Transport for London: Metro's model for banning cash boardings (Wikicommons)
Transport for London: Metro’s model for banning cash boardings (Wikicommons)

Author’s Note: The underlined clarifications below are from Scott Gutierrez, Metro spokesperson.

Policies that nudge bus passengers away from paying cash while boarding the bus remain low-hanging fruit for system-wide service improvements via travel time reductions. King County measurements in 2012 measured it as 4.6 to 6.9 seconds per boarding, with another 1.5 seconds saved per boarding if passengers board at all doors without paying on the way in.

Various Metro reports over the years, including the recently-released Metro Connects, have looked forward to a day when cash is no longer accepted at the front of the bus while boarding (See page 37 of the report.). For Metro, cashlessness would bring savings in the elimination of farebox maintenance and replacement, substantial reduction in cash handling, and travel time reductions.

Even without a cash ban, most of the travel time and cost reduction should happen if Metro’s fare policies properly discourage cash payment into virtual nonexistence. That’s a good thing, since the marginal cost for converting cash payers to non-cash payers goes way up as non-cash boardings approaches 100%, per Metro’s 2013 Cashless Fare Collection Business Plan.

What makes the potential cash ban feel like a step toward a long walk home is where Metro is getting its model Metro is aware of only one system that has moved to cashless boardings: Transport for London, which went cashless in 2014, with much angst. King County Metro and Transport for London are clearly not peer agencies. London is a sea of density, with abundant places to access fare media 24/7. King County Metro’s service area is largely suburban, with limited options for obtaining or revaluing ORCA cards if one isn’t near a train station.

The main difference for Metro between a cash ban and virtual cashlessness is the cost of farebox replacement. According to the 2013 report, Metro’s fareboxes will reach the end of their useful life in 2018. That doesn’t mean Metro has to procure new fareboxes by then, but maintenance problems will increase. Regardless, cashlessness can’t happen until smart-phone payment and private bankcard payment get rolled out as part of ORCA 2.0 in 2021. But if Metro decides for virtual cashlessness over a cash ban, expect farebox replacement to start happening well before 2021.

More off-board fare payment and more on-board security is coming, pending county council approval, and this should be welcome news for the vast majority of riders. But what policies to discourage cash can Metro deploy in the near term?

Metro is unlikely to seriously consider a cash surcharge so long as it believes it is moving toward a cash ban. But an increase in cash fares would have better effects on Metro’s costs than a general fare increase.

Metro spokesperson Scott Gutierrez characterized cashlessness as an aspirational goal for Metro. “Metro recognizes that fare structure incentives, such as reduced fares for ORCA use and eliminating paper transfers, can play a very important role in increasing ORCA market share. These incentives must be balanced by measures to mitigate impacts on low-income riders. Metro recognizes the need to engage policymakers and stakeholders in finding the right balance on these issues.”

Slashing the ORCA fee hasn’t gotten enough attention. The $5 fee for getting an ORCA card is by far the highest fee for getting a bus smart card in the nation. The 2013 report mentions that the cost to Metro is $3. Agencies say that they don’t want users to treat the card as disposable, and that all the agencies in the ORCA pod have to agree to a price change. But I still have yet to get a straight answer as to why the fee has to be that high. Metro waives the card fee for both ORCA LIFT customers and their dependents 18 and under.

Operators will continue to push for the elimination of paper transfers, because they cause fare disputes and passenger incidents. Those who place absolute priority on accessibility over service and operator safety will continue to resist. Keeping paper transfers would obviously preclude a cash ban, but also is an obstacle to virtual cashlessness. One possible mitigation is free monthly passes on ORCA for those unable to pay any fare (similar to Valley Transit Authority’s UPLIFT program in Santa Clara County, CA). Another mitigation measure would be dropping the low-income LIFT and youth fares, which are currently 50 cents higher than senior and disability fares. Reducing or eliminating the ORCA fee would partially mitigate the increased costs for infrequent riders who have to transfer.

If cash payment drops to a fraction of its current rate, it will extend the remaining useful life of the fareboxes. These actions would help bridge the gap between the 2018 projected-end-of-useful-life for the fareboxes and the 2021 roll-out of ORCA 2.0 multi-media readers.

137 Replies to “Cash Ban vs. Virtual Cashlessness”

  1. “…with limited options for obtaining or revaluing ORCA cards if one isn’t near a train station.”

    Or near one of the 74 retail outlets throughout King County.

    1. 74. Across the county. And a lot of them have shorter hours than nearby bus routes. I’m glad they’re there, but they still only give limited options.

      The first time I rode King County Metro was as a tourist, riding from the Yarrow Point freeway station into downtown. Being a tourist without an Orca card – yes, I’d flown into the airport; no, I hadn’t even guessed then that I’d take a bus ride during this visit – I paid cash. I see there’s no Orca retailer in walking distance – and no retailer, period, except for one Tully’s on Points Drive – so how would your plan have helped me there? Okay, for that individual stop, there’s enough infrastructure you could install an Orca vending machine, or you could sign up that Tully’s – but multiply that by every stop in the county, and it’s prohibitive.

      Cash will always need to be an option. A discouraged option with nudges away at every corner, definitely, but an option.

      1. We just need more places to re load cards. Not a difficult task. If a retailer gets paid they will add Orca cards right along with lottery tickets.

    2. 74 outlets in King County, and how many of them have a sign outside that says Transit Fare Cards Available Here? There’s too much about transit that requires riders to be “in the know.” Decision-makers should consider the plight of visitors who don’t come armed with local knowledge.

      1. RD, you’ve got enough experience with policy to know. Is there something in the education and culture behind management in general that “disincentivizes”, meaning you can get fired for it, connecting one’s actions with their results?


      2. +1.

        Also it requires someone to be in the know and speak up. Three weeks ago, a brave student who is only spending a month in Seattle got onto a Sunday 75 and asked about how to get an ORCA card and load it. Neither the bus driver in training nor his trainer knew of any on the route.

        It took a passenger to answer (QFC at U Village), and it took another passenger (me) to walk the student over to the QFC, and get her to Customer Service.

        At the very least, why not show on the map/.pdf of the transit schedule where you can get and load an ORCA? It could something as a straightforward as an ORCA icon and note on the schedule to look for a QFC or a Safeway.

      3. @baselle The even easier answer to the question is “any Link light rail station.” That should be the ORCA slogan, frankly. Easy to remember, you can’t miss it. It’s not near every place ( – yet. Yes on ST3!), but Link is popular to such a degree that nearly everyone has heard of it or rode it. As for the 75, UW station is a bit of a walk from the route on Steven’s Way, but if this person is a UW student, she probably walks that distance between classes anyway.

      4. At least three times I’ve had to show people riding southbound on the 75 how to get to the Link station. One was a foreign nanny in northeast Seattle on her first trip downtown. The second was another foreign visitor. Neither one was going to UW. The third time the guy walked with me partway, saw where the station was, and turned around and went elsewhere, presumably to take the train later.

      5. The Link station was my answer also, but do the TVMs actually sell you the ORCA card itself in the first place? I know you can load a card, but get a card also? Wasn’t clear to me, as I use ORCA exclusively and avoid the Seattle TVMs like the plague.

        It actually worked out well, as the QFC person not only sold the ORCA card itself, could talk through what she needed, put a few $ on (it was the last Sunday of August) and sold the Sept pass for the basic amount.

        The student went from nothing to taken care of completely for her one month stay. Turns out she was going to intern at UW Medical next to Link.

        So put a little ORCA icon next to the Link station if appropriate on the map the schedule in addition to the retail spot. Seems like the retail spots don’t change all that much.

      6. Pierce Transit has ORCA machine locations on their maps. And Kitsap Transit has ORCA readers on the left of the bus entrance.

    3. How does one get to these retail locations? Drive their car? Take an Uber? Walk perhaps a couple miles each way? That’s what I had to tell my family when they visited.

      1. You can receive ORCA cards through snail mail, if you plan ahead. That includes all types of ORCA except low-income and disability, which require a walk-in visit.

      2. When I was in that situation, I bought a couple of ORCAs to have on hand the week before they showed. I didn’t know about the QFC, I managed to get them during the millisecond the Westlake window was open. Family used them and mailed them back to me.

      3. The thing about requiring walk-in visits for disability cards is endemic to transit agencies, but the better ones don’t do it. Why? *Visitors.* In practice, disabled visitors from out of town get soaked and pay full fare because it’s been made impossibly difficult for them to get the disabled cards. Since standard fares aren’t that high this is OK, but it is not what the federal laws intended.

      4. The reason for requiring a walk-in or walk-up (for mobile sales) disability Regional Reduced Fare Permit is to take a picture (while senior RRFPs don’t require photos).

        I find the FTA’s picture ID regulations to be a little too 20th century and in need of modernization. They weren’t thinking about the possibility of cards with the holder’s data encrypted electronically inside the card. Having the picture on there, so that everyone who can see the card knows that the rider has a medical condition, is invasive of the rider’s medical privacy.

        I think Metro does about as well as it can for having an office in the right place for visitors with disabilities. The Amtrak station and the Boltbus drop-off point are within three blocks of the Metro’s King Street Center, where the cards are imprinted with the picture and personal information. The fact that Greyhound is down at Stadium Station is unfortunate. One station away, with a fare of $2.25 to get to the King Street Center, is not a world-ending nuisance, especially when someone paid a lot more to ride transit into town.

        The biggest miss, as far as visitors goes, is the lack of a full-service youth/LIFT/senior/Medicare/disability ORCA sales office in the airport. Such an office would not only take care of ORCA needs, but also serve as a place to introduce visitors to the whole transit system, including showing the way to Airport Station and to the paratransit pick-up location, with a rider training specialist hopefully available most of the time. The Port may see the transit information center as a threat to rental car business, and so not allow it, but it would have a harder time refusing to allow a transit accessibility center, since that purpose doesn’t compete with car rentals, at least until driverless rental cars become the norm. With an elected Port Board, it can’t hurt to ask.

      5. It’s amazing to me that a visitors’ center/information desk at the airport does not have ORCA and ancillary products available for purchase (or even as part of a “welcome to Seattle!” pack with maps, etc.). Or maybe there is one that does this? I don’t know because I have no need to visit it, but that would at least get some people a card and transit information relatively easily.

  2. I can’t see cash ever being banned. Between allowing off bus tapping for all routes, all door boarding, eliminating the $5 ORCA and implementing cash surcharges, you’ll have eliminated all the low hanging fruit. There will always enough edge cases where cash is needed that eliminating it will cause a stink.

    If Metro can’t shake the low preforming tail of Route 2, they’ll never get rid of cash.

      1. Which begs the question why card readers are in the station or outside the station? Why aren’t readers at every entrance/exit to the vehicle (bus or LR car?) In Amsterdam they have RFID cards with card/ticket readers at each door.

      2. The light rail platforms are fare paid areas. They want you to have paid/tapped before you get on the train, not while you are boarding it which would slow boarding down.

        On buses/streetcars, it’s cost prohibitive to have fare machines at thousands of stops so they’re on the vehicles.

      3. Fare gates cost money too. They cost more than ST loses at around 3% fare evasion. Remember that not all evaders would turn into paying customers: some would not make the trip, and others don’t have any money.

      4. Or at least move the ORCA reader on the bus a bit to the right so that the cash fumbler isn’t blocking it.

      5. “Why not just have fare gates for Link platforms?”

        1. Fare gates won’t work with the downtown transit tunnel until buses are out forever.
        2. Several Link stations are not enclosed like a traditional underground or elevated train station. Jumping the fence is way too easy. (And fare gates also get jumped, ducked, or double-throughed.)
        3. The proof-of-payment system feeds two birds with one seed: Checking fares and providing needed on-board security. In essence it gives on-board security something to do.

      6. If cash users stand close enough to the driver, ORCA tappers can squeeze by, but most cash users stand about a foot from the driver and block the entrance. Maybe a sign saying “cash fare – step directly up to driver”?

        I was amazed about how horrendous the position of the ORCA reader is on some of the route 44 trolley buses. The reader is directly behind a handrail so that everybody has to contort their wrist to get their cards close enough.

      7. @Brent:

        All good points re: faregates. I guess it makes more sense from a UX perspective, then, than from a technical perspective. Hopefully once the buses are out of the DSTT it’ll be a part of the conversation, at least.

      8. Fake fare gates are also possible. If you go through something that looks like a doorway with the ORCA readers in front of you at eye level, and perhaps a swinging bar, that will remind everybody who forgets to tap or doesn’t see the reader. You can make this with inexpensive metal rods.

      9. Just move the machines to make a visible line that you have to pass through (the airport station is a good example, as are the at-grade platform stations). Once the buses move from the tunnel, relocate the ORCA readers to form this sort of thing on the mezzanines. Signage and paint can then easily delineate the fare paid zone. Card readers should never be off to one side in relatively random locations where they can be missed/forgotten.

  3. The solution is easy. Just do what Toronto does on its newer streetcars and have machines toward the middle/back of the bus that allow customers to pay using a variety of methods including cash. That way there is zero boarding delay and people can still use cash to pay if they please. Everybody wins.

      1. We had to wait through 3 cars before being allowed to become a sardine. In Seattle, if all the seats are taken then the train is full. (ha!)

      2. Oh no. Hardly anyone uses public transit in Toronto. The TTC only does 2.6 million boardings per day – about 6X what Metro KC does.

      3. “We had to wait through 3 cars before being allowed to become a sardine.”

        In other words, you had to wait, in part, because the payment machine was taking up room better taken up by passengers.

      4. Brent, I think that in the whole rest of the transit world, what we consider an un-boardable crush load would get a train canceled for lack of ridership.

        Recall a PBS documentary on the history of the first modern New York City subway- Alfred Beach’s wonderful 19th century fan-powered subway doesn’t count. Reason 1904 line got built so fast that nobody could even walk up Broadway at rush hour.

        But it didn’t take subway headquarters long to realize that no matter how much the system expanded, the fact of its existence would always attract enough passengers to pack every train like a dog-food can.

        While I don’t suspect any sinister intent here, I do think that everybody LINK-connected who saw that program just thought it would be a lot funnier to let Seattle find out for itself that real transit success inevitably means never being able to get a seat again.

        Could turn out to be a safety measure, too. After awhile, it won’t be necessary to hold onto a pole or strap anymore, or worry about sudden stops or even a collision, because everybody will be so completely cushioned by everybody else.


      5. Mark,

        mic was passed up three times in Lisbon, not Seattle. He is not used to Seattle-style crushloads down in his neck of the suburbs, so I’m not sure whether he was passed up, or he passed on boarding due to his space expectations.

        We can learn from Lisbon’s mistake, as well as what they’ve done right..

      6. Many cities have fare machines in their buses and streetcars which dispense paper tickets. They’re tiny. They take up no space. They work.

    1. The “easy solution” requires going to a proof-of-payment system which Toronto has only done on its streetcars. I haven’t heard any indication TTC will do the same on its vast bus system.

      Brent, the streetcars in Toronto do get very crowded as expected from having the largest streetcar network in North America carrying 291,000 people a day.

  4. After spending a week in Boston earlier this summer, I can conclude that their system is a good example of how not to encourage Orca use.

    The “T” lines take Charlie Cards, which are permanent, and Charlie Tickets, which are paper and disposable. There is a steep surcharge of around 50-cents-per trip when you use a Charlie Ticket vs. a Charlie Card, but the process of getting a Charlie Card was so cumbersome, I ended up using the Charlie tickets anyway. For starters, the automated ticket machines at the subway stations allowed you to add value to an existing Charlie card or obtain a new Charlie ticket, but they didn’t dispense new Charlie cards. To get a new Charlie Card, you had to visit a human cashier, which was only available at select stations during select hours. It was not until halfway through my trip that I happened to pass by one of these stations during the hours when the booth was staffed. But, when I asked the cashier for a Charlie card, she said they were out, but I could go to another station instead, a half-hour train ride away (1 hour round trip) and pick up the card there. I said “no thank you” and kept paying the surcharge for Charlie tickets.

      1. How is a visitor supposed to know where those places are or how to get to them, or in some cases have the time to. Different agencies view these cards differently. Seattle tries to put them in visitors’ hands by having new cards in the TVMs which are near the airport, Amtrak station, and Greyhound station. Other cities like the Bay Area market them to regular riders only; you have to go to certain stores during limited hours or attend a periodic sign-up event.

      2. >> How is a visitor supposed to know where those places are or how to get to them, or in some cases have the time to

        Check the internet or ask an official. Doesn’t sound that complicated to me.

        As far as the first method goes, I just tried this as an experiment: First search for “Boston subway how to pay”. The first listing (on Google) is the MTBA web page for paying fares. It clearly says you can pay with a Charlie Card or a Charlie Ticket. Fair enough (or should I say “fare enough” ha, I’m so funny). There are links there that list various retail locations, buying online, as well as buying them at a “Charlie Store”. Being the curious guy that I am, I wondered what they sold in a “Charlie Store”. In other words, what makes a Charlie Store that different? It was obvious that the Charlie Store was intended to serve special needs folks — people who want (and get) a discount. Interesting, but not really relevant. It appears that you can get the card all over town, as well as in many a vending machine.

        Or you could ask someone. Just walk up to an MTBA official, and ask them where you can buy a ticket. My guess is that you will find these folks everywhere. I’ve been told that if you do find one of them and ask them where to get a Charlie Card, they will give you one. Unless, of course, they are out. In that case, they will probably tell you where to get another one (maybe the other guy next to him has one).

        My guess is asdf was confused. He overthought it. I get it. You assume you need a special vending machine, or some such thing, and when you go to the special store that sells them, they assume you need a special needs version of the card (e. g. Senior Discount, etc.).

        But to say that the Boston system is “not the way to go” is ridiculous. Yes, the loner who fears human contact and has trouble understanding the website may have trouble. They may end up paying just a bit more (Oh, the horror). But most people will just ask around (or dig it out from the web) and be OK with the system. Meanwhile, just about everyone uses the card (not the tickets). That is the goal, and while it isn’t perfect, it certainly is better than what we have.

      3. I disagree that it’s not “ridiculous”. You’re a savvy, curious person about transit options. You do not constitute a majority of the population of persons who are likely to use transit in Boston, let alone those from out of town.

      4. >> How is a visitor supposed to know where those places are or how to get to them, or in some cases have the time

        I always assumed that the idea was to get visitors to pay more.

      5. “Check the internet or ask an official. Doesn’t sound that complicated to me.”

        I did check the Internet before I went to San Francisco. Getting a Clipper card required going to a shop that was clearly for locals who were familiar with the area. Being unwilling to go traipsing around town to a shop or oder it by mail, I got the paper weekly visitors’ pass in San Francisco, and regular day passes in San Jose.

      6. There’s a limit of how much effort I’m willing to put in, just to save a total of $3-4 in fares over a one-week trip. If I happen to be passing by a station that will give me a Charlie card, great. But I’m not going to make a special trip to a retailer I don’t need anything else from just to get the card. Especially when the fares themselves to get to/from the place that sells the cards would eat up much of the savings. And, when I did happen to pass by a station with a human cashier with a “Get your Charlie Card here sign”, I did ask the cashier for one, but they were out.

        Yes – if I were a long-term resident would have made the effort and done it anyway, but for a visitor that’s only there for one week, again, it’s not worth it.

        There is really no excuse in the 21st century for the automated ticket machines at the subway stations to not dispense new cards. Other than the fact that the machines looks like they were designed and built in the 90’s or earlier, and are still being used.

        Although, I should count my blessings that you can at least refill your Charlie Card, once you have it, at the TVM’s with a credit card. In London, the automated machines to refill your Oyster card only take coins (no credit cards or even bills), and they force you do it in 5-pound increments. So, if your card is low, and you have a 20-pound bill in your wallet, plus 4.85 worth of coins, you’re out of luck. Some Tube stations have human cashiers that will refill your card with bills or a credit card, but again that’s waiting in a longer line for a service with more limited hours.

      7. Dude, again, you merely had to ask “Where can I get a Charlie card?”. It really isn’t that difficult. Again, chances are the official would just hand you one (because — get this — they are free).

        You were confused. I get it. A stranger in a strange land, where they actually encourage the use of electronic fare by giving them out free. You assumed it was going to be difficult, so you looked for a sign saying “Charlie Cards” instead of just asking. You were too shy to ask an official, and assumed it was a lot more difficult than it really is. So you ended up paying a bit more than you had to.

        Sorry, but what is the big deal? Next time you go there, you will ask someone. You might even ask someone who lives there (hey, how do you get a Charlie Card, anyway?). They will tell you what I just did (just about everywhere).

      8. asdf, my experiences in both cities have been different to yours.

        When I went to Boston for the first time in 2013, I was aware that there was a card and there were places to get them. The Silver Line ride from the airport was free but I needed to get a pass so I bought one at a ticket vending machine. It was dispensed on a CharlieTicket, not a CharlieCard.

        I’m curious why you bothered with stored value when you can get a weekly pass for about $20.

        The ticket was functional for getting around but I collect cards so I wanted a card. I knew there was a shop at Downtown Crossing but it was closed. So I went to an adjacent station at Park St. As I stared at the ticket machines, an MBTA employee asked me if I needed help. “Where I can get a CharlieCard?”, I asked. “CharlieCard?” he responded and pulled a card out and gave one to me. I was like “woah…thanks”. Happy Ending.

        When I was in London last year, I’ve not had any trouble topping up my Oyster Card with my US credit card. The ticket machines in Heathrow and in Central London tube stations take cards.

      9. You can’t expect every visitor to (A) know a Charlie Card exists and at what point it’s advantageous, and (B) ask an official for one. It’s the agency’s job to publicize fare media and make it ultra-easy to get. However, as I said above, many agencies view durable fare cards as being mainly for regular riders, not for visitors or occasional riders. Otherwise they would have them in TVMs. Or if the only problem is mechanical (the machines are too old to dispense fare cards), they could put a sign next to the TVM saying cards available a the newsstand behind you or around the corner…. Except that many American stations don’t have newsstands, or a shop within a half-mile.

      10. As a recent transplant from Boston, I really do miss the CharlieCard system. As to the getting card issue, I do agree it’s not well advertised but pretty much every heavy rail T stop and the underground green line stops are staffed, and anytime I’m with a visitor that needs a card I just walk up to any employee (though sometimes they are floating around not at the station booth) and without fail I’ve gotten a card. I’ve never asked a bus driver for a card but I hear they usually have a cache too.

        Speaking of buses, what I miss the absolute most is the ability to load CharlieCards with cash on any bus, especially for trips starting on bus. Run out of money on the card? Let your driver know, feed a ten into the machine, scan once to load, scan once more to pay your (non-cash) fare. Throw twenty more on at a TVM using card when convenient. This would be especially great here since only ORCA gets you the free transfers between ST and Metro.

        Also, the turnaround time on online loading for CharlieCards is a handful of hours, not days as with ORCA

      11. Then why not have machines dispensing Charlie Cards for a $2 or less fee? Even a separate dispenser, like a candy machine where a blank card drops upon turning a dial, would be helpful.

      12. As an aside to the London Oyster card issue (and Oran’s comment) – I also re-loaded an existing Oyster card with my US debit card at a TVM in Paddington Station last December. No worries.

    1. Philadelphia is way worse. Subway/Bus tokens can only be bought in cash from TVMs. I was unsure how to get a “SEPTA Key” (contactless fare card) and I don’t think it’s even possible for a tourist to obtain one.

      1. Philadelphia is a great city but the transit operates like it is the 1970s. Taking the train from the airport you have to pay cash on board, and get a giant ticket that the conductor has to punch. It is like a time machine. I kind of dug it as a tourist, but it would get annoying as a resident.

  5. I think it’s an outrage that there aren’t more ticket vending machines. It looks like Sound Transit is the only agency which has installed any. ST riders have them at all Sounder and Link stations. Metro riders have them at ST locations and then at Bellevue, Burien, and Federal Way TCs. Pierce Transit riders have one at Tacoma Dome and a couple at Sounders stops. Kitsap Transit riders have zero. Washington State Ferries riders have zero.

    There’s a good collection of retail outlets that sell ORCA cards throughout the region, but I don’t know how well advertised these are and they are often far from the nearest major transit center so they’d require a special ride to get to. For example, in Port Orchard they are at two grocery stores which are miles from the transfer point at the waterfront. In Bremerton the stores are again far from the transit hubs or ferry terminal. In Renton the nearest retailer to the transit center is the Safeway on Rainier which is walkable, but I can’t imagine many people walk that far to recharge a transit card. In West Seattle if you’re at Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal you’d have to go all the way up the hill to Westwood Village, but the stores are fairly accessible to West Seattle Junction.

    The other transit agencies should install Orca vending machines at their major hubs. Metro should consider putting one in at every Park and Ride and every RapidRide stop. Kitsap Transit should have one at every transfer point. The Washington State Ferries should have one at every terminal. Etc.

    1. ORCA TVMs cost close to a million dollars, IIRC. There’s a reason they aren’t scattered over the region like confetti.

      1. Well, then, that’s just one more reason for the Puget Sound Region to dump ORCA and get a more modern card. I bet Tri-Met would LOVE to defray some the cost of HOP Fastpass or Vancouver the Compass.

        Since there’s only one provider up in the fancy Vancouver, maybe the Compass wouldn’t be appropriate. But HOP Fastpass will work with C-Tran as well as Tri-Met, so it must have some multi-vendor capability.

        Basically the Puget Sound region is getting played by the ORCA folks. Badly.

      2. One of the worst things about ORCA is that if you addfare via computer you MUST TAP withing 96 hours or something like that. I added $30 to my wife’s card one time when we were headed up to Puget Sound, but then she didn’t take the bus ride I went on. I didn’t know I needed to tap to “activate” the money. So it’s sitting there but unavailable.

        ORCA help says “Call us about a week before you come again and we’ll restore the balance. But you have to tap.” Good Lord, what lousy programmers.

      3. I think Coleman Dock is worthy of a TVM no matter what it costs. It should have been a requirement for the WSF to join the ORCA card program that they put in the basic infrastructure for users to be able to buy and use the cards.

        WSF ticket counters don’t even sell or recharge ORCA cards. What does the machine that Safeway uses to recharge the card cost? Could we get one of those at the staffed WSF ticket counters at least?

        And then if the TVMs are too expensive why not come up with something cheaper so they can be put in more places? Why not roll out a less expensive machine that can recharge, but not issue cards?

      4. Metro/ST are not renewing the vendor after 2021. The plan is to operate to fare system in-house. I have my doubts.

      5. The first part of the problem is buying / spec’ing a TVM that costs close to a million dollars each.

        I know these things need to be bombproof, and able to handle our terrible weather. But really, they’re not that much more complicated than an ATM (they print tickets, which is something an ATM doesn’t do) and you can’t tell me an ATM, subject to the same operating conditions as a TVM, costs anywhere close to a million bucks.

        Buying into a system “ecology” that forces KCM/ST, etc to buy $1,000,000 TVMs for the life of the contract is absurd.

        And the riders suffer, because these things are relatively rare through the county, when they should be literally all over the place.

      6. David –

        That post from 2011 is referring to Swift style ticket vending machines, which are more like our parking meter kiosks found through Seattle, and not the ST TVMs found a LINK/Sounder stations.

      7. The parking-ticket-style standing ticket printers cost $50K. The ORCA ticket-and-card vending machines cost roughly $750K. I don’t know if the price is set or if that is 2012 YOE dollars.

      8. Anandakos – That’s because ORCA is a stored-value card (meaning that the balance is stored on the card rather than in the cloud), and it has to be because buses go everywhere, and there is no guarantee that a bus will have cell service. And this is fine, but because the balance is stored on the card, to add value to the card, something has to happen to the physical card.

        The problem with this is that people want to be able to go to a website and add value to the card, which isn’t possible because it’s a stored value card (this would be trivial if the value was stored in the cloud). So ORCA (I haven’t been told this, but I theorize this based on my experience and what has to happen) keeps a database of transactions online that haven’t yet been added to the card. This database gets downloaded to every bus when it starts service fort the day (this is why you have to wait a day after adding value online before you can use it). When someone taps their card, the bus sees if its database has new value for the card, and checks the card to see if that value as added already (i.e., by another bus), and if not, the reader adds the value to the card then and there (then you get the “activated” message). I agree, it’s a little bit hacky and non-transparent to the user, but that’s out of necessity. The only way to avoid it is to not allow purchasing online.

        I didn’t know about the 96 hours, though. I guess that’s to limit the size of the data that has to be loaded on every reader? It seems like they should be able to make it a week or something though.

      9. Anandakos – update – The FAQ page ( says that you have 60 days to tap, which sounds reasonable. And to activate it without paying a fare (which is unusual unless you ride the bus infrequently), it says you have to bring it to a TVM, but you can also do it at any RapidRide station with an ORCA reader. The first time you tap at a RapidRide station, it charges the fare for the RapidRide trip (and activates the added value), but if you tap it a second time on the same reader within 5 minutes, it cancels your trip and refunds the amount deducted from the card (but the value remains activated).

      10. I can see why the N-day-tapping policy was in place when ORCA cards were free, but now I’m at a loss as to why it still exists, except to gouge occasional riders, and force them back into paying with cash.

        I have three spare ORCA cards, all with lost value. If I need more, I’ll probably buy new ones rather than go through the time and bureaucracy to get these reactivated.

      11. KH and Brent, if you look further down in the comments in that page, it’s mentioned that the non-ORCA machines are $9-13k while the ORCA-capable machines are $50k. If you want to save money, you could probably cut a chunk of that by not accepting cash/coins – just credit/debit. Yes it’s not going to be as accessible, but it would probably cost a lot less and have less maintenance (and in most locations, you could probably have either one these or one cash machine + a bunch of non-cash ones).

        If we’re really paying $750k/machine, then that’s just absurd.

      1. The TV at Northgate TC was out of service (without any notice to customers) for months. Has it been restored? You may recall that when I went there to buy my kids ORCAs I drove all the way after hearing an announcement on the 26 incessantly, “Route 26 to Northgate with ORCA card vending machines”, only to discover that the machine had been out of service for longer than when the 26 was rerouted to Northgate. I ended up having to drive to the U District, take a Pronto over to UW station and back, in order to access a TVM without going downtown.

    2. Other cities also have their TVMs at rail stations. The thing is they have more rail lines and stations all over the city so there’s always one nearby.

      1. Competent cities also have TVMs at major bus stations in areas where there are no train stations.

  6. Brent, yesterday’s post had quite a lot to say about transit officials’ disconnect from something they govern but don’t use. When was the last time you were in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel at PM rush on Friday with a game in town?

    Maybe then you could tell me what kind of an incentive, or unpleasant disincentive can persuade the King County Council get those fareboxes out of the way of public transit at the precise time and place where their presence costs the most in lost operating time?

    Incentive or dis-, best carrot, or board-with-a-nail in it, would be public revelation of the cost of one minute minute lost operating time, for both buses and the already-cashless trains they block. Easily more than enough to bring five LINK stations into line with the other eight and counting.

    That Tunnel was designed for Proof of Payment. ORCA’s in place, fare machines same. Fare inspectors already hired and on duty. Enforcement is supposed to walk its whole beat. Every time I raise this matter with the King County Council, answer is same calm, insulting silence.

    Help me out, Joe, these people are already directly elected. Skagit County needs you, but word to Mayor Murray. There’s a vacant apartment under the Ballard Bridge, and my voter registration needs renewal.

    Mark Dublin

    1. A ban on cash boardings in the DSTT is clearly meritorious, with all the TVMs there, *if* the ORCA cards were much cheaper. Having bus ticket machines would be just another silly, expensive workaround for the insanity of Metro/ST trying to make a profit off of selling ORCA cards, while claiming they want every rider to use them.

      But since buses are leaving the tunnel in the next few years, no elected officials will waste time or political goodwill solving a temporary problem.

      Having a cash-free zone in the downtown core, at least during hours TVMs are accessible, could easily be done, if elected officials were willing to pass the policy (including ending the money-losing upcharge on ORCA cards).

      The problem is that with ORCA 2.0 coming, the elected leaders will be risk-averse, and kick the can down to 2021, forcing Metro to buy all-new fareboxes for the fleet in 2018. And then the 2021 deadline to roll out multi-media readers will get kicked down the road, since, well, Metro will have new fareboxes. Then, the ORCA 1.0 equipment will start failing. But hey, we’ll have fareboxes that will allow us to go without electronic payment for a few more years.

      Transit agencies unable to summon the political will to end cash-based paper transfers that they know are fraud-ridden, and to get rid of a smartcard upcharge that they know is costing them more in service inefficiency than the amount of the upcharge, strike me as unready to make the necessary decisions to operate a multi-media electronic fare payment system.

  7. Oh, great. And what on earth are very occasional riders supposed to do? I can count the number of times I’ve boarded a bus in the past three years on one hand. (I’ve ridden the train more, but there are ticket vending machines at EVERY Sounder station.) With ORCA cards that wear out and only last a few years based on my experience, this makes maintaining a cash balance kind of expensive ($5 for a replacement card and lots of time spent on the phone to get it all transferred – I am never in a place where I can just get it done in person or at a machine.) I might as well just drive! ORCA is such a hassle for the occasional rider. I can’t wait until my balance is all used up. (I hope ST & Metro are making a decent interest rate on my money that is sitting with them.)

    Is your goal to alienate the portions of the population who only use transit on rare occasions and/or new riders testing the waters???

    Please get rid of the fee for an ORCA card, but also recognize that there are people who are open to using the bus but just don’t have the opportunity to do it very often.

    Going to no transfers may be a nice middle ground. You should be able to board the bus if you have the cash to pay for it.

    We don’t all live in Seattle with convenient access to transit and to the service centers for transit. Please don’t pretend that the service centers offered in Tacoma and Everett are conveniently located. They aren’t. Until Metro starts offering actual transit service to the outlying, but urban, portions of the county (Kent, Auburn, Federal Way), there will continue to be backlash against a system that pretends that Seattle is the center of the universe. (It isn’t.) South King County has 35% of King County’s population (that’s about 700,000 people out of 2,000,000). We need to get around. To jobs. To shopping. To events. To doctor’s appointments. It shouldn’t take an hour to get from South Auburn to Federal Way. A student at Green River College should be able to live in Federal Way or Lakeland Hills without owning a car. An elderly person should be able to rely on local bus service to get groceries and visit their physician. Now, we are going to disincentivize taking transit to those of us who can’t justify the time and cost of getting a very complex card. Nice job!

    1. Occasional riders are supposed to pay cash, which is why Brent is advocating for strong disincentives rather than an outright ban.

      1. Really? You’d stop riding because the cash fare would be 25 cents or 50 cents higher than the ORCA fare? Baloney.

      2. “Strong” may be too strong a word. A 25c surcharge is a gentle nudge that many agencies use. It’s enough to make cost-conscious people who can, get a card. But it’s not so much as to shock visitors or those who never expected to take the bus then their car broke down or they had to for some other reason.

    2. I’ve had the same ORCA card since I got one mailed to me when they were being offered free. Had t stopped yet (knock on wood).

      Too bad cell phone payment is so far away. I think that has eliminated a huge number of TriMet’s cash transactions.

      1. Glenn, I had two stop working. Apparently you can’t carry an ORCA card in your wallet, which is unfortunate, because it is the exact same size and shape as a credit card, and this is where most people store cards that are the size and shape of a credit card. Yep, I sit on my wallet. Just like my dad, and uncles, and cousins, and grandpas, and probably at least 75% of American men. Nothing unusual about the wear and tear on my ORCA card compared to what most normal people would do if they had one. Yet, two of them failed and required replacement. If I recall, I got my first one sometime around 2009 or 2010. So, replaced every three or four years?

      2. Doctors say not to carry your wallet in your back pocket, because it alters your seated posture in a way that is bad for your back.

        I’ve had two ORCA cards fail. One just stopped working for no apparent reason. The other one had obvious physical damage where a key on my keyring had poked into it.

      3. My original card still works. I keep it in my wallet in my back pocket, but I’m careful to sit with the wallet behind me and not bending.

    3. Short-term cost-free no-brainer. Along LINK TVM’s have always dispensed paper single-ride tickets and day passes. Let outlets, like coffee ships, sell them too. And have both fare inspectors and drivers honor them.

      Recycle the paper to save trees. Though hope ORCA cards are made of corn-based plastic. ISIS makes enough money selling plundered antiquities. Just not to pious but poor fanatics.

      My reflexes can’t handle a touch screen, but I can’t believe that the only thing on Earth you can’t do with some App is pay a single transit fare while you’re sending your impending mass murder event viral. (which is a good thing to be.) For a reasonable one-time fee to an obnoxious disruptor (that’s a really great thing if you’ve got a google logo hoodie for a business suit) of a new South Lake Union resident.

      Could SnapChat work for this?


    4. Did you see what Metro Connects is doing to Lakeland Hills? Zone 4. 8,000 people living in apartments, condos, townhouses, and single family homes on small lots is categorized like we’re zoned at one house/5 acres.

  8. One possible alteration to the ORCA policy: allow the card to go negative for that $5. That’s what the $6C Compass Card in Vancouver does (or is supposed to do). It gives you some emergency leeway in the event a transaction doesn’t clear quickly or something.

    1. I’m not necessarily in disagreement with that as a possible policy.

      However, it does keep the entry barrier to electronic payment in place, since after the negative-value policy is in place, the card will have to cost at least that much to keep riders from regularly going into negative value and then tossing their cards.

      DC has been going through this debate ad nauseam, because it upcharges passengers $2 who tap off the train during the peak-of-peak period, or who fail to tap off. They would make SmarTrip cards free if it weren’t for the peak-of-peak alighting upcharge. Those who really want to save $2 then come back and tap off after the peak-of-peak period expires. But they don’t want to automatically charge riders $2 extra to board. Heavens forfend that they would just charge based on tap-on time, and move the beginning of the peak-of-peak period forward.

  9. If I tap my orca card on the street at a bus stop and my bus doesn’t come for another 20 minutes, when does the 2 hours to transfer begin? When I tapped the card or when I got on the bus? A paper transfer is much easier to use re calculating time left to make transfers.
    Wish they would bring back the annual senior pass! Monthly pass is too expensive for non commuters.

    1. Your electronic transfer ends 2 hours after tapping. If you don’t want to lose 20 minutes, wait to tap until you see the bus approaching.

      I have to disagree about the ease of calculating on paper transfers. The operator sets the tear line at the beginning of the run, and it is difficult to read that diagonalish line, especially when people are hiding part of the transfer when they board, knowing that the transfer is clearly a few years old. Somewhere along the way, Metro stopped posting that the transfer is good for only an hour and a half from the tear time. Basically, the driver errs on the side of not arguing, and accepting any and all sob stories even when someone tries to pass a transfer that doesn’t even start for 12 more hours.

      With ORCA, most of the arguing, and a whole lot of fraud, goes away.

      1. Looks like I’m going to have to have my attorney add “cost of one minute operating delay” demand to my present Freedom of Information effort to make public the records- and video footage- of the fact-finding exercise that closed the DSTT while consultants simulated boarding time with stop-watches.

        In view of our bill, I think the firm owes it to Transit Operations to explain how to shorten a seven minute fare-collection and wheelchair loading delay on the 41 northbound at Westlake at 5PM to fifteen seconds. Not that Metro would actually use the info.

        But by the same token, Brent, if you can find us that same cost-of-delay figure, I’d like to see an honest comparison of how much we lose to fraud against how much we save by letting the driver concentrate on what I’m personally going to do to the system if I miss a connection because my driver is arguing about an eighth inch of paper.

        Having occupied every single inch of space aboard a bus including extreme left front seat, I can tell you that out of every dollar’s fare collection problem, a half cent is fraud and the rest compulsory transit-agency-induced inability to figure out the fare system.

        Whether you’re on the bus stairs beside the farebox with a foot on the platform, or behind the steering wheel with a foot on the brake that should be on the power pedal.

        Intercity Transit down here in Thurston County has transit’s only sensible approach to cash fares and paper transfers, as long as these exist. Either single ride. Or day pass for twice as much. As LINK TVM’s also do, except that since Edward Snowden doesn’t know, you’ve got to ask Julian Assange.

        Also, have had it with sob stories about being victimized by the poor. Vladimir Putin already has enough Chiefs of State on his payroll who rode that outlook into power. And whose party also opposes ST3.


      2. Sorry for blowing up about the excuses. Week and a half ago, almost missed a connection because, one stop short of Tacoma Dome, my driver made a girl go down the steps and read the sign about fare policy before he let her board.

        He didn’t like it when I pulled a five dollar bill out of my wallet and told him I’d pay her way myself. Tough. Show me one Pierce Transit ST highway-coach driver who could last an hour on the Route 7. Let alone the 107 when it still went a mile uphill from Renton and had poles on the roof.

        But the truth is that of everybody in public transit, the people who get the second angriest about non-payment are the drivers themselves, to the point they’ll get themselves fired for violating Metro’s death-qualified no-dispute policy. Especially drivers from a from a working class background. Angriest are working class passengers.

        Personal take is same as for housing “affordability.” Hire young adults- meaning age 16- at a family-raising wage under labor laws that encourage unions. And stipulate that any employer demanding an expensive college degree be required to prove the job needs one.

        And what the private sector can’t make a profit from without public money, have the Government itself do itself. Like welding and bolting the United States of America back into the First World.

        Which will immediately add enough new working-class passengers to make fare evaders pray that the transit police get on scene before they get fare-enforced to shreds by a standing load.
        But meantime, just figure out the system that makes it easiest for passengers to pay.

        Including in their sleep, meaning every single morning rush, or dropping dead from fatigue, or jet-lagged, meaning pm one. If there’s a slower and harder one that brings in a lot more money, just calculate that the easy one saves enough in operating time to more than compensate.

        Making transit affordable to itself.


      3. “ORCA on Intercity Transit not Feasible as Currently Designed
        Pierce Transit is a member of the Central Puget Sound ORCA partnership for regional fare integration. They had sponsored Intercity Transit’s to become an affiliate member in the ORCA project. This included negotiating for the use of ORCA equipment and future training, maintenance, and collection and transmission of financial information. This process, however, was very costly. Given the Pierce Transit’s financial constraints, they decided that the effort to outfit Intercity Transit Express buses with ORCA equipment was not feasible. In addition, the legality of extending proprietory software and equipment outside of Central Puget Sound region created additional issues. ”


    2. The more frequent we make the buses, the less the 2-hour window matters. But yes, one of the drawbacks of the ORCA transfer system is it doesn’t adjust for late buses, no-shows, etc. There is a bit of “laughing all the way to the bank” as the agency keeps the money for those shortened transfer windows and when people abandon cards with e-purse balances on them. (What if somebody dies, their relatives don’t know what the card is or that it has a credit and they throw it away. I think the same thing is happening with gift cards, which is one reason retailers love them so much. It amazes me that so many people have Starbucks cards, to prepay for something they don’t have to and don’t get a discount on, and they may not use all the credit.)

      But if you do have a problem with being double-charged or the wrong fare, and maybe with transfer mishaps, you can call customer service and they’ll send you a free ride ticket.

    3. Transfer policies are a key discourager of Orca card use.

      Orca: exactly 2 hours (120 minutes) any time of day.

      Cash: 2 to 4 hr transfer period depending on the mood of the bus driver; unlimited “Owl” transfers after a certain time in the evening.

      To incentivize Orca use, we should increase the Orca transfer period to 3 hours, eliminate “Owl” transfers on paper, and get strict on bus drivers to never give out more than 2 hour paper transfers.

      1. The only cheating I’ve seen drivers doing on the time of giving out transfers is to give them out to someone who didn’t pay the full fare or didn’t pay at all. (And then sometimes the passenger jumps off the bus with their ill-gotten capital gain after wasting a minute arguing with the operator.)

        The real fraud is in the acceptance of paper transfers, threadbare, in tatters, from having been in someone’s bag since the last time that color and letter was used. The operator is instructed not to argue, but just state the fare once. I did see an operator quietly summon Metro police once to the far end of an express route, after a group of non-paying kids ignored all his requests to behave themselves on the bus.

        The most brazen act I’ve witnessed is when an FOE on Link asked for proof of payment, and the guy pulled out a full deck of transfers, sorted by color, and asked which one was good for that day.

        Fare enforcement is not the operator’s job. That is left to FOEs, other security officers, and transit sheriffs.

      2. They have mag stripe transfer printers which could be used. Or have transfer times punched rather than torn.

      3. TriMet has ticket printers on its buses now. They use the same stock as MAX ticket printers, and there is a nice big date stamp on the printed ticket.

      4. Ticket printers cost money, and the transfers will supposedly only be a around for a few years. Punching transfers requires a new design and probably punching them individually (which would slow down the bus). Tearing them can be done in bulk at the beginning of the run.

      5. You can punch transfers before your run. Most operators in punch agencies do, but then they charge for transfers so they give out fewer of them, as opposed to King County which gives them out upon boarding, whether or not they are requested.

  10. Plenty of *Suburban* systems in Europe ban cash, like Linkoping in Sweden. The only place you can get a bus card there is at the city’s central train station, and it works fine.
    Cash has to go.

      1. Would rather find out in Gothenburg than here.

        Where, incidentally, the Securitas fare inspectors in Gothenburg, (Gothenburg, Stockholm, Helsinki, Iceland, Securitas is actually the uniformed official force that holds the European Union together) aren’t allowed to wear standard guard uniforms.

        Instead, they get nicely-fitted grey windbreakers with green and white flowers on the back saying “If you have a question, ask me”. Because the company doesn’t want them to intimidate passengers. Regular guard uniforms are sort of military, but nobody’s afraid of those kids either.

        Just a thought, but Sweden’s universal conscription system makes draftees compete to get in the Army. Most are assigned to civil service. Which might finally give us a civil service that can can write fare policy and other rules people can stand.

        And just a guess, but suspect one reason Sweden’s got less crime than we do is because its people are willing to pay enough taxes to be sure most of their population has a decent life. Considering differences in our countries’ relative populations, size, and wealth, should be 60 times easier for us to do.


      2. “people are willing to pay enough taxes to be sure most of their population has a decent life”

        That’s it. Without it people are under continuous extistential stresses, and that leads some to become desperate in various ways.

      3. And we don’t even have to base an explanation on different cultures or the size of the country. The Scandinavians themselves instituted several reforms in the 90s and 00s, such as extending universal education and childcare and maternity leave, and it had widespread positive outcomes in the same countries.

    1. You can’t use cash on the extensive bus service in Santiago, Chile, either. You have to use a “bip” smart card. Oddly enough, you can in effect use cash to ride the Metro since you can buy a ticket with cash at the staffed station kiosks.

      You also can’t buy the “bip” card from the machines, you have to buy them at the station kiosks or at various retail outlets, none of which seemed terribly convenient to where I was (fortunately the Metro was very convenient!). You can’t even buy them at the airport, probably because the airport has no real public transit service.

      1. Will never happen. It’s an interesting fantasy, but there’s a reason cash exists. It’s foolproof. Card readers die. Cards break. Phones break. Phones get lost…

        The end of the article makes the point very well. The only way you’ll get rid of cash is if people start giving everything vital away for free.

        Otherwise, people will do what they do in countries which don’t issue useful cash: they’ll carry foreign currency.

      2. Most people already have given away everything for free. Every once in a while, I still get a reminder from a bank I haven’t used in years that all my account use data still belongs to them and they can sell it to whoever they want.

  11. So now a few extra seconds per stop is a big deal? Because when I pointed out Metro still has RapidRide Only 7 PM-6 AM signs on their off-board ORCA readers, leading riders to believe they still need to line-up at the front door of the bus after 7 PM and tap inside, a lot of you said, “It’s not a big deal. So what if people line up at the front door after 7 PM to tap on the bus. Not that many people ride after 7 PM.”

    Let’s make up our mind on issues, like this one. Then it’s agreed. A few second delay IS a big deal.

    1. It’s only a big deal to Transit Trolls who haven’t set foot on the bus since they were in high school.

    2. I completely agree with Sam here. If cash-payer delays are a big deal – and I think this blog’s proven they are – Metro should take measures to eliminate it. Lowering the Orca card fee is one such measure. Taking off the “Front door 7PM-6AM” sign on Rapid Ride buses is another. One may be more important than another, but both are good ideas.

      1. The languages thing may be just that he has a very international family. Although in some places it’s not uncommon. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, and born in Bialystok (now Poland) in the late 1800s, says he grew speaking Russian at home, Polish in the town, German in school, and Yiddish in the yeshiva. That’s four so he was almost as smart as Sam.

    3. A few extra seconds per rider adds up. If one rider gets on a bus at 9 p.m. it’s a few extra seconds. If twenty riders get on at rush hour and they all have to board by the front entrance and fumble for change it can be a few extra minutes for the bus to leave. Streamlining the night owl routes is appreciated, but not make or break.

      In any case, in my experience they have removed the signs at most of the RapidRide stops. Maybe they missed a couple or have since removed them or could be dropped a note to do so?

  12. I like what Hong Kong has done, which is to greatly increase the utility of their Octopus transit cards by allowing them to be used for non-transit purchases. Now most small-value vendors (convenience stores, fast food, etc) have Octopus readers. It’s faster than credit cards, easier than cash, and I’m guessing since it’s a stored value it doesn’t have the same fees for retailers that credit cards do. Win win and win. It gives infrequent users a good reason to carry the card, and gives everyone more locations to buy and reload their cards.

    1. Singapore’s smart card was like that as well, at least as far back as 2008. It was useful when walking around in weather I was unaccustomed to to be able to pop in to a 7-11 or whatever and get a nice cool drink!

    2. The problem is that federal tax rules prevent transit credit from being used for other reasons, so you would need to have a separate account for non-transit payments, or have a rule that any use of Federal transit funds “contaminates” the other funds on a card.

  13. How cheap do fare machines have to get before we can install them at every stop? Is it even possible in the medium run?

    1. I’m pretty sure it will be more cost-effective to have fare machines in everyone’s hands (e.g. contactless debit/credit cards and smart phones). ORCA 2.0 will be account-based, so it won’t require obtaining a physical fare medium if one has a smart phone or private bank/credit union card.

      The major edge case will be infrequent riders who use neither bank cards nor smart phones. But there are other edge cases, some of which I probably haven’t thought about.

  14. Pretty much every time I’ve been on Link approaching Westlake, the train has stopped in the tunnel to wait for buses to clear. Link is not a toy train anymore. Crush loaded trains being held up by a few cash fumblers on buses is not OK. “Don’t worry, in a few years the buses will be removed” is not acceptable either.

  15. Discouraging, but not eliminating cash fares seems like the way to go. It seems like we should see what other cities do, and then first try doing the same thing. I can’t imagine we are leaders in this area. But London is a very different city (as the author points out). But there are plenty of cities that are similar to us, and I’m sure they all have their strengths and weaknesses. But which ones charge for their cards, and which ones don’t? Which ones have a very high usage rate, and which ones don’t? If you have cash fares, but they are only used for a small minority of trips (and mostly on the less traveled ones at that) then worrying about going 100% cashless seems unnecessary.

    1. Exactly. We should look for the point that accepting cash goes from being an extra service to bad. It’s like the front-door exiting issue: the impact depends on the route and stop. Some routes have mostly ORCA payers and a few cash-payers are no big deal. The cash payers are often the same ones who don’t know the system and spend time asking questions (“Do you go downtown? Do you go to 70th & 35th?”) In contrast, on other routes it’s almost all cash payers. I see that most in eastern Kent but there may be other areas. Areas far from Link and with a lower-income clientele. I suspect that many people don’t know or forget that the Sounder station has a TVM because they don’t ride Sounder (either because it’s too expensive or they don’t go to Seattle much).

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