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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.