Oran Viriyincy / flickr

King County Metro rolled out two finalist options for an upcoming fare restructure Tuesday, as Zach reported:

* Option A: $2.75, any time, anywhere
* Option B: $2.50 off-peak, $3.00 peak

Senior, disability, youth, low-income, and Access fares would not change.

Previously, Metro had offered nine options for surveytakers’ priorities for the fare structure, using a dot exercise in which each taker could allocate 10 dots. The results came out thusly:

Regarding the #1 criterion among surveytakers, affordability, Metro is already on the cutting edge in the industry internationally, not just domestically, with its ORCA LIFT low-income fare card. It also gives out lots of tickets to human service agencies, which then give them out to clients who can’t afford any bus fare, in a program that is not so cutting-edge.

The second-round survey has a dot exercise offering five small-ball options for improving affordability, the most popular of which so far is “Expand the ORCA transfer time to more than two hours.”

I’ve written about the cool possibility of giving out monthly ORCA passes to people experiencing homelessness and other qualifying no-income situations, as a way to make the free-ticket program more useful for clients and less expensive to administer. Unfortunately, none of the options offered in the survey directly address the county’s homelessness emergency, through improved transit access for those who can’t afford to pay any fare.

Priority #2 was increasing ridership. Metro actually projects a minor ridership loss from enacting either fare restructure option. But getting past the cookie-cutter formulae used to calculate ridership lost when fares increase, it is reasonable to expect that if the fare restructure improves the passenger experience, the improved experience will induce new ridership that will more than make up for the statistically-insignificant projected ridership loss. Addressing the affordability problem head-on for those who are at the mercy of free-ticket availability would probably also increase ridership more than what is lost from adjusting the regular fares.

However, with the One Center City construction tsunami approaching, and hitting shore September 2018, there is limited ability to absorb new downtown peak ridership, as Alex pointed out. In order to move more riders without increasing the number of buses downtown at once, the buses simply have to get faster.

There are only so many ways to move buses faster downtown. Improved priority treatments such as making 3rd Ave buses-only 24/7/365 would help enormously in that regard. Efforts to shift riders to Link Light Rail for downtown trips will be limited by the lack of new light rail vehicles until late 2019. That leaves reducing dwell time through expediting fare collection as an emergency measure that needs to be in place by September 2018.

Indeed, priority #3 among surveytakers was making boarding faster. Sadly, getting riders to cease fumbling cash and change appears to be a taboo topic in the fare-review process. Surveytakers seem to be rebelling against the lack of any focus on cash disincentivization by choosing the dot-exercise option that is more about incentivizing ORCA than about improving affordability (“Expand the ORCA transfer time to more than two hours”).

That option, the aforementioned ORCA-ized monthly passes, and either fare proposal, would help on the margins. The county council’s efforts to eliminate the $5 barrier to getting an ORCA card would help even more.

Significantly reducing change fumbling will require some sticks, such as eliminating paper transfers, tacking on a cash surcharge, and/or banning cash payment at stops within a short distance of ORCA vending machines (but only during hours when said machines are available to the public).

One of the reasons I like Option A is that by setting all regular electronic fares at $2.75, it opens up the possibility of setting all cash fares at $3, significantly reducing the change portion of fumbling among those still paying with cash. Since Metro is trying to minimize complexity, such a surcharge should probably wait at least one service change after the flat fare is rolled out (which also buys time to get the card fee eliminated). If we are lucky, the county would roll out the flat fare this September, and the cash surcharge could roll out next March. The September 2018 service change will be all about re-routes, and educating riders thereon, so time is of the essence. Let’s call the option of the $2.75 flat fare with a 25-cent cash surcharge Option A+.

Options A and B do good things for simplicity and safety, but they don’t do much to treat riders’ time as being of the essence. Option A+ does.

Metro’s fresh survey on the two finalist proposals doesn’t really provide the opportunity to push the cash surcharge in a way that support can be tallied. But you can get your support for Option A+ registered by submitting a comment below and sending an email to Deanna.Martin@KingCounty.gov with the title “I support fare option A+”.

105 Replies to “Metro Fare Proposals Lack Cash Disincentives”

  1. DOA without a cash disincentive. I’m not incentivized even to bother voting without that key ingredient.

    1. Were it up to me, I would demand a $3.00 cash fare from every ugly-bag of-mostly-water that boarded the bus. Any discounts would be programmed into Orca cards. Also, no more paper transfers.

      Naturally, the USDOT would have puppies if we did that.

      When a rider asks me why the cash fare is more, I will be happy to tell them to look at all those other people on the bus and say, “The extra quarter is for wasting their time.”

      1. Plenty of agencies have cash surcharges and no paper transfers, without any concern by USDOT, or FTA, or any other federal agency.

      2. Chris, sounds to me the ugliest bag of liquid waste aboard your bus is rendering the driver’s seat unfit for road relief as we speak.

        If I ever see described attitude displayed by the operator of any bus I’m riding, thirteen years in same seat left me with enough concise report-writing and still-employed contacts to said driver on the street an hour after their base chief gets my complaint.

        Hopefully before a whole bus-load of smart-phones sends them viral enough to lose transit its next election. Multiple real-time videos of similar employee approach deservedly tanked United Airlines’ stock. And will hopefully rid the skies of them,.

        But now that we’re on the subject of behavioral problems, here’s the barn-sized woolly mammoth in the discussion of capital-H Homelessness. Real estate market is not to blame for this one. Like the other 49 States, our chief mental health-care provider is the criminal justice system.

        With transit assisting with some rooms and beds. Too bad the responsible State reps won’t get to this until they get out of prison for contempt because they won’t fund schools either. So let’s make them all clean and mop buses instead.

        Starting, where necessary, with the floor under the driver’s seat.

        Mark Dublin

      3. Hey, I am pretty fast on paying with cash. I, among other reasons, have it ready. That being said I find people who take forever very frustrating. Especially when we are already late.

  2. First I think we all agree the best answer is to make all public transit free.

    I am not a daily user of the bus, when I do I pay cash and of course have my money ready. I have an Orca card but my logic is this.

    My understanding is this. You have 2 hours for a free transfer after paying, I am guessing with an Orca card it is exactly after two hours you get charged again. With my paper transfer I can often use it for three or even four hours later and save some money because drivers are usually not very strict about checking them. Am I understanding this correctly?

    Please don’t question the morals, the less money they get from the fare box the more likely they will eliminate them all together.

    1. Your understanding of paper transfers matches my observations. But paper transfers last longer than that. You can re-use them when the same color/letter combo comes up again.

      Metro tried once to reduce the paper transfer window, but the change didn’t stick.

      I lived in Austin when Capital Metro tried its fare-free pilot project. It let to more ridership, but a significant service reduction and the legislature intervening at the behest of a local Democrat senator responding to the hate-radio crowd by pushing through a bill to throw out Capital Metro’s Board, and install a new board structure. The new board’s first action was to reassign the general manager to custodian duty. In response to the inadequate service problem, they then reduced the sales tax supporting that service by 25%.

      It was a disaster I would rather not see repeated here.

      1. It would be bad enough to have the Washington State legislature intervene. But the Texas legislature? Wow, the stink of that must still be attracting flies.

    2. ORCA transfers are set each moment you tap. Paper transfers are set when the bus starts its run, so it has to include extra time in case you get on at a later stop and get the transfer later. Drivers may adjust it during the run but I’m not sure how many do. Then there are through-routings like the 26/132, where the bus continues under a different number and the entire combined run is two hours. Transfers used to be called “One-Hour Passes” but it hasn’t been an hour for decades.

      Also, if you get a transfer after 9pm it will be cut for all night and to the first run the next morning. If you have an ORCA transfer, supposedly you can ask for a paper transfer in that case to get the longer time.

      1. FYI, it is the driver’s option to give you a transfer when you use your ORCA. They sit there and tell you that there are a two hours ORCA transfer go and sit down. This is despite the fact that the requested transfer has at leat 2.5 hours for transferring.

        In many cases, I’m forced to pay cash in order to get a paper transfer with more than two-hours for transferring.

        Some drivers refuse to issue transfer to ORCA users siting the fine print on the ORCA agreement. One driver let my cash and then reduced the paper transfer time to two hours. Another driver questions my RFP use which is none of their business. One driver said transfer are going away as the reason he would not give me on with an ORCA card. The gets even worse when the driver who wouldn’t give an ORCA user a transfer, but let people on the bus without paying!

        The most stunning event was when a driver told me to not pay my fare since I wanted a paper transfer!

      2. I’ve heard that officially you can get a paper transfer any time you pay with e-purse. That’s supposed to mitigate the unfairness of the 2-hour ORCA window. I’ve never used it because my pass covers most of my trips and I only occasionally have a surcharge (two zones or inter-county). But as always different drivers do different things.

      3. Yes, different drivers follow different rules and that is why I carry a dollar bill right next to my ORCA card. I really don’t think it’s worth arguing with a driver who wants to make RFP users pay more due to the ORCA two-hour transfer. Someday they will understand that money counts for seniors!

      4. For years, I would just tell people that asked for a transfer that the orca card gave them an electronic transfer. That changed when I realized that two hour window was from the time they tapped it. Now I sometimes counsel people that they should take a paper transfer with their cash Orca payment. Two hours from the tap is a real rip off, and why should they be penalized when people that pay cash and get a longer transfer? Paper transfers are cut for 90 minutes after the arrival time at a terminal. If it’s a shuttle that doesn’t go to the CBD, it will be cut for two hours after the arrival time. So on the shuttle I’m driving, someone that gets on and taps their orca at 10:26 AM when I leave the terminal, will have their e-transfer expire at 12:26 PM. The same person who pays cash and gets on anywhere on the route will get a paper transfer that is good to 1:30 PM. And you know with paper transfers there’s going to be some kind of grace period, depending on the driver. I think the orca transfer should be good for three hours minimum. 3 1/2 hours if you want to disincentives people paying with nickels and dimes, which I would definitely be in favor of.

      5. As one who has been hassled numerous times for asking for a transfer with my ORCA card, I must thank the drivers who just give a transfer. This is much faster and a lot less stressful. The following is a lame response for a complaint that I recently filed with METRO:

        Thank you for your recent case submittal, advising Metro Transit of the problems you experienced while using our service. I regret the circumstances that made it necessary for you to submit a case, and I apologize for any inconvenience and discomfort you may have experienced. Your use of public transportation is very much appreciated.

        I assure you that all Metro Transit drivers receive training in our fare policies and customer relations. Transit Operating Instructions direct drivers to avoid confrontations and never get into fare disputes with customers. When a customer fails to make a fare payment, operators are expected to request a fare payment one time, and then report the incident if the fare is not paid. They are also expected to use their
        best judgment, placing the highest priority on personal safety and safety of their customers. Our goal is assault prevention.

        In response to this incident, staff documented your comments and
        routed a report to the operator’s supervisor for review and action. The actions taken by the supervisor included a formal meeting with the employee and other investigative actions. Upon completion of the review, the supervisor determined that the employee was following established Metro Transit policies and procedures.

        The ORCA card serves as its own transfer. The transfers are
        built into the card and additional transfers are not provided. Some operators may give transfers if asked by customers and others may not as the transfer as referenced early is built into the card itself.

        As transfer times are built into the ORCA card, the operators should not be changing the times. For transfers that are provided, the inbound transfers are cut to expire one hour and thirty to one hour and fifty nine minutes from the scheduled arrival time at Pine or Union street. For outbound trips the transfers are cut one hour and thirty to one hour and fifty nine minutes from the scheduled arrival time at the outbound terminal.
        Again, thank you for contacting Metro Transit’s Customer Information Office.

        Please feel free to contact this office if we can be of further assistance.

      6. Reg,

        Money may count for seniors; I know it does for me too. But you already got half off, and remember, all you have to do is be on the last bus within the two hour window, because you don’t tap off with the buses. If you’re going from Shoreline on the E to Burien, you’re going to get a three-hour plus ride for one fare unless you tarry too long downtown.

      7. Maybe I’m crazy but isn’t a transfer supposed to be for the next bus? How often is that over 2 hours from tap on?

        Interesting thing about Metro transfers is that they are good for return trips with the paper, so for quick trips to/from the store only one fare is paid. Is that unique to Metro? The bus service where I grew up didn’t allow a transfer to be the return trip of the original fare. I’m guessing that’s one reason people like the paper. Does Orca allow the return trip to be a transfer?

      8. It’s for as many buses as you take within the transfer period. Some trips are 3-4 seat rides. And Metro explicitly allows round trips. Some agencies don’t. That never made sense to me because it costs the agency the same whether you take a return bus or an ongoing bus, so one person is getting less value for the same fare.

      9. @BUs Driver Frank,

        In your experience, what percent of fare disputes are about zones, what percent are about peak hour, what percent are about getting a paper transfer after tapping ORCA and using e-purse, what percent are just about getting a free ride, and what percent are about something else?

        Thanks for the information on the cutting rules.

      10. @Brad,

        Kitsap Transit still has paper transfers, which are good only at transfer points and only for the immediate next ride on a given route (though not to continue or return on the same route). All other transit agencies in the ORCA pod, except Metro, have gotten rid of paper transfers.

        I’ve experienced many different rules about paper transfers in many different systems.

      11. From the context, it seems clear operators are authorized to offer paper transfers for the purpose of de-escalating arguments with combative riders, not that they are supposed to offer the paper transfers in all cases.

        I do hope operators are following procedure and documenting each time they give out a paper transfer to someone who is being combative. They don’t deserve to be harassed by riders.

      12. But riders should not be read line verse from drivers who won’t provide a transfer when asked politely! I am tired of being told the I only deserve a two-hour ORCA transfer. It is really up to the driver to NOT escalate a simple equitable request for a transfer!

        The problem is not the passenger, but the METRO driver in this case! If a driver refuses to issue a transfer then I ask if they will give me a transfer if I pay cash, so they yes and I get a transfer (for over two hours)! So how dumb and time consuming is this?

      13. Jeez, man. Don’t be that guy who slows down the journey for everybody else by hassling the driver.

        All transfers are intended for two hour use, so cool your sense of entitlement to abuse the paper transfer.

      14. You’re right that not everything about Metro’s fare procedures makes sense. Metro actually wanted to ditch paper transfers back in 2009, and the county council pushed back. Operators are suffering these sorts of confrontations because the county council won’t think through the consequences of fare policy.

        That does not excuse some passengers’ proclivity to game the system by holding the bus hostage to get a paper transfer to which they are not entitled.

      15. Are saying that if I have an ORCA pass then I can not get a transfer if I pay cash. Or are you saying that I can’t pay cash since I have a RFP?

      16. Yes, Reg, you can use your RRFP as a flash pass to pay with a dollar bill, and then immediately get a transfer. I’d rather you do that than distract the operator from her/his primary task of driving safely.

        At a certain time late at night, the operator is also supposed to give you a paper transfer if you use e-purse. I’m not sure about whether you can get a paper transfer if you use an ORCA pass.

      17. “Metro actually wanted to ditch paper transfers back in 2009, and the county council pushed back.”

        Part of the pushback was the disparity in transfer times. Eliminating paper transfers is a de facto fare increase because people will have to pay twice instead of once. That’s why I was disappointed with Metro’s response to Reg, “The ORCA card serves as its own transfer. The transfers are built into the card and additional transfers are not provided.” The statement fails to even acknowledge the disparity at all. That sounds like how the proponents of globalization failed to acknowledge and mitigate the downsides of it, and that created anger in the people who got the short end of the stick, and they complained and weren’t listened to, and that led to Trump.

    3. While I personally agree with you that fare free transit would be ideal, I don’t think that “we all” agree on that.

      King Transit is not currently in a situation that would make the change to fare free feasible. If service were better, then directing additional tax revenue to reducing fares rather than improving service would be justifiable. If farebox recovery were lower, as it is in Pierce County, then only a small increase in revenue would be needed to make transit fare-free. King is in the middle ground between these two possibilities.

    4. Making transit free in Seattle would immediately turn our urban buses into roving tent encampments. If this were Stockholm, Tokyo, Singapore, Oslo, or Tallinn, then fine, free transit would work. Free transit in Seattle would make it unusable (or at least, very uncomfortable) for the majority since the US fosters a culture that doesn’t disincentivize antisocial behavior within the sphere of public services.

      My experience was with Stockholm, and while it’s very hospitable and generous in the public realm, Swedish society, and a bus driver in Stockholm (for example) wouldn’t tolerate for a second the things I see on Metro everyday. Nobody would be allowed on board without proof of payment, or at least without a high risk of a fare inspection and a hefty fine (and honestly, 99.9% of Swedes would be too ashamed to even try), and any weird behavior/excessive smells/non-headphoned media would generate an aggressive scolding and/or have you instantly standing out on the cold sidewalk. And most definitely, a 2 hour transfer would mean exactly 2 hours and not a lifetime scamming/entitlement device.

  3. I’m not sure why agencies are so obsessed with fare policy. Here’s a good policy: don’t charge people anything, and instead make up the difference by charging people to drive their cars during congestion locations and hours.

    Transit should be no-charge, no matter how big it is. People need to get over the, “but it’s not FAIR” complaint. The reality is that it’s not fair that the majority of our transpiration subsidies go to furthering the dependency on personal, private automobiles.


    1. The fare free transit systems I know about are generally rural systems where the cash handling and accounting costs would exceed the farebox revenue.

    2. Free transit is in Tallinn, Estonia. The city buys passes for residents, while visitors still pay. Congestion charges fund significant transit improvements in London but it’s not fare-free. (And the transit improvements are necessary to provide an alternative to driving, and to prevent hopeless overcrowding on the existing transit. 520 is supposed to be similar, with transit providing an alternative to the tolls. However, evening transit is still skeletal, as in once an hour, so it hasn’t been fully fulfilled yet.)

      Cities and regions need to recognize transit as a basic public service like libraries and parks. Why do we have free public libraries? Because the founders believed that an educated citizenry was essential for democracy. Likewise, public mobility maximizes a city’s commerce, tax revenue, people’s health, and social and cultural ties. So the city should provide a good baseline of transit, which is the only kind of mobility that can scale to a metropolis larger than fifty thousand people. Whether it’s free or just affordable is secondary, but there’s an argument for making it free because it’s such a basic service. Congestion charges can’t fund it alone (and will diminish if people start driving less), but that’s what general taxes are for.

      1. Mike,

        The vast majority of the wealthy people in the 520 ride-shed won’t ride the bus at night. They will to bypass congestion for work and athletic events, but not otherwise. Sure, there are a few dedicated environmentalist folks who will. But isn’t it obvious that if they wanted the “urban experience” of frequent buses they’d just live in the city?

        We’re pushing on a string to get them to ride the bus for non-work trips. They have four cars per family for a reason. [Yes, that’s an exaggeration; they have one car per person over the age of 16]

      2. Making transit free like libraries sounds conceptually good, but would have horrible outcomes. Look what has happened to our libraries in recent times, and most reasonable people would agree that ‘free’ isn’t necessarily good. When I was a kid here in the Seattle metro, my mom would drop me off in the public library and I would hang out all day reading, browsing, having a blast in a 100% safe environment. I never saw any weirdness, and I’m sure my parents never felt the tiniest bit worried about my unsupervised library time. Those are great memories for me because libraries were little utopian oases.

        Fast forward 20 years, and although I don’t have children yet, I don’t think I would let any kid be unsupervised in our currently dystopian public library system. On some days, it’s like Mad Max with books.

    3. It seems to work pretty well for roads. A bit too well! We already subsidize both transit and driving enough that the additional 20% fare box recovery MINUS the cost to collect it (including cash fumble and front door queue delay) is a drop in the bucket especially on a “per taxpayer per day” basis. Even more so in a driverless bus (perhaps not so distant?) future. So I say, as an intermediate step, charge a premium (aka a “toll”) for “premium, faster” regional express and Rapid Ride busses and trains and have the rest be free fare.

      1. Driverless buses might work on commuter expresses, but will never work on in-city base service. There aren’t many disruptive/dangerous people, but there are enough that middle-class folks will not use the service without a driver.

      2. Richard’s assessment goes against my experience. Link light rail is full of lots of well-to-do white folks who don’t mind being on a non-staffed light rail vehicle.

        The troublemakers tend to be more on the buses, with operators. I don’t know exactly why that is, but it is what I see.

      3. Brent, I concur 100% with you assessment, and have the same questions. My hypothesis is that since every station has a security presence, and the possibility (and eventual inevitability) of a fare inspection discourages ride theft and associated negative behaviors. Anyway, riding Link everyday has certainly opened my eyes to what Metro should aspire to be, at least in terms of ride quality. In general, I think ST does a much better job at fostering a positive transit experience.

    4. Lord no! The buses are often already rolling mental health shelters. They would be unbearable if it were free rides everywhere.

      1. Yes. Bad enough as it is, on certain runs. Some routes would actually benefit from having uniformed police riding along to discourage bad and uncivilized behavior.

      2. And free transportation does nothing to help the situation. Simply getting something for free does not improve peoples’ lives, it’s actually the opposite.

  4. ORCA transfer windows should be increased to match what paper transfers give, which is effectively more like 3 hours from the time of first tap, given both that they are generally cut for 2 hours from the arrival time of the bus at its destination, and drivers cut slack. If they increase the transfer window on ORCA… and if bus drivers can sell a pre-loaded ORCA (e.g. charge $7 for an ORCA that includes $5.50 of ride value, or two trips) then they can get rid of paper transfers entirely and give a solution to people paying cash who don’t yet have an ORCA.

    1. ORCA is several agencies. Only Metro has the 3+ hour transfer window. So the other agencies aren’t going to be dictated to by Metro, and they also have to look at the impact on their budgets if the window is raised.

    2. First off, Lets get rid of the cash fare/orca inequities by going to the day pass model. A single ride, or a day pass. Day passes are valued like the old Puget Passes, and if you have a $3 day pass it works on any fares in the region $3 or under, if you need a service that’s higher, you pay the difference, or the difference to upgrade your day pass. Metro, et. all should also upgrade fareboxes to the new GFI FastFares to standardize across the board, and have machine printable and readable day passes to further reduce fraud and abuse and also help with apportionment. the various low income programs can discount passes without needing a separate fare structure, i.e a $3 single ride or day pass is discounted by 50% or more. I’d also like to see the monthly passes go away and passes sold in increments of days, such as 15, 30, 60, 90, 365, etc. with increasing discount applied. Finally, fares should also be standardized as much as possible so you don’t have pass sales in odd increment amounts.

      1. Doing away with monthly passes would seriously undermine the Business Passport program, which provides Metro’s largest single chunk of fare revenue by far.

      2. Another option is a maximum daily fare and maximum monthly fare. When you reach the limit the rest of your trips are free, so it’s like an automatic pass without having to buy it in advance. Some agencies have these.

      3. I like Mike’s idea– I believe that’s how it works in London and other places. It’s a big win for folks who are occasional riders.

      4. I believe a day cap is being explored for ORCA 2.0 (scheduled to be rolled out in 2021). However if that is instituted, expect the single-ride fare to go up in order to make up for lost revenue.

      5. Single ride
        Day pass
        Weekly pass
        Monthly pass

        This eliminates *all* the transfer nonsense.

  5. How about giving an extra $1 bonus for every $20 someone puts on an Orca card? With an incentive like that, the $5 card fee could even remain.

    That’s a 5% discount. For comparison, BART gives a 6.25% discount for high value cards, including Orca’s sister card, Clipper. BART doesn’t even do this to promote fast boarding!

  6. As a cash payer since the annual senior pass was abolished, I see much more driver wasted time spent answering questions from tourists and non habitual riders. Cash payers are few and far between and also more time is taken up by lowering and raising the wheelchair access equipment, sometimes for the rider to go a couple of blocks.

    1. From the latest available figures, only 65% of Metro boardings are paid for with ORCA. (See page 10.) Cash covers the vast majority of the rest.

      I’ve seen seniors lift their accompanying devices up to the bus floor far more often than I’ve seen the ramp extended. This troubles me. But I haven’t been on any of the few remaining buses with lifts in awhile.

      You make a very good point that if there is no incentive to use ORCA, most riders won’t use it. (That 65% represents most boardings, but not necessarily most riders.) For every rider who takes 10 seconds to figure out how to tap ORCA the first time, I get someone on my bus who takes half a minute to find enough change. Metro measured the average time difference between paying with cash and paying with ORCA as 4.6-6.9 seconds.

      Given the time difference, I want Metro/ST/etc to reward every rider for tapping ORCA instead of using cash. A 25-cent surcharge is the least punitive path to that end.

      1. Especially since in that 2.3 second interval the next traffic signal will turn red…

      2. Or wouldn’t it be better to

        A) Make ORCA free with deposit to E-Purse and/or
        B) Do what Vancouver does and discount the card a flat percentage like 15% for all services?

        There are benefits for going between systems but outside of that there isn’t. The $5 fee and all doesn’t help adoption for casual transit users.

      3. A 25-cent surcharge would make it take 20 rides to make getting the card break even, and 21 rides to make it worth the effort, assuming the card fee remains $5.

        If the card becomes free (which the county council is pushing for, with a pool of $1 million set to buy out the fee), but there is no surcharge, getting the card breaks even at zero rides, but never becomes worthwhile.

        Doing both makes it worthwhile after two trips (not in the same transfer window), enough to use up the $5 minimum e-purse load the council is suggesting. Only one-time trips, returning within the 2-hour window or returning via some other mode, would not make it worth the while to get the card.

        Most of the remaining trips not using ORCA would be using human service tickets, classic paper transfers, or sob stories that hold the bus hostage until the operator relents.

      4. 4.6-6.9 seconds is the average time difference between the two payment methods. 2.3 seconds is just a range, meaning that most payments fall within the 4.6-6.9 second range of difference. Some cash payments are faster. Some are a lot longer, like the guy who took over a minute at one of my stops a couple weeks ago to search all his pockets and his pack for the requisite change, making it feel like the light rail stop at the airport. Personally, I have no problem with the driver lecturing that guy for not having his fare ready. Metro probably does, though.

        Just to be clear, cash payment typically takes *longer* than 4.6-6.9 seconds.

      5. I guess that 4.6 to 6.9 seconds must be especially maddening. Those damn seniors and “the poors”! How can we figure out new ways to make their lives even more complex and difficult because we are so selfish that we cannot understand what works for them, even if it inconveniences [off topic, ad hominem] a few seconds?

      6. It inconveniences everybody including those same seniors and poor. They just don’t realize how much their trip could be speeded up if at least 90% of people paid by ORCA. And faster buses means you can squeeze in more runs in the same time period, which gives greater frequency for free. That means seniors don’t have to wait as long for the bus or be as careful timing their trips.

      7. I agree with Dan H and Brent. If people use a pre-paid ORCA card with a high initial amount, they should get a discount. Many places (Vancouver noted above as well as BART) provide discounts for pre-paid rides.

    2. It depends on the route. Commuter routes have a lot of monthly passes so mostly ORCA taps. Other routes like the 268 and 269 were 90% cash last time I rode a year or two ago, because of the working-class nature of the ridership and the lack of TVMs. Some of them may have switched to ORCA Lift by now but I don’t know how many.

      1. ORCA LIFT is still not competitive with classic paper transfer collections or the $600,000 worth of counterfeit fare media Metro estimates riders try to pass off each year, of which 70% are counterfeit human service tickets. It’s hard to tell whether lots of people who do not qualify are using these tickets, or some agencies are extending their supply using Xerox, but giving them to legitimately-qualifying recipients, either because the county doesn’t allot enough, or charges the cash-strapped human service agencies too much for the real tickets.

        I’m also not sure if the county is looking at what percentage of the general population that qualifies for ORCA LIFT doesn’t have one, or what percentage of qualifying riders don’t have them. If they have no money and are dependent on tickets, I can see why they wouldn’t bother with getting ORCA LIFT. Also, many who qualify for ORCA LIFT are already getting a better deal with RRFP, for a qualifying disability.

      2. All these people are paying cash so they don’t need free tickets or recycled transfers. But for whatever reason they don’t use ORCA. I suspect most of it is because they rarely use Sound Transit, there’s no TVM in the area (and you don’t know about/remember the one at the Sounder station), and why prepay when you can pay as you go? The longer transfer period is probably low on their list if they even know about it. But if word got around that cash fares were higher than non-cash fares, they’d be lining up to get an ORCA card.

  7. I still say scrap the peak surcharge based on time of day and apply based on route demand. Lots of routes run nowhere close to capacity during “peak” while others are crush loaded well outside of peak hours. Just establish Peak fare routes, maybe distinguished with the X designation or a P or whatever. Note, you could have two routes that follow the same path but the Peak fare route would be a premium service.

    When I was in Nashville the fare box issued magnetic paper “tickets” instead of change. I don’t know how much they cost but if you paid $3 for a $2.75 fare you got a piece of paper you could feed back into the farebox and it would give you credit. This same system could be used to issue a transfer valid for EXACTLY the transfer period. You feed in the transfer an hour after you get it an it spits back another transfer good for one hour.

    Cash fare is obviously important to a lot of people. Especially since ORCA vending machines are not ubiquitous. I’d guess there’s also an overhead premium associated with it. Probably not as big a bite as that for highway toll collection but it would be interesting to know how much it does cost Metro to administer per ORCA transaction.

  8. I just want to lend my full support as somebody who pays with cash Skagit Transit fares and pays with preloaded ORCA card Community Transit, King County Metro, Sound Transit (obviously), King County Water Taxi (a few times a year), and occasionally Pierce Transit to this:

    One of the reasons I like Option A is that by setting all regular electronic fares at $2.75, it opens up the possibility of setting all cash fares at $3, significantly reducing the change portion of fumbling among those still paying with cash.

    I’d also do it at the same time as the one-zone fare. Send a damn message that this cash fumbling thing once you get into the cities co$ts taxpayer$ serious money. You could not run frequent light rail or frequent double tall buses having so much cash fumbling.

  9. Easiest approach might be to make ORCA cards as easy to get as coffee- including selling them in same cafe’s. And every other convenient public place we can find, so it’ll be literally impossible to turn around without seeing them for sale. Without any fee at all for the card itself.

    And get with the airlines to stick a card in every Seattle-bound ticket envelope, loaded with at least a day’s fare. Will at least tell arriving passengers that LINK is even there. Often only departing passengers know about it.

    Seem to remember that SF-Sacramento California Amtrak Capitol Corridor sells MUNI passes at cashier counters in the bistro cars. Seems to me worst obstacle to more business than transit is how hard it often is to pay for something.

    Especially, by observation, major cause of transit fare evasion.


  10. It appears to me that METRO can solve this transfer inequity problem by just having the driver offer a transfer to ORCA user. This will speed up the boarding process and cause a lot less hassle than having the ORCA user ask the bus driver for a transfer and the lame two-hour response from some drivers.

    It would also be great if METRO promoted their transfer time times as an incentive for more people to ride the bus. YES, two hours is not enough time and especially when we have recurring hold ups due to protest in and around downtown Seattle.

    The good part about the above change is that does not affect the ORCA system and the two-hour transfer will still work on ST!

    1. Your idea of how much delay is incurred by ORCA users asking drivers for paper transfers is pretty obviously skewed by [ad hominem].

      1. Yo mods, if you’re gonna mod a joke by excising the part of the joke that makes it a joke (as opposed to standard-issue belligerent nonsense), just put the whole thing out of its misery.

      2. I seriously doubt the commentor to whom you are deservedly giving a hard time would catch sarcasm any better than the moderators. He can’t even figure out when Metro is telling him that he doesn’t know Metro’s fare policy.

    2. How far do you propose a fare is supposed to last you? We already have Senior, Disabled and Low income fares including a 2 hour transfer. I feel like 2 hours of travel time is enough for $1.50 or whatever the low income rate is these days. You aren’t supposed to be able to get hours worth of errands done on one fare.

      1. Given your response, I have to ask if you object to seniors showing their RFP, paying a DOLLAR cash fare and getting a paper transfer? And yes, the paper transfer is longer than the ORCA transfer.

        I was told by a METRO supervisor that I can pay cash as a senior and still only pay a dollar, so who is right?

      2. No, I don’t object to senior fares at all. However it is unbecoming to complain about how long your transfer lasts when you are paying a dollar for 2 hours of travel time. It’s just another variation on the paper transfer scheme. I’ve known people who use orca, ask for a transfer and give it to their friend. All I hear from you is complaining– seems like you expect a three hour transfer still because the imprecise nature of the paper transfer gives you more room to fudge the transfer time. Which is supposed to be 2 hours. Sorry your loophole might go away!

      3. [Repeated infringement of Comment Policy, in particular a history of claiming other commenters don’t like seniors, without any evidence.]

  11. I don’t use Metro more than once a month at most. I always keep an envelope at home with cash fare inside for those unexpected occasions when I need to take a bus quickly. I don’t live close to potential vendors, such as grocery stores. Not having a cash option would be a loss to people who don’t use the bus that often but like to ride it occasionally. I also appreciate the paper bus transfer as it allows enough time for me to do my errands downtown and catch a bus back using the transfer. This has worked for decades, and I don’t understand why it suddenly needs to be demolished like everything else in the city.

    1. Not to worry. Nobody is suggesting banning cash as a fare medium accepted to board the bus.

      That said, every other agency in the ORCA pod except Kitsap Transit has long since stopped using paper transfers. Kitsap only accepts them for immediate transfers at transfer centers. Riders have adjusted in all those places with even fewer ORCA vending machines. They can be obtained by mail, after all.

      Charging 25 cents for the inconvenience to the other riders on the bus just doesn’t strike me as harsh.

      1. Given that you want to charge for cash payments, I must ask if you’re going to charge seniors too? Can you imagine the fumbling around they will have to do to find an extra quarter?

      2. Reg –
        Have you considered having your cash fare ready BEFORE you get on the bus? No one’s forcing you to fumble for change in front of the farebox.

      3. [Moderator’s Note: Personal attacks are not welcome on this forum. That includes accusing someone of not liking seniors or being condescending because she/he doesn’t agree with the personal viewpoint of the person making the accusation. Continued repetitive violation of our Comment Policy has occasionally led to a commentor being banned.]

        Pat, I find your response/suggestion to be condescending. I do not fumble around to pay my fare since I have a dollar bill handy with my ORCA card if the drive will not issue a transfer when I politely ask for one! It’s Metro’s problem when their drivers are inconsistent in the policy of issuing transfers to ORCA users. I wouldn’t have to even talk to the driver if they just gave a transfer to ORCA users.

        Lastly, I don’t want to penalized for using ORCA which gives a shorter transfer time than paying by cash. I’m not causing delays in the case, METRO is. Please let’s not start attacking people because they are seniors or don’t you want them riding the bus!

        METRO needs to stop ripping off people who use ORCA cards instead of cash!

      4. >> This has worked for decades, and I don’t understand why it suddenly needs to be demolished like everything else in the city.

        The problem is that cash payments cost everyone. There is a lot of extra time spent by drivers waiting for someone to pay with cash, and Metro has to process all that cash. The less people pay with cash, the more Metro can improve the system.

        >> Given that you want to charge for cash payments, I must ask if you’re going to charge seniors too?

        You can think of this as a surcharge for cash or you can think of this as a discount for ORCA card use. I think of it as the latter. So basically with Brent’s proposal, you get a quarter off each trip if you get an ORCA card. At the same time, the basic fare is rounded up (to 3 dollars) to avoid change fumbling — all we need to do now is create a $3.00 bill :)

        But the same process could apply to senior fare. If you pay with cash, it is one dollar, as it is today. But if you pay with your ORCA card, it is 75 cents.

        My understanding, though, it that doing that is unnecessary. I believe that all reduced fare cards are now issued as discounted ORCA cards, making cash payment unnecessary. As it is, the paperwork necessary to get a discounted card is way tougher than that required to get an ORCA card — even if you have the discount permit, you might as well get the discounted ORCA card (it is just easier). My guess is that there simply aren’t a lot of people paying one dollar cash fares, and the numbers keep going down as people get more and more ORCA cards. So it probably isn’t worth the bother to change that.

      5. Reg, the transfer time is two hours, and it’s built into the ORCA card. You’re not entitled to a three hour transfer just because the hilariously outdated paper transfer system gives you one. The intended function of transfers is to, you know, allow you to transfer to another bus to get to your destination, not to allow you to take your return trip for free. Two hours is more than enough for that.

        If you start a fuss with a bus driver over paper transfers (because you wanna save yourself a buck on the way home), you’re the one delaying the bus, not Metro.

      6. Pat, your response has been contradicted by others on this thread and makes not sense.

        A transfer is a transfer whether on paper or electronic and should be the same. In addition, show me where I can not use my ORCA transfer for a round trip!!!

      7. >Pat, your response has been contradicted by others on this thread and makes not sense.
        Show me. It looks like everyone else agrees with me. You’re the one claiming that you know Metro policy better than Metro does.

        >A transfer is a transfer whether on paper or electronic and should be the same.
        I agree with this. In theory, drivers ought to be adjusting the tape every so often so that the transfer window is indeed 2 hours, but most just cut it off for 2 hours after the end of the trip, which makes it roughly 3 hours for most people. This is a bug, not a feature.

        > In addition, show me where I can not use my ORCA transfer for a round trip!!!
        No one says you can’t. I’ve done it before for a quick run to the store. The point is, that’s not the intended purpose of transfers. If you manage to get on your return bus before your transfer expires, good for you. If not, you have absolutely no grounds to complain because that’s not what transfers are intended for.
        If you’re actually taking a two-seat ride to your destination with a 2+ hour wait in between, you should probably consider alternative routes.

      8. I don’t see any comments except Reg’s that corroborate that e-purse users are always entitled to a paper transfer. All I see is evidence that Metro drivers sometimes hand them out in order to avoid a complaint and to get the bus moving. Just like if the passenger said “I’m going to stand here and hold the bus hostage until you give me a free ride.” And then the driver often does.

        That’s not Metro ripping the fare evader off. That’s the fare evader (or the paper transfer thief, by means of holding the bus hostage and threatening to file a complaint) ripping us all off.

      9. Frankly, this whole complaint about not getting a 3 hour paper transfer is just another variation on the transfer scam, on a more benign scale. As far as I’m concerned, you get on the bus, you got 2 hours of ride time. After that, you pay again for your return. We have very generous lower income fares (and senior fares, which aren’t even dependent on income!) Seniors with more money than me pay less! Then complain their return trip isn’t free!

  12. In Toronto, fares are $3.25 for a single fare, $3.00 per fare in bulk. Why can’t they just do something like that?

  13. Let’s get serious and establish a distance based fare for buses, just like for our light rail. This would mean on/off swipes of an ORCA card, and would be far more equitable than the current system or the latest proposals. In particular, suburban commuters can pay more and should.

    1. Only peak-hour express routes should charge more, not the all-day milk routes that serve the same stretch.

    2. Brilliant idea. So not only are buses delayed as people board the bus, but buses would be delayed further as people have to stop to swipe their cards getting off the bus. LOL.

    3. That only makes sense if you have off board payment. Otherwise you have the problem that Chris mentioned (slowing down buses both ways). I could see this in the future, though. For example, the E and Swift could be combined, and go from Everett to Seattle (on SR 99) with all off board payment. If you take it the entire way, you get charged more than if you ride it a couple blocks. Personally I don’t see much value in that, though, as very few would do that. If they are willing to pay that much of a time penalty to save money, chances are they are down and out and need every dime.

      It could make sense for some commuter runs, but again, would require a lot of work that probably isn’t necessary. As Elbar said, simply charge more for peak express routes. It is possible that someone would get charged extra for a small trip (before the bus got on the freeway) but that seems like a minor deal. Most of those buses are designed to whisk people to downtown, as they provide very low popularity destinations along the way (e. g. park and ride lots). That makes them different than buses like the 41, which serves as both a means to connect neighborhoods (Lake City, Pinehurst, Northgate) as well as an express bus to downtown. The 41 is a combo bus, and even without the express, would still exist. But for a lot of express buses, that isn’t the case. Without the express bus, there simply wouldn’t be a bus connecting these locations. Therefore, someone who is riding only a short distance is in effect getting special service, and thus the extra charge is reasonable.

  14. @Brent
    I don’t have hard numbers on the percentages for fair disputes, but mostly they are people that don’t want to pay or only partially pay. I would include Peak/peak, and zone fares as part of the partially pay group. So probably all those make up 95% of their disputes. Really, what is left?
    Sidenote: people that asked for a “courtesy ride”
    Have either been in jail or know somebody that has. It seems to be a myth that is perpetuated by that group. Courtesy ride, it’s not a thing at all and it just pisses drivers off when people ask for that.

    1. Have you dealt with riders who were not entitled to a paper transfer insisting on getting one?

  15. Good Idea, but I would do something slightly different:

    1) Cash fare is $3 at all times.
    2) ORCA fare is $2.50 off peak, $3.00 peak.

    This retains the same simplicity and encouragement that Brent’s proposal does, but only during off peak. So if you forgot your card, or just decide not to buy one, it is always three dollars (easy to remember). My guess is folks like Ben (above), who use the bus only occasionally, tend to do so in the middle of the day. It makes sense to take a bus then, as it is less crowded, and moves faster. Now Ben has reason to buy the ORCA, as it will save him money in the long run.

    Folks who commute to work probably use an ORCA card, especially if they commute during regular rush hour times. It is just simpler if you take the bus on a regular basis. Charging more for cash might get a few people to buy an ORCA card, but chances are they are going to get one anyway.

    Rush hour commuters tend to be better off than off peak commuters, and they tend to go to places better suited for transit. A white collar worker is bound to commute during rush hour, and not only is transit often faster, but much cheaper (as office building typically charge for parking). But the folks who make the least money in the office towers — the cleaning crew — arrive late and leave late. Someone who cleans bed pans for a living is more likely to work an usual shift, along with people working the 7-11, and security guards (all low wage workers). In many of these cases there is available parking, and traffic really isn’t an issue. At that point you have a trade-off between driving or taking the bus.

    It may be cheaper to take the bus (the costs for driving add up) but taking the bus isn’t cheap. At $2.50 a ride, it is 5 bucks a day. If you work 20 days a month, that is 100 dollars. If the fare is $3.00, you have to pay an extra 20 bucks. That is significant. I’m sure there are people who already own a car (for whatever reason) and feel like driving is cheaper — or at the very least, the cost savings of a bus aren’t enough to make up for even a relatively small amount of time. By having a lower fare, you provide an incentive for these people to get an ORCA card and use it.

    1. It’s a good proposal but it’s missing something. There’s one way to eliminate all this “transfer” nonsense.

      Day pass, available only on ORCA, $5.

  16. I don’t think we can eliminate cash fares with this version of Orca. Online payments can take over 24 hours to go through — can’t tell you the number of times I had to pay in cash when I was using ePurse because I forgot to load my card the day before. People don’t like to use the auto-load because it sometimes fails and then you’re up a creek without a paddle. If you’re taking the bus from where you live and you don’t happen to be next door to a light rail station, going to a TVM before you get on the bus isn’t an option — how do I get to a TVM when I can’t take the bus there?

    1. Full cashlessness is not a feasible goal at this point. A few European cities have it, but they have a much better transit infrastructure, more widespread vending places, and their cultures has decades more direct experience with transit and acceptance of it. In Germany the government can decree a first-rate transit network and build it unhindered, and tell people to get passes and tickets at such-and-such places, and everybody can know that and easily get fare media at widespread train stations, newsstands, and well-known shops they can walk to in most places. (This is an amalgram of many European cities, not any one city.) If a few residents or visitors don’t know what to do when their car breaks down or they’re in an unfamiliar city, others can quickly tell them. And in these cities, the main train station is the center of the city, and it not only has a customer-service center but a supermarket and other retail, so people know to go there for anything they need, and they can bus/walk/car to it to get their first pass if they have to. In contrast, American cities have generations of people who have never used transit except school buses, visitors come with no knowledge of transit and are starting from their host’s house, and some people use transit only when their car is in the shop and they have only cash, and their trip may start in the suburbs where there are not only no TVMs but there are no businesses at all in their neighborhood.

  17. Metro’s policy regarding senior/disability fares is that you have to have and show a Regional Reduced Fare Permit. A few riders may still have the pre-ORCA version.

    As long as Metro has cash fares (and nobody is proposing to ban cash payment universally, at least that I’ve seen), the RRFP cash fare will have to be no more than half the peak full fare, under federal law. The electronic RRFP fare will have to be no more than half the peak full electronic fare. There is no requirement that the cash and electronic fares be the same. Nor does the RRFP intergovernmental agreement require the existence of a cash fare.

    Of course, it would be counter-productive to charge $1.25 instead of $1 cash fare if the goal is reducing dwell time.

  18. Making the cash fare more expensive does one unintended thing: it makes taking transit less desirable for occasional users. I’ve used public transit in the Puget Sound area exactly zero times this year, and probably about four or five times last year. I had used transit systems overseas, though, four times this year. Because of cost, we nearly didn’t use transit for that last trip and nearly booked the airport bus instead of a light rail. The only reason we didn’t was because of the advice of the hotel concierge who indicated it would take longer. BUT, the airport bus – a private door-to-door shuttle – worked out to be $5 cheaper per person. Money talks, folks!

    As somebody who only occasionally takes a trip in this area that can be done efficiently by bus, I don’t usually have an ORCA card handy. My last one “broke” because they can’t be carried in a wallet without damaging them. My new replacement card is filed safely in a cabinet where it won’t get destroyed by basic wear and tear. I do usually have easy access to quarters and dollars thanks to our snack cart at work, though, but now that folks on here are advocating increasing my fare… why not just drive? Taking the bus is a pain and a hassle. It is slow. It gets stuck in the same traffic. It usually takes some idiotic circuitous path. Just be happy that anybody takes it at all. If people are willing to face the time penalty, then, by all means, don’t penalize them for paying cash. You should be happy that they are paying and taking the bus at all.

    (I almost took the bus this morning until I Googled a route: 2 hours 15 minutes by bus, 35 minutes by car. That was a no-brainer.)

    1. Yep. Visitors (like me) will avoid your public transit sytsem if you do stupid stuff like charging a $5 fee for the transit card. It should be easy to walk on and get a ticket, and it should be cheap.

      I use the public transportation in San Diego (where the universal thing is day passes — no worries about transfers, so you get a good deal), Chicago (again, day passes), Boston (where they hand out CharlieCards on request), and NYC ($1 *refundable* fee for Metrocard).

      ORCA is junk compared to *any* of these, and none of these are that great, honestly.

  19. Here is what I think should happen as far as the future of fares are concerned.

    1. Go paperless. No more paper transfers.
    2. Free ORCAs. No charging 5 dollars for a new one.
    3. More places to get a new ORCA and refill them.
    4. Have a thirty day pass option. When working past jobs the pay schedule would make this a better option. What mean is that instead of from like May 1st until May 31st it would be thirty days from day of purchase.
    5. Allow large bills to be allowed in machines
    With a minimum purchase of course.
    6. Stronger enforcement of fares.
    7. Ten percent discount for monthly passes.
    8. Tax breaks for businesses that pay for passes.
    9. Make more routes RapidRides. So we can have faster entry and exits.
    10. One fare all day no zones.

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