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I believe that with the great surfacing of the buses, we have achieved the last of four required policy and network milestones necessary to implement all-door bus boarding systemwide for Metro and at all hours. This is meant to attempt to justify the capital expenditures required to install additional ORCA readers at rear doors, or more pragmatically, justify their inclusion in the next-generation ORCA implementation.

  1. We needed to streamline when fares are paid. This was affected when the Ride Free Area was eliminated, and now all fares are paid at boarding.
  2. We needed to eliminate fare zones based on destination. Two otherwise identical passengers no longer have two possible fares (one zone or two zone) to choose from upon boarding, and operators do not have to change the ORCA readers on an individual-passenger basis for this reason.
  3. We needed wide-scale ORCA adoption. The latest figure that I could find was in the 2016 Puget Sound Regional Council’s Transit Integration Report, which cites Metro’s agency-specific June 2016 ORCA adoption rate at 64% of fares. As Metro’s overall fortunes have risen since then, in conjunction with the simplification of fare policy and rollout of additional fare classes for youth and reduced-fare riders, I believe it is reasonable to hypothesize that the share of fares paid by ORCA card has also increased.
  4. Buses no longer operate in the tunnel, though this was less necessary than the others. The effect was a substantial loss of specialized right-of-way and an increase in the importance and visibility of reducing bus dwell times on city streets (with special emphasis on downtown peaks).

The cost-benefit analysis should be straight-forward:

  • Costs:
    • Capital expenditure for equipment and installation
    • Increased maintenance overhead
    • Predicted increase in potential for fare evasion leading to loss of farebox revenue
  • Benefits:
    • Reduced dwell time leading to service hour savings
    • Incentive to increase ORCA adoption rate
    • Reduce or eliminate need for peak-hour all-door card validator staff

To this point, it’s a math problem: If we can reduce systemwide dwell times by, say, 3%, what does that gain?

My institutional history is still somewhat limited, though, so feel free to note some other supporting or prohibiting factors I haven’t considered.

8 Replies to “Is It Time for Systemwide All-Door Bus Boarding for Metro?”

  1. This might be viable in next gen ORCA. But installing current equipment on all buses is not feasible because they will have an unacceptably short life span.

  2. Metro posts the quarterly ORCA Joint Board reports.

    As of December 2018, 69% of Metro boardings are ORCA.

    Metro had budgeted for installing rear door readers in the past but cancelled due to some of the factors you listed. But yes, all-door boarding ought to be implemented with next gen ORCA.

  3. #2 was done a year or two ago. A Metro trip from downtown to the Issaquah Highlands or Aurora Village costs the same as to First Hill.

    1. Although with all-door boarding, that could be solved with tap-on tap-off, like with Link.

  4. I’m not sure what you are proposing here. Are you basically saying we should go with a proof of payment system, but without fare inspectors? In other words, what would stop me from from getting on at the back of the bus and pretending to pay the fare? If that is your proposal, I think it is unusual and worth considering. I believe there are some studies that show that enforcement doesn’t matter that much when it comes to off board payment systems. Most people pay, even if they run a very low risk of getting caught. Others cheat no matter what the system. This is basically a fare inspection program without fare inspectors. I’m not sure if anyone has actually tried that.

    I think it makes more sense to just copy what other cities have done, and have fare inspectors. You don’t really need that many. Fare evasion usually goes down when you have them. Then do what other cities have done. Have a reader and a cash box on board. I believe in both San Fransisco and Vancouver they have readers by each door. In San Fransisco they have cash boxes close to the front while I think they are in the middle in Vancouver, at least on some buses. Also have readers and cash boxes on busy streets. See item 2 on this nice little web page (

    Then the cost/benefit is a little different:


    1) Additional readers (on the street, and maybe on the buses).
    2) Cash fare boxes that spit out transfers (proof of payment).
    3) Fare inspectors. I don’t think you need that many, but San Fransisco suggests you need more than zero.


    1) Improved fare compliance. In San Fransisco fare evasion went from 9.5% to 7.9%.
    2) Faster boarding. San Fransisco improved boarding time by 1.5 seconds per person. That doesn’t sound like much, but in a typical bus trip, with maybe a hundred boarding, that saves the riders two and a half minutes.
    3) More reliable, consistent service. This reduces bus bunching, and just makes the system a lot easier to use. This is probably the biggest benefit.

    The interesting thing is that once you have the system in place, it is easy to make spot improvements. Let’s assume that you *don’t* have readers in the back. That means that if you didn’t tap on at the street (or transfer from a different bus/train) you have to pay in front. If a particular stop has lots of people boarding and paying on the bus, then maybe the stop should add a reader. Likewise, the same thought process goes into cash readers. If you have a popular tourist destination without an outside cash box, then folks might crowd around the front, waiting to pay. Maybe in both cases we need an extra reader, or even an extra cash box on board each bus. This is basically how our RapidRide system works, if I’m not mistaken (I don’t think there are rear readers, and not every stop has an off board payment option).

    Once we make the big change (going to full fare inspection) the system can evolve. My guess is readers are fairly cheap, which is why San Fransisco has them at both doors (at least according to that website). That really isn’t the challenge, in my opinion. It is convincing people we should go to full fare inspection, and hiring just enough people to make that a cost effective option.

    I’m all for it, especially as your system becomes more dependent on Link. It is crazy to think of what a truncated 41 would look like at 5:00 PM. You would have a long line of people getting off the train, ready to board the bus. Each one has to tap on, even though each one just transferred from a train or another bus. That is silly, and a big waste of time. The issue in that case is not having rear readers, but requiring the rider to do anything on board but find a place to stand.

    1. “My guess is readers are fairly cheap”

      If they were cheap Metro would have already installed them at the rear doors. They said it would be too expensive to do so. San Francisco did, but MUNI is a smaller city-only agency in a city half the size of Seattle (geographically).

      1. There is no point in putting them in the back unless you commit to a fare validation system. Right now the people who hold the readers and allow folks to board on the back act as fare validators, just as the bus driver acts as a fare validator for the front door. That is how the system works.

        Put it another way: Let’s say we put all of these readers in the back — then what? Either the bus driver verifies that people have paid or someone else does. Either that, or we are doing something that no other agency does — basically operating on an honor system. But if we are going to go that route, we might as well just do away with all on-board and street readers altogether. Just allow people to make contributions online (whatever they think is fair).

        Adding readers in the middle of the bus is really not the key issue here. It is likely the cheapest part of the entire process. How expensive can it be to simply add a second reader for every bus? As mentioned, it isn’t even essential. What is essential is a cash box that spits out a transfer. That is a huge change (rendering our current system obsolete) and requiring a different type of box. But my guess is that isn’t very expensive either. The big cost is in enforcement. Suddenly you have to hire a lot of additional people, tasked with making sure that everyone pays their fare. San Fransisco did this recently, and at some point Vancouver BC did this. Oh, by the way, I don’t have the numbers for total service hours of San Fransisco (or Metro for that matter). But it stands to reason that they are larger than us, given the fact that the buses are notoriously slow, and the fact that they have higher ridership. Muni has about half a million riders each day, while Metro is a bit over 400,000.

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