Credit: Oran Viriyincy

With the current ORCA system “near end of life,” upgrading the ORCA card system is estimated to cost roughly $125m, according to Scott Gutierrez, a King County Metro Transit spokesperson.

The ORCA agencies are predicted to share the entire cost, with $95m predicted to be the region-wide cost with the other $30m related to agency-specific costs for implementing next-generation ORCA. Gutierrez said the sharing formula is mostly based on ridership projections through 2021. Exceptions include products that apply only to certain agencies, such as paratransit-specific fare products which will be shared only among the agencies that offer paratransit services.

In comparison, the current ORCA system cost $88m in today’s dollars to implement in 2009, according to ORCA documents. Brittany Esdaile, a program manager at Sound Transit, said at the November 13 ORCA Joint Board meeting “the cost is fair and reasonable” and implementing the new system will be “a bigger effort this time around as the region has grown.”

Esdaile gave a slightly lower estimate of $120 million — $95 million for regional shared costs and $25 million for agency-specific costs. At a recent Capital Committee meeting, Sound Transit estimated upgrading ORCA will costs the agency $31.5 million.

Transition to next generation ORCA will be delivered in phases in beginning in 2021 by the seven agencies that accept the ORCA card: Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and Washington State Ferries.

In a recent survey of ORCA users found the biggest dislikes of the current system included a delay after reloading funds on the cards, limited sales locations and the website. Currently, customers must wait 24-48 hours to use funds after refilling cards.

Riders also wanted a mobile option to pay fares. Through the next generation ORCA, riders will be able to use a mobile app to board buses and trains, and instantly add value to their ORCA cards. An improved website and more sales locations are also promised in the next generation ORCA system.

The next ORCA Joint Board meeting is scheduled for 11 am on December 11, 2017, at King Street Center – 8th Floor Conference Center. The board will likely discuss and take action on changing card fees for adult and youth rides. Public comment is accepted.

“We need to keep the existing ORCA system running while we develop the new system and transition over. It’s a little like rebuilding a house from the foundation up…while people are still living in it!” according to talking points provided to ORCA Joint board members.

37 Replies to “$125 Million Price Tag for Next Gen ORCA”

    1. I’m not sure, but considering how fast technology changes now a days…..i’m fine with the short time frames.

  1. By now everybody should know my own underlying question: If my card is loaded with a monthly pass, will I still get fined like a thief if I miss a “tap?”

    But also: Who’s top of the Fare Inspector’s ultimate chain of command? Corporate CEO? Sound Transit CEO? Better way to put it is, who writes the rules? Names and positions.

    And any comparisons with present system, very welcome. Thanks for letting us know about the December 11 meeting.

    Mark Dublin

      1. Too many stations were designed to make bypassing turnstiles easy and installing turnstiles too much of an ADA barrier. Besides, I like having some sort of security presence on trains.

        The problem Mark is having is one of apparent lack of cooperation within the ORCA pod to allow statistical extrapolation in place of warning and fining full passholders who mis-tapped or didn’t tap. (Metro has less of a problem, since it doesn’t have tap-off, which might explain why ST can’t get common sense to prevail.)

        The mis-tapping would pretty much go away with a distinct tap-off tone (which would also make the fare system more ADA compliant).

        I’m one of several frequent riders here who have been warned by an FEO about the possibility of a fine if I mis-tap twice within a year. The experience made me feel robbed, frankly, and less comfortable riding the train at all. I don’t expect to ever get an apology from ST, but I keep expecting the policy will change so that others will not be left feeling robbed by ST. Mark and I are two among many.

      2. Erica was fined, and was still pissed off six months later. A wide cross-section of riders have continuous anxiety that they might unconsciously forget to tap, misunderstand the reader message, or that the inspector’s reader will say something different than their reader said. And another chunk of riders don’t know that they have to tap out or mistake an error message for a tap-in message. Turnstyles eliminate 90% of this anxiety and confusion, because you can’t forget to go through a turnstyle or misinterpret its non-turning, and if you’re inside than either you went through it or you jumped it.

      3. Erica ended up paying the fine, because her time is too valuable to waste a day going to Shoreline. ST should refund her in triplicate for their theft.

      4. Brent
        The issue with turnstiles at ground stations could be fixed with Platform Edge Doors and having gates at each platorm entrance that can be closed at night. Are there problems and costs associated in implementing said upgrades, sure. But there are valid arguments for implementing turnstiles, and i would like to see them at least do testing on it to see if it could be viable option.

      5. Yesterday I almost forgot to tap off my Link ride that ended at Westlake when I saw the 150 I was transfereing to coming right behind it. Turnstiles could not have served as a reminder in this instance, as suggested elsewhere in this thread.

      6. Yes but buses are leaving the tunnel in two years, and then there will be no train-and-bus platforms for that to happen.

  2. Will the ORCA2 website be less of an embarrassment than the current one? I always thought the current website was a temporary placeholder until a better one was finished.

  3. As to;

    The next ORCA Joint Board meeting is scheduled for 11 am on December 11, 2017, at King Street Center – 8th Floor Conference Center. The board will likely discuss and take action on changing card fees for adult and youth rides. Public comment is accepted.

    Oh of course… at a time and place most can’t get to easily. How about a full public comment period to be truly inclusive with a website to take comments? How about video recording the meetings?

    Shameful contempt of the fare-payers. [Comment policy whining]

    1. It’s two blocks from the busiest train station in Seattle. I wouldn’t consider that a hard place to get to.

    2. Yeah, the place is the best you can get. All parts of the region have one- or two-seat rides to Intl Dist, many with all-day expresses. The time is the biggest issue: most people are working then and can’t take time off for midday meetings and hearings.

  4. How long has BART used its farecard technology?

    This sounds like the same as the bogus engineering term of “functionally obsolete” which is nothing but an excuse to hire more engineers to build something up to the very latest unnecessary standards.

      1. I’d ask the reverse. How many hours of bus service does ORCA save by eliminating change fumbling and making boarding faster? Capital improvements to speed up buses is often a better investment than sinking ops money into slow buses.

      2. The contract with Vix, or whatever company took it over, will be coming to an end. ST/Metro doesn’t get to extend it for free. Metro/ST thought they could do a better job in-house. I hope they are right.

    1. I suppose I’m left wondering whats wrong with the current system, it actually leaves a lot of other system’s I’ve encountered in the dust in regard to working across a number of transit agencies, its offered as benefit by employers, the value is stored on the card, and that its a contactless system. Where does the 24/48hr wait for loading funds come from? I’ve never had that issue the handful of times I’ve used a personal ORCA card when I’ve misplaced and on one occasion lost my employer issued card.

      Mobile app, pass on that, but we seem to live in an age where everyone has to be done from a mobile phone, but whatevs’

      1. Because before you can use the funds you loaded online, they have to be loaded on your card first. Readers on buses only get updated every night when the bus returns to base. So you can’t use funds you loaded the same day on the bus. It’s not an issue if you ride the train or any service with ORCA readers at stations because those are wired to the backend.

    2. We replaced the trolleybuses with new ones because it was getting difficult to source components to keep them running. It’s the same with ORCA. When it launched in 2009, ORCA’s technology was already 13 years old. By the time it’s decommissioned it will be 26. How many people here are still using computers from 1996? Equipment for the current ORCA system is no longer available or manufactured (see linked report). Plus, we ended up with a crappy deal with the current vendor anyway so this is a great opportunity to correct many of the mistakes made with ORCA 1.0.

      1. But at least the new trollies worked with the same old overhead and substations, instead of only coming with diferent contact shoes and different engines that required every switch and substation to be replaced (only to be replaced again in 15-20 years when the next trolleybus order is made).

        “We’re sorry, sir, but that car of yours that just got a flat is now five years old. They’re not making tires for it anymore. You’ll have to upgrade to a new vehicle.” — if automobiles were like computers.

      2. That has diminished as ISB has replaced serial, parallel, and PS/2 ports, new generations of USB and hard drive interfaces are backward-compatible, essential controllers like video, Ethernet, and a battery backed-up clock are built into the motherboard, and proprietary broadband modems are replaced by off-the-shelf routers. The market finally reached enough maturity on the early 2000s to standardize most of these, at least for desktop and laptop computers. If you buy mobile from Apple and they remove your headphone jack, it’s a different story.

      3. The wired network and electricity grid that hooks ORCA together isn’t being replaced either. Overhead technology hasn’t really changed for decades and its supposed replacement are battery buses that don’t need wires but new charging stations. Even then, Metro shut down and completely overhauled the trolley overhead system in the 70s. Computer technology has advanced much quicker than that.

      4. The trolleybuses reached their end of life several years ago, but Metro couldn’t afford to replace them because initiative 695 followed by high oil prices followed by failed Metro ballot measures followed by the recession left it with only enough money to keep the buses moving, and none for long-term planning or fleet replacement. Also Metro procrastinated on deciding whether to renew the trolley fleet and expand it when funds became available, or to replace it with diesel buses.

      5. The old trolleybuses, especially the 20+ year old Bredas, were falling apart at the seams and were terrible for people in wheelchairs. BART completely replaced its fare gates and ticket machines ten years ago after years of failures and unreliability (and customer complaints). Do you really want ORCA to get to that state before it’s replaced?

      6. Commercial vehicles that are used eighteen hours a day get a lot more wear or tear than home vehicles or appliances that are used fifteen hours a week.

    3. The vendor will stop supporting the ORCA system. Is ORCA supposed to take on the entire cost of keeping it running themselves, when they don’t know it like the people who built the system, and proprietary information has been withheld from them as a vendor’s trade secret?

  5. Why, exactly, is the ORCA card system “at the end of its life”?

    Is there anything fundamentally bad or insufficient about the current system?

    Is there any more incremental alternative that would avoid a costly, wholesale replacement?

    What is there to help ensure the new (hugely expensive) replacement won’t have a similarly short life?

    Did subway tokens (for systems in other cities that used them) require comparable expenses every decade or so?

    Count me as not much moved by “that’s just the way modern technology is” excuses.

    The latter is a true observation, but it’s a far better reason for using modern technology cautiously and judiciously than it is for repeatedly forking out $millions for systems that just don’t last.

    1. The new system is designed to be an open architecture that’s documented, modular and easily extensible unlike today’s system which is proprietary and requires paying the current vendor an arm and a leg to make little changes.

      The current vendor isn’t supporting the system once the contract ends. The transition plans tries to minimize any interaction with the current vendor.

      Another example, Metro’s fareboxes are over twenty years old and their manufacturer has discontinued production of that model because they have trouble finding the electronic components to make them. In the next five to ten years, they too will have to be replaced.

  6. Sounds like ST is getting taken advantage of. $125M? Something sounds fishy.

    Corporations that actually need sophisticated systems often aren’t that much. And those systems absolutely dwarf the functionality of ORCA.

    1. I believe the IT implementation costs are only $25~$30M, which in my time in the private sector seems reasonable. The remaining costs is mostly hardware, particularly replacing every single bus farebox.

      1. While I’m not sure cash fareboxes are included in that cost, there are ways to reduce the rate at which cash fareboxes have to be replaced, including cash throughput. Reduce cash payment to 5% or less of boardings, and that expense, however much it is, could be significantly reduced.

        Pierce Transit has already replaced its fareboxes, but mostly to work with its day passes.

        Assuming all the ORCA readers have to be replaced, well, it will have to happen eventually since no more replacements are being manufactured, and the producer has proprietary stuff in there. It is to ST’s/Metro’s credit that they planned for a smooth transition out of the Vix contract, and assumedly included language in the Vix contract to enable the smoothness.

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