Proof of payment sticker at a train station
Credit: Oran Viriyincy

Link’s 2009 opening inaugurated the proof-of-payment system and introduced the Puget Sound to the concept of the Fare Enforcement Officer.  Over the last decade, as POP and FEOs have expanded to RapidRide and Link’s ridership has exploded, FEOs have come under much scrutiny. Following King County Metro’s 2018 examination of fare policy, Sound Transit has spent much of 2019 doing its own investigation.

Last week, Sound Transit staff presented a preliminary report on fare enforcement to the board’s executive committee.  Over the past year, the staff have been collecting feedback using three methods: a self-selected online survey, a series of rider surveys, and focus groups designed to seek out underrepresented communities.  The committee seemed receptive to major changes, and seemingly no one wanted to defend the current system of one warning then $124 fine.  (At least you don’t have to go to Shoreline any more to pay it.)

The report showed, unsurprisingly, those most likely to be unable to provide proof of payment tended to have incomes below $50,000/year. More surprisingly, the vast majority of those surveyed – even those who didn’t have a fare – said the FEOs were “professional” and “approached every rider near me.”  This contrasts with some of the community focus group findings, where “participants perceived fare enforcement as being racially biased and targeting youth.”

The main reasons for not paying fares, across income groups, however, have more to do with the complexities of the ORCA system than malicious intent.

Data from the rider survey

There are several features of the current system that make it customer-hostile: the 24 hour delay before fares are loaded on your card, the lack of a customer service office in Westlake, the lack of ticket machines in general. These and many more are detailed in the report, along with some sensible reforms like re-prioritizing FEOs to focus on customer service or not doing enforcement on the first day of school. `

The committee wanted more data and more understanding of the current fines: how many are collected, how much money is spent in the court system, and more. As always, though, there’s a tradeoff between moving quickly and being thorough. We’ll see how quickly the agency moves to make changes.

The entire report is available online; the 4-page executive summary is a concise overview of the methods and findings if you’re interested in learning more. If you have feedback for the agency, they will be hosting a public meeting, sponsored by Transit Riders Union and others, at El Centro in Beacon Hill next Wednesday February 19th.

85 Replies to “Sound Transit presents initial fare enforcement report”

  1. It is hard to discern from these reasons what percentage of people don’t tap off when exiting the system and then “tap off” while intending to “tap on” when starting their next trip. Perhaps some part of “I tapped my ORCA card but it didn’t work” and “I thought my transfer was valid” but neither really captures that issue.

    Not needing to tap off is a common misconception I’ve found among infrequent Link riders, especially those who have ORCA passes that cover the highest Link fare. I’ve seen it with friends, family, and coworkers when I’ve taken Link with them.

  2. The most common results really speak volumes about how the system is run. “I forgot to tap” being the most common reason to not tap across all income brackets tells me that the system is not very good.

    I cannot tell you how much it stresses me out to have to remember to tap on a lot of the time. There have been times I’ve gone all the way down to the platform only to realize I didn’t tap and missing a train as I ran back upstairs, or after boarding the train, worrying I didn’t tap and getting off to check my tap status at the next station, or having a panic attack as I realize I didn’t remember tapping and getting off the train in fear even though I did tap. In general, the whole system just unnecessarily raises my anxiety level. It’s way too easy to get on the train without tapping by accident. If we had something resembling physical barriers you had to walk through, this would be much less of a problem. I don’t think it needs to be full turnstiles but having some sort of barrier you can’t as easily ignore between the fair paid area and the rest of the station seems like a sort of obvious step.

    1. “I’ve gone all the way down to the platform only to realize I didn’t tap and missing a train as I ran back upstairs, or after boarding the train, worrying I didn’t tap and getting off to check my tap status at the next station, or having a panic attack as I realize I didn’t remember tapping and getting off the train in fear even though I did tap”

      lol what?

      1. This lack of empathy burns me up. I also have the same kind of anxiety as Shiloh sometimes, and felt like maybe I don’t want to ride Link anymore. Something essential like transit shouldn’t have this kind of long-term psychological stress.

      1. No, there aren’t, except maybe in the DSTT which used to have bus-train transfers. The argument for not having readers on the platform is the same as not having readers on the train: some people won’t tap unless they see a fare inspector.

        At Capitol Hill Station you have to go up two levels from the platform to find an ORCA reader.

      2. The argument for not having readers on the platform is the same as not having readers on the train: some people won’t tap unless they see a fare inspector.

        This is an entirely Republican “argument”. In Seattle, home of a declared Socialist City Council Member, this should not carry any weight.

        I’m not saying that you’re making it Mike. I realize you’re just reporting it. But why is it not laughed out of the Sound Transit Boardroom?

    2. Yes, I agree. The top reason of forgetting to tap is clearly a product of the readers not being prominent and the paid fare zones not well delineated. Add to that the placement of fare machines inside of where the Orca readers are in several places.

      Of course, ST doesn’t dare admit there is a logic problem or offer that they should fix it as a needed action In the report. It saddens and amazes me how ST won’t discuss a basic design flaw in why they need better “enforcement”. It’s the transit version of a speed trap!

      1. Yesterday I mentioned forgetting to tap out at Beacon Hill, where the readers are at the side of the elevators outside your line of sight. After I wrote it I remembered that I’ve also forgotten to tap in for the same reason. If you’re going in one of the middle elevators, the readers are on the far side of the outer elevators, and again outside your like of sight.

        ST could solve a lot of these problems by simply moving the readers or installing more of them. There’s also a low-budget turnstyle alternative: three strips of metal or wood to make a fake door frame. Make the passage narrow and put the readers prominently in the doorway. The surface stations on Rainier do this very well even without an explicit door frame.

        Also, some of the elevators in the DSTT have no reader near them; you have to go out of your way to an escalator to find a reader. This was a fault of the original DSTT design.

      2. We both recognize the problem! I’ve had the same kinds of issues about finding Orca readers.

        Unfortunately, ST staff is either too arrogant or too stupid or too manipulative to understand that this is their number one fare enforcement “problem” as borne out by their own survey!

      3. I assume that the ORCA reader placement in the DSTT probably weighed convenience of access to power/ data for the installers (and budget) over any sort of human centered design or focus on the rider experience.

        While relocating readers originally installed in the DSTT may not be easy or inexpensive ORCA2 absolutely not include a one for one replacement of existing readers.

      4. It seems like many of the people commenting here are regular riders, perhaps with monthly passes. I’ve never experienced another system with such hostile design to both regulars and visitors. The whole having to wait for payment to update is beyond absurd. Regular riders should just have a pass that they carry but don’t need to activate (like in Portland) or have turnstiles (like in Boston, DC, San Francisco and New York).

        Seattle is an abject lesson in how not to design a fare system (or naming scheme). I am pro-transit but I also totally understand that part of the reason the tab tax got kicked so hard is because ST makes even transit advocates actively frustrated. And they aren’t even solving new problems! There are hundreds of years of transit design experience in this country and as far as I can tell the ST strategy is to entirely ignore the parts that work elsewhere and run wild with aspects that have brought active protest on other systems as far back as when my parents were wee.

        … will he ever return?

      5. “Seattle is an abject lesson in how not to design a fare system”

        The fare system interrelates (I can’t think of the precise word) with other design aspects of the network, both within Sound Transit and ORCA-wide. In the 1980s each agency had its own fare structure and pass, and there were very little inter-county express buses and no trains. The county-based agencies couldn’t build these effectively because they took last place to constituencies’ local neighborhoods. Sound Transit was an attempt to get these intercounty and intercity services running. The ultimate scheme that developed was unusual for American cities (or other cities). When ORCA came along, it just fit into that structure. An unusual system led to unusual consequences.

        Metro had from the 1970s two levels of service: local routes, and peak express routes. Community Transit started with the 4xx express routes (operated by Metro) and filled in local routes and the CT brand when it got established. PT never had express routes although it started the 594 in the 90s. ST Express and Sounder began in the mid 90s. So all these had to come under the multi-agency pass, and they had wildly different fares. PugetPass addressed this by having price points at different fare levels, and everything up to that fare level was fully covered. Sounder’s fares were distance-based because of the widely-varying distances it offered, and Link was distance-based because it too was expected to stretch far eventually.

        In NYC, Chicago, and San Francisco, the subway/el/MUNI are a flat fare so there’s no tapout, and the same agency runs the city buses at a flat fare, but no long-distance expresses. Different agencies run express buses, commuter rail, and BART, each with their own fare structure and no shared lasses.

        So the experience on MTA subways reflects that it’s a city-only system with a flat fare, and doesn’t have high-expense suburban express buses that deadhead twenty miles in the reverse direction (50% revenue service rather than 100%).

        But Pugetopolis does have those things, in the same agencies as local routes and with a shared umbrella pass. So there’s a wide cost difference between serving a 1-mile city trip and a 20-40 mile long-distance trip. Thus the agency wants to know what length of trip you’re making and where you started, and that’s where tap-in becomes important. It could charge a flat average fare, but that would mean short urban trips would cost as much as going to the city limits every time. And the agencies use a boneheaded way to split the pass/epurse revenue, one that is affected by individual taps, rather than just dividing it up by total aggregate volume.

        The waiting period and turnstyles are separate issues. We’ve argued extensively on the pros/cons of turnstyles. The waiting period is because the bus readers aren’t connected real-time to the central database; they are synced each morning. This may seem silly in an era of smartphones, wifi, and GPS. But how many other agencies that have online refills also have distance-based fares and long-distance express routes in the system?

  3. “There are several features of the current system that make it customer-hostile: the 24 hour delay before fares are loaded on your card, the lack of a customer service office in Westlake…”

    It seems like an easy, and obvious, fix for them to add a customer service office in Westlake. Metro had one there for years and years, why can’t SoundTransit?

    1. Probably the cost of staff. Metro’s kiosk was originally open throughout the month if I remember, but for several years before it closed it was open only for a week or so at the end of the month.

      1. What it really is, is another example of Sound Transit not prioritizing the rider experience. If they did care about the transit rider then a customer service kiosk at the busiest station in the line would be a no-brainer.

        There really needs to be a cultural, and philosphical shift at that organization, Unfortunately that probably has to come from the top, and I don’t see that sort of leadership or vision coming from Mr. Rogoff. I guess this is another reason to get a Democrat in the white house – so he can go back to a federal job somewhere. He and Ms. Durkan, both for that matter.

      2. Tragically, jas, the agency seems to be getting worse since Rogoff arrived. Ridership reports have been greatly pulled back, and a number of public input in things like station renaming and line renaming have been summarily avoided or ignored.

        The fact that this very study is merely about “fare enforcement” rather than “fare collection” (of which enforcement is a part) is another subtle way to limit and thus avoid correcting how they interact with riders.

      3. jos: some of ST problems in terms of what you’re saying is an issue of vision and how ST views itself as an agency. Instead of as a transit agency that is building out its regional infrastructure it sees itself as the other way around with it being a builder of regional infrastructure that happens to be a transit agency. And tbh, this is a common problem with American public transit agencies in general, as we have a way different attitude towards public transit compared to other modern nations along with very different financing structure of building public transit and rail infrastructure. Like I currently live in the Denver metro for example, which is overseen by RTD (Regional Transportation District), and is plagued with similar problems ST has in terms of project planning along with their daily operations being in shambles atm due to driver shortages for light rail and bus drivers. And instead of fixing the problems they have with fairly obvious solutions like streamlining the very convoluted bus system they have, they instead spent $18K on having Jarrett Walker give an “inspirational” speech to RTD instead of ya know hiring him as a consultant to help them fix their public transit system to be more efficient and logical.

  4. This post says ST will host the event, and it will be sponsored by TRU and others, but when I click on the hosting a public meeting link, it says TRU and others will be hosting the meeting. Who is really hosting the event?

    1. “Hosting” can mean multiple things, from organizing and leading the event, to providing space for it, to paying money to help cover expenses. In this case it looks like the Facebook entry is right and nonprofits organized it and invited ST.

      But why, T1 (Troll Number 1), does it matter who organized it?

  5. I agree with the 24 hour delay, I absolutely do not want free fairs. As a child I rode Seattle Transit, my mom didn’t drive. Free fairs, equals Greyhound therapy for the homeless that need help other than free rides to be moved around Seattle.

    1. “Greyhound therapy” is the practice of giving homeless people a free ticket out of town, with a trespass warning to never come back to that town.

      The proposed very-low-income fare program is about the need of everyone to access PUBLIC transit. I see no similarity between the two. The latter is for the homeless and others who can’t afford to pay fare. The former is against the homeless.

    2. Ha. Hahahaha. You think homeless don’t ride because they might get caught without a fare? What’s the worst that happens to them? Fined money they can’t and won’t pay? Permanently excluded except when they get on and there aren’t inspectors? Eventual free nights in jail? Yeah, genuine genius at work here. Also, you know those homeless always paying at the last minute with their smartphones.

      Meanwhile, someone trying to catch a bus downtown with their kids gets tagged for not paying a fare because they are just trying to figure out the system, and reacts to the experience with a “f this, I’m just going to drive and pay for parking” when they have in the past found ways to build their lives around other, more reasonable (still flawed but at least not actively hostile) transit systems.

      I know, because I have been that person, and I used to ride the train in Boston every day WITH a toddler, and I made it work. But after three tries from NE Seattle to SLU, I am done with Seattle transit. Metro at least has it’s heart in the right place, but without a (fully charged) smartphone anyone who isn’t a daily rider is basically a target.

      Oh, I forget to mention. I ACTUALLY DROVE FOR TRIMET in Portland. After seeing how hard that agency works to actually be customer oriented, and talking with my aunt who used to drive bus in the Seattle area before ST came in with The Plan ™ the whole thing makes me shaking mad.

      And by the way, I’m no communist. I think fare requirements for all riders are totally reasonable, so long as those who need public transit and can’t afford exorbitant fees have alternatives if they are organized and not just jumping on because they are running from something. But seriously, if you are organized enough to buy a ticket, you deserve to ride. Not tomorrow. Not in a week. Not even in 20 minutes. You pay, you ride. That’s how a fare works, and it’s how all reasonable transactions work: pay for goods received and services rendered, not for an account that you can use in a while to then prepay for services rendered or have your money taken from you because you didn’t actually use the account in time to lock in the money you put in it. Seriously every other system I have ridden on gets this, and if some of those bass ackward options are beating our system, you have to wonder why we put that poor inbred horse in the race to begin with.

      PS, you can now get around this with Transit Go so it’s all pretty pointless anyway if you are familiar with the system and have a solid battery charge. If not, well go ahead and bend over and grit your teeth, because if there’s one thing ST hates it’s innocent people who don’t know every detailed convuluted working of the fare system and are just frazzled and frustrated and trying to get somewhere already, possibly with kids or a disability that precludes just calling a car. Not clever fare evaders though – plenty of loopholes for them still.

      1. “What’s the worst that happens to them?”

        Psychological distress and embarrassment. It’s like being interrogated by the border guards or police; you never know what they’ll ask or say today, and it potentially happens multiple times a day every day.

        Some homeless people don’t care and think they’re superior. Others are traumatized by this. The cocky ones may be the most visible, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones or the majority.

        “You pay, you ride. That’s how a fare works, and it’s how all reasonable transactions work: pay for goods received and services rendered”

        That gets into what the purpose of providing transit is and what its goals should be. When you say “transaction” you imply it’s a luxury good that people can do without. But without transit people can’t get to jobs, job interviews, public services, the supermarket, events, etc. The question is, do these benefit just the individual, or do they benefit the entire community when everybody has access to these things? To the extent that they do the latter, we should think of transit not as a luxury good like a TV, but as an essential part of the infrastructure that everybody needs access too. If our cities were still laid out like the 1920s then it wouldn’t matter as much if poor people couldn’t ride transit because a wider variety of things would be within walking distance in every neighborhood. But now these things are further apart, and many neighborhoods are car-dependent, so walking isn’t really an option when it’s a 1-2 hour walk each way every day.

        Pugetopolis is addressing the cost-barrier of transit in some evolving ways like ORCA LIFT, public-school passes, a sub-ORCA LIFT fare. And these have their own barriers to access. The “ask for a free ride” is a longstanding policy that we’re slowly evolving from.

        Another reason for the tolerance of non-payment is to avoid assaults on drivers over fare disputes. We have had drivers assaulted and killed over this. You can say, “Drivers should be bouncers and enforce the fare; it’s part of the job”, but that runs into problems of recruitment and retention. Prospective drivers don’t want to deal with this, and we don’t want to pay them enough or raise taxes enough to make it worth their while. Plus there are no security guards on all buses, and the driver is doing a lot of work keeping the bus moving and avoiding collisions and needs minimal distractions. I don’t know how other cities deal with this. They may have more aggressive cultures where drivers have grown up with a bouncer mentality. Or they may just cut off poor people from transit and not care. In other places like NYC and other northeastern cities it’s not as big a loss because more things are within walking distance.

    3. “I agree with the 24 hour delay, I absolutely do not want free fairs”, “Free fairs, equals Greyhound therapy”

      Look, man, literally nobody here is proposing free fairs. We know we’ve gotta chip in to make sure the Clydesdales have a nice building to stay dry in, and Weird Al (presumably) isn’t just gonna show up without a booking fee. And sure, the 4H Dogs may contain a Greyhound or two, but there are usually a lot of other cool puppers, floofs, and/or doggos too. And really, when you get down to it, the $10 or whatever it costs is a perfectly reasonable price to Do The Puyallup.

  6. Just FYI – Stations that served both buses and trains have tapping points at the platform. Locations that only served trains do not, such as Beacon Hill where you have to tap up at street level before taking an elevator down to the platform.

    1. And a first time rider who doesn’t know that they have to tap at the top level will be very upset to find how far they have to travel to find an ORCA reader when they reach the UW station platform. This happened to me the first time I went there; until then, I’d only been to stations at the DSTT, where there are readers on the platform .

      Let’s say it’s a more valid criticism than the naming of University St. Station.

  7. This gets even more complicated when the system expands.

    eg: do I have to go back upstairs and tap again when transferring trains at platform level?

    1. This is a very good question, Glenn. Will the zone system simply assume that a transfer took place at the first station at which it could be made or will the moralistic bureaucrats who designed ORCA require a trek up to the mezzanine for a “tap experience” to PROVE that the rider didn’t “cheat” by transferring farther up the line? They might have used 1 milliamp extra power to do so.

      Can’t have that!

    2. hrmm…….

      metro has orca readers on buses.

      maybe ST should look into putting a couple of readers onto each train car

    3. ST has never clarified this. In most other systems you don’t have to tap for a train-to-train transfer

    4. I’m sure ST would be glad to not require tapping off and back on when transferring trains. Then, they could charge a higher distance-based fare!

      But if, heaven help us, they do require tap off and back on, that could pre-empt them from designing cross-center-platform transfers on the new lines.

      1. Unfortunately, none of the ST plans include any cross-platform transfers anywhere except at Wilburton in 2041.

        I’ve suggested laying out SODO and Tacoma Dome for cross-platform transfers — but I’m not seeing any advocacy group being emphatic about this, and I don’t believe ST capital projects staff care anything about it. I feel like a lone voice — so thanks for at least mentioning its amazing rider benefit!

      2. Tapon/tapoff isn’t necessarily related to the distance-fare calculation. ST could formally require tapon/tapoff but still treat two back-to-back trips as one trip for fare calculation.

        But hopefully reason will prevail by 2023 and there will be no tapping required for train-to-train transfers.

      3. “Unfortunately, none of the ST plans include any cross-platform transfers anywhere except at Wilburton in 2041.”

        That is just stunning. What should be the #1 priority when adding a second line? Having seamless transfers to the first line. Because the entire rideshed of line 1 is potentially transferring to Line 2 destinations. Everywhere in the world, transfer stations have the most on/offs, and the largest concentration of passengers at stations is in transfer tunnels. A good transfer experience gives a positive impression of the transit agency and more willingness to pay taxes for expansions. Why is ST throwing this away? It should be minimizing the number of times people have to go up to the surface and back down, not maximizing it.

      4. I agree, Mike! It is stunning!

        What’s even more stunning is that groups like Seattle Subway, Transit Riders Union and Transportation Choices Coalition — as well as senior advocacy groups, bicycle advocacy groups and disability advocacy groups — aren’t making an issue of it!

        Right now, we have a temporary working example of ten weeks that shows the benefit of the concept. While the train schedules are a big problem, no one complains about the current temporary cross-platform transfer. The only griping I see is that the platform is temporary!

      5. Thinking about what Washington D.C. does (which does feature transfers between lines behind the faregates), there is a table somewhere that lists the fare between all possible station pairs system-wide, not just along any particular line. Thus, when you tap your card to go through the exit faregate, the system uses the exit station and entry station to determine how much to charge your card. Whether you did or did not transfer lines in the middle of the journey has impact on the fare.

        One tradeoff I have found quite annoying is that the automatic transfer system replaces the 90-minute free transfer window you get here with an Orca card. This means that exiting the station to grab a bite to eat at a transfer point, rather than going directly to the other platform has the practical effect of doubling your fare. There are also a couple of stations, Farragut North and Farragut West, which are only a block or so apart, yet have no underground connection. So, again, to avoid being dinged with a double fare, you have to ride out of your way to Metro Center station to make the connection undergound.

        WMATA also dings you with a transfer fee when switching between a train and a bus. It’s less than bus fare, but it does create a weird situation on weekends, where free parking leads to a perverse situation where it is actually *cheaper* to drive to a Metro station and park your car in their garage than it is to ride a bus from home to that same station.

  8. It is hard to parse some of those largest categories, but it looks like as many as 43% of passengers encountered by FEOs are wrongfully accused of fare evasion.

    That is to say, they have clear-and-obvious proof of pre-payment with them. They paid.

    The fact that many people haven’t been harassed by FEOs does not excuse the cases of those who have. I was harassed by one once. I still would like an apology, in the form of a policy change that says ST won’t do it again.

    ST should use their data to calculate the number of passengers overall who failed to tap, and do a back-end billing correction, not try to scare those who have fully pre-paid out of riding Link again, and wanting to vote against ST in the future because they feel robbed.

    Any why should ST make this small effort to dramatically improve the passenger experience? Because a significant number of passengers publicly accused of theft have paid. They did not attempt to evade paying the fare. They paid the fare. Don’t you get it ST, they [BEEP] paid the fare!

    All FEOs should do is gently remind them to tap, and THANK the passenger for having purchased a pass, and for riding Link. And I would like to see Mr. Rogoff thank us for offering our constructive criticism (without which, for example, we would not have ORCA LIFT and the double-beep on tap-off), not write critics off as unconstructive. He and the guy in charge of fare enforcement also need training in how not to come off as tone-deaf.

    1. Really difficult to implement this without the enforcement equity issues getting worse, though, if it only applied to pass holders.

      I strongly suspect that higher-income people are more likely to have transit passes. Many major employers provide them. Even if they don’t, ~$99/month isn’t a huge burden if you’re relatively well off.

      But many lower income folks don’t work at employers that provide transit passes. They also are less likely to have $99 on hand to buy a pass and so they have to pay as they go. They would still be subject to enforcement.

      1. The stats seem to point in the direction that less than a quarter of those wrongfully accused of fare evasion and wrongfully fined are in the 50K+ income bracket. An overwhelming majority of those wrongfully accused are poor.

        This is one of those cases where increasing some harm to the poor helps improve the stats by hurting a handful of rich folks to. The goal ought to be harm reduction, not more equitable pain dispersement.

        Do you really think those who get a very-low-income free pass should be subject to a warning and $124 fine for failing to tap, just to make sure the fare enforcement system hurts some rich people, too?

    2. Higher-income people are the ones most falsely accused of not paying when they’ve already paid. With lower-income people it’s more that they don’t pay because they don’t have the money, so the accusation that they didn’t pay is correct.

      $99 passes shouldn’t be a barrier with ORCA LIFT, and the proposals for something lower-cost for those who can’t afford ORCA LIFT.

      1. The stats are actually unclear on this point. The columns are summations for the 50K+ and the 50K-, but don’t tell the story of what percentage of all “fare evaders” fall in the upper or lower category. That’s a rather important missing statistic. (And still wouldn’t justify wrongfully accusing anyone of fare evasion.)

    3. There are 22 different pass values available on ORCA, which cover all forms of transit in the area (i.e. not just ST). These include trips up to the per-trip value selected, from an $18 pass (0.50/trip value) to a $207 pass ($5.75/trip). This doesn’t include the employer-sponsored passes.

      Because of that – depending on your pass value and your on/off stations – it isn’t possible to determine if your pass has actually paid the fare until you tap off. It also isn’t possible to determine your pass validity for your ride if you haven’t tapped on. If you have a $99 pass and you are traveling from downtown or the UW to the airport, your pass alone does not cover the fare. You don’t have proof of payment for that particular trip. If you don’t tap on, how is the FEO supposed to know in that circumstance that your pass actually covers your trip?

      If you have a fully covered pass – i.e. employer sponsored or a pass with per-trip value of $3.25 or higher (or the relevant percentage for ORCA Lift/RRFP) – then a reminder to tap on/off and a “thanks for riding” is certainly sufficient as you by definition have paid.

      I fully agree that proof of a pass valid for any possible trip on Link when scanned should be prima facie evidence of proof of payment, and would happily donate to Mark D’s legal fund should he ever want to challenge the system. I also agree that ST has been tone-deaf about this from day one, particularly as it is a problem that better design and visual barriers in stations, day/week passes and fare caps would almost completely eliminate. As with station design, transfers to buses/other trains, station and line naming, it’s just good practice to make the system simple to use for everybody. ST too often has come up short in these customer-facing areas.

      1. And why can’t we just have one fare price anyway, or at most… maybe 3? Visitors could get reasonable 7 day passes that just work wherever. Taxes continue to pay most of the bills. You separate the riders from the loiterers. In fact, I realize I should just buy a bunch of those dirt cheap cards and give them to homeless and let them know “only good for one stop, but you can legally chill on the platform for a while”.

      2. We could certainly get down to maybe three or four levels. But a single level looks very unlikely. Bus fares across Metro, CT, and ST range from $2.50 (Lynnwood-Edmonds local) to $4.25 (Snohomish-Seattle). Sounder ranges from $3.25 (Auburn-Kent) to $5.75 (Lakewood-Seattle). Link ranges from $2.25 (Westlake-Beacon Hill) to $3.25 (UW-Angle Lake), and it will eventually reach into the $4’s when Everett and Tacoma open. So the total range currently is $2.25-5.75, or more than double. You could average that out to three levels, but what should those levels be to avoid overcharging some people and undercharging others?

        Metro went to a flat fare, and is now overcharging urban trips and undercharging long-distance expresses. This is tolerated because many of those long-distance routes will only exist for a few more years until Link, RapidRide, and ST Express expand and become more frequent.

      3. Another issue is the size difference between communities. Everett Transit wants a lower fare than the other agencies. Community Transit and Pierce Transit can’t charge as much as Metro for local routes because those suburban communities won’t tolerate it. Their costs are less because their services are less, and they don’t have the density to support as much service as Metro. And their constituents are more car-oriented and only want a little transit, not something with high fares and taxes.

    1. Would you agree, then, that if you are paying fares, consistently, then you are not a thief?

      1. Common sense says that I am referring to people who ride Transit and are not paying.
        Not paying once is an act of theft.

      2. Again, if you have pre-paid the fare (and will gain nothing from failing to tap), then does that mean you have not committed an act of theft?

    2. Reason I always make sure to buy my monthly pass before the first of every month. Which, as a side-benefit, entitles me to consider simple possession of my loaded card as ironclad evidence against any charge of theft on my part.

      And also to keep my elected officials apprised of my preference that any bureaucrat too lazy to apportion my fare among ST’s own divisions, which are themselves artificial, loses the next election for whoever appointed him.

      Or, since Mayor Durkan, also sits on the Board, her. And another point of possession: the more years I watch come by, the fewer, I know, are left. Which takes the filching of my time a grade of theft ‘way beyond petty.

      That’s all.

      Mark Dublin

      1. No, no, if you forgot to tap, you’re a thief! Or if your tap didn’t take. It doesn’t matter if you have bought the highest possible value ORCA pass and jumped through every hoop, and even know that today is a full moon and Mercury is in retrograde so your fare should be exactly [sorry, my keyboard doesn’t have that arcane character], You Are A Thief. Obviously. Just like that person from out of town, that other person trying to wrangle kids and that other person who needs to use transit to get to his/her neurologist. All thieves! Evil evil thieves. How dare they think of public transit as a public service and not an arcane and punitive right of only the most pure?

        [If you are wondering if that’s sarcasm, then yes, it is]

        Not sarcasm: public transit is overwhelmingly tax funded. Fares are useful for being able to ask abusive loiterers to leave without having to build a criminal case, but they are not a major source of income for any transit agency. Public transit exists because a reality where we all drive everywhere is bad for everyone for many reasons. I’m not advocating ditching fares, but they need not be arcane, or feel like a gotcha, or push tourists and new residents to avoid our transit system. They don’t exist to determine good and evil anyway, so why are we hung up on thieves in the first place?

      2. I have to beg to differ. If fares were not an important portion of a transit agency’s revenue, then the agency would cease collecting fares. IT analyzed its net fare revenue, found it to be 2% of all revenue, and decided to cease fare collection for a few years. The pain of slowing down buses and using service hours to dwell while people fumbled for change just wasn’t worth that paltry amount of extra revenue.

      3. In IT’s case fares paid 2% of costs. In Metro’s case it’s approx. 20-30%. In Link’s case it’s higher, maybe around 50-70%.

  9. Really sorry I can’t make the Transit Riders’ Union meeting Wednesday night. Volunteer work for Intercity Transit already promised. And since, family’s moved out of Seattle, motel’s beyond my budget.

    Because for me, chief agenda item right now is gathering the resources, judicial and legislative, to get the law to force Sound Transit to cease and desist from making me liable to a theft conviction over a mistake in registering a fare I paid in advance three weeks before.

    In circumstances where the conditions of rush hour transit demand above all else that passengers on foot keep moving. Fast. Present generation of cameras and computers can certainly register the revenue lost to the system by any slowed-down line.

    Yeah, barman, tell everybody what’s so funny. I can’t afford a $124 fine for a trip I already paid for. Which should entitle me to the right to use my mind otherwise. And Bob, you next. For a few of us, problem is how hard compromise dynamites its brakes where our personal honor hits its limits.

    Who’s talking “free” for anybody’s transit ride? Show me where I’m NOT paying for anybody’s trip on one of those beaten-up out-dated nationwide Federal defense projects! Likes of Link puts money in my pocket every time it clears I-5 of somebody’s car.

    Fares my age saves me? Federal effort needed to repair our collapsing country should pay me enough to vote a pass for you. Though doubt my taxpaying years I left you penniless, unschooled, or transported.

    Might also let me know why my credit union honors my money-transfer instantly, but Sound Transit needs a whole day and night? Hardly seems conservative.

    Wish the political media would stop saying “tribal” and “cultural.” Also that there was a gender-respectfully way to put this. But calling me a thief while playing with my money in its pants- pocket….old-fashioned manhood says Sound Transit had best just thank me and wish me a nice ride.

    Well, court proceedings should be brief. All my counsel will have to do is order ST to show where, in “Ride The Wave Transit Guide” or on any station wall, I’m informed where “fully-paid but wrongly tapped” is same crime as deliberate evasion.

    Somebody “woke” tell me: Better to try to crowd-source court costs, or just borrow it?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Then if I were you, I’d be after my elected officials for budget to station fare inspectors where they can visibly take care of the problem.

      Difficulty you could encounter, though: Chance that, as other systems have figured out, enforcement and other expenses of handling money could cost the system more money than it collects in fares.

      Another thought from time past, however: train these officers in passenger assistance and information in addition to their work collecting fares. We used to call them “conductors”, and their presence was welcomed by all, starting with the driver.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Does “constant line” mean 5-10 people every bus run? That may happen in unusual circumstances but it sounds exaggerated. On medium-to-high-volume routes I see 0-2 non-payers at each boarding. On low-volume routes I see few boardings, period, so there may be 0-2 non-payers on the entire run.

      (Does “run” mean end-to-end one time, or all the trips in a bus shift? I meant the former here.)

  10. Since the January interruption in service, I haven’t seen ONE fare enforcement officer.
    The trains are fithy, homeless and. Beggers are always on trains.
    Why should I continue to waste money when this is allowed?

    1. Are you complaining that people experiencing homelessness are allowed on the train or the fact that fare is still being charged? Pick one, please.

      But consider that if Link were to go fare-free, more of the people with whom you do not like to ride will be riding.

  11. What’s going to happen in 2025 when someone waits up to 10 minutes for a train, rides 40 minutes to IDS, takes 5 minutes to transfer including taking two elevators, waits 10 minutes for another train, rides 45 minutes to Federal Way and taps to ride ST Express to Tacoma after waiting 15 minutes? Very long transfer windows will likely be needed in the future.

    1. When a trip starts taking 90 minutes to 2 hours, the number of people willing to make a trip is small. Yes, a few people might do it, but in practice, the numbers are negligible. Especially when a driving option exists to reduce the 2 hours to 45 minutes.

      If we really want people to ride transit, we have to ask the question of whether trips like Redmond->Tacoma are something we care out. If we decide they’re edge-casey enough that a 2 hour travel time is ok, and every single person with a car is going to be driving, then whether the transfer window times out for fare purposes or not doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things.

      I personally think Tacoma to the eastside in general is important enough than 2-2.5 hours one way travel time is not acceptable. One solution that would help quite a bit would be for the Tacoma->Federal Way bus to continue onward to Renton, connecting to the STRIDE bus to Bellevue.

      1. Perhaps the message is that 50 mph light rail is the wrong technology for long trips! It’s what leaders choose when they don’t understand or use light rail transit themselves, and have a parade of real estate interests and elected officials from towns under 100K lobbying for their pet station.

        Fun fact: Seattle will not have the most light rail stations per capital once ST3 opens. Bellevue wins that title.

    2. That’s 105 minutes total, so still within the 120-minute transfer period. If you take Link and transfer to higher-priced Sounder, you’ll pay the difference on Sounder and get a new 120-minute transfer window. If you start on a bus and transfer to higher-priced Link, you’ll get the same thing.

      And only the tap-in points matter. So if your entire trip is 2-3 hours but your last tap-in is within two hours of your starting point, then you’ll pay only a single fare for the entire trip. That would cover Richmond Beach to Lakewood for instance. The last tap-in is at Federal Way. And if the 574 remains and is extended to Westwood Village, then you could transfer at SeaTac which would be even earlier, or take the 120 to Westwood Village and transfer doubly earlier.

    3. Underlying all this is how rare Everett-to-Tacoma trips are. Most people in Everett are going to Lynnwood, north Seattle, downtown Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, Bothell, Kirkland, etc, not Tacoma or Lakewood. SeaTac is an outlier because of the airport, but it was built into Everett/Lynnwood Link planning assumptions. Other than Boeing workers, who goes from Federal Way/Pierce County to Lynnwood/Everett regularly? Who goes the other way? There are all kinds of jobs and shopping opportunities closer. So it’s really only people going to grandmother’s house for the weekend or Thanksgiving or occasionally visiting Tacoma or the like.

  12. Hello all, I have a confession to make. The worst person – it is me. I have been bad. I have ridden the bus many a time without a fare.

    Further, I have been caught doing so by fare inspectors, and charged this fee two or three times – and I have not bothered to pay it.

    I am white and have a job in tech. I could easily pay it, and the fare itself too. However, I moved out of the state last year without bothering to settle the fine.

    I tell you this not so that you can hate me (you can hate me tho, fair enough) but to give more information as to how scofflaws like me come about – are incentivized, even – by Sound Transit’s existing system.

    First, the not paying. Main reason is that I rode the E line at peak rush hour. It’s a struggle to even get on and stand on the bus – more of a struggle to get to the front to tap – the station I was at was under construction so no off-board readers – and the fare inspectors, too, are crowded out. So no consequences.

    Secondly, I have had the worst – the WORST – experience with the ORCA website. To this day, I experience a viscous pit of hatred in the pit of my stomach when I even think about it. It was so difficult to even set up my autopay back in the day, I probably set the monthly cap too low (?), and so at the end of the month I regularly ran out of money on it. Also at the time I had a Wells Fargo debit card, and I swear to god those f*ckers charged all my bills at the end of the month and emptied my account to get their overdraft fees. So, there was at least one time where the card couldn’t be refilled because my checking account was empty. This meant that the ORCA card was rendered, for all intents and purposes, DEAD. I couldn’t navigate the website to set up the payment system again, or put it on a different card, or anything – I don’t even remember why it was so hard – just that I got to a point (after HOURS spent on the website) where the phone help line told me to mail (mail!) a check to the office and ask them to reopen my card, and I dutifully bought an envelope and dropped the check into the mail and… de nada. No activation of my old card. No response. Absolute contempt of me and my time.

    After this I made a point, whenever there was any issue with my ORCA card, to throw it away in the trash and buy a new one from the machines downtown. It always took me something like an hour to set up autopay on the new one, and towards the end of my time in Seattle, I stopped bothering. (At some points I had an employer-covered ORCA card, depended on the job.) I always refilled to the maximum amount at the downtown machines, and didn’t bother to pay at rush hour.

    I have never once tapped off. I have places to be, and no time to hunt down that machine to tap on or fish around in my pockets. It’s contemptible disrespect towards me and my time, to even require that. I have also never been charged a fee for failing to tap off, only a warning a few times.

    I fully admit I have justified my free-riding emotionally by my experiences with the ORCA system, especially its website. For better or worse, it made making excuses for myself very easy.

    When riding at off-hours, I have been caught by fare inspectors a few times. I made a point to be polite to them – they are just doing a crappy job – and we mostly chatted and laughed together about the crappy ORCA website while they wrote me up and took down all my info. I recognized the process for exactly what it was, a shaming technique, made to make you feel like a misbehaving child. At the time I was only a few short months away from leaving Seattle forever, due to increases in cost of living, so I shoved the bill into my backpack to pay maybe if I had time to think about it. I did not have time to think about it. Nor was there a place in my half-packed tiny apartment to sit and put together a letter. I think the bills are still in my backpack…

    One thing that is “good” about all this – for me as a person anyway – is that most of the people taken off the bus at the same time as me were actually poor, and often of color. I got to watch how they were treated for being poor – and got some of the poor-person treatment myself, as a fellow scofflaw. It was really eye-opening. Once I gave $5 and a hug to a fellow dude as the fare inspector was lecturing him – he didn’t have any money, he had just been going downtown to busk (we’d chatted at the bus stop), and I thought that really it was just too terrible a day for him to be that poor and also get lectured like a bad child. (I always had enough money for the fare, lol – it was just getting it to and from the right location w/out wasting so much of my time…)

    Anyway. I was and am a bit too disorganized with my life and money. But, maybe this information is interesting to y’all who would read this website and article. The ORCA system is broken, frankly, and needs a rigorous redesign. Good luck to all of you who still have to live with it in the meantime…

  13. BART has a tap on, tap off payment system. With faregates, it’s pretty hard to accidentally miss the need to tap, though sometimes the gates malfunction. BART also has distance based fares.

    There’s increasing pressure in the Bay Area to simplify fares. I think a simplified system could easily cause the problem Mike Orr noted–where short distance, urban riders are overcharged and long distance, suburban riders are undercharged. There are still substantial low income populations in Oakland and even San Francdisco.

    1. The notions of overcharging and undercharging are based on subjective individual judgements of “fairness”. If high fares for long-distance trips are costing ridership, then distance-based fares may actually be losing potential fare revenue, and pushing some riders back into CO2-spewing-mobiles.

      The solution to high fares for the poor is a low-income fare. There are plenty of poor riders who live out in the suburbs, so the existence of poverty in The City is not a good reason for high fares for long-distance BART rides.

      It is not lost on me that BART’s and ST’s distance-based fares are the exception rather than the rule.

      As a side issue relevant to the passenger experience, the various ways riders can not completely pre-pay remain as (non-sensical but still-cited) excuses for ST’s fare enforcement procedures.

  14. An anecdotal experience with this topic:

    When I was riding Link one time, I got into a conversation with a woman who claimed to be riding for the first time. She said she was usually a bus rider but had never gotten on the train before. I asked her if she had tapped her ORCA card and she panicked realizing she hadn’t. We were in the DSTT, so a reader was fairly close by and she was able to tap and return to the train.

    My thought is that frequent bus riders who are riding Link or Sounder for the first time may not be aware of having to tap on the platform, mezzanine, or entrance stairs since they are probably used to tapping after entering the bus (perhaps with the exception of RapidRide users). I don’t know to what extent that kind of situation was talked about in this survey, but I suspect it would be part of the broader categories of expanding outreach and better alignment of transfers from bus to train.

    1. This is a good point, particularly in the downtown tunnel stations where for years people were used to going to the platforms and hopping on a bus or train – if a bus you tapped on as usual, and if a train showed up first you could tap at a platform reader. Someone who never caught Link but rode buses in the tunnel wouldn’t even think about tapping anywhere other than on the bus. Human nature would indicate that someone taking their accustomed path to the station but now riding Link might forget to do something they had never done before.

      This sort of thing is one of the many reasons the readers should all be moved to the mezzanines (save one at any elevators directly traveling from street to platform) and set up with visual barriers creating a clear demarcation into the fare-paid zone – similar to that done at Sea-Tac station.

Comments are closed.