ORCA cards
Image: Oran Viriyincy

Addressing the ORCA Joint Board Monday, Cheryl Huston, ORCA Regional Program Administrator, said there was agreement among ORCA’s participating agencies to keep the card fee for adult and youth riders but reduce the one-time charge from $5 to $3.

Currently, each ORCA card costs an agency $1.92 plus tax, according to Huston.

King County Metro Transit has estimated that lowering ORCA card fees for adult and youth riders to $3 would cost the agency $700,000 per year in card revenue.

Earlier this week, STB analyzed the impact completely eliminating card fees would have on Metro’s budget.

“The fee helps cover the cost of purchasing the cards and administration costs,” wrote Geoff Patrick, a spokesperson for Sound Transit, in an email. “Having a value attached to these reloadable cards also avoids the perception they are disposable. That is a perception that would increase costs of the ORCA program. These are cards that can and should last many years.

Huston said ORCA managers also want to simplify the card replacement fee by charging the same to both adult and youth riders. ORCA Lift cards are issued at no charge.

However, the proposal will also likely reduce or eliminate the card fee for the Regional Reduced Fare Permit (RRFP), a regional pass for seniors 65+, riders with a qualifying disability, and Medicare cardholders that works on several systems within the region.

Huston said King County supports eliminating the RRFP card fee entirely, but other agencies were more hesitant.

“We have discussed King County’s interest in that zero fee, but there are other agencies interested in charging at least a dollar, so it’s not viewed as a disposable card,” Huston said.

According to Huston, the Puget Sound Regional Council allows transit agencies to charge up to $3 for the RRFP card or waive the fee entirely.

“We’d like to have a regional recommendation coming back in November,” Huston added.

Huston anticipates a more “robust” card fee proposal coming back to the board at the November meeting and action might be taken. The meeting is scheduled for 11 am on November 13, 2017, at King Street Center – 8th Floor Conference Center. Public comment is accepted during the meeting.

Huston also gave the ORCA Joint Board an update on the next generation ORCA interlocal agreement between all participating ORCA agencies: Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and Washington State Ferries.

A “high-level summary” is expected to be ready in November to review and a solid draft ready by the end of the year, Huston told the board.

33 Replies to “Next Generation ORCA Likely to Reduce Card Fees”

  1. Has Brent White been told. He will be thrilled. He’s been writing about this and advocating for this for so long.

    1. Brent White has been told. Brent is disappointed that the fees will remain so high, lowering the fee from most expensive in the country (tied with Anchorage’s brand new “Smart Card”), to tied for second-most-expensive with Utah’s FarePay card and Portland’s brand new Hop Fastpass, at least until Anchorage comes to its senses and realizes what a barrier a $5 fee is to getting riders to participate in a fare collection speed-up program for which the benefits accrue to participants and non-participants alike.

      Brent is perplexed at this claim:

      We have discussed King County’s interest in that zero fee [for the Regional Reduced Fare Permit], but there are other agencies interested in charging at least a dollar, so it’s not viewed as a disposable card.

      Why would anyone throw away the card that is necessary to get the RRFP fare discount?

      If other counties want to charge something for the sake of an imaginary problem, fine. But let King County exercise common sense.

      1. The problem is people will lose their cards and then just request new ones rather than looking for it. So you want some incentive for people to take care of the cards.

        Personally, I suggest providing the first RRFP card free. If you lose that one, then new ones can be obtained at cost (including personnel cost – so more like $30 than $3). You can make exceptions if the card is stolen (with a police report) or if it breaks. Since the card is tied to a person, this should be easy enough to enforce.

      2. I agree, in principle, with having a replacement fee, so long as those who only qualify for a temporary period don’t have to pay for the period extension (mostly on temporary disability cards, which hopefully have a generous grace period for extensions when the condition lasts longer than the doctor originally projected). $30 is way too high, though, even if that is staff cost. I’ve seen replacement fees as high as $10, but nothing higher than that.

        There may be reasons against that replacement fee that only staff would know, such as (hypothetically) it costing a lot more to process a new application from a previous recipient than to just look up and see the previous qualification and send the replacement card. I can’t see how looking up the previous qualification could cost staff $30.

        Nevertheless, given the effort to get a replacement RRFP card, looking for and finding the card is still far less effort than re-applying. It’s not like you can just get one at the corner grocery.

        A variation on the theme is getting the first replacement card for free or cheap, and then $10 for further replacements. I’ve seen this in a couple places, but for the regular cards.

      3. The $30 fee may be to subsidize the free new cards, including the staff time to process the new application as you mentioned.

      4. Processing first-time applications might cost around $40, but it would take a seriously VA-like database to not be able to search and find a previous decision of qualification and proceed to pull up the electronic photo, build the card, and mail it, for anything over $10 in costs.

        The senior cards don’t include the photo. I’m not sure why the disability cards do.

      5. I question what San Diego is thinking; it’s almost certainly illegal to charge extra for disability cards!

  2. I’m more curious about what the experience of using ORCA2 will be like and what better fare options it might have than about the fee. The fee is a one-time expense, while using it occurs every day for years.

    1. Day and monthly caps are still not part of development scope, if that is what you are asking.

      I like the concept of capping, but I’m not sure how you would make it work here with all our specialty services (ferries, Sounder, long-distance express buses) that you don’t find in Portland.

      Caps and distance-based fares also don’t go together very well, if you have a one-size-fits-all cap covering just one one-size-fits-all fare.

      1. 1) Depends how you definite “specialty services”. Portland has the WES… and some such as OPAL make a convincing argument WES the commuter rail should be a higher fare.

        2) I like the idea of some kind of all-day pass for buses & light rail combined. I see why with WSF and Sounder also being used the lack of enthusiasm for an absolute fare cap.

    2. I would most like a day cap and a monthly cap. I’m just wondering what lesser things we might look forward to. Credit/debit/phone paying doesn’t interest me because I try to use credit and debit cards as little as possible, and don’t want the agencies paying large fees to processing middlemen. A longer transfer period would be nice (it wouldn’t affect me much since I have a monthly pass, but it affects e-purse payers). I don’t know what other features might be nice, that’s what I’m waiting for the agencies or somebody to say.

      1. I would love to pay my ORCA fare by phone and not have to worry about losing a piece of plastic. No, seriously.

        Let me put it this way – I loaded my ORCA with an all-day pass for Seafair Friday but lost it on the West Seattle Water Taxi. So I had to trim back my night photography plans to nil and nada.

        [OT] It would really be nice to also have transit agencies on the peripheries of the Sound Transit District be able to tie in via an API to ORCA Next Gen – and I am advocating for this. Very much so. Regional connectivity is the name of the game.

      2. Yes. Otherwise with a day pass you have to guess beforehand whether you’ll ride it enough to make it worth it, and that depends on whether your plans stay the same, you get an unexpected ride later, or you end up fitting within the transfer period. Agencies shouldn’t make their money on people overestimating their use or losing their card or dying with value on the card, they should make it on actual rides.

      3. Agencies don’t make money on actual rides. Actual rides cut the loss. Agencies make money on maintaining the support of voters/taxpayers.

      4. They would make fare money on actual rides. I’m not talking about subsidies. The money from passes is equivalent, but for passengers is based on a before-the-fact estimate that may or may not be accurate in the end. The same with e-purse: it’s essentially impossible to spend down your balance to exactly $0 before you lose the card, die, or move out of the region. Visitors have somewhat more success if they preplan their rides all they way to last one back to the airport, but it’s still tricky.

  3. Give me one reason why fares should not all be based on income, not age in years? Or, if it’s too complicated to adjust according to parents’ income, give greatest “break” to young people?


    And meantime: I’ll trade my green and white $36 monthly pass for a $126 blue one if it immunizes me from a $124 fine for one too few or too many “taps.” At least all the money will go to transit. I’m told $124 is the lowest fine the courts will enforce, four dollars goes to transit. The rest is only there to compel compliance.

    Out of this governing generation, I’ll pay $100 extra for some respect!

    Mark Dublin

    1. You are free to use a regular card rather than the RRFP card. Of course, there is only one RRFP fare on Link, so you are more protected from a fine using that card than with the regular card. We’ll talk another day about the time FEOs waste on riders who paid for a full pass, but mis-tapped.

      The most important feature of ngORCA, IMHO, is the ability to do everything on your smart phone you can with an ORCA card, but also to be able to add money to your account instantly.

      What I don’t know is whether you have to physically “tap” your smart phone to the ORCA reader. If no such tap is required, I can see how smart phones could defraud the fare system much more universally than the undead paper transfers.

      1. Brent, because my LINK history, and travel mean so much to me, and how much I support the ORCA system I hoped I could avoid admitting this.

        But fact is that after I received my last threat (as if a transit system should ever dare “warn” anybody over an minute accounting mistake!) for dutifully tapping “ON” after I’d forgotten to tap “OFF”, every single day’s first boarding, I buy a paper All-Day pass.

        Because I have trouble not getting my language [ ]’d over the fact that my ORCA card, whose use I’m begged to support, can get me both fined and charged as a “Fare Evader,” long term for “Thief. Precisely because, as both the system and my own support of LINK require, I’ve tapped “ON” after not tapping “OFF.”

        And here’s another maraschino cherry on top of the dessert also decorated with flies. If I hadn’t tapped back on, my boarding “tap” at IDS would’ve given me least an hour’s ride anyplace and any number of times between UW and Angle Lake! Including the half hour for dinner at Columbia City.

        I carry my ORCA card in a transparent plastic card-holder. I can ride a bus distance-irrelevant from Marysville to Olympia, and whole track-length on both our streetcar lines without a dime of fine or a minute of fear or humiliation….. for tapping my card WHEN I BOARD!

        The way I approve of ORCA, I cringe to admit that my card-holder’s got an obsolete little scrap of paper trash slid back to back with the card I favor. And over 27 years’ full of months, have bought. While they’re not posted anywhere, I’ve read many paragraphs of excuses for passenger treatment this ugly. None of whose fabric will “Wash”.

        Look up “Central Puget Sound Regional Fare Coordination System.” Early power point. “To implement a common SEAMLESS fare collection system – using smart card technology – for bus, rail and ferry travel in the Central Puget Sound region.”

        As my grandma the tailor from Denver and the Old Country would’ve asked: “Since when is “Seamless” Yiddish for Frankenstein?”


      2. Mark,

        I wish you would just stick to using your ORCA card, and be willing to go to court to overturn a wrongful fine. You’d be doing many of us frequent riders, and Sound Transit, a big favor. Sound Transit just doesn’t realize it.

  4. The ORCA card should definitely have a lower cost to get than $3. However, I get the point at charging a small fee to avoid the idea that the ORCA card is disposable. Case in point: When I was working at WWU to get a new U-PASS program going, the bus passes we handed out the first year of the program were free to get and free to replace. We had literally thousands of bus passes lost and replaced over the course of the year. The time cancelling old passes, buying and activating new ones, and associated staff costs was surprisingly high. The next year, we still gave out bus passes for free initially, but charged a $8 replacement fee if lost. We had less than 100 passes lost over the course of the year. Maybe this subset of college students was particular responsive to replacement fees, or maybe it is indicative of larger trends.

    1. Were those passes checkable to see if the person holding them was the rightful recipient?

      Was there a system in place to cancel the previous card when one was reported lost?

  5. I’m confused – why do we need a next generation ORCA? Most phones and debt/credit cards are contactless and have a vastly higher penetration than ORCA ever will. For the people that don’t have a phone or debit/credit card vending machines can always have simple prepaid cash cards.

    This would mean that busses/trains just have 100% standard infrastructure and technology that’s probabaly used at millions points of sale throughout the world. Moreover, anyone visiting from anywhere else in the world can use their normal payment instrument that they carry with them every day. No need for anything new.

    1. ORCA2 is just the name for the next generation of technology, whatever it is. The current generation is getting old and will be unsupported by the vendor soon so we have to switch to something else.

    2. I’m with you on this… Fix, augment, don’t replace.

      But the decision was made years ago.

      1. The current system uses proprietary technology and the vendor is very difficult. So many things that agencies (and advocates) might like to do are just so ridiculously expensive and time consuming in the current system that it’s not worth pursuing.

  6. So, with Metro at least moving toward a flat fare structure, what about keeping the $5 charge (or $3) and pre-loading the card with on “free” fare? Seems that would satisfy the criteria that the card not be treated as disposable while in effect lowering to real cost. Also adds the convenience of immediate use without having to pre-load funds onto the card.

  7. You know, Brent, first sensible thought since my temper dug its way under the fence and nobody wants the reward. Considering how bad movies suck, $124 will be best-spent money in the entertainment world when this confrontation goes Viral.

    True, with our usual amount of local Process, even a good legal result will make a five-year long box series. ‘Course, with all those coal mine tunnels in Eastern Kentucky, getting Harlan County into LINK should be easy to Justify. Great theme song: “You’ll Never Leave Westlake Alive.”

    Let me think about it. Want to be the marshal, or his meth-cooking relative he always shoots full of holes every single episode? Maybe King County medical examiner can play a cameo role himself.


  8. If the issue is not having the card viewed as disposable, wouldn’t requiring a fee but loading that fee onto the card have the same effect?

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