A recent presentation on One Center City / Convention Center expansion construction plans teased the possibility of an off-board payment zone on 3rd Ave all the way from Jackson St to Denny
Ave, with all-door boarding. King County spokesperson Scott Gutierrez quickly threw cold water on the tease by pointing out that the plan amounted to adding RapidRide-style off-board ORCA readers at each bus stop on 3rd Ave, as an additional payment option, all-door boarding, cash payers still paying while boarding at the front, and random fare enforcement on all the buses that traverse 3rd Ave.
The county is considering other measures to reduce the impact of front-door fare payment by (1) buying out the ORCA card fees for cards distributed at county facilities and possibly other facilities in King County; and (2) eliminating the zone and peak surcharges on Metro buses.
Policy changes like eliminating paper transfers, having a cash surcharge, and making the cash fare an even $3 appear unlikely to be proposed, much less stomached by the county council. Even if they were, they still wouldn’t eliminate the impact of front-door change fumbling on 3rd Ave. Nor does it appear likely that Metro or the council will expect everyone to get an ORCA card and keep it filled with ORCA product in order to be able to board on 3rd Ave.
There is another way to remove front-door fare slow-downs on 3rd Ave, and it is something that’s been used before, to great effect: a Ride Free Zone (RFZ).
The problems with the original RFZ included excessive dwell time waiting for passengers to push to the front and pay as they exited, and the mass confusion of when people were supposed to pay while boarding or wait until alighting. Thankfully, Metro’s plan to deploy fare enforcement on all the 3rd Ave buses, but not necessarily on 3rd Ave, helps solve that problem.
A new RFZ would deliver the additional benefit of moving fare enforcement off of 3rd Ave, where it would be difficult to do on crushloaded peak-hour buses.
Those paying with ORCA will be able to tap a reader on 3rd Ave before boarding, board at any door, and then exit at any door when they reach their destination, with or without an RFZ.
Those who have paper transfers covering the time their route reaches 3rd Ave will be good to go. But expect fare enforcement officers to be strict about the time, and merciless about issuing a citation if someone is clearly using a decade-old transfer slip.
Under a new RFZ, those paying cash might have to wait until they get to the edge of the zone to pay. They could take the first bus that goes to that zone exit, alight, and then buy a ticket at a kiosk installed at the first bus stop at the edge of the zone, or pay while boarding the bus on which they will be continuing their trip. It would take just a few kiosks to cover all the bus stops at zone exits. Ideally though, the ticket kiosks would be at all bus stops up and down 3rd Ave, and every kiosk would also feature real-time arrival listings, along with a nice place to put the ORCA readers so they don’t become free-standing street furniture obstacles.
Cash payers are the only category of riders who would act differently between the current plan and an RFZ plan. But many cash payers would welcome the return of a Ride Free Zone.
The stakeholder most likely to balk at this plan would be Metro, which would take a fare revenue hit, along with the capital and maintenance costs of ticket kiosks, which they currently don’t plan to deploy. That revenue hit would be at least partially, if not totally, ameliorated by the reduced operating costs from smoother, faster downtown bus movement.
The perpetual benefit of all-off-board payment on 3rd Ave could be a positive legacy of the convention center construction mess.
If you have other creative ways to reduce the impacts of front-door fare payment, this post is a good chance to offer them.