Author’s Note: SEPTA’s 50-cent electronic fare discount has been added since the original post, thanks to an observant commenter.

King County Metro is at the mercy of cities for giving right-of-way and signal priority to buses, at the mercy of the State (and Tim Eyman) for being allowed to ask for local tax revenue, at the mercy of a more generous federal government for subsidization, and at the mercy of thousands of daily riders to choose to put the speed of buses over their personal convenience when they choose which way to pay their fare.

A very direct way to reduce bus dwell time would be for King County Metro to finally incentivize non-cash payment on all trips, with a lower electronic (ORCA and smartphone) fare than the cash fare.

Louisville’s new MyTARC card, saving users 25 cents per ride over paying with cash

Thirteen other urban US bus agencies have figured this out:

  • The Capital District Transportation Authority (Albany) charges $1.50 per ride when paying with cash. When paying with the Navigator Card, the first three rides of the day are $1.30 each, and then the riding the rest of the day is free.
  • The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (Boston) charges $1.70 to ride the bus when paying with the Charlie Card. Cash fare is $2.00.
  • The Chicago Transit Authority charges $2.25 on regular buses when paying with the Ventra Card or app. Cash fare is $2.50.
  • Denver‘s Regional Transportation District charges $2.80 on the bus when paying with the MyRide Card or app. Cash fare is $3.00.
  • While LA Metro doesn’t have an electronic fare discount for its regular routes, LA DOT (serving downtown Los Angeles) has one for its DASH routes. DASH cash fare is 50 cents, while DASH fare when paying with the Transit Access Pass smart card is 35 cents. TAP is accepted by most agencies throughout Greater LA. Also, Big Blue Bus (Santa Monica) charges $1.25 with cash and $1.10 on TAP.
  • The Transit Authority of River City (Louisville) just rolled out its MyTARC card this year, along with a 25-cent fare discount for using the card instead of paying with cash. The card is charged $1.50 when boarding the bus. Cash fare is $1.75.
  • The Milwaukee County Transit System charges $2.00 to board when paying with the M•Card or app. Cash fare is $2.25.
  • The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Philadelphia) charges $2.50 as the single-ride cash fare, and $2 using the SEPTA Key card, thereby providing a 50-cent discount. Note to SEPTA: Put the difference on the same page, so riders can notice the incentive.
  • The Port Authority of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) charges $2.50 when boarding with the ConnectCard and $2.75 with cash.
  • San Francisco‘s Municipal Transportation Agency offers a 50-cent discount for paying with the Clipper Card. Regular cash fare is $3.00. Clipper fare is $2.50. That goes for both bus and Muni rail. Several other agencies in the Clipper system also have electronic payment discounts, most notably the Alameda – Contra Costa Transit District (Oakland), with a $2.50 cash fare and $2.25 Clipper fare.
  • Tucson‘s Sun Tran charges $1.60 to board with the SunGO Card. Cash fare is $1.75.

There is one transit service that gives an ORCA fare discount: the King County Water Taxis (which are now part of King County Metro). The West Seattle Water Taxi charges $5.75 with cash, $5.00 with ORCA, and $3.75 with youth ORCA. The Vashon Water Taxi charges $6.75 with cash, $5.75 with ORCA, and $4.50 with youth ORCA.

Another deeper usage of an electronic discount is the new Highway 99 Tunnel tolls. The discount for using the Good to Go! Pass instead of paying by mail is $2. The regular toll ranges from $3.00 to $4.25 depending on time of day. The toll using Good-to-Go! ranges from just $1.00 to $2.25.

An electronic payment discount is a simple but effective best practice the County could implement to speed up buses and reduce Metro’s carbon footprint a little more. Some of these service-hour savings may be necessary in the Post-I-976 days.

In particular, an electronic payment discount could enable 3rd Ave to move more buses during afternoon rush hour, not just by speeding up the rate of boarding at the front door, but also by enabling more passengers to enter at the rear doors.

If the chosen implementation is to raise the cash fare to $3 (since reducing any fares is unlikely after I-976), that would also mean a lot less change fumbling even among those still choosing to pay with cash.

For those who argue that a higher cash fare than electronic fare somehow hurts poor riders, consider that (1) low-income riders already qualify for a significant per-ride discount, via the ORCA LIFT card; (2) many of those paying with cash can easily afford to get and use the ORCA card but choose to pay with cash because it is simply more convenient to them and comes with no financial penalty, while the time penalty is externalized to the rest of the riders; (3) slower and less bus service hurts every rider who is trying to get somewhere on time, including the working poor; and (4) riders without permanent housing suffer the most from unnecessary diesel exhaust, especially downtown.

Dealing with the impacts of Initiative 976 will be very painful for Metro and for bus riders. Compared to other options for dealing with the sudden sinkhole in Metro’s budget, a $3 cash fare would likely be the least painful tool in the toolbox for preserving service. Once an electronic payment discount is implemented, most riders will find the effect to be liberating.

74 Replies to “How the County could reduce downtown gridlock and preserve more service”

  1. I’ve wondered if the easiest way to solve this is just eliminate cash fares entirely. The primary people who wouldn’t have ORCA then would be tourists/visitors who can purchase at points of arrival.

    In addition, bus drivers could have a small number of ORCA cards pre-loaded with a small amount (say $5) that they could provide for riders who lose their ORCA or failed to purchase one. They would then sell these for $10, which disincentivizes throwing them away. This should be not any more work for the driver than paper transfers (which would now be completely eliminated – like ST has already done). If the driver runs out of the small # of cards they can just wave people on in the worst case.

    1. “The primary people who wouldn’t have ORCA then would be tourists/visitors”

      I can’t possibly overemphasize how mind-bogglingly wrong this statement is.

      Many infrequent or first-time riders who live here don’t have the cards. Many people don’t live particularly close to places where you can purchase an ORCA, and if you are looking for a youth or low-income card, we’re talking about a trip to an actual transit center, not a neighborhood grocery store. Eliminating cash fares means a large number of local people never try riding in the first place.

      That said, having ORCAs on the buses is a great idea that should be implemented 10 years ago.

    2. We used to have three Orcas in our household. The last time I tried to use one, I got on the bus and it wouldn’t work because it had somehow been damaged. So, I had to go through a lengthy process to transfer the balance to another of the existing cards, rather than pay a fee for a new card. Sure, I have Orca cards, but use them so infrequently that I never know if they’ll actually work. Then, someday soon, we’ll convert to “next generation” and they will not work, so I’ll need to go through a paperwork process of transferring the balances. At a point, it is easier to just drive, or pay cash. Ridership, as a percentage of population, is VERY LOW. King County has 2.2 million residents. Metro has 200,000 to 300,000 boardings per month on average. Assuming that most are daily commuters to work, some ride more frequently (commutes + errands) than others (only occasional commuters), and 20 working days per month, that works out to 10,000 to 15,000 actual transit riders, out of 2.2 million total residents. Do you really want to alienate potential new riders? That’s something like 0.005% of the population. Given that I’ve only personally known a small handful of people who regularly take the bus, it’s a statistic that is believable. Go door to door in any average King County neighborhood and ask who is riding the bus. It is hardly anyone. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

      PS why aren’t Orcas sold at Fred Meyer & QFC like the old Metro passes were sold????????

      1. I would agree, Engineer, that the percentage of the population that takes the bus is low. However, this does not negate the fact that sum number of people using transit is still remarkable. If those percentages you exampled were in an area of 50,000 people, then the sum number of transit users would be minute. But the 3 three counties in immediate Seattle area sees thousands upon thousands of people taking a bus, train or boat each day.

        As to address your ORCA-lamenting, I’m right there with ya. The current ORCA policy and user-friendliness is highly antiquated. The technology was designed in the late 90’s/early 2000’s and was quickly dwarfed by the fast pace of advancement in tech since then. One note though: ORCA is available for purchase & reload at most QFC’s and Safeway’s.

    3. ORCA cards can be purchased at the point of arrival, but there are only a select few stations where you can add balance or add passes. Only Link or Sounder stations seem to work reliably. The vast majority of hotels in the region aren’t near those, however. You can’t rely on the web site to add balance or passes either as it can take 24-48 hours for the process to sort through the system. There’s no way to know when the cash or pass will be available for use.

      If the issues with loading cards could be easily and cheaply solved this might work, but until then there really needs to be a way to have cash as a backup payment system.

    4. A lot of people are occasional riders, not just visitors. My car broke down, I’m making one unusual trip, I don’t travel much, etc. You see these people again and again on bus routes; they don’t know how to pay, they don’t know what bus to take to get from Bellevue to Bothell, Northgate to Lynnwood, northeast Seattle to downtown, which side of the street to wait on, etc. Expecting them to know which store to go to or buy it online is unreasonable, and in most cases there is no ORCA vendor within walking distance of their bus stop.

    5. Every transit center with any sort of infrastructure (bus bays, shelters larger than a bus stop, multiple all-day routes, etc.) should have an ORCA machine or two. Rapid Ride/Swift stops in major neighborhood centers should as well, as should ferry docks. It should be simple enough to get to a place in your neighborhood where you can load funds on a card.

      It stands to reason that the number of places where you can buy them should be far more prevalent than that. Elsewhere, buying a transit card is often as simple as going to the nearest mini-mart (think 7-11 and the like) or news stand, and here we should make them available particularly in places that are open 24/7.

      If you can buy a Chipotle gift card at a grocery store or Costco you should be able to buy an ORCA card with pre-loaded fare on it as well.

      Hopefully the next generation of cards will make some of this simpler (to say nothing about 1/3/7 day passes, etc.), but it would be nice to do more of it today.

  2. Justification 4 ignores the fact that the property boom that is adding “critical mass” to our transit network is directly responsible for putting people on the streets.

    1. Or maybe the lack of enough housing is more responsible. The housing crisis is nationwide, and occuring in cities that aren’t making the efforts we are here to catch up the supply.

    2. Wait, what? It is the opposite. Increased employment has lead to more demand for housing. That, in turn, has caused housing prices to increase, putting people on the streets. The relatively small amount of additional housing that has been added has helped mitigate the problem. Without that additional housing, there would be more people on the streets.

    3. The population is increasing because children are born, they graduate from high school and want to get out of their parents’ house, couples get divorced, people move to the region for jobs, etc. Housing needs to keep up with the population increase, and it severely hasn’t. Otherwise housing prices wouldn’t be rising. They rise because more people are competing for the same number of units, so owners can take the wealthiest and the rest get shut out or displaced to Kent, Tacoma, or Olympia. And now those places are rising faster than Seattle and starting to leave out people too. This is happening everywhere in the country except a few depressed areas that are losing population. The fault is restrictive zoning, especially single-family zoning on 66-90% of most cities’ land. The right thing to do is abolish it on a statewide/citywide level. That won’t mean all single-family houses will disappear. At least half will remain because the market will be saturated. You also need a lot of below-market housing (150,000 units in Seattle) for those who can’t afford the increases that have occurred since 2003.

  3. I don’t know why any transit operator wouldn’t give a slight discount for using electronic payment. It helps a driver get moving quicker and keeps bus schedules more reliable. Charging a premium for an e-Purse ORCA card is going the other way. Cash fare payment should be discouraged. It also would cut down on handing out transfer slips.

    Assuming $180 an hour to operate a bus, a quarter is about 20 seconds of extra time. I can’t say that cash payment takes an extra 20 seconds on average, but it’s got to be longer significantly longer than 10.

    It’s the same principle that is applied to highway tolls, where automatic payment is rewarded over a collection direct mail or toll taker method.

    1. Assuming $180 an hour to operate a bus, that’s $3 a minute, $1 for 20 seconds, and 25 cents for 5 seconds. If someone actually stands there and takes 55 seconds to board, all they’ve accomplished is wiping out their fare, and have contributed nothing to paying for the service. If multiple buses are piled up downtown, Metro gets negative net revenue from such a stunt.

      That also ignores the other costs of cash handling.

      Metro estimates it takes 4.6 to 6.8 seconds longer to pay with cash than to pay with ORCA. Based on this math, Metro would actually improve net fare revenue by immediately reducing electronic fares by 25 cents.

  4. For many infrequent bus riders using Orca is too confusing. Tap on the street? Tap on the bus? Even where to buy an orca card is a mystery let alone adding $. Using cash is analog and simple and easy.

    1. Oh, I don’t know. Cash isn’t obvious either. Where do you put the money? How about dollar bills? What about big coins, like a 50 cent piece, is that OK (last time I tried that it got stuck).

      ORCA cards are pretty easy. Where you can pay off-board is very well marked. Even in those places you can tap as you board. That makes the thing pretty simple. Tap as you board, but if you see someplace where you can tap before you board, just do that.

      1. Yea, paying cash is a lot worse.

        Getting an orca card is tougher than paying cash, but once you have it it’s easier. I don’t actually ride a lot, but I have an orca card basically just because it is so much quicker and easier to use when I do.

        We could probably be better about large simple signs telling you how to pay with one.

        For tourists (Including local tourists), however, a ‘day pass’ option is nice. This does not have to be a ‘good deal’ in terms of dollars for most, it’s about making it easy.

    2. One big problem is the $5 ORCA fee. People don’t think it’s worth it for one or two trips, and they don’t foresee themselves making more trips anytime soon. Many of my friends and acquaitances have resisted getting an ORCA card because of this. Sometimes I’ve bought them one just to eliminate that excuse and get them to try transit. Once they get on it, they eventually say it’s OK and start using it occasionally.

      1. That highest-in-the-nation-fee for getting a transit smart card is exactly why a per-ride electronic discount is needed.

        With a 25-cent electronic discount, the card pays for itself in 20 rides.

        With no discount, the card pays for itself never (at least for the user, who has passed the negative externalities on to the rest of the ridership, the taxpayers, and the rest of humanity on the receiving end of climate change).

      2. I agree. I have some spare Orca cards from the original year when they were free. I usually have about $7-10 on the e-purse. I have a friend coming up from Oregon. He will use it but when he thought his 1st bus ride would be $7.50 without the use of my card, he wanted to drive.

      3. I was just in Copenhagen, where the base price of their transit smartcard is 100 DKK or around $13. But, their new subway is very nice, and the regional S-train rail is quite extensive.

      4. A programming change could do what they do in Vancouver BC and allow the card balance to go negative up to the price of the card. This would help such situations as the tap-off credit for short Link trips as well as situations where payments on the ORCA web site take a long time to work through the system.

  5. ORCA’s solution is in its name: One Regional Card for All. Passenger has a card proving payment of a month’s worth of transportation. For fare inspection and the court system, End of Story.

    For revenue apportionment…..Sound Transit and its agencies can work that out someplace where their deliberations are not in the way of their transit system. Tapping the card, of course encourage passengers to do it. Do your PR right, and every passenger under ten years old will insist their elders do it.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I can just imagine a sign showing someone dropping coins into a machine, with the verbage “How dare you!”

      You are right about ST’s fare enforcement policy. It is as if a mole from Fare Enforcement Rebellion wrote it, to gum up the works by having FEOs waste their time having long conversations with and taking pictures of passholders who know the fare policy better than the FEOs do, while ST broadcasts to the actual (mostly young white male) professional fare evaders to sit in the middle of the train.

      I suspect we finally got the double-beep on tap-off because it didn’t have to pass across the desk of the Fare Enforcement Rebellion mole.

  6. a lot of people pay in cash because they get paid out in cash. having to go to a kiosk location and transfer that cash to a card is a large imposition on their time just so that others can board a little more quickly.

    1. It seems like having exact change and carrying it around is as much of a hassle. My guess is the vast majority of cash riders just pay $3. Even that is a bit of a hassle, as it means a lot of one dollar bills. This gives folks an incentive to actually get an ORCA card and add cash. If you don’t have a credit card, then at worse you pay an extra quarter, which many are paying anyway.

      By the way, this isn’t just a matter of slowing down the buses. It also costs Metro to handle the cash. Fewer cash riders means faster buses and more buses.

    2. Most of the others (who don’t have mobility challenges) are already boarding quickly. It is generally those paying with cash and change who are gumming up the process.

      If people getting paid in cash can’t obtain a free ORCA LIFT card and stop paying a $1.25 premium for each ride, that needs to be looked at. How can we help them obtain the low-income, youth, disability, or senior discount, so they aren’t paying too much for using transit?

    3. It’s also because of the limited TVM locations. I’m always near a TVM at least every couple days because I stick to those areas. Bellevue has one TVM at the transit center, and Kent has one at the Sounder station. Many people in East Hill or 104th Ave SE or the rest of Bellevue have no TVM within miles. They don’t know about the one at Kent Station because they don’t take Sounder. There are retailers who sell ORCA but it’s only a few chains, and most people don’t have a list or know where the nearest one is. This is in contrast to cities like Chicago that have subway stations all over the city so it’s easy to get to one and people know where they are.

      1. “This is in contrast to cities like Chicago that have subway stations all over the city so it’s easy to get to one and people know where they are.”

        Exactly. I think the Ventra card system there works great. I’ve always wished Orca would just emulate that model.

      2. The ORCA Pod members would also do well to unify their mobile ticketing apps, as it stands I have no reason to use them because every single trip I take besides grocery runs crosses back and forth between Metro and ST.

  7. I don’t think cash payment can be completely banned. Sometimes, people are stuck somewhere late at night, after all the stores have closed, and their phone’s battery is dead, so no Uber or Lyft to the rescue. You’ve got to be able to get home when that happens.

    Rounding the cash fare up to $3, keeping the Orca dare at $2.75 seems like a reasonable compromise. Since nobody carries quarters around anymore, most cash payers are probably paying the full $3 anyway.

    1. Or, you could just tell the driver you have no money and 99% of the time they’ll let you on, especially if it’s late at night.

      There’s no need to keep the cash-handling infrastructure in place to accommodate fringe cases like that.

  8. In principle, I agree that making ORCA fares less expensive than cash fares is a good idea, have the agencies who have done it published any data showing that implementing the discount moved people away from paying cash? My guess is that you need a much larger discount than $0.25/ride to incentivize people to switch:

    1) If $0.25 for a single ride is a big deal for someone, they probably have (or should have) an ORCA LIFT card

    2) If they ride enough that $0.25/ride adds up over the course of a month, I would expect the convenience of an ORCA card to be enough to get them to switch switch without a discount

    3) If you’re transferring between bus and light rail, ORCA already provides a huge discount

    4) If you’re an infrequent transit user, then figuring out and obtaining an ORCA card/app has a higher upfront cost in time than just paying cash. $0.25 isn’t going to be enough to move the needle

    If you want more ORCA adoption, get them in people’s hands (e.g. register to vote/get a library card/signup for utilities- you get an ORCA card!), make replacement cards (nearly) free, and provide more 24/7 locations to reload them.

    It sounds like next generation ORCA will help with a lot of these impediments.

    1. It is mostly symbolic, but sometimes symbols matter. The idea is put forward that paying with cash is simply not a good thing. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve done it, and when I forget my card, I’ll do it again. But it hurts everyone. That is something that a lot of people don’t get.

      It also gets the agency thinking about the other issues involved. You can see on this blog post how there are other issues that can be addressed. I don’t know how we compare to other cities, but like having a surcharge for cash payment, we could follow their lead. It is highly unlikely that we have the most convenient system. This is the sort of thing that can lead to improvements in the system.

    2. It’s not just the physical cost but the psychological incentive. People don’t like to waste money when they can get the same service for less. That’s why people flock to Walmart.

    3. It would also probably be more effective to beef up phone payment options, which gives people more options instead of taking them away. It’s a better option for visitors who don’t have to pay for a card and either throw it out or tote it around for the next time you visit.

      I see that is part of next gen ORCA, thanks for the link!

      1. Yeah, I’ve used my Hop FastPass app in Portland the couple times I’ve been there and it’s great.

  9. SEPTA in Philadelphia also has a discount: $2 with Key card, $2.50 with cash.

    I wish there were more Orca vending machines. Overlake Transit Center could use one, for example. Should be getting one anyway when Link comes… why wait?

    1. Thanks!

      I looked at SEPTA multiple times, and somehow did not come across the right pages. They need to put the cash and electronic fares next to each other to advertise the differential.

      Albany also required some extra looking around, and I got lucky to come across their day cap. Indeed, there are a few more day caps in other agencies, but those were not the point of the post, and there is no plan to consider a day cap with ORCA 2.0, sadly.

      1. I appreciated the inclusion of the CDTA (Albany, NY) in your post. I use them occasionally when I go back to visit friends from my days working in the state legislature who still live near the Plaza. It’s a relatively small agency running on a modest budget so it was nice to see that they too included the non-cash incentive in their fare structure.

  10. Get more ORCA cards to people – whether through employers, charities, schools, etc.

    I catch the bus at a stop serving both route 372 (to UW) and 522 (to downtown). If a 372 and 522 stop at the same time, and a similar number of people are boarding each bus, the 372 consistently boards quicker. Why? A higher percentage of 372-riders pay with a card compared to 522-riders. Why? Because UW figured out that providing people with free (students, classified employees) or subsidized (other employees) ORCA cards was in their own interest. If more employers provided ORCAs loaded with monthly passes, that seems like it’d solve a lot of these problems. The question becomes how to incentivize employers to do that.

    1. Not to be contrarian, but other factors may be at work in the case of 372 vs. 522. The 522 has fewer stops, so more riders per stop. Cash payment on ST Express is already substantially lower than on Metro in part because there are no paper transfers.

      Are you saying that each rider on the 522 actually takes longer, on average, to board, than on the 372? What percentage of 522 riders do you see paying with cash?

    2. State law required UW to implement a commute-trip reduction program because it’s so large and as a condition for every expansion. That’s why UW offered heavily-subsidized bus passes, which evolved into opt-out U-Pass and now mandatory Husky Card. That money is what made the 65 and others full-time routes and is funding extra runs to the U-District.

    3. Strictly speaking, UW doesn’t subsidize professional staff or faculty ORCA cards. They negotiate a volume discount with ORCA but there is no budget subsidy. There’s a movement to make it free, but the administration claims it would have a detrimental budget impact (to be fair, parking is also not subsidized). There are companies and other government agencies that /do/ have free ORCA cards for all staff (including contract staff), which somehow includes both Microsoft and Amazon.

    1. I’ve got my grandfather’s belt-held coin dispenser from his days in the 30s and 40s driving for Seattle Transit, Mark, if we need it! (He ended up being an assistant superintendent at the then-new Metro Transit.) No ORCA reader though. Might have to add that. Pretty sure his ghost will see that you have a pass and wave you aboard. ;-)

  11. Brent’s point is solid. the current practice is worse. The several agencies charge $5 for the card, so the e-purse is more costly than cash. how about providing $5 in value to the card? ST and Metro could subsidize the $5; a bit would leak to the smaller agencies as trips were taken on their services.

  12. The headline says how to reduce gridlock downtown. In the body of this post story, it says incentivizing non cash payments will help. Boston is listed as one of the 12 cities already doing this. But Boston has the worst gridlock in the nation. So I’m not sure if this will help gridlock.

    PS, for every person I see taking too long paying with cash, I also see someone with an ORCA card taking too long to tap-in. (One man I saw, wearing headphones, would jump up backwards and bump his back pocket, where his wallet was, up to the reader. But because he had headphones on, he didn’t realize he had already tapped-in the first time. But he still kept jumping up backward, trying to touch his butt to the reader. I counted about 15 attempts). Why should butt-man get a discount?

    1. Sam, I’d love to only offer discounts to people who pay quickly. Perhaps we could start a taximeter running from when the door opens or the previous person taps on?

      Unfortunately, that’d be difficult to administer and lead to a lot of complaints. So, let’s offer discounts for Orca card use because, on average, it’s usually much faster to pay with Orca than with cash. That’s what I’ve seen.

  13. Brent;
    We agree. There needs to be a cash penalty assessed. Because there sure is in the operating budgets of these transit agencies.

  14. I was recently in Portland for work. I took Amtrak down and would be staying/working downtown so didn’t feel like spending $3 for a Hop card or the app (the app also costs $3 to activate, for equity reasons). TriMet’s new card readers, though, support contactless credit/debit cards *including transfers*, and the paid fare counts towards a free day pass: if you pay $2.50 twice in a day, all subsequent rides are free. I know there’s a lot of technical hurdles involved in a transit card system, but if TriMet can pull it off, why can’t ORCA?

      1. No, ngORCA has removed day and longer caps from the consideration menu, sadly.

        If the ORCA pod wants to save plastic, they would do well to make the app-based account free.

  15. There’s a big jump between cash payment penalty and cash prohibited. A transit agency would have to make non-cash payment fully available to prohibit cash. Somebody might want to look at a map of where the ORCA cards are sold and see if there aren’t “ORCA deserts” in low income neighborhoods. There certainly are in the Bay Area. That can be fixed, but it requires building a better vendor network before eliminating cash. Phone based payment is helpful, but many poor people have their phones die when they run out of data plan time. It’s fixable, but not overnight.

    1. In low- and high-income neighborhoods alike, ORCA vendors are miles apart. And vendors don’t have backup card readers, so when their one goes down, a whole swath of the city is without service.

      Also the only documentation is a PDF file on the website, which lists entries by region and business name, and contains no maps. Not particularly convenient when one is on the go.

  16. Cards should not be costing more than a dollar. For that I would keep an extra one or two for guests/visitors. The Bremerton ferry terminal is also the Kitsap Transit window to the public. We can load cards, effective immediately, and do so whenever the balance gets lowish.

    1. The Clipper Card (SF) rebates the fee for getting the card onto the card as e-purse upon setting up auto-reload.

  17. ps – The ferry system is unable to load or sell ORCA cards. It shouldn’t be that difficult for them to do so. Also ORCA cards should be generally available at stores, say $20 for a $19 dollar preloaded card, and easy ways to add more. Via smart phone app?

    1. WSF has little reason to be involved in pushing ORCA. They accept ORCA pretty much the same way they accept debit cards. They don’t honor inter-agency transfers or passes. I-976 will mean that won’t change any time soon.

      I’m pretty sure the low-income fare goal for WSF is off the table for the foreseeable future as well. WSF needs to raise car fares quickly to the market-clearing rate for each line, but the politics of the Washington Transportation Commission won’t let them.

  18. Many good reasons to incentivize cash and even ban onboard payment in cash at the busiest stops (e.g., have kiosks that can take cash and print paper receipts like light rail). Reducing downtown gridlock is not one of them. Fare payment on busses is really the least of your concerns when it comes to downtown traffic congestion. Way too many cars in a small area trying to get through a handful of geographical choke points.

    1. I’m referring specifically to bus congestion, particularly on 3rd Ave where cars are not supposed to be during the congested times.

      Yes, red paint and automated camera enforcement would do even more. The most the county can do on that front is lobby the City to roll out the red paint carpet and lobby the legislature to allow the cameras. (Ironically, the City is being more obstinate about not using the red paint than the state legislature is about the cams.)

      The other point in the title of the post is that the County can do the electronic payment discount without waiting for permission from any other governmental body. If they wring their hands about not being able to do anything, they are wrong.

  19. I sometimes wonder whether I should be paying my fare in cash rather than using the e-purse of my ORCA card because of the longer transfer periods with paper transfers. Drivers don’t want to have to continually adjust the expire times of transfer slips, so they’re often good for 2.5 hours and sometimes for as long as 3 or 4 hours. (Obviously I’d use my ORCA card when making intersystem transfers, but I’m usually transferring between Metro Transit routes.)

    Perhaps, besides offering a discount for using a ORCA card rather than cash fare, a transfer period longer than 2 hours should be offered to provide parity with paper transfers.

    1. Very few agencies that invest in smart card technology decide to keep offering transfer slips to cash payers. But most of them don’t also get into the business of off-board bus payment and random fare inspections.

      Metro considered doing away with paper transfers back when ORCA was first rolled out in 2009, but backed off.

      Metro then decided to let transfer slips be cut for only 1-2 hours, and then let it go back to 2 or more hours.

      Transfer slips late in the evening are good all night, while ORCA can still only calculate a 2-hour transfer window.

      Extending the period of transfers on ORCA is a heavy political lift because it is a four-county decision, and no other agency in the ORCA pod beside Metro has paper transfers with windows longer than transferring to another bus at a transit center (Kitsap Transit’s policy). The other agencies rightfully ask Metro to clean up its own house. And then Metro has failed to get its efforts to reduce the paper transfer window to stick.

      Right now, trying to push for changing the transfer length would be a distraction from getting the electronic discount finally passed. Fidgeting with the transfer length (again) will change behavior with a lot fewer riders than simply rewarding electronic payment every time someone boards the bus.

    2. Metro is in the largest county and city, with the largest number of poor people and minorities, and the most left-leaning politics that’s sympathetic to the poor’s needs. All that adds up to keeping paper transfers because of the longer transfer period, while most other ORCA agencies eliminated paper transfers and told the poor to suck it. Those other agencies also have lower fares, which makes the burden less, and a skeletal bus network, so there aren’t many places you can go anyway.

      1. All the other ORCA agencies except Pierce Transit and Washington State Ferries have a low-income fare. Granted, for several of them, that happened years after eliminating paper transfers, and for most of them including Metro the discount is less than 50% of the regular fare.

        WSF is in the process of trying to find a funding source to offset the revenue loss from a low-income discount. (Since many of the ferries have long queues that aren’t being cleared with each docking… and there is plenty of space for more passengers,,, Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)

        Pierce County has a program for distributing free day passes through human service agencies, similar to King County’s much more extensive (but still short of what the agencies are asking for) free tickets program.

  20. Forgetting about dwell times and operational cost, just basic business sense suggests treating Orca cards like loyalty cards and offering discounts accordingly. The same reason QFC gives you discounts on your groceries when you swipe your QFC card applies here.

  21. It makes sense to have what is essentially a bulk discount for ORCA, I’ve wondered why we don’t have that for a long time.

    However, I don’t think time savings is the reason to do it. I ride the bus all the time and essentially never see people pay with cash.

    1. What do you mean by a “bulk discount”?

      What route do you ride that nobody is paying with cash. On all of my Metro routes, plenty of riders pay with cash.

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