Should Link accept paper transfers?
The idea surfaced recently in Sound Transit’s ongoing examination of fare enforcement. Making it easier for riders to pay fares is one part of the response to concerns about the impacts of fare enforcement. Currently, Sound Transit can accept transfers from other agencies if riders are using an ORCA card, but not otherwise.
The disadvantages are obvious. Buses are slowed by cash payers and paper transfers. Link, by not accepting these transfers, somewhat indirectly drives ORCA card adoption. A policy change would also import the lively market in fraudulent use of transfers into the Sound Transit system.
There also appears no practical way to manage the inter-agency accounting. The ORCA system shares fare revenue between operators by electronically tracking transfers, a task which becomes impossible with paper.
But there are some obvious advantages too. Tourists and infrequent riders are unlikely to have an ORCA card, and may not have an easy way to obtain one if their trip begins on Metro. Daily commuters already have high ORCA adoption, but the prospect of having to “pay twice” for a transit trip surely discourages some marginal riders.
Rail extensions prominently feature truncation of Metro services to Link stations. Next month, the North Eastside restructure will truncate Metro 255 to Link at UW station. While not a sizable proportion of ridership on a typical day, there is a significant audience of riders who use the 255 very occasionally for non-work trips to Seattle. ORCA card requirements are a significant burden for such infrequent trips.