[OV: post was edited on October 26 with clarification from ST on target dates, which may change as the program progresses]
Paying for transit will be easier and more flexible with an improved user experience when “ORCA2”, the second generation of the ORCA regional fare system, is planned to go live in 2019. Although ORCA has matured to become the most popular way to pay fares in Central Puget Sound since its launch in 2009, there is much left to be desired from customers and operators.
Fare collection technology has advanced greatly since the original system began development in 2003. Innovations such as mobile apps and open payments with credit cards and smartphones are being adopted by various agencies across the country. With the current contract with ORCA vendor Vix ending in 2021 and the system’s technology becoming obsolete, the ORCA Joint Board began planning for the system’s next generation last year and has adopted a strategy for ORCA2.
Sound Transit revealed the strategy in a request for proposal (RFP) from firms to lead the development and implementation of ORCA2. The ORCA Next Generation Strategy discusses options and makes recommendations in four main areas: fare policy, system architecture and technology, the transition to the new system, and governance/administration models for the new system.
The biggest change in ORCA2 is the move to an account-based system. This means online card refills will be usable instantly, not after 24-48 hours like today’s ORCA. What’s the difference? Currently, ORCA is a card-based system where value is stored on the card itself. Fare transactions are processed offline by the card reader/writer on board vehicles and at stations. The delay in getting value purchased online on to your card is due to the fact that the readers speak with the backend only nightly, when the buses return to base.
An account-based system takes the opposite approach. As the name suggests, information is stored in an account in a central location, like your bank account. All transactions are processed centrally and in real time. Your card becomes merely an identifier of the account to the reader, like your credit or debit card. Chicago and London equipped their buses with 3G wireless communication to enable real-time processing.
Tuesday evening at the Mountaineers (7700 Sand Point Way NE), the King County Council will hold a special meeting of its Transportation, Economy, and Environment (TrEE) Committee. While the public will have had 4 other opportunities to comment at the regular committee meetings (9:30am every other Tuesday), this special meeting will be the only public hearing of the restructureordinance outside of work hours before it is voted on by the full council (hopefully) later this month. This is an extremely important hearing if you care about frequency, reliability, and a better transit network.
A 6:30pm Open House will precede the hearing, with Metro staff on hand to discuss the proposal with the public. At 7:00pm, the Committee will convene to hear public testimony on the restructure. We strongly urge you to attend and let the Council know your thoughts on the proposal.
Regrettably, the hearing location has terrible transit access, with Routes 30 and 74 getting you there but not home, and Route 75 only running every 30 minutes. (An irony of this meeting is how much easier it would be to attend if the restructure were already in place.) If you have a car and would be willing to drive a fellow reader, please speak up in the comments. If you would like to borrow a bicycle for free to attend via the Burke-Gilman Trail, please email me at zach.shaner(at)gmail.com. If you cannot attend, please submit your comments online here.
This November’s election is big, with the entire Seattle City Council up for election and at least four incumbents out, and Move Seattle and Community Transit Now on the ballot. This Monday, October 5, is the deadline to register to vote or change your voter registration address.
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.
Following up on yesterday’s ridership report, here are three charts to file in the back of your head the next time you hear an ostensibly pro-transit voice arguing that scalable transit investments “could be done better and more cheaply with buses.”
The first chart shows that if Link were its own transit agency, it would now be the 5th largest in the state, behind only Metro (to whom no one comes close), Washington State Ferries, the rest of Sound Transit, and Spokane Transit. This despite being only a single 15-mile line that serves little current density.
The second chart shows Metro and Sound Transit ridership by route. Link is in a league of its own, and it’s just getting started. Link has triple the ridership of any other single transit route in the region.
The third chart shows Link capacity today and in 2023. At full ST2 buildout, with 4-car trains running every 3 minutes, Link will have between 4-7x more capacity it has today. I can’t wait to vote on ST3.
Link is far from perfect. Its speed is compromised by at-grade running on MLK, it misses the commercial heart of the Rainier Valley, its stop spacing is too wide in its tunneled sections etc etc. But it still rocks, and its performance will increasingly be a difference of kind not degree. Where scalability and capacity matter, there’s nothing like high-quality rail.
Sorry folks, been busy and this was late. July’s Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday average boardings were 40,442 / 32,873 / 26,375, growth of 8.3%, -3.9%, and -2.8% respectively over July 2014. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 15.3% with ridership increasing on both lines. Tacoma Link’s weekday ridership increased 2.3%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 4.7%. System wide weekday boardings were up 6.9%, and all boardings were up 3.2%. The complete July Ridership Summary is here.
Is the Move Seattle transportation levy a smart investment of property-tax dollars? That was the question at Seattle Speaks, a community forum televised live on Seattle Channel from Town Hall on Tuesday night.
The $930 million levy has been touted by city leaders as the key to a safe, interconnected, affordable and innovative city. But critics say the proposal is poorly planned, lacks accountability and is out of touch with the needs of some Seattle neighborhoods.
Supporters say the package, which Seattle voters will decide on Nov. 3, offers solutions for the city’s rapid growth. Opponents maintain we can’t afford the levy’s high price tag, while advocates argue we can’t afford to delay investments. Is Move Seattle a building block for Seattle’s future or a road block to progress?
Seattle Channel public affairs host Brian Callanan moderates a lively discussion, part of the Seattle Speaks series, presented by Seattle CityClub, Seattle Channel and Town Hall Seattle. Seattle Speaks is an Emmy Award-winning series that brings together local leaders, critics, stakeholders and residents to deliberate pivotal moments in our city’s history.