 2-hour transfer window, and a maximum weekly fare* of NZ$25.

    Once you had the MetroCard, every day’s commute bought you free transit in the evenings, and if you rode all week, there was no charge for the weekends. It effectively functioned as an e-purse with a built in pass that kicked on when it benefitted you.

    It’s crazy that in Seattle, if you don’t have an employee-subsidized pass, you are forced into speculative economics each month when it comes to just getting about the city.

    *Within the city., I can’t remember if they didn’t used to have zones when I was there, or if I never left the central city. Either is quite possible.

  13. After this, can we have an automatic day pass like on AC Transit with the Clipper Card? I tried it out in Oakland a few months ago and it worked pretty well. On the third ride, it deducts the remaining cost of a $5 day pass ($1 after you’ve paid $4 for two rides) and puts a day pass on your card so there’s no need to buy a day pass in advance as long as you have enough e-purse value on your card.

    1. That’s how an Oyster Card works in London, too. Once you hit the maximum for the day, you can basically continue riding til you’re heart’s content.

      As someone said upthread, a tourist day pass is also a convenience for someone on vacation (and who might not have changed their money at all). In a number of cities, I’ve bought them even when I’m staying for less than the period covered, and sometimes I’ve ended up only using them once or twice. But if I have a few spare moments and can get on a train or bus and see part of the city I’ve never seen before, I don’t have to root around for the fare. I just hop on and go.

      And someone else suggested New York doesn’t have a tourist pass. It does, it’s just 7-days minimum. http://web.mta.info/metrocard/mcgtreng.htm#unlimited

      1. Isn’t that pricing scheme for day passes exclusive to the provider for the Oyster card (Cubic?)? IIUC, it can’t be done on ORCA due to legal (i.e., IP) reasons.

      2. Clipper used an ERG system. I can’t imagine that fare capping is a proprietary or patented product.

      3. I agree, and ORCA sort of already does something like this when it provides a credit when you tap out at a light rail station.

  14. Why should a day pass be primarily of interest to tourists?
    I primarily use day tickets to get around where I live.

    Done right, this day ticket should also appeal to the occasional local transit user.

    1. A daypass would be more useful if it beat E-purse on matters of convenience (assuming the cost difference is negligible for the number of trips you intend to make). Over here, at least, it doesn’t. With E-purse, as long as your card has money on it, you just walk up to the bus or train and tap – it doesn’t get much easier than that. With a daypass, you have the additional overhead of waiting in line for a vending machine (or visiting a website and clicking through a bunch of options) for just one day’s worth of riding. With E-purse, you only need to do this when your card runs out of money, which could be month or, for infrequent users, once every several years. Just even thinking about the daypass option requires additional mental energy to decide whether or not it’s worth it.

      Even if you plan on making 3 or 4 unique trips, I would argue that at the $8 price point, the savings of daypass over E-purse is insufficient to justify the extra hassle. However, if an $18, 3-day pass were available, the overhead of purchasing it might begin to make sense.

      Furthermore, the fact remains that even if you have 3-4 unique trips planned for the day, unless you have your schedule precisely mapped out in advance, there is still a very real likelihood that the daypass will be under-used. For example, you might decide a museum was not as interesting as thought it was going to be and leave early enough that you still have transfer credit. You might have extra time on a sunny day and decide to walk one of the trips. Or you might be running late and decide to take one of trips on Lyft or Uber. Or perhaps, you get tired halfway through the day and the rest of the trips end up not happening altogether. Again, E-purse offers the advantage that you pay only for what you actually use, without having to do a bunch of calculations of whether this fare mechanism or that fare mechanism is worth it.

      1. I got an ORCA back when they were being sent out free. They didn’t require that they only be mailed to people with Washington addresses…..

        So I do enjoy the use of an e-purse on ORCA when up your way. It is very convenient.

        For my travel patterns here, the day tickets are the best option. TriMet monthy passes are $100 or the day passes are $5. There are some days that I am able to walk between work and home, and the standard issue tickets are good for 2.5 hours (TriMet has dispensed with transfers and now issues time and date stamped tickets from its buses). So, the price between a month of various standard fares and a monthly pass isn’t that great for me.

        TriMet makes it extremely easy to get its paper tickets. Grocery stores have them, and most of the time I buy them when at the grocery store. If I am running low and busy, then I can order them on the web site and have them mailed to me. Or, I could have them mailed to you if you happen to be visiting Portland soon. Or, if someone from South Africa or Uruguay or Belarus is going to be visiting here they can order them by mail too. Though, there is a $2.50 handling fee for each mail order.

        They are cheap paper tickets, and hotels and hostels can have a few on hand if guests should need to get around by bus. Groups holding conventions can include a few in their convention materials.

        I would love to be able to use a day ticket in the Puget Sound region. I’ve done trips where this day pass would be ideal to have. However, even though I already have a nice free of charge ORCA provided to me in 2009, it is questionable if I would use this pass or not.

        Based on the web site description, if you want to load a day pass on your ORCA card, you can do that on the web site, but it activates the next time you tap the ORCA card. However, it takes a while for all the card readers on the buses to get the information uploaded (this is why cash balance can take 24 hours or more to work its way into the system).

        Let’s take a hypothetical situation, which happened to be what I did a couple of weeks ago:

        I left Portland on train 501, leaving here at 8:30 and getting there at noon. My plan was to then spend the afternoon visiting a few places, and the next day visiting a few places. The next day would have been good to have a day pass. However, I can’t buy a day pass several days ahead of time on the web site, because if I did that the day pass would become active the moment I hit the first bus in the afternoon.

        So, my best option would maybe have been to purchase the day ticket while on the train coming north. That way, it would be in the system, but not loaded onto the bus system just yet that day. That way when I do the afternoon tap on arriving, I would wind up using the e-purse. I could then hope that the day ticket would be uploaded to the bus when I tap the next morning.

        Or, there is a RapidRide stop not too far from where I stay. Are those card readers like the Link ones and always connected to the system? If so, then I would be able to just go down there and tap there and buy the day ticket the night before or something.

      2. “Are those card readers like the Link ones and always connected to the system?”

        They should be, since part of RapidRide was installing a fiber optic cable along the route for these kinds of things.

      3. Next time I’m up that way I’ll have to give up the 33 and walk down to RapidRide and see if that works.

        If there were a way to avoid the automatic day pass use on next tap thing, or a way to grab the day ticket from e-purse, it would be nice.

  15. what’s really missing from this argument is data. How many ‘tourists’ will buy the pass? how many trips does the average tourist take on public transport? How many actually leave the downtown core? how many Seattlites buy monthly passes versus company bought passes? would cannibalization actually happen and what percentage of locals would it consist of? I find the thread to be devoid of anything to which we could make real decisions about what the price should be, etc…

    1. FWIW, the agencies have the data from the pilot project, and collectively agreed to put out this proposal.

  16. A full monthly pass is 2 fares on 18 days/month.

    A day pass truly could be 2 fares or 2.5 fares. Most people inside King County are paying $2.50 or $2.75 for a fare. A daypass in the range of $6 seems more in-line with the value. At $8 you need 4 rides inside King County to justify it, especially for non-commuters who are less likely to be riding at peak anyway.

    And yes, I think it’s crazy that ST buses are always $2.50 inside King County (including to Federal Way or Kent) while Metro sometimes is $3.25 on duplicated service, and Link $3 on shorter routes.

    We need a zone system and all operators should have the same fare between zones.

  17. @ Mark Dublin In a word: yes, it’s due to separate agencies.
    See: http://www.theprovince.com/technology/TransLink+most+popular+transit+system+North+America+says+study/10815443/story.html
    Metro Vancouver is 2,877.36 square kilometres (1,111 sq mi). The agencies in this area: `1,371.
    @Dan Ryan is right: it’s to discourage commuters. Unfortunately, folks like us are never in the room when and where these decisions are haggled out by the multiple transit agencies’ senior staff (which is why this takes so long, they have to check with their management so as to have their agency’s priorities met, the other is having to track yet another product: imagine having seven branches of the state legislature!). The $5.00 card access price makes it more cost-prohibitive for the first-timer. If anything, tourists should get their cards free. I agree with @William C. Use a disposable pass. @Charles B, @John Charles WIlson, @Eric are amongst others with good ideas as well. If there was only a single agency like Tri-Met or Trans-Link, we would have had a better version of this product years ago, along with millions of dollars of other cost efficiencies.

    However, unfortunately, I rarely see a comment here that challenges the status quo of expensive, separate hierarchies that, by their nature, require more time-consuming and costly meetings to arrive at an agreement than what would emerge from a unified agency. Case in point: ORCA was several years late. But, so long as citizens accept the status quo, apparently for fear of offending those in control, and prefer to lobby for – and pay more – taxes for this system, cases like this is what will repeatedly happen.

  18. The price is appropriate, the $5 ORCA fee needs to go. I have no idea why they cost $5 when every other agency in the country charges $2 or less. A $10 out the door day pass is not a bad price point. Offer weekly passes for $40 and convert the “monthly” pass to a 30 day pass.

    1. If it were $10 you could make it so anyone could buy it from any bus driver as a paper ticket (with a date stamp on it) and not have to worry about finding a TVM for the first trip.

      1. You could provide a paper punch ticket which can be traded in for a free ORCA card at a transit agency office. San Diego MTS does this, where the day pass is $7 on a bus and $5 at a ticket vending machine, but bus day passes can be traded in for a free smart card at the transit store.

      2. The idea is to decrease the time the operator is spending on fare transactions, not increase them. Offering a paper fare product that is sold at the bus door and competes with ORCA will slow down buses substantially, after we have spent millions of dollars trying to speed them up.

        FWIW, San Diego’s Compass Card still cannot hold e-purse.

        FWIW2, there are a couple train-only agencies (operating between New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) that charge $5 for their smart cards. Since they only operate trains, the card is a convenience for the rider rather than a tool to speed up operations. Utah Transit Authority’s FarePay card costs $3, but is offered as an alternative for riders who don’t have a “contactless” debit/credit card to tap or a pass.

        The rest of the transit smart cards in the USA are all $2 or less, with the industry mode, and therefore arguably the industry standard, being to make the smart card available for *free*.

        Note to ORCA Joint Board: This also means the Regional Reduced Fare Permit ORCA costs more to get than any other bus smart card in the country (other than a full-fare or youth ORCA), and certainly more than any other senior/disabilities bus smart card.

        The same goes for the youth ORCA. That $5 youth card fee, and total lack of incentives to get one unless someone is giving you a pass, is why you see all the kids who haven’t been given a pass by their school district paying with change *all the time*.

        I can understand the argument as to why to charge something for getting a regular ORCA (though I think the operating costs of dissuading people from getting ORCA outweighs it), but that argument doesn’t apply to youth or RRFP ORCA, that take special effort to acquire (waiting for your card via snail mail, or making a trip to Metro’s front office).

  19. I glossed over the effect of the $3 RRFP fee. So, to be more complete, the cost for a senior tourist to buy her/his first day pass is $7.50, and takes ordering and receiving the RRFP ahead of time.

    Likewise, the cost to a family for each child’s (6-18) first day pass is $13, with the youth ORCA ordered and received ahead of time.

    All versions of ORCA except the disabilities RRFP and the ORCA LIFT are available by snail mail.

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