The ORCA Joint Board will be holding a public hearing this coming Monday, April 13, at 10:30 am, in the 8th Floor Conference Room at 201 S. Jackson St, on its proposal for making the ORCA regional multi-agency day pass permanent, and adding a Regional Reduced Fare Permit version of the day pass. Details of the proposal were covered here. Comments will be accepted at contactus@orcacard.com until meeting time. Action on the day pass proposal is scheduled to follow the hearing.

It happens to everyone eventually. My turn came a year ago, when I managed to tap an odd number of times between getting off and back on Link downtown. As has happened numerous times, my car was boarded by a team of Fare Enforcement Officers (also known by the unfortunate acronym “FOEs”). This time, I was given a warning for fare evasion, and threatened with a $124 fine if I did it again. [Click here for Sound Transit’s fare enforcement policy.]

I had a monthly pass that covers the highest possible cost of the trip. I also had a valid transfer from the previous ride I had just taken. This didn’t matter to the officer, or to Sound Transit’s police department when I followed up with them.

Consider this: An ORCA LIFT holder who plunks down $54 for a monthly pass may expect it to be accepted as Proof-of-Payment (PoP) for unlimited rides on Link. If that LIFT monthly pass holder gets caught not tapping, or double-tapping, twice, the fine is still the same $124 as for people who can more easily afford to pay it, as well as for people who intentionally didn’t pay the fare. Inability to pay that fine could get the rider barred from riding Link, and affect her/his ability to get around.

It is poor customer service for Sound Transit to refuse to honor monthly passes that cover the highest possible value of a trip on Link. It is also poor practice for Sound Transit to use the same sound for tapping on as it does for tapping off, and perhaps even an ADA issue given the deaf-blind population that uses Link. I would suggest that fixing this accessibility issue would reduce double-taps far more effectively than fare enforcement has.

For someone who bought a $54 monthly LIFT pass, it might seem unfair that the pass will not avert a $124 fine the second time she/he makes a mistake. The rider’s solution may be to take an alternative mode and cease buying monthly passes.

The reason given by Sound Transit for fining even monthly pass holders with passes covering the highest possible fare, when they fail to tap, is that ORCA pod formulas apportion revenue based on trips counted by taps. It would seem that all the data collected by FOEs could produce a reasonable extrapolation to handle that issue, but the ORCA pod is not going in that direction.

I would suggest a compromise: Give maximum-fare pass holders a couple of “free” warnings per month. This would still provide an incentive for pass holders to tap properly. It would make pass holders feel less cheated, since buying the pass would enable them to avoid the threat of an immediate fine. It would also be less threatening, as pass holders would know they can mess up a couple of times that month before a fine becomes imminent.

The hearing Monday is about day passes, of course, so let me get back to that.

I very much welcome the introduction of ORCA-only day passes, and the addition of the ORCA-only Regional Reduced Fare Permit day pass. But just having these two versions of the day pass leaves youth and low-income riders behind. Having a youth day pass, available only on ORCA, would be one of the first strong incentives for parents to make the effort to get youth ORCA cards.

I would suggest that the reduced-fare day passes all cost $4, covering full fare on services charging up to $1.50 per ride. This would still have the RRFP and youth version covering full fare on the same services as the $8 regular version, except multi-county ST Express (which costs $2.50 for youth). A LIFT day pass would cover full fare on all the services that currently honor LIFT except the King County Water Taxis, and still be good for $1.50 of fare credit on the services that don’t honor LIFT.

The issue of fare enforcement procedures is quite relevant to the new day pass. Yes, there should be a warning, with the same threat of a fine the next time, if someone loads a day pass on their card, but doesn’t tap to activate it before boarding Link. But if someone has activated their day pass, and messes up the tapping later in the day, that same warning and threat would be out of proportion to the supposed crime. The same suggestion of two “free” warnings per month for failure to tap properly seems more to scale for the accident. Keep the incentive to tap, but give the pass some of the value it is supposed to represent.

43 Replies to “Two New Reasons to Honor Passes as PoP: LIFT & the Proposed Day Pass”

  1. Thanks for bringing this whole issue up, Brent. Has happened to me twice. Infuriating both times. I feel same way. Far as I’m concerned, in this matter term “fare evasion” is a lie on it’s face. Agency can’t stand there with my money in its hand and calling me a thief.

    For causing an inconvenience to the accounting department over inter-agency and subarea divisions that should not exist in the first place. We were promised an integrated system, what, a decade ago?

    For the amount of cooperation we the passenger public already give- Proof of Payment couldn’t afford the inspection transit would need if we didn’t- if we’ve already paid a month’s whole costs, term “warning” should be taken and stuffed. Friendly reminder should be absolute limit. Smile required.

    Any way to find out how many people have actually paid any fine at all over this particular issue? Bet nobody, but let’s check, and somebody who can afford $124, take it to court. Ten of us combined should be able to handle reimbursement.

    Have a feeling that first contested court case would get policy changed before the judge’s hammer hit the table. System’s legal fees and attendant publicity- transit’s most loyal and financially responsible customers out-yelling Dori Monson- are probably budget items transit doesn’t need.

    What’s that Channel 5 guy’s name again?

    Mark Dublin

    1. if we’ve already paid a month’s whole costs, term “warning” should be taken and stuffed. Friendly reminder should be absolute limit. Smile required.

      I could not possibly agree more… especially about the part about requiring that FEO’s SMILE when they interact with the public. Especially members of the public who are paying north of $100 a month for a pass and who’s only mistake was forgetting to tap their ORCA card before boarding.

    2. I have to admit that I have not heard of any passholder whose pass covered the highest possible fare on that service actually getting a citation. Even if the warnings are a bluff, it still doesn’t make sense to devalue the pass, or to scare riders off (except for actaul intentional fare evasion).

      1. I have to say this really undermines the whole argument. If people are being warned but not fined in this case, there’s no harm here. I don’t blame ST for not having an overly intricate public enforcement policy that will confuse people and result in more accidental fare evasion, not less.

      2. So long as ST keeps the answer to the question of whether any sufficient passholder has been cited secret, the psychological harm remains. The incentive to get a pass is reduced. The incentive to find another mode remains. I have asked ST whether such citation has happened, and ST has been coy, as they probably should be.

        Clearly, having the ORCA pod adopt extrapolation into the formula would be more ideal for the passengers, and for allowing FOEs to spend their field time dealing with real fare evaders. But isn’t a stated policy of having a couple “free” warnings obviously superior to the current policy of no consideration for the fact the rider had a sufficient pass? To be clear, I am saying ST should advertise those freebies, as a selling point to get more riders to buy the highest pass.

        I am not actually proposing that ST ever cite a sufficient passholder. I am proposing that that merely be the stated policy (and only as a compromise).

      3. Has anybody here hear of probabilities? Statistics? Normal distribution? t-tests?

        It is egregious bullshit that the Orca agencies need every single transaction to be perfectly recorded in order to allocate fares among agencies. Since Link and Sounder are the only click-on click-off vehicles at this time and “Hello” cards are identified in the data stream, the software should easily be able to identify instances when someone clicked any combination of an odd number of times at a given location or on a given trip and make proper adjustments.

        And anyway, as the preamble to this post was meant to suggest, whether or not “proper adjustments” are made, when an odd-click trip is made, just throw the damn thing out and allocate the fare based on all those bajillion trips that are clicked properly. Sheesh!

      4. When flying out of SeaTac, I sometimes don’t bother to tap off when I arrive at the airport. However, I’ve never seen this system get confused and think that the tap on a few days later is actually a tap off. I guess the system must have some sort of a timer, after which, if you still haven’t tapped off, it will tap you off automatically.

    3. What does “double tapping” mean? I have never understood how the Orca system works.

      I usually only scan the card at the beginning of my bus, water taxi, or light rail trip. The comments below seem to indicate that the light rail trip needs a second scan. What happens when I don’t use the second scan? I have an all-you-can-eat card that my employer pays for, so I don’t pay attention to the fares.

      This has always seemed like a dumb system to me. I have had more than one Orca card “die” on me, and I have had to beg for my ride home or to work until I could get another one issued. The old system that was not electronic could not ever fail and is far superior from a customer perspective.

      1. Sound Transit has an unusual system in which you can cancel your ride by tapping again within a certain time of tapping on. ST also wants riders to tap a second time after they get off, to help ST understand travel patterns.

        Most double-tapping involves tapping on, and then cancelling. But one can also tap off, and then tap on, perhaps forgetting the first tap.

        Thanks to tap-on, tap-off, and cancel all sounding identical, passengers make lots of mistakes. I don’t get why ST treats the passengers as the guilty culprits when it is ST’s system that leads to lots of mistakes.

  2. ST has extremely disproportionate fines relative to fares. $124 for a maximum $3 gain is a 42x penalty. Not even a drug lord gets a 42x fine. Presumably ST does this to ensure that it can patrol only some fraction of the trains and still make the fine hurt, but I’ve seen FEOs ~50% of the time I ride Link, which is admittedly rather infrequently. Even a determined cheat wouldn’t have a chance of being profitable by fare dodging.

    What is the alternative? Would faregates be better? Most on this blog would probably say no – they are expensive to install and maintain. I’m not really a fan of the PoP model, but financially it appears to be more cost effective than a comprehensive faregate system.

      1. But that’s a bureaucratic answer, based on “what we do”, just like the idea that a passholder is ever subject to enforcement (or potential enforcement) at all. The ultimate goal of the system is to provide transit to citizens. Here you have a citizen who has paid in advance for a month’s service and a confusing system puts him at risk of a $124 fine (because apparently the courts can’t be bothered with anything less) when the system has lost exactly nothing.

        Seriously, try and say that at a public forum with a straight face. Or, more particularly, Dow Constantine, you say it.

      2. @Breadbaker,

        Martin is just providing information, not making a value judgement.

        But let me suggest to Alex that the number of warnings could be doubled (either publicly or quietly) if the fine is twice as high as it ought to be for the amount of fare being evaded.

        I’m not sure whether the current fine is higher or lower than ideal, but ST has promised me some data on fare evasion rate trends.

      3. Not only is it arbitrary, it’s a whole month’s worth of groceries for some people, as opposed to a week’s.

  3. This whole notion is antithetical to any appropriate public policy. The whole point of ORCA is that the public doesn’t give a rat’s ass about interagency accounting issues. One Regional Card for All. So I take Metro on my monthly pass for 48 round trips during a month and once, just once, I’m in the bus tunnel and the first thing to come by is a Link train, so I hop that. Suddenly how much of my pass payment is being diverted to Sound Transit? The whole thing should be done as suggested, by a statistical model that is based on the years of usage, not because one day the cars came in a particular order in the bus tunnel.

    1. You are so right! As a Canadian, I find the idea of multiple transit agencies serving overlapping areas frankly a bit weird. To each their own, but if this has to be at least make it as transparent as possible to the users. I visit LA fairly regularly and every time I buy a day pass that’s good on buses painted Orange and Red, some (but not all) painted Silver, and none painted Blue, even though they run on the same streets.

      1. Heck, I find it confusing as an East Coast American. It’s batshit. Little fiefdoms, we’re all about it in this region.

  4. Another suggestion… Sound Transit should take a hint from Los Angeles Metro and paint a red stripe on the ground just beyond the ORCA card readers saying something to the effect of “paid fare zone, all riders must tap ORCA or have a ticket.”

    That complements the overhead signs (which tend to blend in with the rest of the signs on the platform) and people tend to think before stepping over a red line.

    That shouldn’t be too expensive to implement.

    1. Good suggestion, but that isn’t an option in the DSTT as long as buses (where on-board payment is a legitimate option) are running in it.

      1. Frank, it’s a good thing we’ve always got, and always had, the option of making DSTT platforms Proof of Payment, and getting those fare boxes out from under the wheels. Of buses, and also LINK trains, that get held up behind them.

        I’ve seen it take seven minutes to clear a string of buses out of Westlake northbound at rush hour. That’s thirty seconds less than LINK headway at rush hour.

        Find out what cost of one minute of operating delay is, and then multiply that out over a whole rush hour, times vehicles, times delays.

        Penny wise. Dollar Dumb as a Doorknob.Would probably be cheaper to encourage people, meaning allow without present hassle, as many people to just get ORCA cards.

        And Martin, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it on TV camera if I get one more warning. As the title of the statute says, the force of the law is to prevent theft.

        Not the convenience of the accounting department in a system too lazy to simplify policies that commit transit’s cardinal sins: getting in the way and alienating the very pass-buying passengers that transit should be on its knees begging to get.

        Mark

  5. It seems to me a policy of penalizing holders of a valid monthly pass who mess up is just a way of antagonizing your most regular customers. I was going to say “best” customers, but sometimes agencies shortsightedly think of a pass user getting a discount for a ride they could sell for full fare to a single-ride customer, forgetting that a pass holder may well have a choice and if antagonized enough will decide to use their car.

    As you can tell by my moniker, I’m not likely to be a monthly pass customer. But I might buy a day pass for my convenience, and having paid full freight I’m not going to be too impressed if I get fined for failing to navigate the byzantine “tap here, but not there” policies made to suit transit management. Or, to hell with it, I’ll just drive my own car.

  6. It’s flat-out unfriendly to create a constant atmosphere of fear an anxiety that one day you might forget to tap, because people do it unconsciously and then can’t remember if they did, and then they have to go back and tap twice more to check if they did. There’s also readers like at Beacon Hill Station and Kent Station that are on the side so you may not see them and remember to tap. I much prefer fare gates where the reader is right in your line of sight in front of you, and it’s clear you tapped because the gate opened. If we have POP we should at least have entrances like doorways, with the reader facing you rather than off to the side or in some other location. The surface stations like SODO are the best in this regard.

    1. I’d love to see fare gates once the buses are out of the tunnel; yes, the street level platforms would be possible to bypass, but that’s where you would put enforcement personnel more frequently. Fewer on-board inspections with shifting some of the enforcement towards bypass-able gated stations might cover it.

      I’m much less sympathetic to a $123 fine for someone darting over the tracks to avoid paying their fare than I am to someone forgetting to tap when there is no physical barrier to remind them. No need for a warning either–jumping the gate gets the ticket.

      1. $124

        Hell, make it $200 for gate jumpers. They are obviously violating the paid area rule.

      2. I know faregates get a bad rap on this coast, in part due to the politics in play in their Vancouver and L.A. installations. But as someone accustomed to them from and East Coast and most prominent European cities, I have to admit that I like the unequivocal boundary-setting.

        There are no fuzzy transitional spaces, no messy conflation of the purpose-built mobility infrastructure with the wider public realm. You are either inside or outside of the system, and if you are inside the system you are expected to be on your way somewhere and to have paid to do so. Sure, there will still be some ‘stile-jumpers, but the impact that an “enclosed” and purposeful transit space has upon minimum public decorum within that space is real and obvious to anyone who experiences the contrast. That psychology tends even to carry over to connecting modes not within protected perimeters, as crossing the threshold of a bus comes to carry the same behavioral signifiers as the fare gates do on the subways. Implicit unchallenged permeability comes to an end.

        The occasional claim that gates somehow restrict passenger flows is amply disproven by any high-volume system, even those with gates installed in tight spaces. If anything, the flow improves by adding so many more points of fare-medium validation than ever seem to exist at proof-of-payment thresholds.

      3. If you’re worried about gates restricting traffic flow, you can use gateless gates. Basically, a cordon of pillars with open spaces between them (wide enough for wheelchairs) with “tap on” and “tap off” at the pillars.

        It works just as well psychologically at demarcating “paid” and “unpaid” space, without the very confusing situation created by random “tapping” locations.

      4. There is no space at most of the at-grade station entrances to add more impediments without blocking mobility devices. Fare gates tend to relegate wheelchair users to a separate line.

      5. I disagree, Brent. The Columbia City entrance ramps are likely the tightest passageways anywhere in the system, and even they could easily accommodate one wide all-device-access gate plus another standard gate where the ramps meet the platform proper.

      6. +1 Nathanael

        That’s what I saw in Munich – a blue line with ticket validators mounted on columns. It has the same psychological impact as a gate without the gate.

      7. Sorry for being late to the party,

        how are faregates supposed to work with non-standard (i. e. non-Orca) fare media like print-at-home tickets, tickets by mobile phone (MMS or app-based), Amtrak tickets, plane tickets, museum tickets, concert tickets, sports game tickets, or whatever fancy stuff might want to (or has to) include transit at the day of visit/departure and arrival?

        I guess this isn’t an issue today, but since many world-class cities take such things for granted (although not everything in every city), Seattle might at some time want to come up with some of this.

        @Matt L: Does Munich require a paid fare to enter the platforms? I don’t remember from my last visit there. Hamburg does, and they don’t have rows of validators, but a solid metal bar embedded into the floor instead: (last picture). Obviously, rows of validators (also seen in Vienna) are more visible and obvious.

  7. Many occasional riders only see the FEO’s once a month at the most. If riders are given a few free failed-to-taps per month, what’s the incentive for occasional riders to ever tap?

    1. Read the post. The “If riders are given a few free failed-to-taps per month” refers to riders that have already paid for a pass. Nobody is losing any money if they forget to tap.

    2. Incentive? Cooperating with a system I support. The reason that the United States of America can hold together a 4,000 by 2,500 mile country of 300 million people is that we don’t need the fear of punishment to make us do what we know is right.

      Wisdom of our Founders? Create a system with that assumption as core philosophy, and the average person will voluntarily work much harder than necessary to build and defend it.

      In general, if any well-led and trained crew of US workers is not working beyond requirement, they’re not slacking, they’re on strike. And if any monthly pass holder doesn’t tap the card. One, they’re in a minority and two, they’re sick or in a hurry, and three, their monthly pass means leave them alone!

      And Martin, nobody has to know what the fare inspector sees on the reader. All the inspector needs to know is that he sees that the passenger’s paid for a month’s transit. And all he has to do is say Thank You, and move on.

      Dublin principle holds for inspectors too: Time wasted- like by writing an unwarranted useless citation- is fare receipts lost.

      Mark Dublin

      1. I suppose I should mention that while the officer was trying to explain why I was still trying to steal money from ST (despite him clearly being able to see that I had a monthly pass covering the longest possible ride), a real fare evader slipped out the door. ST’s poorly-thought-out policy may actually be helping fare evaders.

  8. If transit agencies insist on pass holders tapping for accounting purposes, here’s an idea for a peaceful protest. Any time you happen to walk past an Orca reader, and you have the pass to cover it, tap it even if you don’t use the service. If this screws up their accounting, that’s too bad. Maybe they will stop forcing pass holders to tap.

    1. Huh?

      Honestly, though, I have probably tapped, and then not boarded, far more often than I have failed to tap or double-tapped.

  9. It took me a while to figure out what this article was about because it’s not logical to tell someone they haven’t paid when they did but earlier in the month. This is one instance where Community Transit gets it right. I’ve been on Swift multiple times with a pass and I didn’t bother tapping. The Swift ambassadors don’t treat not-tapping with a pass any different than tapping. You paid, why would they care when you paid?

    1. Thanks much, Grant! I don’t see CT’s fare enforcement policy on line, so I’ll check in with them.

  10. All too often the reason given by public officials in this area, and often the whole state by proxy, for some stupid, idiotic, brain-dead practice is “Our system doesn’t allow it.”

    Well un-fuck your system. That’s not a reason. It’s not even an excuse. It’s BS designed to prevent officials from looking like idiotic brain-dead drones. Do you run the system, or does your system run you? Why do we allow public officials to get away with this sort of fake buck-passing?

  11. Why is there even a double tap option available? There should be a timeout then if you don’t want to take a trip for three or four minutes, to prevent unintentional double tapping. Yes, it will suck when one doesn’t want to take a trip to have to stand around waiting, but it seems to me that double tapping is much more common than people tapping once and deciding not to ride that day.

  12. Double tap? I’ve been using ORCA since its inception, and I have no clue what that is, or what it does. Cancel transaction?

    1. I asked the same think above. What is “double tapping”? If you have to be a transit enthusiast who reads a transit blog to understand the system, there is likely something wrong with the system.

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