A $3 Metro cash fare could make fishing for quarters while holding up a bus mostly go away.
Photo from Wikicommons

The $2.75 flat fare just proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine is a big step forward for the simplicity of King County Metro’s fare system.

But consider if the cash fare were $3 instead, with the electronic fare left at $2.75.

Paying $3 is simpler and faster than paying $2.75. You just pull out three dollars and slide it into the farebox. $2.75 involves either a two-step process of pulling out two dollar bills and then fishing for three quarters, or, fishing for eleven quarters.

The speed-up of paying in dollar bills only, in and of itself, should significantly reduce the time impact of cash fumbling, by removing the change element of the fumbling. That is before calculating the time savings from cash payers converting into ORCA tappers.

Having the two different fares doesn’t create complication. Those paying the regular fare with cash would pay $3, any time, on any Metro bus. The fare for those paying with ORCA would be $2.75, any time, on any Metro bus. The actual cost to the ORCA tapper would be somewhere less than $2.75 if the rider is using a pass or has an electronic transfer from another transit ride within the previous two hours.

Seven other US bus agencies with smart cards charge higher cash fares than smart card fares, and all of their smart cards are much cheaper than the ORCA Card, which costs $5 to get.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (Greater Boston) got it right: Its cash bus fares are $2 local, $5 inner express, and $7 outer express, while Charlie Card fares are $1.70 local, $4 inner express, and $5.25 outer express. It also doesn’t have paper transfers and doesn’t charge for getting a Charlie Card.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) charges $2.75 for most cash-paying riders, and $2.50 if they pay with the Connect Card (which costs $1, and is the only way to get transfer credit).

Sun Tran (Tucson) charges a 25-cent cash surcharge for regular fares and 15-cent cash surcharge for “Economy” fares. The SunGo Card is the only way to get transfers, but the card costs $2 to get, which ties it for third-most-expensive bus smart card in the country.

Milwaukee County Transit has a 50-cent surcharge on its regular adult fares and a $1 cash surcharge on its adult express fares. Its M•CARD also costs $2.

The Regional Transportation District (Greater Denver) has barely rolled out its MyRide Card, and already has 25-cent cash surcharges for all its regular fares and 15-cent cash surcharges for all its reduced fares. The MyRide Card is free with a minimum $5 purchase of fare product

San Francisco Muni now has a 25-cent cash surcharge on adult fares and 10-cent cash surcharge on reduced fares. Clipper Cards remain free if you set up auto-reload (or $3 if you don’t).

Roughly half the bus smart cards in the US are free. The only bus smart cards in the US that cost more than $2 are the ORCA Card and Utah Transit Authority’s FarePay Card, which costs $3. However, the card comes with a deep discount over cash fares, and riders can pay with their own contactless debit/credit cards. The FarePay discounts are set to go away at the end of the year, but they were set to go away before this year, and the promotion keeps getting extended.

Here, the ORCA LIFT (low-income fare) program’s cash fare is the regular adult fare, which will soon be a flat $2.75 on both Metro and ST Express. The electronic fare is $1.50 on Metro buses, ST Express intra-county trips, Link Light Rail, the Seattle Streetcars, and likely soon the Seattle Center Monorail.

The King County Water Taxis also have cash surcharges.

During the summer youth ORCA promotion, Metro buses and the Seattle Streetcars charged only 50 cents when a youth ORCA card was tapped, while Sound Transit charged $1 when a youth ORCA card was tapped. The cash youth fare on both bus services remained $1.50. Metro and Sound Transit will analyze data from the promotion, and may subsequently come out with a proposal to reduce the youth electronic fares on a permanent basis (which is to say it would always be lower than the cash fare, not that the fare would necessarily be frozen forever), and reduce or eliminate the $5 fee for getting a youth ORCA card.

If Metro’s regular cash fare were raised to $3, the LIFT cash fare would also rise to $3. That would just leave youth having to fish for quarters. Raising the youth cash fare to an even $2 or eliminating the youth cash fare (which would default it to $3) seems like a fare trade-off for reducing the youth electronic fare to $1 or less, so long as youth ORCA cards become free. Of course, if the youth fare comes down, it would seem fair to similarly reduce the LIFT fare.

The County Executive’s proposal would leave Metro’s fares looking like this:

Payer Category Cash Fare Electronic Fare
Adult (Age 19-64) $2.75 $2.75
LIFT (low-income card) $2.75 $1.50
Youth (ages 6-18) $1.50 $1.50
Senior 65+ / Disabled
(with RRFP card)
$1 $1

Differentiating the cash fare from the electronic fares could leave the fare system looking like this:

Payer Category Cash Fare Electronic Fare
Adult (Age 19-64) $3 $2.75
LIFT (low-income card)
Youth (ages 6-18)
$3 $1
Senior 65+ / Disabled
(with RRFP card)
$1 $1

Metro’s fares could get simpler than what is being proposed. Fare collection could get sped up much more than the ever-so-slight impact the $2.75 flat fare proposal will have on reducing dwell time.

53 Replies to “$3 Is Simpler and Faster Than $2.75 Cash Fare”

  1. You’re asking the King County Council to do something that makes sense; good luck with that. I predict they will create a “flat fare” with more exceptions for different classes of riders than currently exist with the Zone Based system.

  2. And pre-paid cards should be available for visitors, even residents. What do other systems do for day passes for visitors?

    1. There are numerous day passes and N-day passes available on lots of transit agencies, including lots of agencies that don’t use smart cards or smart-phone payment.

      The regional day pass here is available at all ORCA vending machines. That $5 fee kinda sabotages its utility for visitors, though. OTOH, Link may be one of the few all-day passenger trains serving an airport without a yuge surcharge for boarding or alighting at the airport station.

      What smart cards do for day passes is allow the option of a day cap, as implemented on Portland Tri-Met’s Hop FastPass. You can still buy a day pass, but if you get the Hop FastPass, the day cap does the same thing without having to pay the full cost of a day pass up front. It does the same for a monthly cap.

      Unfortunately, the day and monthly cap possibilities didn’t pencil out as financially feasible with NextGenerationORCA.

      1. Brent, one trip when I left my ORCA card home, I called Customer Services for advice. They told me that for $8 I could buy a regional day pass from a machine. I didn’t have to buy another ORCA card, because machine gave me a paper pass, though not at Senior reduced fare.

        So now, to prevent another trip being ruined, let alone fined $124 just to punish me into compliance- have been told Transit gets only about $4. But this is lowest fine the court will enforce, I always buy a paper All-Day pass before first boarding.

        Since, idiotically, pass is only good between station where you bought the pass and one station of your choice, if I don’t board at either Angle Lake or UW, I buy one for each direction. Still a bargain, and major load off my mind.

        Like I’ve said, makes bull-droppings out of claim that fairly dividing up fare money requires criminal penalties to make the system work. And also, for the umpteenth time: warning on penalty not posted anywhere.

        This policy and the attitude behind it stinks to high heaven, so bad I’d as soon ride with a discarded dirty diaper on the seat next to me. aAm putting a lot of attention toward getting it gone. If the transit system I used to support pulls this on me one more time….persuasion by punishment is a game two can play.


    1. Indeed, $2.75 cash fare for a local bus is already the highest among US major cities:
      NYC: $2.75 (coins only!)
      Denver: $2.60
      Atlanta: $2.50
      Dallas: $2.50
      Honolulu: $2.50
      Philadelphia: $2.50
      San Francisco: $2.50
      SLC: $2.50
      Miami: $2.25
      Anchorage: $2.00
      Boston: $2.00
      Chicago: $2.00
      DC: $2.00
      LA: $1.75
      Minneapolis: $1.75 ($2.25 peak)
      Detroit: $1.50
      Houston: $1.25 (!)

      I honestly tried to find a US city that has a $3 fare. From this standpoint, the hesitance to go up to $3 is understandable. It’s a bit of a psychological threshold.

      Better solution is to reduce the number of cash customers, especially downtown. The tunnel and 3rd Ave. should really be prepaid-only. Especially the tunnel where ticket machines are already there!

      And how about a mobile “cash balance” option like Lime bike share has, instead of having to figure out which fare type to buy?

      1. “Better solution is to reduce the number of cash customers, …”

        That is the point of the cash surcharge.

        The fare would still be $2.75, but those opting to pay cash would pay an extra 25 cents for the convenience, and for inconveniencing everyone else.

        San Francisco’s cash fare is $2.75, as is Pittsburgh’s.

        It should also be noted that none of these other bus agencies have low-income fares. We charge a bit higher in order to have a lower low-income fare. Ours is the only “progressive” fare structure in the country. Heck, I haven’t come across such a program quite like ORCA LIFT in any other country, either.

        I hope we can convince Metro to make 3rd Ave mandatory off-board payment, but no such plans are in the works. Even if it does, that still loves all the other buses crawling along on 2nd/4th/5th.

      2. Brent,

        How many and what kind of hoops do you need to go through to prove that you are “low income”? I can only imagine that it involves a pile of paperwork and an epic trip to a bureaucracy in downtown Seattle, or to a local office with extremely limited hours. Doesn’t do much good for working suburban poor, nor for people working two jobs or working a job while going to school to make ends meet. How would you make time to do this while also working? Let’s be clear about how many working poor the low income fare actually helps versus how many are actually eligible. I’m all for helping the poor, but when it involves making people jump through all kinds of hoops for a nominal discount when they already are juggling multiple jobs or job+school, childcare, and meeting eligibility requirements for other programs with differing criteria and processes, at some point, you have to ask, should we just raise taxes on the rich and reduce the fare across the board? I will and have happily vote to raise my own taxes.

      3. It also doesn’t work for non-residents, people who are only here for a short time and move on.

      4. @Engineer — I can only imagine that it involves a pile of paperwork and an epic trip to a bureaucracy in downtown Seattle, or to a local office with extremely limited hours.

        You may only be able to imagine, but the rest of us do a little research, and find out that there are plenty of places in the suburbs. There are three in Kent, and one of those is open 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Not exactly limited hours.

        If you have ever been in need of public assistance, or have every lived with someone who is in need, you know that managing the governmental bureaucracy can be a pain. But not all of them are difficult. Furthermore, they tend to work together. If you are on food stamps, then it is pretty easy to get a LIFT card. At the Kent office where you can get a LIFT card, there is also a medical clinic. If you want to critique this (or other) governmental offices that do this sort of work, be my guest. But please do some research and be able to cite something that is troubling instead of simply assuming that a governmental system is difficult to navigate.

    2. >> $3 is very high for local bus fare.

      Yes, and so too is $2.75. I’m not sure what your point is. Are you simply stating that our fares are too high, or are you talking about the proposal that Brent made? If it is the latter, what makes you think that an extra quarter — for don’t use an ORCA card — is much of a burden compared to the $2.75?

      Personally, I think you can make a much stronger argument that the youth and low income fares are too high. Someone who takes the bus every day pays $30 a month now. Under Brent’s proposal they would pay $20. For a lot of people, that $10 extra a month is huge, and would be a welcome bonus.

  3. It’s not just buses that do card-based discounts. There are plenty of bridge or highway tolling agencies that give discounts over cash. For instance EZ-Pass in the Northeast.

  4. I’ve been in three countries that used mostly bills or mostly coins. In Russia in 1997 the lowest bill was worth 50 cents (500 rubles), and all the produce I bought at stands was sold by kilo or half kilo and rounded to the nearest 500 or 1000 rubles. For weeks I didn’t know that coins even existed until I went to a supermarket and they charged the exact fractional weight and gave me change down to 0.33 cent coins (1 ruble). In England the largest coin was worth $3.50 and in Canda $3. My American instinct is to pay in bills and receive change in coins, so in England I ended up with heavy pockets and kept asking shopkeepers to reverse-change ten quid of coins (which they always did).

    My experience is that paying with bills is much faster and they’re more convenient to store than coins. The downside is that bills wear out faster so the lifetime cost of circulating them is higher. But their frictionlessness in payments counteracts that somewhat.

  5. Having a wider use of $1 coins and maybe getting $2 coins like Canada has would make paying cash fares easier.

    Lacking this, I wish Metro had a widely-used token system where they would sell tokens at a discount if purchased in bulk. For example, selling 8 tokens for $20. With the elimination of the zone complications, wider token use would seem to be more achievable. Could ORCA even be programmed for E-token discounts rather than a mere E-purse?

  6. What is the cost of one minute of preventable operating delay? Because the minute by minute price of its prevention is the Gold Standard of public transit. Any programmer reading this: How hard to code this formula into transit-system accounting so every single cost calculation contains it?

    Wish problem really was a conspiracy, because fixing it would give us millions of right-wing allies. Also wish the malfeasance itself came from the right. Because then blame for it would not fall so justifiably upon people who swear we’re…well, maybe if us Progressives went back to being Liberal we’d smarten up.

    How much per/hour money are we losing because work Transit should have done in-house got contracted out to the lowest private bidder? Whose business plan spares them the expense of knowing a tenth of what they’re doing? Would perfectly explain the pig-headed stubbornness with which intelligent officials of real integrity stand by so much that visibly plain does not work.

    Need some help. I’d like to do a posting on my own little quarter-quibble, but too old to Crowd-Source cost of Freedom if Information. Never paid fine over registering onto the system without registering off. But this last threat, one too much. Inspector mentioned a private corporation. Do they have a name and business address? Since everybody hates a snitch, how much will it cost me?

    Mark Dublin

  7. So, are you saying that KC Metro should keep $3 forever or are you saying that increases in fares should come in $1increments?

    KC Metro should make incentives for people to go cashless and get ORCA RFD cards. KC Metro/ST should reduce the cost of cards. The cost should not be more than $2 or $3 or free for the first card. If ORCA can do “promotional” free cards with credit they can be more generous and not charge $5 for a card. They should make it easy and attractive to get a card. Give out free cards at local festivals (Bumbershoot, Pride Festival, etc.) ORCA cards should not be a profit center for ORCA. I have no idea on what the cost is for the card with the internal chip but I’m sure the cost is much less than $5.

    1. The pod pays the vendor between $2 and $3 per card, in 2009 dollars. So, yeah, there should be a dunking booth for whoever thought the contract should be paid for by profit off card sales, rather than the service efficiencies ORCA has enabled. (In her or his defense, there were other agencies with $5 smart cards back in 2009. The only two others left are for trains only.)

      The real (ORCA) fare doesn’t even have to go up in 25-cent increments. Don’t think of the cash fare as the real fare. Think of it as the emergency alternative for those who can’t get an ORCA card in time for their next bus ride.

      I don’t know when it will be justified to raise the cash fare to $4, but I do know that we have two years to do all we can to keep bus movement through downtown from melting down when seven bus routes get kicked out of the tunnel and various streets get blocked long-term for Convention Center construction. Pushing the 30% of riders still paying with cash to get an ORCA card is a small price to pay to avoid much larger human misery.

      1. Thanks, Brent. Now we’re getting somewhere. Always knew Orca’s travel in “pods”. But if term actually refers to creator of a misbegotten policy more insane than Captain Ahab, there’s a paid up card with a monthly pass an max e-purse nailed to the mast, for the able-bodied whaler that harpoons the last blubbery one to Davy Jones’ Locker!

        Seriously, where can I get the whole story on why our most promising electronic fare system makes a thief out of me for registering per spec when I board a train? Especially when no warning anywhere tells me it’s Fare Evasion to “tap on” after not “tapping off”! Wall signage. “Ride The Wave”. Cite me quote and location. My attorney can use it.

        “And Mr. Starbuck: Zeitgeist this time!!!!!”


        Mr. Starbuck, get me a coffee from Zeitgiest.

  8. It’s rather frustrating how obvious improvements, such as a cash surcharge, and making the cash fare come out to a dollar amount, and not overcharging for cards are all completely ignored by our transit agencies. These are not novel ideas. Like this article points out, many other transit agencies employ these strategies. It isn’t like these ideas aren’t discussed. People on this blog have been asking for these changes for years. So what gives? When metro is dealing with crippling congestion, why can’t they get their act together. I’m embarrassed every time I take a friend on the bus here.

    1. I don’t think it is just the bus. I think it permeates every decision that is made in the area (and that includes Sound Transit). We sit in an isolated corner of the country and don’t experience what is going on in most of it. We fail to learn lessons from Vancouver, because we feel that Canada is just so different. We watch what is going on in Portland and occasionally follow the news about the Bay Area, but we are a very long way from San Fransisco, let alone other big cities.

      There aren’t too many cities that isolated, and I think it leads to various agencies ignoring other cities.

  9. OK I get that compared to other transit angencies that the $5.00 charge for an ORCA card is high but is that really much of a factor for folks when purchasing a card? I mean 5 bucks is nothing to most people. Seems odd to me that it is such a big deal? Oohh scary I had to pay 5 bucks for an ORCA card. Geeez!! And outside of the folks who read and comment on rhis blog how many ORCA users even know the cost of cards at other transit angencies???

      1. Which is why a $3 fare in any form will be a no-go. Too many social justice types up here to allow that to happen. Now if you lowered the fares and added a $.25 cash surcharge… I can imagine Money handling is not a cheap proposition with all the required checks and balences, of course there are fees to process credit cards so damned if you do…

      2. We already have a $3.25 fare for riders who cross the city limits during the peak period, and much higher fares for riders crossing the county line on ST Express.

      3. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, chances are you:

        1) Qualify for LIFT (a low income card) and/or

        2) Have a kid over 5 but under 18 who rides the bus.

        Under Brent’s proposal, he would lower fares substantially for those riders, from $1.50 to $1.00. That is a dollar a round trip, which can really add up. Ten days a month and you are saving $10 — per person!

        As someone who occasionally forgets his ORCA card, I welcome this change. If I have to come up with three bucks, it would be nice to know that my extra quarter is essentially subsidizing youth and low income riders. This sounds like a great idea.

    1. Many people ride only occasionally, so they ride once and don’t know when/if they’ll ride again. This includes visitors, people who usually drive but for some reason are taking a few bus trips, people whose car broke down, etc. These and the poor are the ones who most object to the $5 fee. They don’t know what other agencies charge; they just think that a fee that’s higher than the bus fair itself is a rip-off. You tell them, “But you get free interagency transfers, and that pays for the cost of the card in one or two trips.” They say, “I never ride anything but Metro so I don’t need interagency transfers.” I especially see it when people are making Link+bus trips and don’t know the way (meaning they’re visitors or first-time riders); they either pay both fares or ride Link without paying rather than getting an ORCA card, because they don’t want to pay a $5 fee for something they’re not sure they’ll get $5 value from.

      1. >> Many people ride only occasionally, so they ride once and don’t know when/if they’ll ride again.

        Right, and they don’t get the quarter discount. Makes sense to me.

        >> These and the poor are the ones who most object to the $5 fee.

        The poor will get a LIFT card. They will pay *LESS* under Brent’s proposal than they do now. Substantially less ($1.50 to $1.00).

        >> … they just think that a fee that’s higher than the bus fair itself is a rip-off.

        And they have a point. As Brent’s article points out, many agencies don’t charge to get an ORCA card. With this change, they are stuck with our ridiculous ORCA card initial cost, but at least they get a discount when using it. A discount that over time will save a person money. They may never reach that point, and as a result, may be better off paying an extra quarter per ride. But that is true for things people buy every day. A gallon of milk is a much better deal than a pint, but if don’t plan on drinking it all, you are better off buying a pint.

    2. Obviously, few know the costs of card fees elsewhere, unless they travel on transit a lot. Regardless, every other bus agency that used to charge $5 for a smart card stopped doing so a long time ago, without incessant petulant whining from a local transit blog. The incessant petulant whining came from lots of riders and local social justice groups.

      Here, ORCA was branded as evil from its rollout due to being inaccessible to the poor, because of that darned $5 fee. Social justice advocates did their clients no favors by not urging them to go get a free card while the cards were free for the first year.

      We couldn’t get rid of paper transfers when Metro wanted to at the end of 2009, because the county council cited social justice.

      We haven’t been able to have even a small cash surcharge … because social justice.

      We had to devise more and more complicated ticket programs for human services clients … because the ORCA card isn’t free.

      We had to bring back a one-seat ride downtown (previously route 42, now route 106) that went right by Mt Baker Station, in part because various groups of riders have to avoid the train and need to ride the bus, because of affordability issues (even though the fare is the same and ORCA provides free interagency transfers), in large part because of the $5 fee.

      I’m pretty sure the $5 fee had some negative impacts on other attempts to modernize the route map after train station openings.

      The ORCA LIFT program probably wouldn’t have been born if it weren’t for the $5 fee. (That’s the only good thing to come out of the fee, but it still counts as an expensive work-around.)

      Metro tried a pilot project of installing bus ticket machines downtown … because of the $5 fee.

      The regional day pass program, designed for visitors, has so far been a flop, thanks to the $5 fee.

      The whining here at STB isn’t because we want to spend less on ORCA cards ourselves. We all have ORCA cards. It is because we are tired of having 30% of our fellow riders hold up the bus for much longer than necessary to pay their fare, and the Metro incentivizes people to do so with immortal paper transfers, no discount for doing work ahead of time to be able to pay electronically, and the nation’s largest smart card fee to dissuade cash payers from considering becoming faster payers. And that any effort to slay the undead paper transfers and get even a small electronic discount is stomped under the cries of social justice, because of that darned $5 fee.

      The transit agencies have spent a fortune on work-arounds, and lost millions and millions of dollars in slower service, because of the $5 ORCA card fee.

      1. I agree Brent. It’s a symptom of bunker mentality and culture among the transit operators about ORCA. Deep down inside, there seems to be a bad seed in the agencies that ORCA is either a bad thing or at the very least a hassle. That is apparent from the fee to the shortage of readers at stations to the badly design reader screens to the application of identical sounds for tapping on and tapping off. We need to push to change this culture about ORCA beyond being a nice thing to have to bring the preferred fare tool.

      2. Excellent summary. This deserves an article of its own.

        One saved operating hour would generate as much revenue as thirty card fees.

      3. The idea that the $5 fee doesn’t matter flies in the face of our years of experience observing people board, and helping them figure out their trip and/or fare when they’re at a loss, and their reaction when we try to convince them that the card is worthwhile.

      4. What Mike said. Say all that in a room full of bus riders and you get a standing ovation (and I’ll be one of the people applauding). This deserves a separate article, and then folks can link to it.

        I really think you nailed it, Brent, when you wrote this:

        Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (Greater Boston) got it right:… It doesn’t charge for getting a Charlie Card.

        Wow, talking about burying the lead. Why can Boston do it, but we can’t?

        Is it because Boston has fewer social problems? Is it because Boston is riding a wave of new wealth, while Seattle struggles, as one of the rain belt cities? Both are absurd. If Boston can do it, we can do it. ORCA should be free, and you should get a discount for using it. Brent has made a great case for the latter (in this article) but we should also have the former. ORCA cards should be free.

    3. I take a bus maybe once or twice a year. After keeping an ORCA in my wallet for a year, it no longer worked, and I had to pay $5 to maintain access to the $80 I had left on my card from when I abruptly changed jobs. When keeping a card in your wallet for “just in case” renders the card useless, it’s a big deal. My choices are not carry the card with me and just say screw it and take an Uber and surrender to the fact that I’ve lost $80, or carry the card with me, keep discovering that this relic made out of such easily destructible material that it lasts a quarter of the time that my credit cards and driver’s license last won’t be read, keep getting kicked off the bus by rude PT & Metro drivers irritated that their own transit agency card doesn’t work (not my fault – I have a balance!!!), and keep getting forced onto Uber…. or pay the cash penalty. A $5 fee if the card was built to last? Sure. But a $5 fee for cards that fail after just a year or two in a wallet? That’s idiotic!!!!!!!

      1. Think of the ORCA card like a rewards card. There is a whopping 25 cent discount for the use of it. You are basically whining because you wouldn’t get the same discount unless you carry the card, and only pay for the service once or twice a year. Boo hoo.

        Oh, and you completely ignore the fact that your choice of payment actually costs the system money. Service is not as good as it would be if you — and everyone like you — paid with ORCA. It costs money for Metro to handle all those quarters, let alone slow down the bus while you pay with cash. In that sense, you are like someone whining at the gas station because you pay more when paying with a credit card. I get it — you want to pay in a manner that is convenient for you (and only you) — and it would really upset you if folks who pay in a manner that is far more efficient get a discount.

      2. If you “take a bus once or twice a year”, maybe you just absorb the 50 cent per year penalty Brent proposes because it’s not a big deal.

        Structuring bus fare for the interests of people who almost never take the bus is perverse.

      3. That’s odd. I’m still using my original ORCA card daily, which I got when they first began handing them out in 2009 or whenever (also still using a very similar London Oyster card of the same age). In fact, I have three cards of the same vintage for visiting friends/family, and they all still work. Oh, that’s right – the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” Sorry your card stopped working; I’ve yet to run into anything that lasts forever, but I’d guess that your situation having a card that stops working after a handful of uses is either an extreme outlier or a function of what it was stored next to.

  10. If I missed it, I’m sorry, but did anybody else mention that easiest way to get people to pay their fares where they won’t slow transit service is to make ORCA cards as widely available as possible?

    In addition to fare machines, make it possible to buy them at news stands, coffee houses, libraries, and so many other places that nobody can not see them on sale. Think I recall Day Passes on sale at 7-11’s, or their equivalent in Vancouver BC.


    1. I bought an ORCA at Safeway for my bother who was going to visit Seattle. I mailed it to him along with instructions about tapping on & off. In the end, his flight got diverted to Portland so he missed out on all the tap-off fun.

  11. Too often I see people who have been waiting for a bus with plenty of time to flatten their screwed up $1 bills out, proceed to fumble around trying to feed in crinkled up dollars :-)

    Make it $3 (someone has to be first), and also accept $1 coins, make $1 coins easy to get, the rest of the world has these in common use. Problem solved.

    Discount for ORCA, great, incentive to use it for obvious reasons, after a few trips it’s paid for it self vs using cash.

    1. Making cards available from the bus driver would help too. How many of those people with crinkled bills know who the ORCA retailers are, or how to get to them if they did? Especially visitors don’t know how to get to X supermarket or drugstore on X street, and aren’t going to take the time to figure it out.

      1. If drivers were carrying pre-loaded ORCA cards (they’d have to be pre-loaded or they wouldn’t work…) they’d get robbed. It’s sad, but that’s why they don’t carry change. A loaded ORCA card is a good substitute for cash. If the holder doesn’t want to use the fares, it can be sold.

      2. The cards have unique numbers. It is possible to track the stolen card, if good records are kept.

      3. Or go full proof of payment. You can pay on the bus, but you don’t need to pay to get on the bus. If I’m not mistaken, the entire system works that way in Vancouver. Every bus is proof of payment, like in London. Same with Muni, in San Fransisco. It is definitely the trend, and we should follow suit.

  12. I’m sure this has been discussed before. But a huge issue here is spreading the use of ORCA. We need more vending machines and the $5 purchase fee needs to be dropped. It’s fine to have a minimum purchase amount to buy one (maybe), but to charge someone $5 to make boarding and transit more efficient is absurd.

    Just make ORCA free and ubiquitously available already.

  13. re: ORCA card fee

    What about rebating the $5 fee if you register your card on the ORCA website? Chicago does this with the Ventra card. You have to add at least $5, and when you register it you get your $5 back. This prevents people from treating the card as disposable, like the old paper farecards were (every L station’s floor was littered with discarded farecards). If you’re one of those “b-but muh privacy” folks, you can still be completely anonymous by simply eating the $5 fee.

    I agree that $3 seems kind of high. What about posting a “Please have your cash fare ready” sign at high-traffic bus stops?

  14. Excellent article Brent. I agree completely with your proposal.

    In many ways, you are underselling this. Let me try a little marketing (and I’m no marketer):

    1) Low income fares go down by a third, or 50 cents per ride.

    2) Youth fares go down by a third, or 50 cents per ride.

    3) ORCA users get a discount of 25 cents over cash payers.

    4) Regular cash users pay more, but the fare is simple. Unlike before, there is no “one zone, two zone, peak/off peak” to figure out. The fare is 3 bucks. That’s it — 3 bucks. Yes, that’s expensive, but you live in King County, and that is just the way we roll.

    I might add that in the future — if, for example, we decided not to have some of the highest fares in the country — we could discount some bus routes. Buses that are relatively cheap to run would charge $2.50 or less for ORCA users. Maybe when King County has an income or capital gains tax, we could implement something like that on a number of routes.

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