The proposal consists of:
- a $2.75 regular fare on Metro, regardless of time or distance
- a reduction in the regular and youth ORCA card fee from $5 to $3.
- elimination of the $3 administrative (card) fee for the Regional Reduced Fare Permit (for seniors 65+, riders with a qualifying disability, and Medicare cardholders)
- an increase in the cap on tickets distributed through human service agencies
The fiscal note for the package was provided to the committee.
Metro is expected to bring in approximately $3 million in additional fare revenue per year as a result of the fare restructure.
The cap on human service ticket allotments will increase by $400,000 per year (and oddly, this amount is stagnant, rather than indexed to population growth or clientele growth).
Eliminating the $3 RRFP administrative fee is estimated to cost Metro $75,000 per year in forgone fees. Making the senior/disabilities version of the ORCA card available for free would bring the program more in line with the industry standard, as 16 of the other 24 smart card programs in the US also make their senior/disability cards available for free. Metro has pointed out that it costs $8 to produce each card (and closer to $40 to go through the whole process for the invasive disability card qualification process). But given the effort one has to go through to get these cards, the standard argument about charging for the card in order to avoid people treating them as disposable doesn’t seem to apply, especially when losing the card means loss of access to the fare discount.
Reducing the regular and youth card fee from $5 to $3 is estimated to cost Metro $700,000 per year in forgone card revenue.
That leaves Metro clearing a profit of roughly $1.8 million per year in net extra revenue.
Extrapolating from this data, it would cost Metro on the order of $100,000 per year to simply eliminate the youth card fee. That’s a rounding error in Metro’s 10-digit budget, but even $3 can be enough of a disincentive to bother switching from cash to tapping ORCA, especially when the fare is the same without the card. Given the effort it takes to get a youth card, the treating-as-disposable argument again doesn’t seem to apply.
Getting rid of both the youth and regular card fee would cost an additional $1,050,000, or $1,750,000 total, per year.
Most peer bus agencies in the US with smart cards charge either $2 for the card, or make the card available for free.
Smart cards that are available for free include:
Albany’s Navigator Card
Boston’s Charlie Card
Chicago’s Ventra Card
Denver’s MyRide Card, with a minimum purchase of $5 in fare product
Houston’s Metro Q Card
Maryland’s Charm Card, with a minimum purchase of $10 in fare product
Minneapolis/St. Paul’s Go-To Card, with a minimum purchase of $5 in fare product
Philadelphia’s SEPTA Key Card
Sacramento’s Connect Card
San Francisco’s Clipper Card, if you set up auto-reload
Spokane’s Go Smart Card
Smart cards that cost $2 include:
Atlanta’s Breeze Card
Jacksonville’s Star Card
Miami’s Easy Card
San Diego’s Compass Card
Tucson’s SunGo Card
Washington’s SmarTrip Card
Medford, OR’s TouchPass
Anchorage charges $5 for its new Smart Card, joining ORCA at the lonely top.
Whether you use the median ($1), the mode (free!) or the average ($1.21), the industry standard is clearly far below charging $3 for a smart card.
It is hard to imagine the investment of just under $2 million per year to get rid of all the ORCA card fees not paying for itself in more efficient service, improved ridership induced by faster and more reliable service, and thereby increased fare revenue.
The Regional Transit Committee and Metro are trying to reduce barriers to getting riders to use ORCA. Now they know the cost and where to get the money.
The package of proposals goes next to the County Council’s Transportation, Environment, and Economy Committee. The County Council can still amend the proposal and turn a milquetoast fare restructure into a milestone in wiping out the high barriers that have been in place discouraging ORCA use.