As part of the fare restructure that brought King County Metro’s $2.75 regular flat fare, effective this week, King County Metro has gotten all four counties in the ORCA pod to make the first Regional Reduced Fare Permit free for each recipient, also effective this week.

Regional Reduced Fare Permits are for seniors 65 or older, or riders with a qualifying disability.

The original proposal was just going to cover King County. Now Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap Counties are all waiving the $3 RRFP fee for first-time recipients, as well as for renewing expired RRFP ORCAs. Trading in non-ORCA RRFPs for the ORCAized version has also long been free.

Counties participating in the RRFP program outside the ORCA pod will continue charging $3 to first-time recipients. Participating counties all agree to honor each others’ RRFP cards for their respective RRFP fares, but the only inter-county transfer credit is on ORCA cards.

The first-time waiver answers the critique that some may see the card as disposable if it is free to keep getting. Most transit agencies with smart cards around the USA have simply been offering senior/disabilities versions for free, without the charge for replacements.

The card provides a discount of 50% or more on all transit services within the ORCA pod (with the exception of the Vashon water taxi), along with a 2-hour transfer credit among all ORCA-accepting services except Washington State Ferries.

In addition to the fee waiver, RRFP holders can now ride for $1 on all ST Express bus trips, effective this week. Other services with a $1-or-less RRFP fare include King County Metro buses, Link Light Rail, Seattle Streetcars, Pierce Transit buses, Everett Transit buses, Kitsap Transit buses, Kitsap Transit intra-county ferries, and Community Transit local buses.

ORCA LIFT cards, for adults 19-64 with a household income of 200% of the federal poverty level or less, have been free since the program was rolled out in 2015. Kitsap Transit’s low-income ORCA cards are also free. The cost for a replacement ORCA LIFT card was reduced from $5 to $3, effective this week.

CORRECTION: The original post stated that ORCA LIFT cards could be replaced for free. The author apologizes for the clear and obvious error after video review.

The LIFT and youth fare for all trips on ST Express buses is $1.50, starting this week. Other services offering a LIFT fare of $1.50 or less include King County Metro buses, Link Light Rail, Seattle Streetcars, Kitsap Transit buses, and Kitsap Transit intra-county ferries. Services that offer a youth fare of $1.50 or less include all of these, plus Pierce Transit buses, Everett Transit buses, and Community Transit local buses.

The youth ORCA card (for riders age 6-18 — riders aged 5 and under generally get to ride free with an accompanying adult) continues to cost $5, except for children of LIFT cardholders and anyone receiving free passes through public schools. The $5 youth card fee is the highest in the country among transit agencies using smart cards.

Metro proposed reducing the fee to $3, but the County Council preferred to prioritize adding service. Regular, senior, and youth ORCA cards can be ordered by snail mail. Only disability and low-income cards require an office visit.

A handful of services accept mobile ticketing on your smart phone for RRFP and youth discounts: Sound Transit’s trains, Seattle Streetcars, King County Water Taxis, and Pierce Transit buses. Metro buses also can take mobile payment for just the youth discount. A major downside to that payment method is that the only service that offers transfer credit outside of day passes is Metro buses. Mobile day passes are offered on Sound Transit trains, Seattle Streetcars, and Pierce Transit buses, and are not portable between services.

Mobile ticketing, with transfer credit and passes on ORCA accounts, is expected to be a major feature of Next Generation ORCA.

20 Replies to “ORCAized RRFPs Now Free For the First One”

  1. Now, we just have to get the 4 transit agencies to offer a less expensive ORCA card ($3) for regular riders and/or a disposable ORCA card for visitors, offering 1, 3, or 7 day passes.

    1. In a few years, tourists (who will presumably overwhelmingly have smart phones) will be able to download an ORCA app from just about anywhere on the planet.

      One potential own goal we have to guard against is charging $3 – $5 to open a Next Generation ORCA account for mobile payment.

      TriMet is charging $3 to open an account, even if you don’t get a card. Because social equity. (Er, because social equity concern trolling, because they want an excuse to not get rid of the card fee? or because somebody hasn’t thought through the incentivization process? or because they prefer people use the card rather than smart phones, bringing into question why they would continue to have a card fee?)

  2. Any charge at all for an ORCA card itself is insultingly ridiculous. Name me one private business that charges for a discount card. They call it a REWARDS CARD! It’s ADVERTISING dammit! If you need money out of it, SELL advertising on the card!

    Also, make POSSESSION of the card proof of payment! My blood pressure is still off the charts for the warning I got a year ago because I “Tapped On” which is posted mandatory- after forgetting to “Tap OFF” An offense is not posted ANYWHERE!

    And got threat of a $124 fine. While holding a FULLY PAID-UP MONTHLY PASS!!!!!!!
    All this within the two-hour time to which my my first “Tap-On” would’ve entitled me if I’d bopped on and off around the whole system. Without anymore “Taps” at all. Also kept confidential. Somebody besides Donald hates “LEAKERS!”

    And incidentally…What IS the cost of one minute of lost operating time- time when the vehicle should be moving and isn’t? Somebody want to tell your most loyal supporters right here and now? Or do you want me to find out for myself and call The Seattle Times, “Get Jesse”, and State Senator Steve O’ban- whose office is a lot closer to my residence than closest ST anything?!


    Seattle’s signature World Class retributionary over-complication. No wonder LiberaIs here have to call themselves Progressives. Is this something we can eliminate organically? Because it justifies DDT.

    County Executive Constantine, you are in a matchless position to do something about this real fast. Dare anybody on ST Board or King County Council to say Word One against you in public. Just fix it, man, just fix it.

    Mark Dublin

    1. When a new laundromat went in in the U-District it used a payment card instead of coins. You filled the card at a machine and then stuck it into the washer and dryer. When i found out the payment card cost $5 I turned around to walk out. The owner gave me a free card to keep me as a customer.

      1. If there were a way for the masses to get a free first card, in a way that could be tracked, via mail and internet, I wouldn’t have a problem charging for replacements. I suspect, though, that the labor cost would be more that way.

        Still, charging $5 for a card for which the contractor charges less than $3 suggests that those in charge still don’t get the point of why smart cards are used to collect fares on buses, and that they pay for themselves through service efficiency.

        At any rate, charging anything for a first youth card is a sin for which I can come up with no justification.

  3. Here’s the way I handle my little Missed-Tap Wrist-Slap problem. I carry my ORCA card in a little clear soft-plastic card-size envelope. And back to back, a paper All-Day pass from first TVM I pass.

    At senior rate, ticket costs $2. Probably should start pretending I’d still a grown-up and pay whole thing . Fine print says pass is only good to farthest station you name in one direction. If my first contact is at IDS- I buy one to UW, and one to Angle Lake.

    Never seen Fare Inspector look that close- print is microscopic. Should buy two, with one incorrect, just to check. And still be covered with the good ticket. Reason all this fare evasion is legal is that ALL THE REVENUE FOR THE PAPER TICKETS GO TO LINK!

    Reason my ORCA card is a Tap-Trap is that my ORCA fare money has to be divided among SEPARATE AGENCIES! Oh and incidentally, even though LINK and the ST Express 574 are same color and both in Ride The Wave they are…Guess what kind of agencies? Adding a $124 liability for a plastic card I just paid an extra five dollars for.

    And this is the 2000-pound-two-weeks- dead-in-the- African -sun- gorilla in the seat next to me.

    I was here for the vote that founded the regional system that became Sound Transit. I kept my regional transit column in the ATU Local 587 News Review to advocate for it- a year after my last Metro paycheck.

    Major selling point was that passengers were finally going to have an INTEGRATED fare system. I know, this isn’t the only this country’s under-enforced example. But we’re looking at a breach of faith here sharing same “Appearance of..” with the car-tabs.

    Honest, this isn’t a hard one to repair. Any problems with the ORCA vendor, that’s why Desmond Brown comes to meetings. With one conference call, make my ORCA card the proof of my payment that vast majority of its regular buyers believe it already is. So my blue hat with the white letters can leave off the one for “Again!”


    1. One of the benefits of an RRFP is that the ORCA fare on Link is $1, no matter where you start or end.

      It boggles my mind that the TVMs make people stand in line longer by requiring reduced-fare ticket and day-pass purchasers to state their destination, for no reason whatsoever, other than that a program designer didn’t consider the possibility that ST would flatten reduced fares within a couple years of Link’s opening.

      Between silly bugs like that and the continuing lack of a distinct tap-off tone, I get the impression that the fare collection system did not involve input or testing by actual riders. But if the new Director of the Passenger Experience could start riding Link, bring his kids, and try the paper ticket system, he could discover some of these own goals that cost virtually nothing to fix really fast, and start removing them.

      Or just get the DotPE to spend a couple hours riding with Mr. Dublin, who I think has earned a couple hours of the DotPE’s time for all the years he has spent on volunteer Metro boards trying to get the system fixed.

      Once he gets hit up by the FEOs for mis-tapping, he’ll realize how unethical it is to not consider an active pass or valid active transfer as proof-of-payment (when they obviously do provide proof of having paid the full cost of the ride), and get a data-based inter-agency solution to replace the fine threats.

      The fare system is pretty effective at getting fare collection out of the way of the trains. However, it often causes riders to miss trains because of unnecessary slowness in purchasing fares. It also makes long-time frequent riders consider ceasing to ride or vote for ST measures when threatened with fines they don’t deserve. Director of the Passenger Experience, please get in contact with Mr. Dublin, and avail yourself of his decades of knowledge.

  4. Martin I feel your pain.
    My request is that the $99 senior pass come back to life. Since I’m in Canada half the year it would be a good deal for metro.

  5. When Link first opened, I recall the senior fare was valid only for people holding a RRFP card. In other words, visitors were ineligible for the reduced fare rides. Does anyone now if that rule is still in place? Do fare inspectors ever discipline elderly riders from the airport who in good faith buy the lower-cost ticket?

    1. I don’t think so, Roger. Classified, but Now (that I’m officially old) It Can Be Told: If you keep your health, not only to you get used to what you see in the mirror, but from the inside you’re stronger and more confident than you were at 20.

      And the respect you get from young male authority is heartbreaking. Young ladies still act like someday they’ll be your nurse, and they’ll make Mildred Ratched (Chief of Nursing, Cuckoo’s Nest) look like Florence Nightingale.

      But policemen- and Fare Inspectors- treat you like all they need to be a Fanged Beaver First Class is their “Assisting A Senior Citizen” badge. I can’t imagine them making anybody prove they’re old. Let alone what fare district you live in.

      I’m furious about the “tap-crap” on principle, but never gotten fined .Reason I carry my little back-pass all the time. So really doubt anybody with a pass gets investigated.


  6. I never understand why Seattle has to invent its own clever technologies. The subway in NYC has lovely little paper cards and turnstiles that make it obvious whether or not you’ve paid. That pattern works for ever subway I can think of around the world. Why is it that Seattle had to invent some fancy new technology that confuses locals, let alone visitors?

    Remember all the trouble we’ve had with the Good To Go tolls? California has FasTrack. The whole east coast has EZ Pass. Why couldn’t we just adopt one of those systems?

    1. Seattle’s ORCA is a lot like Boston’s Charlie Card, Philadelphia’s SEPTA Key Card, DC’s SmarTrip Card, etc. Seattle didn’t invent the technology any more than New York invented turnstile jumping.

      The cards aren’t just useful on trains, but improve fare payment speed on buses dramatically.

    2. Uh, those “lovely little paper cards” are pretty bad.

      Metrocard is based on a 1990s technology. The system goes down a lot; recently all credit card processing functionality went down for a number of hours. 50/50 chance that the Metrocard machine is not working at the station when you need to reload.

      The cards are finicky and the mag strip breaks down. I carried a spare pay-per-ride Metrocard just in case my regular monthly card failed me.

      It is super easy to mis-swipe, especially for tourists who haven’t done it much. I perfected my swipe technique after living there for a while, but I’ve lost the muscle memory on recent visits.

      ORCA is much better than that, even if there is still work to be done to make it more usable.

  7. “ORCA LIFT cards, for adults 19-64 with a household income of 200% of the federal poverty level or less, have been free since the program was rolled out in 2015. Kitsap Transit’s low-income ORCA cards are also free. There is no replacement charge for either.”

    Actually, there has always been a replacement fee for ORCA LIFT cards – $5 but as of the beginning of the month, that charge has been reduced to $3 dollars. Expired cards with value can have the value rolled over to new ORCA LIFT (once customers have reapplied) or regular cards at no charge.

      1. Would be nice to cite the source of the image though.

        The other question is if RRFPs are issued instantly to seniors or Medicare holders, if no photo is required. Otherwise visitors would have to send for it in the mail. I could see travelers collecting dozens of transit smart cards from different cities that they go to. I also doubt they mail outside the US.

      2. Seniors can get an RRFP by mail. The paperwork proving their age eligibility doesn’t have to have a photo. Medicare cards aren’t specifically mentioned for senior paperwork options, but would presumably count as one of the acceptable forms of paperwork proving eligibility. The process takes a few minutes, from what I’ve heard.

        Disability cards require showing up at an office that processes them (in particular, the King Street Center at 201 S Jackson St or at the west end of Westlake Station on days that the customer service counter is open, or at the roving ORCA-to-go table. Medicare cards are listed as specific proof of eligibility for those under 65. A photo will be taken to insert into the card. AFAIK, you can get the card “instantly” if you just sit and wait a half hour (more or less) for the photo to be applied and the card activated.

        Producing the card is obviously more expensive this way. I don’t know the reasons why senior and disability cards are handled differently.

Comments are closed.