Four ORCA cards. Photo by Oran.

Yesterday Metro announced that they are waiving the $5 ORCA fee through February 28th, 2021. The stated reason is to encourage contactless payment during the pandemic.

To avoid hoarding, adults are limited to three cards and youth to one. However, adults can get the cards at ticket vending machines, so I’m not sure how this limit is enforced. From the announcement:

“You can get your free ORCA card by:

  • Calling ORCA Customer Service: 888-988-6722 (ORCA cards typically take 5-7 business days to arrive by mail) – adult cards only
  • Visiting a store that sells ORCA cardsadult cards only
  • Using ORCA ticket vending machinesadult cards only
  • Completing and mailing in this ORCA Card order formadult or youth cards
  • Visiting an ORCA Customer Service Office (NOTE: You may experience extended wait times in person while measures are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19) – adult or youth cards

Please note that this offer is NOT available for cards purchased on Due to technical limitations, cards on the website will continue to be $5.

Agencies have been extremely reluctant to reduce or eliminate the fee, but instead have had free ORCA events every few years. If you’ve been holding out, it’s a good opportunity to finally get a card.

17 Replies to “Free ORCA through February”

  1. Will Orca 2.0 move toward the CTA’s Ventra model (wherein the $5 card fee is loaded on the card as fare value)?

  2. When I visited the other Washington, I was able to load my SmarTrip account directly onto my Apple Watch. Here’s hoping that will be a thing with ORCA 2.0

    1. * and pay for my transit fare using my Apple Watch (ugh hit the submit button too fast). One less card that needs to be carried around and the phone (and wallet) can stay in my pocket

    2. MTA’s new OMNI platform in New York City is the same. I was able to pay with my phone, my partner paid with his watch. It was instant. No more swiping the metrocard 10 times. I believe (and hope) ORCA 2.0 will be the same.

  3. This is the type of good news that irks me. It’s great that the fee is being eliminated. But it took a global crisis to do so.. and temporarily, at that. Meanwhile the concept of a plastic card is increasingly becoming antiquated.

  4. “Please note that this offer is NOT available for cards purchased on Due to technical limitations, cards on the website will continue to be $5.“

    It’s really been eating at me all these years that I never could accumulate the money or the inclination to treat Sound Transit to the sustained campaign of political and media humiliation, let alone judicial, that’ll finally incentivize it to clear both its own good name and its Fare Inspectors’.

    With the permanent cancellation of a years-long policy whose only file location should have been the bottom of a waste-basket. I should mind my manners and just thank you for today’s announcement. And the heartfelt wish you simply make it permanent.

    But the very real chance that the regional transit system I’ve worked and fought for all these years can also die of COVID, requires a real sharp needle full of the vaccine called “A Sense of Right and Wrong.”

    Charging passengers-whose votes you most certainly will need if ST wants to live- five dollars a card for the right to efficiently pay their fare is bad enough. Walgreen Drugs pleads with customers to accept a “Rewards Card” free of charge. Thurston sheriff’s canceled mine ’cause he’s working from home.

    But making your best passengers pay out of their own pocket for the privilege of risking a $124 theft-charge for a “mis-tap” on aging equipment never intended for this year’s passenger loads…

    Somebody drop Bob Barr a line. Hear tell he’ll soon need work despite a real bad reference. And in this Time of Gloom, KC Superior Court deserves a laugh in its Christmas stocking. Rudy Giuliani’s busy.

    But my opening quote really proves my case. The rules for giving ST the money to falsely prosecute me for theft are so convoluted they won’t fit on the mezzanine walls and ceiling around the fare machines at Sea-Tac. And no way “RCW” stands for “License To Kill.”

    Only way you know you’ve been “Tap-Trapped” is when a poor fare inspector has to try to explain it to you. Curious: where CAN one read the language containing “Private Corporation?”

    ST Board, do you know what “Blanket Immunity” means? Because a good working definition is “Every passenger’s right to advance-pay their full fare for free and get thanked for it, not indicted.”

    Oh, and look at my comment’s opening quote. The only card you still get charged for is the one that already carries zero chance of plague-transmission. Where are you getting your immunological advice, the National Republican Party?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mr. Dublin,

      You point out one of the untalked-about nuisances for transit riders during the pandemic.

      I’m not talking about ST’s unethical fining of riders in possession of clear-and-obvious proof of pre-payment, since FEOs have been shifted to a new mission of protecting actual public safety, and turning every rider into a superhero.

      I’m talking about all the riders who lost their employee passes during the months of Metro’s fare freedom. Some of those riders still had to get places on transit, including to work. The cost of riding Link, Sounder, or ST Express suddenly had to come out of their pockets. That lasted until Metro restored its fares and the employers restored their participation in pass programs. Ironically, the restoration of Metro fares reduced the cost of transit for many riders who still have to commute to essential or even some nonessential jobs.

      And then there are the stay-at-home employees, who still need to go somewhere once in awhile. I don’t know how many are still having to pay out-of-pocket to ride all transit services when they were used to having their employer provide a monthly pass. This out-of-pocket cost may endure long after the virus is eradicated (if it ever is).

  5. The agencies could have used this opportunity to provide a brief plug about ORCA LIFT i.e. “Low-income riders may be eligible for a free ORCA LIFT card and reduced fares on participating transit agencies. Learn more.”

    We need to continue pitching these resources if more people are to learn about them.

    1. Before you condemn them, you might click on the link and see that there is, in fact, a plug for ORCA Lift.

      1. Gentlemen, can I enquire whether the length-measurement applies to the cat or the tribal dwelling? Strong image either way! Not a mouse would ever reach the other end!

        But being frightened at an early age by an editor has left me with a “tic” that’s always triggered by the subjunctive. Which also could be called “The Passive Helpless.”

        For composition geared to action, phrase it so whatever anybody, and especially an agency COULD HAVE DONE including jetliners that don’t crash due to vague pilot-instruction…

        The sense of it is always “JUST GO DO IT!”

        Mark Dublin

  6. I do think that this posting can serve as one of a generous number of good first introductions to the real work at hand. A kindly welcome to the next generation of minds, eyes and hands. Who’ll finally be able to spare some time from writing their own PhD. syllabus to come help out.

    At the controls of a transit system which truth in both fact and advertising will have to class as “Regional.” Because it’s so much the definition of the way we’ve already begun to live.

    What’s everybody think- is the best first-move to be a Movement? Surely beats a “Stagnation”. But concern about Authoritarians is best addressed by never putting them in any position of Authority.

    Vehicle or agency, not every self-named driver gets a license. But every well-run bus, however small, needs hands-on experience at the wheel. Train-controller seats too.

    What justifies a human’s wages is the need for in-built control-programming whose repertoire is deeper than the mind-span of the average mall-bought drone. SkyTrain proves that with an intrusion-proof shaft, an elevator can be safely horizontal. Just so the panel comes off when it can’t.

    All of which is metaphor for Governance itself. Including readiness to hire, staff, run, and also own. Fact that several close-to-corridor trade-schools already have elevator repair programs tells me that Agency Directorship is not that big a jump. Like just anybody can do Funeral Services?

    Evil though she be, the COVID-Queen is helpless to crush curiosity or prevent a pint of planning. Which is where some sweat comes in. By all the evidence, planning for failure is by far the most addictive.

    But intensive detailed planning for what electrifying the 27 to Prentice Street has this advantage. If we can’t achieve any of it….what have we lost? Get your fangs out of my foot, COVIDIA. Who’s gonna change your litter box if you bite it off?

    Mark Dublin

  7. I need to make it clear that I’m by no means making fun of the deadly organism threatening my loved ones. But I don’t think the ancients were wrong in portraying these evils as recognizable earthly predators.

    Because doing so enabled us humans to prepare and organize ourselves to conceptualize how to fight them. The adversarial target I do have, however, is the use of the epidemic to convince people that it renders public transit hopeless, useless, or downright dangerous.

    Rendering its defunding a public health emergency. A priority I’d re-assign to dealing with our most dangerous debility. This morning’s hours-long mass immobilization caused by somebody driving the wrong way on a well-marked major interstate highway was not attributable to a single train.

    A cure not “Done-in-a-Day.” But if a length of Interstate were put to rail, as structure certainly allows, it’d carry thousands of people whom no single mis-driven automobile could stop. Good or evil, the spirits help those who at least stop doing stupid things to themselves.

    Mark Dublin

  8. When my friends come to town, we always take at least one transit style tour somewhere. I will probably load up 5 or 6 cards so I can let them use them next summer.

  9. I am disappointed to see that Anchorage’s Smart Card for the People Mover system still costs $5. But then, Washingtonians don’t get a $1600 annual check from the state government.

    Alaska is ahead of us on GMI and now ranked choice voting, but they lamely copied ORCA on the counterproductive $5 smart card fee, while the rest of the country charges $2 or less for such cards. Could we borrow some of their socialist Republican politicians and lend Anchorage someone who knows how to run an urban transit fare payment system?

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