Four ORCA cards. Photo by Oran.
Four ORCA cards. Photo by Oran.

The ORCA regional day pass, which Brent reported on back in April, is now available for purchase, says Metro.

  • An $8 Regional Day Pass for adult riders valid for unlimited rides on services with fares up to $3.50
  • A $4 Regional Day Pass for ORCA Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP) cardholders (seniors and riders with disabilities) valid for unlimited rides on services with fares up to $1.75. (At this time there is no youth or low income day pass product.)

The new options are intended to make it easier for tourists and visitors to use transit while in town. Local residents can also purchase day passes, which are available where ORCA cards are sold and revalued. Options include ticket vending machines, retail outlets, customer service offices, online, by mail and by phone. The launch of a permanent day pass program follows a pilot project conducted in 2014.

Bruce’s critique from last year is still mostly applicable (though the cost has been reduced from $9 to $8 an the max fare is now $3.50, down from $4).   As the press release makes clear, this product is aimed squarely at tourists who aren’t going very far.  While you can add to the e-purse for higher fares, the $3.50 number (after all the squirrelly inter-agency revenue share has been accounted for) signals that this probably isn’t the product for you if you need Sounder or an Express Bus.

If the Monorail were to accept ORCA, it could be a more compelling offer for tourists who would have likely blown a few bucks on that separately from their transportation spend.  More importantly, in an era where travelers are increasingly cashless, providing a day pass that can be acquired by credit card is convenient, even if it might be cheaper to pay for each fare in cash.

For locals, however, the pas is expensive unless you already have an ORCA card.  Fortunately, the agencies are considering reducing the $5 ORCA card fee, which would make the day pass more competitive.

44 Replies to “ORCA Regional Day Pass Launches”

  1. Why is it called the ORCA Regional Day Pass, and not just the ORCA Day Pass? The fact that it’s regional is already implied and assumed because the ORCA card is a regional card. The R in the acronym ORCA stands for regional.

    1. Pierce Transit Day Pass: $5
      Other agencies might have separate day passes as well.

    2. Same reason they call it the ORCA Card even though the C in ORCA stands for Card?? My OCD triggers every time I type…

  2. Can’t complain about our finally getting the day pass that Portland and other systems have had for decades. But this isn’t a gripe about what we did or didn’t do in the past.

    But it’s still a fair question whether the reason it took us so long still exists, and how much else this problem is still costing us in other areas.

    And what we intend to do to fix it that won’t take another forty years.

    Mark Dublin

    1. We don’t have the day pass that Portland has. Portland has a day pass where you can show up at a station and get an all-day paper ticket for twice the cost of a one-way local transit fare. Ride as much as you want, and you won’t pay more than it would cost to buy two rides individually. It’s a no-brainer.

      Here in Seattle if you’re landing at the airport or otherwise find yourself at an ORCA TVM for the first time, you’ll pay $13 for that same pass, 4.33 times the cost of a one-way trip from the airport to downtown. What we have here is not remotely competitive with what Portland offers and the sales numbers are sure to reflect that.

      1. What Portland has covers two systems: TriMet and C-Tran (but not the C-Tran expresses).

        Canby, Wilsonville, St. Helens, Sandy, and a few others that connect to TriMet will require a separate purchase, not to mention the C-Tran expresses. The day ticket does not cover the Portland Arial Tram, which at a considerably higher cash ticket price is similar to King County Water Taxi in terms of a single non-pass trip costing more.

        If you land at the Portland airport, you are 6 miles from downtown Portland, or basically in Ballard from downtown Seattle. If the SeaTac airport were built in Portland, it would be in Ridgefield and require traversing several cities to get to it, just like getting to SeaTac from Seattle.

        If a day pass were to try to cover the same geographical area that the ORCA day pass is trying to do, you would probably have the same problem here with the multiple agencies trying to figure out how to share the ticket revenue.

        The admirable one in Oregon is really the Coast Connection pass, which covers almost 200 miles of the Oregon coast from Astoria to Yachats plus routes going inland from the coat in several locations with a single pass, with at least five agencies participating. Furthermore, you can buy that with cash at the bus farebox so no special card purchase required.

        Really, it is quite admirable that someone can get five different agencies to all cooperate and produce a common map, a common pass, and a set of timetables that attempts to work the bus routes as a single vast (though obviously rural and infrequent) system.

      2. Yes, I know that Portland has fewer agencies fighting over ticket revenue. But when you get it this wrong, there’s not going to be any ticket revenue to fight over!

        The day pass should cost $6, same as a round-trip Link ticket. It should cover trips with a base fare up to $3, which is good for rides on Link, most King Country Metro service, and in-county Sound Transit Express buses, among other things. If you want to take a bus to Tacoma or Everett or ride a two-zone Metro bus in peak hours or whatever other thing that most tourists will never do in a million years, you’ll have to put an extra quarter or two into the farebox.

        Most importantly, visitors should be able to obtain a day pass without paying a $5 ORCA surcharge. Expecting someone to pay $13 for the first day is just insane.

  3. As an occasional visitor to Seattle and regular Community Transit user, this day pass is a bit much for me. I will use the day pass on Seafair Friday – 31 July – and see how it goes. At least the water taxi will only require an additional $0.50 on my card if I use it and multi-county express fare is precisely $3.50. I’ll need the buses & light rail fix quite a few times going up and down the Seattle isthmus that Seafair Friday so paying $8 for peace of mind is a bit much but appreciated nonetheless.

  4. In a few years Link extensions and fare increases will catch up to it. Currently to make the card break even you’d have to take 2 ST inter-county bus trips + 1 local bus trip in separate 2-hour periods, or 2 Metro 2-zone peak trips + 1 local bus trip, or 2.9 Link Westlake-SeaTac trips, or 3.2 Metro off-peak trips. But with University Link the maximum fare will probably be 25c more, or 2.6 trips. And with ST2 Link the maximum fare may reach $4, and with a full Everett-Tacoma buildout maybe $8. Meanwhile fares on buses have been going up 25c every couple years.

    In many cities with day passes, it’s just twice the regular bus fare. Light rail is included if it’s the same price as the buses, or if the city is mostly subway-based the day pass is based on the subway fare. Higher-cost services like commuter rail or express buses are not included in the pass, and are often run by different agencies. The difference in Seattle is that much of the core network depends on express buses, Link is distance-based, and Sounder is included in the pass. That pushes the pass rate high to prevent commuters from getting a whopping discount with a day pass. But that wouldn’t happen if Sounder wasn’t included, if Link had a flat fare, if Link didn’t go so far (in the future), if all-day expresses weren’t lumped together with peak expresses, etc.

    On the other hand, ST is effectively saying that Link and Sounder are part of the base network, and that’s worthwhile if it encourages visitors to take Sounder to south King County rather than being scared away by “separate fare”.

    1. The “core network” that anyone who doesn’t already have a monthly pass would be using most certainly does not include express buses or Sounder.

      Come on, Mike! Myriad other cities have figured out how to do this. The answer is to be more like them, rather than hemming and hawing and ending up with overpriced mediocrity as we always do.

      1. I don’t currently have a monthly pass and any non-trivial transit journey I might make involves using the 550 or the 554 both of which are express busses.

        The cost of the pass plus an Orca is cheaper than the return cash fare from my house to Columbia City, or anywhere else I might want to go that’s not downtown Seattle, downtown Bellevue, Eastgate, Factoria or the parts of Issequah served by the 554.

      2. Tacoma is an intercity journey and one that, by your own admission, you do not regularly make.

        That is exactly why your sample trip is peripheral to the “core network” that a pass such as this is intended to facilitate in a scalable way.

        Also, as your choice of words admits, your hypothetical journey is still less expensive with an ORCA-enabled transfer than it would be with a day-pass set at this price.

        So even your outlier example has caveats — it isn’t worth it if you don’t take one extra journey in the middle of your trip, despite your higher-than-most-potential-users base fare.

      3. Sorry, you’re Eastside, not inter-county. I was not especially thinking about $2.50 Bellevue-Seattle trips on the terms that Mike was presenting. This journey is arguably less of an “express bus” in design than most of our “express buses”, too.

        The rest of my point (including your false comparison against multi-agency non-ORCA fares, something that few visitors or casual day-trippers are likely to encounter) stands.

      1. Boston also has more pan-cultural “buy in” because its services are designed to work better, and are competitively priced.

        Seattle could participate in such a virtuous cyce, but this is the kind of bulkshit that suggests it doesn’t wish to.

  5. If I was a tourist, I’d be annoyed by paying $17.50 for a day transit pass to visit the Space Needle ($5 for ORCA + $8 for a day pass + $4.50 for a round trip monorail ticket).

    Also, are there plans to introduce a youth day pass?

    1. Especially since the Space Needle admission is in that price range.

      I really think Sound Transit/ORCA public relations and foresight is not that great with this innovation. Sort of like running passenger trains with hundreds of passengers past slippery slopes…

    2. Metro serves Seattle center. Plus, it’s within walking distance of downtown. So you can deduct 4.50.

    3. If I were a hotel, I’d purchase a bunch of orca (not a member of department of redundancy department won’t say card), and give them to tourists to load products on them for a $10 deposit. On return they’d get the money back.

      1. Honestly, most hotel keys are RFIDs now, just like ORCA, and I haven’t seen a “key deposit” charged in years.


  6. This would also serve the gameday crowds.

    And it would allow us to implement tracking license plates in ORCA so that parking lots could be restricted only to those riding transit from the station.

    You would mandate an ORCA, and have the user enter their license.

    Transit Police using handhelds would then track if a car has been in the lot longer than 1 hour without being in the ORCA database connected to a valid fare check-in.

    1. I would like to see park & rides for ORCA users only come about. We sure spend a lot of money on having buses get near or by homes – yet also have to spend money on park & rides.

      Genius, John, Genius.

      1. You mean, like the pilot project ST has been conducting at TIBS and other P&Rs?

  7. For Express Bus fare, that does cover the full fare at $3.50 I thought?

    I am thinking about a transit challenge, see how far you can get on the daypass alone from one end of the region to the other.

    1. You can circle around the region.

      From Everett, 1 hour on the 512 to downtown (exactly the $3.50 maximum fare). 15 minutes transfer. 1.5 hours on the 594 to Lakewood. I think there’s a Lakewood-Puyallup bus peak hours but I can’t find it, but otherwise you could go back to Tacoma Dome and take PT 400 to Puyallup. Then the 578 to Auburn. Then you can either take the 560 to Bellevue; or the much slower 180 to Kent, 169 to Renton, and 240 to Bellevue. If you go the fastest way you’ve probably spent around five hours. Then from Bellevue, shall we go to Issaquah? But we’ll have to backtrack to Eastgate to get the 245 nortth to to Overlake and Kirkland. The the 248 to either Totem Lake or Bothell, and the 535 to Everett. But the last 545 leaves Bothell at 10:45pm so don’t miss it.

      For another diversion, from Issaquah you can take the 208 to Snoqualmie, and the Snoqualmie Valley Shuttle to Duvall. The shuttle is free if you transfer from Metro but you should give them the $1 donation they ask of local riders. Take the shuttle to Duvall and the 224 to Redmond. You may end up waiting an hour or two on both ends of the 208, but the transfer in Duvall is timed at 10 minutes.

      Link is entirely within the pass limit ($2.75). Sounder will take you for Seattle-Kent, Kent-Puyallup, Puyallup-Lakewood, Seattle-Edmonds, or Edmonds-Everett. Link is $2.25 for the first five miles and 25c for each five miles thereafter, so when ST2 Link is finished, if the fares and pass rate don’t change, the day pass will get you from Highline CC to roughly Roosevelt or Northgate.

    2. 566 Auburn-Overlake, not 560.

      So how much would you save? Assume you’re traveling for 8 hours; that’s four 2-hour transfer periods. The highest fare in the first and last period is $3.50 (ST Express inter-county). The highest fare in the middle two periods is either $2.50 (ST Express single-county), $2.50 (Metro off-peak), or $2.75 (Metro peak one-zone), depending on which buses you take. Assuming both middle periods were off-peak, that’s $3.50 + $2.50 + $2.50 + $3.50 = $12. So you saved $4, thank you very much.

      If you did nothing but travel between Everett and Lakewood for eight hours, the fare would have been $14 and you’d save two more dollars. If instead you traveled between Mountlake Terrace and Tacoma Dome (admiring those P&Rs), it would have been the same.

      But if you didn’t have an ORCA card and paid cash fares without transfers, the cost would be astronomical, more like $50. But Metro has paper transfers which usually last longer than two hours, so if you stuck with Metro your cost would be significantly less. Assuming you used two transfer periods at $2.50 and one at $2.75, that’s $7.75 total. So you would have saved 25c by not buying the pass.

      For even more Metro rides, get a transfer at 9:30pm and it’s valid all night, including the first run of the morning. I once did an early-morning walk on Lakeview Blvd and the Howe Street stairs, and got to St Mark’s a bit before the first 49 run. So I took it, and at that hour the 49 turns into a 7 and continues to Rainier Beach, so I did that and took Link back. I also learned that homeless people stay at St Mark’s and take the first 49 downtown. Several got off on 3rd Avenue, a few got off on Jackson Street, nobody got off in north Rainier, and a few people got off south of Mt Baker. So you can learn things like that if you take a bus in the off-hours.

  8. For most visitors, the real cost is $13, not $8. As long as ORCA insists on collecting the additional $5 for an empty card.

    Elderly and handicapped visitors are also out of luck. They are ineligible for the reduced fare Day Pass because they don’t have our proprietary RRFP in their pocket. Why can’t we accept other forms of ID to verify age or handicapped status, like other agencies do? What’s the point of offering a reduced fare Day Pass if most visitors can’t (legitimately) buy one?

    1. Most senior visitors *can* buy an RRFP in the mail, ahead of time, or stop by the Metro office while they are downtown. Residency is irrelevant. Whether it is worth it to them to spend $3 on an RRFP is another matter. This really isn’t much different than most of the other transit agencies with smart cards around the country, except that most of them give out the senior card free, and none of the rest charge more than $2 for such a card.

      1. Yes, sure, but how many senior or handicapped visitors are going to do that level of research to (a.) know they have to have the local ID card, and (b.) where and how to buy one. How could a visitor guess that the only place to purchase the RRFP, in all of King County, is the single Metro office on Jackson St., open 8:30 to 4:30 weekdays only. Could we possibly make it any less convenient for visitors to buy one of these passes?

        I can get the senior rate on Vancouver’s system just by hitting the right button on the TVM, and I’m sure that’s what most visitors expect here. But instead we do our best to make things as complicated and illogical as possible.

        I’m embarrassed and ashamed. More than once I’ve counseled elderly and handicapped visitors to just pay the discounted fare and DARE the Fare Inspector to give them a citation.

      2. I had an exchange with ORCA customer service and they told me there no way to buy a RRFP card online. The *only* way to get one is to physically show up at the single Metro office during office hours, or send in the paperwork via snail-mail! That’s it!

        Does anybody know who (what person) is actually in charge at the ORCA consortium? On their website no names can be found.

  9. While it will obviously cost more, I’m thinking maybe getting a second ORCA. That way, one can be loaded with day tickets and the other loaded with just cash fare. When I do a day of traveling about where a day ticket makes sense, I would use the card with the day tickets. Otherwise, I would use the card with the cash balance.

    That’s the only way I can see around the deal where a day ticket resides on the card and is automatically activated when the card is tapped.

  10. The use for this is edge-case upon edge case.

    1) You have to be making enough trips during the day, spread out throughout the day, so that even with transfers, the daypass still comes out cheaper.

    2) You have to be doing all this in a bus. For busy days that require running around the entire region with a bunch of random trips, the time penalty of transit over driving really starts to add up. Even people who do not own cars often end up using services like Zipcar for these kinds of days. Or at least some kind of mixture between bus, bike, and Uber, rather than bus for everything. Again, these days are rare enough so that plopping down $60-$70 on a rental car isn’t that big of a deal.

    3) Even if the daypass comes out a dollar or two cheaper than just paying the normal fare, the added hassle of picking up the daypass will outweigh the saved dollar or for all but the most cost-conscious people. And those won’t want the daypass anyway because regular fares get an OrcaLift discount, while a daypass does not.

    The only good thing I have to say about the Metro daypass is that, as awful as it is, it is still a better deal than a Pronto daypass, which costs the same amount, but covers a much smaller area (and costs extra if you want a helmet).

    1. Seriously, Pronto boasts both 1-day and 3-days prices multiple dollars higher than peer systems. And that’s before the helmet charge. And most systems’ coverage areas aren’t gerrymandered to hell by the whims of sponsors.

      No wonder Pronto’s usage still averages less than one ride per system bike per day. #designedtofail

  11. So, is the Seattle Center Monorail going to try run out the clock on ORCA integration? Not that there’s a clock running, but I haven’t heard a peep from anyone on this lately. I don’t see how their vintage cash only and must deal with a human procedure helps anyone (well, except for the monorail operator, of course). Just make it an e-purse only transaction with no transfer privileges, like WSF.

    ORCA would at least make it a more viable piece of our transit infrastructure.

    1. FIrst, the Joint ORCA Board has to create a legal mechanism to allow the monorail to participate. The city and monorail leadership really do want integration to happen.

  12. Why can’t my orca card just stop deducting once I’ve spent $8? I don’t have any way to buy this if I want to start my day by catching the bus that goes past my home.

Comments are closed.