As Metro evaluates fare simplification, one thing is clear: getting more riders to use ORCA would be a win. ORCA speeds up boarding times and makes for more efficient bus service. Unlimited ORCA passes, such as PugetPass and the employer-provided Passport, make people more likely to use transit, by reducing the marginal cost of a trip to $0.
Yet 29% of Metro riders currently pay cash. How might we reduce that number? Eliminating cash altogether, as London has done, is one option. A cash surcharge, as Brent has discussed, is another. Reducing the $5 card fee is a third, which we have long advocated for and which KC Exec Constantine is proposing as part of his overall fare-simplification scheme. Metro’s mobile ticketing app may also help.
But there’s a simple, proven way to get more ORCA cards out in the world, reducing cash payments: install more ticket vending machines (TVMs).
Currently the main ways to get an ORCA card – if you’re out and about downtown – is
from a partner business (such as Bartell Drugs) or* from a TVM. TVMs are located at Link and Sounder stations as well as a half-dozen suburban park-and-rides.
But there are no vending machines at the busy bus stops in greater downtown. Aside from the Union Station / International District Station area there are no street-level TVMs downtown at all. You have to know to go underground to a tunnel station (which soon won’t have any more buses) or across the street to the drug store (which entails leaving the bus stop and perhaps getting stuck in a checkout line). A vending machine at the bus stop would be a superior solution.
(Consider that just 35 TVM locations generate three times as much ORCA revenue as all 100+ retail locations).
Metro knows that vending machines are in short supply. When the Ride Free Area was eliminated a few years ago, their mitigation report suggested adding vending machines to downtown bus stops as a time-saving measure.
According to Sound Transit, TVMs cost $58,000 each (not including maintenance). Putting 20 of them downtown would cost just over a million dollars. To put that in perspective, Metro estimates that buses spend over a million hours a year at the bus stop while passengers get on and off — an annual cost of $150 million. If a couple dozen ORCA vending machines reduce dwell time by a single percentage point, they will have easily paid for themselves in the first year of use.
With ORCA2 on the horizon, it’s understandable that agencies are reluctant to invest big money in TVMs right now. And certainly street-level TVMs would be subject to substantial wear and tear. But if One Center City is truly the all-hands-on-deck emergency that it’s being promoted as, then increasing TVM deployment ought to be part of the discussion.
Update 9:09PM: Upon re-reading the list of ORCA retail locations, it turns out you can’t even buy an ORCA card at a downtown retail establishment. Even more reason to add TVMs!