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.