CT 23800 at Lynnwood TC
Route 421, one of several commuter routes affected by the fare policy change

Community Transit is proposing a small fare policy change for next year, as part of preparation for the next-generation ORCA system planned to launch in 2021. If approved at next month’s board meeting, the fare policy change would eliminate a lower-cost fare used on commuter routes by riders who only ride within one or two zones. The change comes as part of a region-wide push to streamline fares for the next-generation ORCA system, which will already be limited in some ways.

As it currently works, a rider in Lynnwood who is bound for Marysville can take Route 421 (the Seattle-Lynnwood-Marysville Express) and only pay $2.25, the regular local fare, as opposed to the $5.50 fare charged for commuter routes from the North and East ends of the county. Route 421 is also able to carry Seattle-Lynnwood commuters and charge the South County fare ($4.25) through the same arrangement. Riders request the lower fare from the driver, who will either accept the lower cash fare or manually override the ORCA reader with the Local or South County fare option, before switching back for the next person in line.

A Marysville-Lynnwood-Seattle trip, before and after the fare policy change (Community Transit)

A 2013 study by Community Transit determined that less than 2 percent of commuter route boardings used the “local fare override” described above, while 30 percent of Route 421/422 boardings used the Lynnwood-Seattle fare override.

The portions of the commuter route network that venture off Interstate 5 and away from park-and-rides are well served by local routes, which Community Transit suggests as an alternative for in-county riders. In some specific cases, taking the local route may be no slower than their express counterparts, thanks to their aversion to using Interstate 5; for example, between Lynnwood and Marysville, Route 421 can take up to 47 minutes, while Routes 201 and 202 take 51 minutes and travel further into Marysville, saving a cumbersome transfer.

The subset of commuters hopping aboard the North County routes at Lynnwood Transit Center would also feel relatively little impact. According to Community Transit data, Route 402 and Sound Transit Express Route 511 have enough spare capacity to fit all 397 average daily boardings for users of the “South County Commuter Override”, albeit requiring them to catch a bus on 4th Avenue instead of 2nd Avenue.

Community Transit will accept public comments on the proposed fare change until September 11, through a variety of methods, including:

  • In-person hearing at the Board of Directors Meeting on Thursday, September 7, at 3 p.m. (7100 Hardeson Rd., Everett, WA)
  • Phone: (425) 353-RIDE (7433)
  • Email: farepolicy@commtrans.org
  • By mail: Community Transit; Attention: Strategic Planning; 7100 Hardeson Rd.; Everett, WA 98203-5834

28 Replies to “Community Transit Proposes “Simpler” Fare For Some Commuter Routes”

  1. If they’re going to make this change, it begs the question of whether the 421 should be stopping at Lynnwood at all.

    If everyone using that stop has cheaper and more frequent alternatives on other routes, why not just skip it, and save Marysville-Seattle commuters an extra 5-10 minutes.

    1. Because it boosts Lynnwood frequency beyond the 511 and makes CT into a premium, mostly employer paid pass clientele who aren’t price sensitive. Not an ought statement, just an is.

    2. Even with the full fare in effect, I think there’s still going to be people boarding the now emptier 421/422 at Lynnwood because their passport covers the full cost anyway. And perhaps there’s still going to be Stanwood to Lynnwood commuters that will just pay the doubled fare.

    3. But, according to numbers, the number of people going from Marysville to Lynnwood is less than 2%, and the 30 %of people getting on at Lynnwood are waiting for something else, and just happen to see the 421 come by first.

      If sound Transit is correct, and the 511 does have the spare capacity to absorb this 30%, then what is gained by having the 421 make the stop?

      1. The 511 does not have capacity; at least not the ones I’ve seen arrive in Lynnwood between 5:45 and 6:30 AM.

        I choose the 421 (or 425 which has the same route from Lynnwood to Seattle) because it goes directly to the south end of downtown. The 511 and 402 go to the north end and meander south. There’s usually a long line for the 421/425 in the morning, which can be as long as the line for the 511.

        If there was a route that began at Lynnwood and went directly to the south of downtown, I would take that. In the afternoon, it is significantly faster to take a 421/425 back to Lynnwood from 5th/James than a 511 on 4th (sometimes a half hour faster).

        Like most 421/425 riders, I have an orca, one my employer pays for. I know I can tell the driver I am going to Lynnwood and they will change the fare. Given that my orca is basically an unlimited pass for me, it makes no difference if they change it or not. I stopped asking because it just held up other riders, to change then change it back. So I’m pretty sure if the data’s coming from the number of orcas tapped for the zone, it’s not good data.

  2. Why are we designing our fare policy around the technical limitations of Next Generation Orca? Why not instead get a Next Generation Orca which actually does what we want it to do? It looks like it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

    On the specific point here, I’m equivocal on the Local Fare Override, but I support the South County Override. They’re not taking seats away from long distance commuters; they’re just using up capacity that’s already there and saving themselves a little time. Why make them wait for the next 511/402 when there’s a bus going right their way anyway?

    1. The linked article says, to “reduce Next Generation ORCA system development time and costs”. In other words, higher costs mean higher taxes, or taking it from another part of the transit budget.

    2. Agreed. I don’t know anything about the next gen orca yet, but this makes me suspicious. How robust is a system were having multiple zones increases development costs more than 2%?

  3. I’ve talked to Community Transit about this – and at first was a bit… furious. The sad part is to keep the local overrides would only impact 2% of ridership. The cost increases for ORCA Next Generation to keep the override would be more than 2%. Furthermore, the cost of ORCA itself right now is a barrier to getting more agencies to join ORCA.

    My main personal issue with this is, has been and always will be the fact those commuter routes to Mukilteo coupled to the Route 113 provide the afternoon frequency to connections a key part of Mukilteo deserves – but my understanding is that Community Transit is going to seriously adjust transit service around Paine Field. As such, I’m a bit more… placid if not placated and patient about this now.

    1. The local overrides affect all the riders who happen to be on the bus, in the same way change fumbling does.

      The ORCA pod charges a substantial fee for new agencies to join. That is probably a larger barrier than concern over the card fee.

      Getting rid of zone overrides is part of preparing for the One Center City period of maximum constraint, which is why the agencies got together and agreed it needed to be done.

      1. If that’s the only reason, how about getting rid of zone overrides northbound and only charging them southbound into Seattle? The driver can set one zone override just before pulling into Lynnwood / Montlake Terrace, and it wouldn’t take any more time.

        It’d even have some logic to it: a northbound passenger for Lynnwood is taking a seat that could’ve gone to a Stanwood passenger; a southbound passenger isn’t.

      2. That’s sort of happening anyway. On routes with a substantial number of stops in Seattle and/or King (e.g., 512, E, SODO busway), inbound the driver sets the reader to one zone at the boundary, and outbound the whole way. Maybe not always but that’s usually my experience. You’re supposed to ask for an override if you’re going two zones but many people don’t know that, don’t bother, or the driver waves them in. The opposite case of having to ask for a one-zone override is mostly on outbound routes with few Seattle/King stops, or inbound in cases like 200th to 155th.

      3. Actually no the zone changes with king county metro happen automatically. On the 150 it’s set for one zone up until lander. Then at Spokane it’s last Seattle stop it automatically switches to two zones and then automatically to one zone. Driver doesn’t have to change anything. Also on off peak trips the machines reset even though the fares don’t change.

  4. I wonder if next generation ORCA could have tap-on-tap-off for longer bus routes, with an ORCA reader at the rear doors? This could enable rear door boarding as well.

    1. And even more simply, make everything distance based. Require ORCA and tap-on/tap-off and provide readers at every door. Zones are a pain and this system would make everything simple and straightforward, plus make everything faster.

      1. That seems more complicated, as people would have a different price for different trips. I find DC Metro’s pricing system difficult to navigate, even if it’s well designed.

        Also, charging for higher prices would discriminate against people who commute long distance, which brings in an equity component, as people who commute from edge cities are frequently people who simply can’t afford to live closer to their jobs.

      2. More complicated in the sense that it would be like Link. But practically speaking, you tap your card when you get on, and you tap it when you get off, and you’ve paid your fare.

        As for discriminating against longer commutes, well, zones are supposed do that already. I personally think distance is fairer. You set the price to be roughly equivalent to what it is now. But instead of tying fare differences to crossing a lake or county border, you calculate them purely on distance.

      3. Who wants to do the Title VI analysis for this mess? Utah Transit Authority considered it systemwide and found that Hispanics ride longer distances than white people for suburban trips, and further analysis is needed whether it is a Title VI issue. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965856414001785

        Also, the riders did not perceive any value, because they would not be able to know the price of their trip unless they researched it online beforehand. Stakeholders opposed adding a layer of complexity to their trips. So it was a “no go” on distance based fares to the UTA bus and light rail system, which covers three counties between Orem, Salt Lake City, and Provo. The commuter rail still has distance based fares, though.

    2. Tapping a second time and crowding at the doors for every trip is less painful than zones and zone overrides? You must not make 2- or 3-seat bus trips within Seattle. Some segments take only 5 minutes to ride, but you want people to tap twice? I do it on Link from Capitol Hill to UW but there the overhead of the second tap is infinitesimal to the overhead of getting out of the station. In contrast, the overhead of getting on the 49 for three stops and transferring to the 131/132, when several other people are getting off the 49 at the same time and tapping off, is a bigger deal.

      1. Personally I think we should go proof of payment everywhere, but Vancouver has a great metro and they do tap off. The only time I could see this being a major inconvenience is at a station like Westlake where the majority of riders deboard

      2. I really think you’re making this a much bigger deal than it is. You put 2 or 3 readers around each door of the bus. When you enter or exit you tap. People can tap just before their stop if they’re already near the door. For larger stations, allow off-board tapping as well. You can probably even avoid tapping out if you’re transferring at the same station. Everyone has to get out of the bus anyway through a narrow door – having them touch their card to a reader won’t add extra time. At the very least, it’ll get rid of cash fares.

        I’ve never ridden Vancouver’s system, but Amsterdam does this and their system is quite nice.

      3. Vancouver abandoned their tap off on buses. Buses are now one zone all day every day. For rail and sea bus it’s still tap on tap off. So in Vancouver for the moment it’s still tap on only on buses but they charge the lower amount.

      4. Meanwhile in the Bay Area…Golden Gate Transit, Sonoma County Transit, and Marin Transit have been using tap off on their buses for years. No hassling the driver, no confusing zone overrides, no pressing zone select buttons (like in Denver).

        Or in Singapore, which implemented it with their EZ-Link card way back in 2002. Their daily bus ridership is 3.9 million.

        Looks like whoever implemented Vancouver’s system did a poor job.

  5. The issues in this post also explain why Metro is wanting to set their adult fares to a single price, thus eliminating zone resets. I wonder what sound Transit’s solution will be for inter county buses.

  6. A “next generation” ORCA sounds like you should not even have to take the card out of your wallet, and your fare should be deducted automatically upon passing through a fare gate for the train and based on proximity from the bus for a bus. The bus doors could detect a (passive) RFID signal coming from the card or fob, similar to the way chip times work in running races. Together with GPS you know where that driver got on and when they got off. A checkout-free experience!

    What are the costs? Race timing companies charge a few dollars per runner for chip timing, and passive RFID cards on Amazon are currently like twice as expensive as ORCA cards, and you need a reader for each bus door (unless you still require front door boarding and don’t charge by distance). Key chain fobs seem to be cheaper than cards, around $2/piece. And these costs do tend to come down. Cost of the equipment is the main risk here, admittedly a significant one, but it should be within reason. And sometimes you get what you pay for. Oh, and many people could use phone apps in lieu of a physical card. This is all *today’s* technology, and we have a local tech community that is surely up to the software development challenges.

    1. And when I buy a card to give to my friend who’s coming from out of town tomorrow… sorry; the fare gets taken off when I board the bus home with it in my pocket!

      No, good idea, but needs to be worked on.

    2. I don’t take the card out of my wallet now.

      Card readers can be set stronger so they work from farther away. The gesture of tapping is to show that you intend to charge the card and don’t just happen to be near a reader. If the bus doors open and it charges people who are standing next to the door waiting for another bus because there’s no place else to stand, (and they didn’t know where the bus would stop anyway because sometimes buses stop at the front of the zone and sometimes in the middle), that would be bad. Conversely, would people be cited with a $124 fine if the reader didn’t notice them? “Your jacket is pretty thick… probably to evade transit fares.”

      Switching to a passive reader would speed up the tapping time and make longer-distance options more feasible.

      They only thing we know is that they want to simplify the fare structure and avoid multiple fares in the same bus run. We don’t know that it won’t be passive or won’t accept phone payment or all these other things. (Although remote readers in the doors sounds very unlikely because it would require replacing thousands of doors with a technology that even exist yet. That’s not just software but hardware, and large metal doors, and hinges that have to be installed, etc.) In fact, the link article says they’re targeting a passive system, and considering open-payment proposals, etc.

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