There is only one fare medium that allows you to get free transfers between Link Light Rail and buses: the One Regional Card for All (ORCA).
ORCA is a “smart card”, which you use by holding it flat against the reception area of an ORCA reader, until you hear a single beep. I keep my ORCA card in my wallet, and hold the wallet flat for a second on the ORCA reader, and it works just as if I took the card out.
The card allows 2-hour transfers, when using e-purse you loaded on your card, charging only the fare of the most expensive ride during that window, among trips on Link Light Rail, Metro buses, Seattle Streetcars, Sound Transit Express buses, Sounder trains, Community Transit buses, Everett Transit buses, Pierce Transit buses, Kitsap transit buses and water taxis, and King County Water Taxis. The day passes and monthly passes cover their face value for trips on all these services. For trips with fare higher than your pass’s face value, the difference is deducted from your e-purse.
Monthly passes generally cost $9 for each 25 cents of ride face value covered. Note that the ORCA card is not accepted on the Seattle Center Monorail, and passes are not accepted on Washington State Ferries, unless you buy a pass that is only for Washington State Ferries.
Regular ORCA cards are found pretty ubiquitously:
- at Ticket Vending Machines in all entryways of all Sound Transit train stations. You can buy ORCA cards and load them up with e-purse (cash value for single trips), day passes, and monthly passes at these machines. You can also buy paper tickets and day passes, but they are only good on Link Light Rail. The only reason to buy the paper fare media is to put off forking over $5 to get the ORCA card. But it is better to buy the ORCA card, as the transfer savings will make up for the purchase cost within a single round trip involving a transfer.
- at the King Street Center at 201 S. Jackson St, just west of King St Sounder/Amtrak Station and International District / Chinatown light rail Station. The office is open 8:30 am – 4:30 pm on weekdays, except on holidays. Westlake Station also has a Customer Shop that sells regular ORCA cards, but the only reasons to go there are to pay with a check, or to get one of the non-standard ORCA cards. The Westlake shop is only open the first four and last four business days of the month, but will be closed this week, while its staffers are at University of Washington Station and Capitol Hill Station.
- at the mobile shops set up by the ORCA to-go crew this week at University of Washington (UW) Station and Capitol Hill Station, from 9 am to 4 pm, through this Saturday, April 2. Crews will be at both sites simultaneously.
- at many retailers.
- ordered online.
- ordered through the mail.
- through the University of Washington, in the form of a U-Pass loaded onto a Husky Card, for students and salaried employees, enabling you to ride free on all the services that honor transfers on ORCA. Most hourly and temporary UW employees are eligible to purchase a TEMP Pass through UW’s Transportation Department. If you commute by transit every day, the TEMP Pass is a really great deal at $150 a quarter. That is even cheaper than the $162 per quarter three monthly ORCA LIFT (low income) passes cost, and covers higher fare on more services.
- through many other employers. Ask your human resources department whether it participates in ORCA Business Passport.
Senior ORCA cards (for riders age 65+), which come in the form of a Regional Reduced Fare Permit, allowing you to get reduced fares on all local public transit services throughout ten counties, can be obtained from the ORCA to-go crew at UW Station and Capitol Hill Station this week, at the King Street Center, online, or ordered through the mail. RRFP cards cost $3, before adding e-purse and/or passes.
Disabilities ORCA cards, which also come as an RRFP, can be obtained from the ORCA to-go crew at UW Station and Capitol Hill Station this week, and at the King Street Center.
Low-income ORCA LIFT cards can be obtained from the ORCA to-go crew at UW Station and Capitol Hill Station this week, and at Public Health and various other agencies, including the Public Health office next to the King Street Center. To qualify, your household income must be below 200% of the federal poverty level. Public Health offers a range of benefits in addition to the ORCA LIFT cards. The card itself is free, but you still have to load e-purse and/or passes. You have to use loaded fare product in order to get the low-income discount fare.
Youth ORCA cards (for riders age 6-18) are made available to many students through their public schools, but can also be obtained from the ORCA to-go crew at UW Station and Capitol Hill Station this week, at the King Street Center, online, and by mail. For adults who qualify for the ORCA LIFT card, you can also get free youth ORCA cards from the ORCA to-go crew, and at Public Health, for your dependents.
Children under 6 years old ride free, when accompanied by a fare-paying adult, limited to two to four children per adult, depending on the service.
Once you have your ORCA card, you can load e-purse and passes at any location distributing the card. Be warned that if you order fare products online, they might take a couple days to load onto your card.
Before boarding Link Light Rail, you have to tap at one of the standing yellow ORCA readers (and hold your card flat against the reading area until you hear the single “beep”). You will see the message “Permit to Travel”. Be careful not to double tap, as that cancels the permit to travel, and the beep sounds the same. If you aren’t sure whether you have already tapped, just tap again and read the message.
Questions? The most frequent ones have been answered here. Some tougher questions might be answered by the experts in the comments below. Or call ORCA customer service at 888-988-6722 / TTY Relay: 711, or come by and meet the ORCA to-go crew while they are at UW Station and Capitol Hill Station all week, 9 am to 4 pm through Saturday, April 2.