King County Councilmember Larry Gossett
King County Councilmember
Larry Gossett
At a recent county council meeting where the proposed Metro route restructure was discussed, Councilmember Larry Gossett suggested that Sound Transit accept Metro paper transfers, due to the hardship current Metro cash payers would suffer having to pay twice when they transfer to Link. This would be a huge step backwards in the efforts of local transit agencies to modernize and speed up the fare collection system, and ignores the investment the county has already made in both ORCA and the ORCA LIFT — the new reduced fare card for low-income riders

No agency besides Metro accepts Metro paper transfers. All the agencies except Metro and Kitsap Transit have gotten rid of intra-agency paper bus transfers in order to incentivize using the faster ORCA card. Kitsap’s transfers are only good for immediate transfers, and only at a small set of transfer locations. Metro’s paper transfers are the outlier in the transit family that creates confusion and avoidable expense for riders. Once a Seattle bus rider obtains the ORCA card, she/he will not be spending more than $6 a day on her/his commute. (A letter CM Gossett read to the public suggested the writer would have to spend $10 a day for his commute, but that is simply because he hasn’t gotten an ORCA card.)

For low-income riders, the $5 cost of getting an ORCA card used to be an imposition, but now the ORCA LIFT card is free for those who qualify.

However, there are plenty of riders who want to hold onto the paper transfer program, in part, because the LIFT fare is still too high.

So, I would like to suggest a deal: In exchange for eliminating Metro paper transfers, make it policy that, in perpetuity, the youth/LIFT fare on Metro will be no more than half the regular fare.

This would immediately drop Metro’s youth/LIFT fare from the current $1.50 to $1.25, and put these two fare categories under the same limit as that imposed by the federal government for senior/disability (RRFP) fares. The practical result is that the next time RRFP fares go up, the various reduced-fare categories would be aligned, and would probably stay that way for a long time to come.

One of the county’s fare policy goals for Metro is “Be easy for customers to understand and use.” Paper transfers that are accepted on some public buses but not others obviously go against that goal. Having a single reduced fare on Metro buses clearly aligns with that goal. Paper transfers also work against other fare policy goals, “Meet fare revenue targets and comply with the Fund Management Policies, including maintaining a target cost recovery ratio of 25 percent,” “Align with regional transit partners”, “Reduce costs”, and “Reflect the cost of service, with higher fares for higher-cost service.”

Where would Metro come up with the money to replace the lost fare revenue from dropping youth/LIFT fares a quarter? Remove the $4 million ($) budget line for the annual printing and distribution costs of paper transfers.

Note that Councilmember Rod Dembowski proposed getting rid of paper transfers a year ago, as a cost-saving measure to help save some service. If a deal that involves getting rid of paper transfers helps get the route restructure passed, that would be a most excellent grand bargain.

Some math:

The total number of youth and LIFT boardings on all transit services accepting ORCA has been well under a million per month, through June of 2015. Let’s assume nearly all of those are on Metro, and that youth/LIFT boardings will eventually reach 1 million a month. At a 25-cent fare reduction per boarding (though the actual impact will be lessened by passes and transfers), that would be $3 million per year, at the high end, in lost fare revenue. That still leaves $1 million in profit from getting rid of the cost of printing and distributing paper transfers.

Of course, that is not all the money this fare reduction would save. 4.6 to 6.8 seconds would be saved each time someone pays with ORCA instead of with cash. Based on recent ORCA reports, cash boarding would likely drop from roughly 35% of all Metro boardings to less than 20% of boardings if paper transfers went away. 15% of Metro’s 120 million annual boardings would be 18 million boardings converted to ORCA tapping. Multiply that by 5 seconds saved per tap, and that comes out to 25,000 annual service hours that could be saved.

Other hard-to-quantify savings from eliminating paper transfers include reduced fare evasion and reduced fare disputes, which also means a reduction in assaults on drivers.

The county council could make the bus fare even more affordable for low-income riders, reduce the cost of transit for families with children, make the buses faster and more enjoyable for everyone, and have a little more money to spend as a result.

106 Replies to “Dear County Council: About Those Paper Transfers”

  1. I believe this issue is solvable if ORCA is available on a paper RFID card. I call this new card PORCA (“Paper ORCA”). Here are some possible use cases:

    1. Drivers hand PORCA to transferring passengers. These are single use cards good for one transfer.
    2. Link TVMs dispense PORCA cards (similar to MetroCards) that can be purchased for single rides or multiple rides, and are refillable.

    Of course, PORCA is “free”.

    1. Paper ORCA would be an RFID card with a paper attached. If the point of the ORCA $5 charge is to recoup the cost of the chips, offering the chips on paper wouldn’t save any money.

      Now, there’s another point to charging for these cards, which is that the agency really wants (or should want) passengers to have one card and charge it as infrequently as possible. This is to save money on TVMs and on passengers paying bus drivers and slowing everyone down.

      1. The $5 charge’s purpose is certainly not to discourage cash payment. It has the exact opposite effect. This effect is exaccerbated by the availability of paper transfers, which can be used years beyond their supposed 2-hour transfer window, thus making it a better deal than ORCA LIFT or regular ORCA payment.

        And now, the $5 fee and the paper transfers that have stuck around because of it, might even help kill a desperately-needed route restructure.

        The most expensive bus smart card in the US besides ORCA is Utah’s Fare Pay card, at $3, but Fare Pay exists only as an alternative for riders who don’t have a contactless debit or credit card with which to tap on and tap off.

        Other than that the most expensive is $2. A majority of bus smart cards in the US are still free.

        We’ve also debated in circles about whether paper transfers help or hinder route restructures. Now, we have our answer. I wish the county council had followed Metro’s advice back in 2009, and gotten rid of these pieces of paper that have cost Metro millions of dollars a year that would have been much better spent on more service.

        Meanwhile, Sound Transit and Metro keep on pointing at each other as to who on the ORCA Joint Board is insisting on this uniquely expensive fee to get a card that they supposedly want every rider to use.

    2. I haven’t checked all the agencies, but all the non-plastic smart cards I have seen still cost, but cost less than the plastic-card version.

      1. MARTA and WAMTA both sell a similar card to ORCA for $1. I believe the WAMATA card includes $1 of fare credit so it is technically “free”.

      2. I’ve cataloged all the plastic cards. What I haven’t cataloged is the paperstock short-term-alternative smart cards.

        WMATA’s SmarTrip card costs because it is allowed to go into negative balance to pay the peak-of-peak surcharge on the subway. Very bad practice that nobody anywhere should copy.

      3. WMATA, last I looked, charged $2 for the SmartTrip—down from $5 a couple of years ago. They will let you tap out with up to -$2.00 on the card, but I think that’s driven by the charge for the card rather than vise-versa (I’ve certainly never heard anybody say that the charge was in order to enable a negative balance)—they assume you’re acting in good faith and planning to refill it up to the point where you’d actually be saving money by getting a new card and scrapping the negative-balance one.

  2. I totally like this proposal. Unfortunately, it makes too much sense.

    There is one counter-argument, though, that we should be prepared to address – the $5 burden of getting an Orca card for someone whose income is just barely over the threshold of being able to qualify for Orca Lift.

    1. Answer 1: Get rid of the $5 fee, forgawshake.

      Answer 2: Have a period where ORCA is free, at least at University of Washington Station and Capitol Hill Station, after U-Link opens, and continuing to a month after the March restructure.

      Answer 3: Make ORCA free “at this time”. Treat the deadline for that free period like the planned roll-out date for the FHSC.

      Answer 4: I’ve also heard rumors that the card costs the agencies more to sell through some formats rather than others. Make ORCA free at the sites where the pass-through fee to the vendor (VIx Technologies) is less. And be sure such sites are available next to University of Washington Station and Capitol Hill Station.

      Weak Rebuttal 5: Great! They have some income! The card will pay for itself within a couple days if transferring between any combination other than Metro to Metro. For Metro-to-Metro, or trips without transfers that aren’t taken at least 18 times a month if that is the only transit one is taking, paying with cash is still the best deal, unless one qualifies for a discount fare. That gets into the point that everyone should get some small discount on every trip for using ORCA, if we really want to get rid of cash fumbling.

      1. Your last point is the best one, Brent. ORCA users should get a discount of a dime on the first bus leg of a single ride as a reward for not holding up the bus. That would pay for the card after twenty five rides even for Metro only riders.

        No discount for the RRFP, though. It’s already cheaper than the Federal maximum.

      2. Your first point is the best one, Brent. :-)

        I just visited Boston. I needed a CharlieCard. I paid $5 and was handed a CharlieCard with $5 in credit on it (minimum balance for getting a new card is $5). After two rides at $2.10 each, I now have a CharlieCard with $0.80 in credit on it, which I can refill next time I visit Boston.

        If I were visiting Seattle for a day, I wouldn’t buy an ORCA card, because that would be Throwing Away Money.

        The $5 nonrefundable charge makes no. sense. whatsoever.

  3. What is wrong with the following Vancouver-ish solution?

    – You can pay cash on the bus or at any TVM. You will get a paper ticket that you can use as a transfer.

    – At convenience stores and TVMs, you can buy books of 10 tickets at somewhat reduced price, or a monthly pass at even more reduced price. The monthly fare is equal to 32 single fares, or about 42 fares at the reduced price of 10-ticket books. Tickets bought in books are stamped with the time when you pay on a bus or a train station, with the same period of validity as on-board tickets. Vancouver wrongly doesn’t let you buy these tickets at TVMs, only convenience stores.

    – On the trains and buses, every person with either a monthly pass or a valid transfer from an on-board or book ticket can board from any door without paying. Vancouver doesn’t do that on its buses (except B-Line buses), only trains; it is wrong not to do this.

    A few more notes:

    – In Boston, CharlieCard is free, can be obtained easily at subway stations, and is heavily encouraged via lower fares (a strategy also seen in Singapore during the transition to EZ-Link). I do not recall seeing people pay cash on buses. However, deploying the card via train stations is easier in Boston than in Seattle, since Boston’s transit system consists largely of rail and connecting buses, with a rail-to-bus ridership ratio of 2. In Vancouver the ratio is around 1/2, so using convenience stores as a point of sale is unavoidable. Seattle is even more bus-oriented than Vancouver.

    – If people have Orca cards, it is possible to eliminate on-board payment on buses, by putting an Orca validator at every bus station and telling people to tap before boarding. But I’d encourage also putting a validator on the bus, for people who forgot to do so. Validators are rounding-error cheap nowadays. People would only pay the driver if they were paying cash.

    – Vancouver’s unlimited monthly multiplier over a single-ride ticket is typical of European cities. In Stockholm, the multiplier over a stored value smartcard – not a single-ride ticket, which is even more expensive – is 32. Sweden uses cash much less and bank cards much more than the US, but Canada is identical to the US in this regard.

    – For the same reason that agencies should never charge for transfers, they should never charge for transfers by deprecated payment modes. The best industry practice for incentivizing using the smartcard, as seen in Singapore and (I believe) Boston and London, is to charge higher cash fares but still provide free transfers.

    1. Funny that you should mention Vancouver. They are considering getting rid of their paper transfers.

      Paying with cash isn’t merely “deprecated”, it is slower than other transactions. That is the whole point of having rolled out a smart card: to reduce the dwell time from fare collection.

      Boston doesn’t offer paper transfers. They are doing this right.

      People use ticketbooks in Vancouver because they come with a built-in discount over paying cash at the farebox. Admittedly, that was what my family did when we last went there, as we didn’t have ready access to their smart card, and a bunch of their vending machines are still non-functional for that purpose. Metro used to sell ticketbooks, but without any discount, there was no incentive for anyone to buy them. Nobody misses them.

      King County Metro is a mixed urban/suburban/semi-rural agency, which interferes with the cost-effectiveness of putting validators out at all 10,000ish bus stops. Metro studied putting them at all bus doors, but deemed it to be infeasible. I haven’t asked them how they came to that conclusion.

      Going completely cashless is not going to happen, when the vast majority of bus stops are nowhere near any device to convert cash into e-purse or tickets. But with a cash surcharge as you remind us, people would plan ahead, for the most part, and only pay cash in case of emergencies.

      1. Vancouver is considering eliminating paper transfer because they do not interact with the RFID system being installed for Skytrain.

        The system they are installing has been wrought with problems, many of which were caused by poorly thinking through the process of how all the fare and their media would interact with each other.

        I wouldn’t look to Vancouver for leadership on this. They are, after all, the system that spec’d fareboxes that print transfers (not a bad idea) that require the transfers to be “dipped” into the farebox and spit out to be read, rather than go through a swipe reader. No one considered how the additional two seconds each transaction would create a bottleneck at the farebox. Because of these delays, monthly passes are still “flash passes” with no verification.

        Vancouver’s fare structure and fare collection technologies are a mess made by poor planning and poor implementation. I wouldn’t look to them as the gold standard of how to do anything.

      2. Vancouver’s smart card transition is a disaster, and will impact the region’s transit system for years if not decades: the botched implementation soured the voters on TransLink right in the middle of a referendum on a new tax for a major expansion program, leading to a strong No. I emphasize that the fare system I’m asking about is the one Vancouver transitioned out of for stupid reasons (Cubic lobbied for it).

        As for the 10,000 bus stops in King County: so what? In Singapore, they sell validators for S$40 as a consumer product, so that you can plug them into your computer and recharge your EZ-Link card via internet banking. Technology is cheap and getting cheaper every year. Back when the system was first installed, in 2001, the validators on the buses cost S$2,000 each.

      3. In another example of Vancouver’s botched smart card roll out, TransLink is ditching bus fare zones. They couldn’t get tap-on, tap-off to work on buses. This is surprising given how Singapore has been doing this for over a decade. So they decided to make all bus trips a one-zone fare while keeping zones for SkyTrain and SeaBus. This is just going to make things more confusing.

      4. “Metro used to sell ticketbooks, but without any discount, there was no incentive for anyone to buy them.”

        Actually, there was an incentive: Not having to fumble for change. I remember back around 2008, when the 1 zone peak fare was $1.75, I rode the bus maybe once or twice a week. I found it much more convenient to use the $1.75 tickets than to constantly have to pay the fare with a $1 bill and 3 quarters. Once ORCA and e-purse came around though, the ticket books were no longer needed.

    2. Vancouver hasn’t had paper transfers in more than a decade.

      Translink uses two payment systems and one of them is magnetic stripe paper tickets. You can either buy a book of tickets at a convenience store or buy single tickets from vending machines at skytrain stations or on the bus with cash. The vending machine tickets come out with the time stamped and encoded on them, but with the the booklet tickets, you put them in the machine at the station or on boarding a bus and they are validated and stamped then. The tickets are good for 90 minutes and for a certain number of zones. The skytrain lines and the 99 B-Line don’t require you to present your ticket, but for buses that do, you feed your ticket to the machine on boarding and it tells you whether the ticket is still good. This feed method isn’t as quick as a swipe method, but the machine is actually fast. Most of the delay comes from bad signage on the machines (the diagram is made for short people and shows what I see as the underside of the ticket going into the machine) and bad ticket design (there is one beveled corner, but that is not the end you feed into the machine – tourists mess this up every time).

      The second payment system is monthly passes and aren’t mag striped and are just flash passes. They are also good for a certain number of zones with the three zone passes being the most expensive. For daily transit commuters, these are the way to go.

      The system that Translink has been installing for the last two years is an rfid card named “compass”. This is a tap on tap off card to keep track of the zones. Translink gets flack for plenty of stuff that isn’t its fault and isn’t even wrong, but with compass, they really blew it. The contractor, Cubic, just didn’t seem to be able to deliver what Translink needed, but apparently the contract didn’t require them to deliver. The problems are even more baffling because Cubic has installed systems like this before. The first issue that cropped up is that the card readers weren’t very fast. You couldn’t just wave the card in front of them but had to pause for a second or two or give it another wave before it properly connected. And now the the problem is that the tap off readers in the buses just are reliable enough. So the solution is to abandon the zone system for bus trips. I don’t know whether this is an interim fix until the readers start working right, or whether the zone system is dead.

      Notwithstanding Translink’s problems with rfid technology, it is the way of the future. It ought to be faster, allow for distance charges, and allow visitors and occasional users to use credit cards with tap functions. For Seattle to go to a mag stripe ticket, or even a reloadable plastic mag strip ticket, would be a step backwards. That would mean purchasing a bunch of technology that is on its way out. Seattle’s transit agencies need to double down on Orca and get it working right. And stay away from Cubic.

    3. Another comment on cash and cards in Canada. Actually Canada is more like Sweden than the US when it comes to bank card use. Debit cards were introduced in 1994 and became universal within a few years. It was an extremely quick adoption. And credit cards here have been chip cards for a while now. That also happened really quickly. Signing credit card receipts just disappeared. (The reason is that the financial system in Canada is dominated by five big banks, so it isn’t too difficult for the technology chiefs of those banks to sit around a table and just decide on a technology option.)

  4. We need a better ORCA system first, probably. Just yesterday I went on the RapidRide D bus, and the ORCA card reader was broken, so the driver handed each passenger a paper transfer.

    1. I’d like to see some stats on how often the Orca readers are actually out of service.

      While Orca’s roll out was terrible, website is terrible, and ongoing implementation is terrible, one thing seems to work well are the onboard readers.

    2. I’ve seen more broken fareboxes than broken readers. In the case of the broken fareboxes, the driver has also covered up the reader, and makes the ride free for everyone. I’m surprised that the driver on that D Line didn’t just say the ride is free, wave people on, and let the fare inspectors know not to inspect on that bus. Handing out free transfers was, I would say, a less equitable solution.

      1. Metro’s GFI Cents-A-Bill fare boxes are 20+ years old, and the system is slowly going towards End of Life by the vendor. They no longer support the first generation CAB’s, and I would imagine the 2nd generation are not that far behind.

    3. It was broken on my bus this week, and probably four times this year. I just say “Broken?” and walk past. although sometimes I don’t realize it’s broken until I hold my wallet up to it. Usually it’s a failure to communicate with the base to initialize itself, or an unknown software error (i.e., unknown to the driver).

    4. When my fare box or ORCA reader is broken, I just tell everybody to get on and inform fare enforcement that I wasn’t able to collect fares. Passengers can just pay on their next bus – No need to hand out transfers.

  5. The day that ORCA cards are as easy to load value on as it is to just use cash… this will be the day when low income people embrace it more. What most people who are not low income don’t understand, is the degree to which ORCA is a regressive system. It works well for people that work 9-5 and get paid on regular intervals in big chunks. Doesn’t work so well for people who’s cash flow is unpredictable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ridden the E line without paying until I get downtown because that’s the only way I can add value to my card and use it immediately (by going downtown). And why is it that there is a $5 cash minimum when adding value to the card? huh. what if I only have $3 and that’s all I need for now.

    1. On the $5 minimum, that is to avoid a low-transaction fee that would be charged to Metro/ST.

      1. Do they pay a fee even for cash transactions? I totally see why you’d do that for credit/debit card transactions but not so much for cash.

      2. That means that Metro/ST made a bad deal with the vendor.

        There’s no reason whatsoever to charge a “low transaction fee” for people giving you CASH. The cost of the accounting entry is constant, and the cost of the cash processing is also the same regardless of the size.

    2. That is an inherent problem we must be mindful of. Some people have only $3 or $5 at a time, so they can’t prepay fares or they’d have to go without something important. ORCA LIFT is a good step, but for some even prepaying a $1.,50 fare is impractical (especially since the minimum e-purse load is $5 I think).

      1. But the paper transfer program is way out of scale with the number of instances when this concern is the case, are poorly-focused as a social equity tool, and do nothing for riders who have no money to get on the first bus. As he said, even with the paper transfers, he is often riding the D Line without a transfer, and hoping not to get caught, and then paying full fare going the other way. Paper transfers didn’t help him, from what I read in the comment. ORCA LIFT, and an even lower LIFT fare, would actually help, assuming he qualifies.

        I’ve been in the position where I was paying fare ride by ride until I had enough money saved and budgeted to get a monthly pass. I would have readily applied for ORCA LIFT, if it had been available at the time, and saved up enough to transition to monthly passes more quickly.

      2. Orca Lift is tied to an individual person, so why not just allow its balance to go negative somewhat? Perhaps say $3 or so? One round trip commute.

        Theres the potential for some loss, but I’ve been in the situation where I’ve gotta go downtown to fill up the card to use right now, or I needed to use cash since I managed to reload my card online after the cut off.

      3. TransLink cards are supposed to work this way too. Considering the time it sometimes takes for web based epurse updates to happen, going negative would sure be nice.

    3. +1

      Outside of King county, you will find that ORCA usage is lower. If you look at the transit riding demographics, you will similarly find that many riders are in lower income brackets. In order to make ORCA work, as it stands today you need to have a credit card, with good credit, and be able to have enough liquidity to let the automatic refill do its thing. It does not work so well when you have to trek up to your local bus shop once a month to hand in cash, check, or a voucher of some sort to get a monthly pass put on your card.

      1. You do realize that getting the discount fare is a tedious and complicated mess of paperwork?

        You know what? My fiancee is legally qualified to pay the discounted disability rate for public transport in every city she visits. She never does, she always pays the full rate, because each city has a convoluted, difficult paperwork hurdle in order to actually get the disability rate, making it not worth the time. I’ve always assumed that this was done specifically to prevent visitors from getting the discount rate.

        But the thing is, it deters locals too.

  6. It will be a sad day when paper transfers end. You will no longer be able to collect them. For example, a few years ago at the library someone sat down next to me and took out his plastic bag containing his huge Metro transfer collection.

    1. Start collecting now…you never know how much you’ll get on eBay for them when you retire!

    2. Metro transfers have their own Facebook page, to publicize the color and letter of the day for those who have a rolodex of them. The page will become obsolete when paper transfers are eliminated.

      On the other hand, when transfers are no longer issued, the collections will graduallly become more valuable as historic artifacts. They’ll need a place in the Museum of History and Industry.

      1. Oh wow, I didn’t know about the Facebook page. I guess they would have to figure out today’s transfer combo somehow.

        Maybe the Ashley Madison hackers should highjack that page and put a BS color and letter as the transfer of the day. It would be ultimate karma.

      2. They don’t “figure it out”. Somebody sees it in the morning and posts it. There’s a regular sequence so they have a tentative schedule four days ahead.

      3. Hacking would be subject to the crowdsourcing rule. People trust names who have been reliable before, or if two people say one thing and one person says another, the two people are probably right.

    3. Probably so he could get the right letter/color combo for that day so he could defraud the system yet again.

  7. This makes me want to scream. Every time I see someone sorting through their collection of transfers I’m reminded of what a fool I am for actually paying my fare. We fixed the problem (we stupidly created by overcharging for ORCA cards) that prevented us from getting rid of paper transfers, and not only do we not do it, but

    Mr Gossett: paper transfers are a slap in the face of honest transit riders everywhere, wasting our time while reminding us we’re schmucks for actually paying like an honest person. Paying 4 million a year to enable fraud and make transit slower is a disastrously stupid policy, and the council’s failure to recognize this obvious fact is a grotesque embarrassment.

    1. We not only have ORCA LIFT, but also distribute millions of free tickets every year. I have no problem increasing that allotment of free tickets, but I’m about at the point where I will start saying “No” to increasing the allotment until the paper transfers go away. With awesome free stuff comes at least some responsibility.

      1. I have no problem increasing that allotment of free tickets, but I’m about at the point where I will start saying “No” to increasing the allotment until the paper transfers go away. With awesome free stuff comes at least some responsibility.

        Agree 100%. I have no problem with people getting free rides for various policy-driven reasons. Even if I dissent on the wisdom of a particular free ride policy, it doesn’t bother me much. But free rides to organized thieves? Larry Gossett and the rest of the paper transfer defenders on the King County Council are effectively giving the finger to honest riders.

      2. You know what else bugs me about the transfer-cheating ring? Their Facebook page refers to those who need the transfers in the third person, indicating that the site owners can afford to pay. And they don’t mention ORCA LIFT. These thieves aren’t helping the poor. They are just helping themselves to free rides they can easily afford to pay for.

      3. Third person is probably just rhetorical device to avoid implicating themselves legally. Transfer roulette existed long before Facebook or ISPs, and by a wide range of people who don’t necessarily know each other. It would be like calling panhandlers a “ring”. I assume some transfer players are on Facebook and some not, and some could afford to pay a fare and some not.

        One event sticks in my mind. I was at Kent Station one mildly cold evening waiting for a bus, and a middle-aged poor woman was there. She picked up a piece of paper from the ground and said something like, “Darn it, it’s not a transfer!” She sounded pretty upset, as if it would have let her ride the bus (if she didn’t have $2.50) or have made her life a little easier (if she barely had $2.50).

    2. Personally, I think the day pass system should be employed. For cash riders, you pay for a single ride, or a day pass. That’s it. Metro will be forced to upgrade their fare boxes anyway, so when they upgrade they can employ TRiM units like Pierce Transit, and keep the honest people honest, and the dishonest ones off the bus. Pierce Transit found that ridership went down, and revenue went up when they switched away from transfers to a day pass system. Funny that.

      Finally, Metro should get rid of peak/off-peak fares. its place is long gone and seems like it would be more of an administrative hassle to keep it.

      1. I certainly hope not – what happens when someone’s car breaks down and they need to ride the bus one day? Long term, I hope there’s a significant cash surcharge and hardly anyone pays with cash, but there should always be the option.

      2. Totally cashless is not an option. Ever. There are plenty of rail systems where you have to buy their farecard… but you can always buy it anonymously with cash at every station. *Because cash is king.* On buses, either you can buy a ticket in every single bus (with cash), or the buses have fareboxes which take cash, or every single bus stop has a ticket machine which takes case.

  8. Considering the money a cash-and-paperless fare system would save- in massively-expensive operating time in addition to passenger comprehension-if ORCA cards aren’t free, they should cost no more than a dollar.

    But in addition, plastic or paper, day-passes should be the standard short-term fare. Here in Olympia, Intercity Transit blanket fare is a dollar. Two dollars buys a day-pass. No other transfers. Fast and easy first step, implementable tomorrow.

    Transit marketing departments should get with the airlines to start including ORCA day-passes in Seattle-bound tickets, paper or electronic. Attached advertising could help with cost.

    From years of personal experience, for the average resident, a monthly pass is far and away best way to pay for transit.

    But also personal, permanent, and non-negotiable for the duration: Every month, pass and $10 e-purse at TVM. But also, Due to age, $2 paper day-pass before first LINK boarding. Also eligible for $4 regional pass, but had to ask Julian Assange.

    Reason? The paper one gives me the absolute main thing any pass should: Ironclad blanket immunity from any charge of fare evasion.

    It’s long past time that someone, or many times that, called out ST in court over treating an honestly-mistaken mis-tap as theft. And again from experience, being photographed, ID’d and warned is also punishment, as well as giant waste of clerical time.

    I don’t have time for demonstrations. Because I support the system, I do my best to cooperate by tapping my card per regs. But my paper pass is the one I show, because it’s currently the only document that isn’t potential prosecution evidence.

    Inspectors’ readers can validate that my ORCA card carries a monthly pass. Meaning the system already has my money. One button-click should also verify train and location. Do this and advertise it, and system will nothing but benefit.

    Would help if STB offered fare inspectors anonymity for their own thinking on this matter.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Wait. Are you able to print out a day pass on Link by putting your ORCA with monthly pass in the TVM?

      1. Haven’t checked to find out, since whole idea of my buying a paper day-pass was so I wouldn’t have to sweat tap-counts. Will check next time.


    2. Also, put a date stamp on the day ticket when it is issued.

      TriMet’s paper transfers had a date code as well as a serial number on them (today the TriMet bus farebox issues a printed ticket exactly like the MAX tickets but that means investing money into the new fareboxes).

      The nice thing about every transfer as a day ticket is that you don’t have to print anything. You just hand the passenger a piece of paper.

  9. Please don’t delete this comment because I am 100% serious. What about infusing the paper transfers with some sort of multivitamin solution, so that the poor and homeless can eat their transfers at the end of the day?

    1. You’d need to print them on rice paper too, which I assume would be more expensive. I wonder how much more, though? How would it fit into the social services budget?

    2. First problem I can see, Sam, is that the gentry has gone from being Henry the Eighth swallowing half a mutton chop whole and throwing the bone over his shoulder to the dogs (and peasants) has been replaced by people who couldn’t have played a starving Irish orphan on any English stage.

      Whose ideal source of nutrition would be like the static electricity Ayn Rand’s power engineer John Galt’s catenary free LRV power: static electricity in the atmosphere. While JG Ltd. is working on it, nutrient paper tickets will be worth a month’s banquet tabs.

      So with their half-eaten mutton chops discontinued, the dogs and the poor would have nothing to eat but each other, which as every acrtic explorer knows, causes death from starvation- from eating only creatures themselves starving.

      Facilities maintenance has enough problem with wastebaskets and Sea-Tac LINK toilets. Though Twitter has it, Sam, that you’ve been seen swallowing an ORCA card to see if a card reader will note it. And especially if it will encode your DNA so you never have to renew the card.

      Would definitely speed up service if soup kitchens could just stir ground ORCA into every meal. Keep us briefed.



  10. Well, IMO ST allowing use of Metro’s paper transfers solves the problem of riders being confused when a Metro coach runs an ST route and they’re tricked into thinking that whatever ST route the “out-of-place” coach is running is a Metro route and leading them to believe their Metro-only paper transfer is valid on said route.

    Yes, I know I’ve been going on and on about this, but it just really irritates me that many riders don’t know any better–they’ll board any bus, regardless of the route number or where it’s going, and asking irrelevant questions about the route. (Example: “Does this bus go to Chinatown?” on a route that uses the Alaskan Way Viaduct.)

  11. The Council did another major grand bargain in 2012, when the fiscal conservatives and transit maximizers agreed to put the 2-year recession reprieve on the ballot in exchange for eliminanting the Ride Free Area. If this is the way to get the restructure approved and eliminate paper transfers, then let’s do it.

    One group of impacted riders hasn’t been mentioned yet though: visitors. Those arriving at SeaTac or Intl Dist can get an ORCA there. Those who drove in and are maybe going sightseeing for the day are at any of the 10,000 bus stops. Residents who start taking transit are also in the same boat. If we go to a transferless system, they’ll inevitably have to pay extra their first trip until they can obtain an ORCA. We could have the driver distribute them, and charge a minimal fee on the spot. Then the bus stop signs could say “Fare $2.50 (ORCA card required). ORCA cards: $5 for $5 value, $10 for $10 value”. Or if we can’t distribute them on the bus, then every bus should have a map of the ORCA sales outlets within walking distance of its stops. That would be the most effective way to convert occasional riders.

    1. Maybe it was. There was a ballot measure soon after, but that may have been a different bus issue.

  12. As an occasional transit user only, I want to bring up two points:
    * ORCA cards are not easily available. I don’t know any place I can get one close to U-district (where I live and work). Why cannot ORCA cars be sold at groceries and drug stores, in a similar way like a variety of other cars? Maybe I am just ignorant but as I seldom use transit I simply haven’t figured it out.
    * ORCA cards are not human-readable. I vaguely remember the balance I have on my card and I don’t have any easier way to find it out than to take a bus trip.
    * One could add more flexible options. For instance, pay for several people with a single card.

    Besides of that, the card is convenient (given that I remember to take it with me :-) I think the issues above can be solved by setting up more vending machines in widely used bus stops. The machines might also sell “orca single ride tickets”. As long as these are machine-readable, these do not slow down the transit.

    1. ORCA cards are not human-readable. I vaguely remember the balance I have on my card and I don’t have any easier way to find it out than to take a bus trip.

      You have the option of registering your card, and if you do you can check online. It’s not difficult.

    2. There are a bunch of retailers who sell and revalue ORCA, including in northeast Seattle:

      QFC 1801 N 45th St • Mon-Sun: 9 am to 7 pm
      QFC 1531 NE 145th St • Mon-Sun: 24 hours
      QFC 2746 NE 45th St • Mon-Sun: 9 am to 8 pm
      QFC 8400 35th Ave NE • Mon-Sun: 9 am to 7 pm
      QFC 11100 Roosevelt Way NE • Mon-Sun: 9 am to 8 pm
      Safeway 4732 Brooklyn Ave NE • Mon-Sun: 11 am to 8 pm
      Safeway 7300 Roosevelt Way NE • Mon-Sun: 9 am to 9 pm
      Safeway 7340 35th Ave NE • Mon-Sun: 10 am to 8 pm
      Safeway 8704 Greenwood Ave N • Mon-Sun: 9 a to 9 pm
      Safeway 12318 15th Ave NE • Mon-Sun: 9 am to 9 pm

      Sometime in early 2016, they will also be available at UW Station TVMs, of course. Northgate Transit Center also has a TVM.

      Those TVMs can show you your balance, or go to the website, register your card, and check your balance there. I must warn you, though, that the balance may a day or two behind.

      If your e-purse balance is getting low (I’m not sure how low) each reader you tap will give you a couple warning beeps. I think you can set up auto-reload in such a way that your bankcard is debited a certain amount when you run below a certain e-purse amount. I can’t verify it actually works, as I have always used monthly passes since 2009.

      There is a way to use e-purse from a single ORCA card to pay for multiple passengers, assuming none of them are claiming a discount fare. But it involves the driver pushing some extra buttons on the reader.

      Link-only single-ride tickets and day passes are sold at Link stations. Same with Sounder. Same with the streetcar, but I’ve never seen any fare inspected on that. Something tells me Metro got conned into a bad deal with SDOT years ago to subsidize streetcar fares, and that may be why Metro is now gun-shy about allowing the monorail into the ORCA pod. Metro has a ticket machine at 3rd & Pine, for which the tickets are only accepted on Metro.

      And then, there is the regional day pass, $8 full fare covering the first $3.50 of fare on Metro, ST, streetcar, water taxi, PT, CT, ET, and KT fares, or $4 RRFP version covering the first $1.75 of fare on those services. You can buy the day pass ahead of time at a TVM, and then activate it by tapping the next day you are travelling.

      1. There is a way to use e-purse from a single ORCA card to pay for multiple passengers, assuming none of them are claiming a discount fare. But it involves the driver pushing some extra buttons on the reader.

        Whereupon the driver (if it is a Metro bus route) gives a transfer to the several people involved in order for them to transfer.

      2. Is there a particular reason why a grocery store that is open 24 hours can’t sell Orca cards 24 hours? This should be something that can be done by the regular cashier in the checkout line, not something that requires a dedicated staff person. They can do the thing where a card is useless unless activated by a cashier to deter theft.

      3. I tried to re-load my ORCA monthly pass once last year at a Safeway in NE Seattle. For some strange reason they did not accept debit cards, only cash. I hope that has changed by now.

      4. “Is there a particular reason why a grocery store that is open 24 hours can’t sell Orca cards 24 hours?”

        The stores selling and revaluing the cards get to limit the hours the card sales station (usually customer service) is open, when they agree to sell the card. They could decline to participate at all, so this is better than nothing. It takes a little time to fill out the handwritten sales log, which is not something most stores want to do at a check-out line.

        Setting up auto-reload online is probably a lot faster, if you know you’ll always have ample funds in the credit union / bank account you use to set up auto-reload. So, the store option is targeted more for newer and unbanked riders. Unbanked riders should, by and large, qualify for the ORCA LIFT, which can also be revalued at stores.

      5. E-purse auto-load works, but only three times a month, something that ORCA doesn’t advertise. If, like happened to me, your car breaks down and you suddenly have to use the bus every day (too late in the month for a pass to make sense), make sure the auto-load amount divided by three is enough to get you through the month, or you will have to manually load the card–several days ahead of time if online.

    3. “There are a bunch of retailers who sell and revalue ORCA”

      That list needs to be on the buses. When I used to get a Metro pass or tickets it was simpler, “All Bartell’s” I think. (And it did require cash at a specific line at the Photo counter.) But the ORCA revaluers have been, “Is it Safeway or QFC that has it? Which branches?” Also, for somebody outside their own neighborhood, they may not know where the store is if it’s not visible from the bus stop, or if a store is there. That’s why we need the list widely available, and some kind of map (particularly one not depending on a smartphone).

      1. “Next stop, Safeway, which sells and revalues ORCA cards.” Give the stores handling ORCA some free advertising, on the bus routes that pass by them.

    4. Wow, so many answers, and I see I have simply been ignorant :-)

      But anyway–the first place I would go to look for an ORCA machine is in the proximity of bus stops, not in groceries several blocks away. For instance, one could install a machine around Parkway/University Ave where many bus lines merge.

      Yesterday I was also looking at the new machines at UW station, fenced off with the rest of it. Might it be possible to open the machines right now by slightly moving the fence? Because LR station is a place where I know and expect these machines to be available. I also expected these to be in transit centers but to my surprise this is not the case in Issaquah.

      Regarding paying for several people—does this mean that I cannot pay for children (the reduced rate) with my card?

      1. I like being able to top up ORCA in grocery stores. The key is to make sure that it’s well publicized. Campus Parkway is a busy place with lots of people walking. Unless the ORCA machine was isolated, I wouldn’t really feel comfortable getting out my wallet with so many people walking by.

        It’s like ATMs, I’m fine with an ATM that is inside a building, but not an ATM that’s just on the sidewalk.

  13. King County metro is a poorly run bureaucracy. The worst in our region. Paper transfers are a joke.

    1. How is it poorly run? Do you actually know what all the bureaucracies are doing, and what each one should be doing to run well? What common standard are you using to measure their performance?

    2. FWIW, Houston managed to get rid of paper transfers 10 years ago. There was an initial outcry, but in the end, it worked. It also helps, of course, that their base fare is still just $1.25 for a one-way trip, so even if you pay cash and have to pay twice, the transfer doesn’t cost as much as it would here.

  14. Metro might not be perfect but it is operated better than 85% of transit agencies in the U.S. Believe me it could be MUCH worse.

  15. Under the current setup the ORCA card gives you a transfer valid for exactly 2 hours.
    To my understanding, most drivers set the paper transfer cutter so that by the last stop of their run they’ll still be giving out transfers valid for 2 hours. If you get on at the beginning or middle of the run, you’ll often get a paper transfer that’s often valid for much longer than the 2 hours.

    That means people who pay with ORCA are in effect being punished with a shorter transfer.

    The only issue I foresee with eliminating transfers under our current system is on the RapidRide lines. Drivers on those routes will need to issue some sort of receipt for cash fare payment. Either that or Metro could spend millions to make RapidRide real BRT and force all passengers to pay off-board.

    1. I agree. This’s at least as bad as the flat-out fraud. It doesn’t even require people to save up transfers and brazenly present them the next day; every cash payer gets this advantage.

      I wouldn’t call Rapid Ride an actual problem, though. Metro can simply continue printing “transfers” there that’re only valid on Rapid Ride buses. You’d cut into the savings a bit since you wouldn’t stop printing transfers altogether, but it’d be simple.

      1. If this occurs, don’t call the pieces of paper “transfers”. Call them tickets or “proof of payment”.

    2. Yep. Metro continues to incentivize cash payment if you’re planning another Metro trip in about two hours. It’s utter madness.

    3. Correct. We cut transfers to between 1:30 and 1:59 after the last stop. Changing the policy to always cut the transfer to between 1:30 and 1:59 from the *current time* would be a vast improvement over the current policy and would still give plenty of time for transferring. You could also be a little less ruthless while still restoring some sanity by shaving 30 minutes off the above times. Either of these policies could be rolled out next shapeup with no cost other than bulletins and announcements and would provide one more nudge for people to upgrade to ORCA.

      That said, anything short of getting rid of transfers just keeps the current dysfunctional system in place. It’s inevitable that paper transfers will go away. With cash payment hovering at 20% or less, it’s time to rip the band aid off.

      1. Velo,

        How often do you get to point out to a boarding rider that their transfer has expired, is not good for several more hours, or the cut is covered by the rider’s hand?

  16. Paper transfers HAVE to go!!! People not only collect them to use over and over again, they use them as flash passes which most likely they’re hiding the fact that the transfer is expired, they’ll “unknowingly” try to present them and they are clearly expired, they’ll reprint them on their home color printers, they are given to others to use which is NOT allowed, chronic non-payment of fare deadbeat’s actually ask for a transfer when they tell the driver for the 100th time that they don’t have their fare, and people will try to sell transfers they’ve collected or stolen to intending passengers at Transit Centers, most times leaving the unsuspecting buyer with an expired or wrong color/letter of the day transfer.

  17. Getting rid of paper transfers would double the cost of a round trip for riders without ORCA cards, eliminating many of those rides. It would also cause those riders to waste twice as much time at the farebox, paying twice.

    Boarding with a paper transfer is at least as fast as boarding with ORCA.

    Eliminating Metro transfers because CT and ST don’t participate would be the tail wagging the dog. That said, Metro and the others should continue measures to increase ORCA use and reduce cash transactions.

    But Gossett’s idea is a good one. ST should accept Metro transfers, at least on Link, as proof of payment. This would come at zero cost to bus or train speed and reliability. Some version of making transfers/tickets/paper ORCAs interchangeable or one and the same might be even better.

    1. “Getting rid of paper transfers would double the cost of a round trip for riders without ORCA cards, eliminating many of those rides. It would also cause those riders to waste twice as much time at the farebox, paying twice.”

      You are close to correct … for the first time someone travels on a multi-legged trip after paper transfers go away. Then, they will realize it’s time to get an ORCA card (which, I hope will be free for at least a couple weeks). Very few trips will go away, and certainly not long-term. A few trips will be added in the short term to get to a location that sells (or hopefully gives away) ORCA cards, if they can’t wait to get one in the mail.

      “But Gossett’s idea is a good one. ST should accept Metro transfers, at least on Link, as proof of payment.”

      Sound Transit needs to get revenue from Link riders. Paper transfers don’t do that. There is nothing in Gossett’s suggestion (not really a plan) about Metro accepting transfers from Link, either. But then, Link’s transfers would have to be redesigned to be quickly legible to drivers trying to see through the thumbs covering the date stamp on a Link ticket. The fare disputes as people try to pass old Link tickets would take almost as long as fumbling cash, and put the driver more at risk. I have actually seen riders try to use old tickets on Link, too. That doesn’t work too well with fare inspectors, for whom the minimal legibility of the date stamp was really designed.

      “Eliminating Metro transfers because CT and ST don’t participate would be the tail wagging the dog.”

      PT, ET, the streetcar, WA State Ferries, and the King County Water Taxis don’t do paper transfers, either. Metro is the last holdout from joining the second decade of the twenty-first century. Metro wanted to ditch paper transfers back in 2009, but the county council said No. Of course, ORCA LIFT wasn’t around then, and the $5 card fee, and the hills, and the valleys …. so the county council had some reason to keep paper transfers at that time. That is no longer the case.

      1. Actually, while the King County Water Taxi can’t accept transfers because the trip is so expensive, they do issue a transfer good for the buses.

        At least, they did so last I took one, which was some time back.

    2. “Eliminating Metro transfers because CT and ST don’t participate would be the tail wagging the dog.”

      “PT, ET, the streetcar, WA State Ferries, and the King County Water Taxis don’t do paper transfers, either.”

      Come now, it is the tail wagging the dog. If Everett, Lynnwood, Shoreline, Burien, Tukwila, Renton, Kent, and Federal Way want sprawly ligh trail and Seattle wants compact urban lines, does that mean Seattle should get into line because it’s only one of eight municipalities? Even though its population and ridership is several times any of the others?

      1. If Seattle said all light rail running through town should run at-grade, in general traffic, stopping at every light, looping through each hospital parking lot, and invoked the possibility that some poor people might be harmed if that is not done, then I think the suburbs would have a legitimate collective beef.

    3. Getting rid of paper transfers would double the cost of a round trip for riders without ORCA cards

      Not having an ORCA card is not a permanent condition.

      Metro and the others should continue measures to increase ORCA use and reduce cash transactions

      The single best way to do this is eliminate financial incentives for cash fumblers, which you oppose.

      ST should accept Metro transfers, at least on Link, as proof of payment. This would come at zero cost to bus or train speed and reliability.

      False. Such a policy would reduce an incentive for ORCA adoption, slowing down buses with more cash fumblers.

    4. Getting rid of paper transfers would double the cost of a round trip for riders without ORCA cards.

      Only if the riders are going and coming back immediately. A legal transfer is good for only two hours, but of course most drivers don’t want to adjust the cutter every fifteen minutes, so they set it for two hours from the end of the run. So it’s often three hours.

      Unless of course you’re arguing for the transfer collectors. Are you arguing for the transfer collectors?

  18. I really think the old Puget Pass/Interagency transfers need to be brought back. Its hard to integrate transit agency’s without a comprehensive fare policy. Since 100% ORCA adoption is a seemingly impossible goal (High initial cost, high cost of ownership, credit card and internet access required to maintain it, TVMs few/far between, inability to use cash with orca onboard vehicles, etc.) PT found that ridership went down and revenue went up when they implemented a single ride or day pass system. This concept should be adopted on a regional basis. Agencies should upgrade their fare boxes with TRiM units, to accept magnetically encoded cards to reduce/eliminate the fraud associated with paper transfers. This is the only way to make integration with ST services work, without a major overhaul of ORCA.

    1. ” Since 100% ORCA adoption is a seemingly impossible goal (High initial cost, high cost of ownership, credit card and internet access required to maintain it, TVMs few/far between, inability to use cash with orca onboard vehicles, etc.) P”

      This is just total incompetence, isn’t it? Every other city has managed to have low initial cost (typically $0), low cost of ownership, no credit card or internet access required (refill at a machine), TVMs everywhere, etc… Maybe “ORCA II” can simply be competently implemented?

  19. The transfer scam has to go. I would say that of anything to do with our local bureaucracy, this is in the top 3 of things that frustrate me the most. Seriously, people aren’t allowed (and it wouldn’t be tolerated) to walk into QFC and steal a candy bar and a can of pop…but that’s basically what’s happening thousands of time a day on the bus – with an agency (and Council) that’s apparently complicit to the crime. I would even argue that’s it’s worse than petty theft at a grocery store since it’s so anti-social, endangers viability for the transit system, and makes law abiding fare payers seem like suckers. It’s like stealing from the donation basket.

    Being less than wealthy isn’t some sort of exemption to the social and legal contract. Everyone needs to be held to their obligations with equal weight, or the whole thing will eventually come crashing down. Come on Metro, at least make it appear to be much more complicated to steal from the normal citizens.

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