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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Hey Transit Nerds: Metro's Considering a Day Pass Option

Posted by on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 3:28 PM

Seattle Transit Blog has a great post up today critiquing a future ORCA card day pass—remember when you could buy those for Metro buses? Well, STB says Metro is set to roll out a "demonstration" of new day passes this spring. An ORCA card you could buy for unlimited trips in a single day would be great for visitors, people who lost their ORCA card, people who don't usually use transit but want to do it multiple times in a day (e.g., for a convention downtown or a festival at Seattle Center).

STB says "a multi-agency ORCA-based day-pass is probably the most requested fare product in the Puget Sound region," but the one Metro is planning sounds pretty fucking lame, according to the details they supplied to STB. The pass would cost $9 and be good for unlimited $4-and-under trips across the different transit agencies that day (if any trip cost more than $4, you'd need extra money). And that $9 price is on top of the $5 you need to get a non-disposable plastic ORCA card, making the real price $14.

STB associate editor Bruce Nourish on some glaring flaws—namely, the price point:

• The day-fare cost is uncompetitive for most local riders, compared to using an existing ORCA card. Off-peak Metro fare is $2.25, peak is up to $3; the highest ST express fare is $3.50. Most other local bus services will be less than Metro. ORCA already provides a two-hour transfer window, and paper transfers are often cut much more generously. You have to ride a lot of transit trips, spaced out through the day, to add up to more than $9. Local riders will already be quite familiar with paying as they normally do, and if it doesn’t make financial sense, they won’t use day-passes, even if they were ubiquitously available. As they will require going out of the way, to a Metro sale partner, I suspect few locals will find them attractive.

• The card+fare cost is uncompetitive for weekend or convention visitors. $14 in a day, or $23 in a weekend, is significantly more than anyone is likely to spend on transit in the Seattle area just paying as they go. Visitors are perhaps less price sensitive and more hassle sensitive, but I suspect they’re also less likely to attempt all-day multi-hop trips around the city and region, which would be the only way to get close to $14. In groups, the numbers look even worse: for three people, $20 apiece would get you out and back to most outlying neighborhoods of interest to tourists in a cab, with far less hassle and time than Metro. People who intend to much spend time beyond the city, in the suburbs, are probably going to rent a car, because off-peak transit just isn’t much good outside of Seattle.

Nourish discusses more flaws—plus the potential upsides—right here.


Comments (20) RSS

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fletc3her 1
I would rather like to see fare capping as they do in London. You pay normal fair, but once you pass a threshold no more money is charged on the card. For example, the daily fare could be capped at $9 in the Puget Sound region on any Orca Card. A tourist could buy an Orca card for $14 and know it will be good for unlimited travel for a day, but if they don't use all the value they can use the remainder the next day.
Posted by fletc3her on February 4, 2014 at 3:37 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 2

Just enable the card reader to accept regular credit cards with NFC chips (PayPass).

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on February 4, 2014 at 3:50 PM · Report this
blackhook 3
Whenever I visit Portland - which is often - I make a beeline to a TriMet machine that dispenses unlimited-ride day passes for $5 ...that covers, buses, MAX light rail & modern streetcars.

Not to mention that the PDX transit system is 30 years ahead of Seattle's. Why is it that Portland is so far ahead of us, in so many ways?
Posted by blackhook on February 4, 2014 at 3:54 PM · Report this
what is needed more than a single day pass is a multi-day pass. I think the price point becomes less of an issue over the convenience offered. I've used a 5-day pass in Paris, and get 1-week passes in NYC frequently. Just the relief of not having to deal with change and purchasing and keeping track of the transfer times makes it worthwhile, even if on occasion I spent more than I would have had I bought each trip separately.

I think the value of these passes could also absorb the ridiculousness of paying $5 for a plastic card that will just get thrown away later, but honestly, these multi-day passes should be paper like every other sane city offers.
Posted by genevieve on February 4, 2014 at 3:56 PM · Report this
I buy day passes whenever I visit Portland if I think I'll use public transit twice or more. There's three reasons it makes sense: 1) There are machines to buy them all over downtown and I think you can get them on the bus. 2) They're temporary, paper. 3) They're $5 or so, about the cost of 2 trips.

$9 is insane, and making people buy an Orca card is impractical due to both price and difficulty finding a machine. Make the cost $5-6, make the tickets paper, and make them available on the bus or in light rail stations.
Posted by wxPDX on February 4, 2014 at 4:20 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 6
This seems pointless unless ORCA can now process payments immediately. Back when I was using the bus for my sole transportation, it took ORCA until 3 pm the next day (sometimes later, I'm sure because an actual human has to press the big red button for the payments to go through) to put the amount on my card.

As an only sometimes bus rider, I don't bother using ORCA as a result. I just pay in cash.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 4, 2014 at 4:23 PM · Report this
@3 - " Why is it that Portland is so far ahead of us, in so many ways?"

Shut up. Portland didn't win the Super Bowl. Shut up.
Posted by DONE_AND_DONE on February 4, 2014 at 4:33 PM · Report this
Like too many matters in public transit, final decisions are made by transit executives and electeds who have no fucking clue what it's like to ride transit on a regular basis.
Posted by Citizen R on February 4, 2014 at 4:38 PM · Report this
This may be radical but how about a fancier transfer? The driver would have to press a button (the horror) or whatever just like they do with transfers. Even a fancy card for every day could be made for less than a nickel instead of $5.

I suppose there is a risk of some additional a bus system that doesn't generally kick off non-payers anyway so why not?

That's a serious question: there is likely a reason for not doing that not obvious to this bus rider and I'd love to be educated why.

Posted by david on February 4, 2014 at 8:22 PM · Report this
the other thing Metro could learn from London (which uses the same system as ORCA) is to refund the card deposit (and the value left on the card) when a tourist returns it. If London can do it, then so can Metro.
[Obviously they would check first to see that the card wasn't registered and reported as stolen before returning and $$, but that's easy enough for them to do.]
Posted by slugbiker on February 4, 2014 at 10:09 PM · Report this
aliencoffebandit 11
@6 lol orca doesn't process payments immediately? i never bothered getting one because it seemed like a PIA and that's even worse than i thought. why do so many people bother with that scam?
Posted by aliencoffebandit on February 4, 2014 at 10:14 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 12
@6, I have to reload our company's ORCAS passes every month and you identified the worse fucking problem with reloading the passes on line. It takes fucking forever (most of a day) for them to validate and then allow you to actually pay for the fucking reload.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on February 5, 2014 at 3:21 AM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 13
I was a visitor trying to get around your fair city by transit over the holidays. Something needs to be done. It was awful.

I'd ask at the transit info desks and they'd say that a bus would offer transfers, but then when I got on the bus, they'd say they didn't. So, I was always having to get more change for the next stop.

A day pass makes sense, but $14 is ridiculous. In Dallas, a day pass is the cost of 2 rides, in Toronto, it's the cost of 4. $14 is ridiculously high.
Posted by Canadian Nurse on February 5, 2014 at 5:53 AM · Report this
but then when I got on the bus, they'd say they didn't.

Seattle transit is indeed problematic, but this shouldn't be happening. All Metro buses offer free 2+ hour paper transfers. Most drivers hand them to you unasked, but if they don't grunting "transfer" or perhaps as a Canadian "transfer please" should do the trick every time.

Myself, I'd love to get rid of paper transfers, and make available a disposable, $1 or free version of ORCA for visitors, with 1/3/7 day pass options, appropriately priced, ala Boston. But if the agency insists paper transfers are cool, despite the slowing of service and fraud they invite, I don't understand why they wouldn't sell paper day passes.
Posted by david jw on February 5, 2014 at 8:19 AM · Report this
DOUG. 15
@6 & @ 12: I use autoload to add money to my ORCA. It works well.

@13: You probably got on a Sound Transit bus. They do not offer (or accept) paper transfers, but Metro does. It's lame.

I totally agree with the folks who point to the London model as a good one. I was there for a few days last May. I bought a transit card at Heathrow, put 25 quid on it (plus 5 for the card itself), and rode the tube everywhere for three days. The maximum daily usage fare was capped at (around) 7 quid, which is very reasonable for London. I returned the card at St Pancras station when I left, where I got my 5 quid back for the card plus the unused portion of my prepaid fare.

This model could totally work in Seattle.
Posted by DOUG. on February 5, 2014 at 8:23 AM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 16
@13: I think that's what happened. I was in the international district heading north, and they said to go down the stairs, take any of the buses on a certain platform, and ask for a transfer. So, I got on the next bus, paid, asked for a transfer and was told they didn't do that. And, they couldn't, of course, give me back my money so I could get on the right bus.

I remember it happening another time, but I can't remember where I was going to or coming from.

Having multiple transit agencies all within a city is really perplexing for visitors.
Posted by Canadian Nurse on February 5, 2014 at 10:11 AM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 17
That was supposed to be for @15
Posted by Canadian Nurse on February 5, 2014 at 10:12 AM · Report this
bobjoebob 18
@ Canadian Nurse

Sounds like you got on a Community Transit (blue and white) bus, not a Metro (green and yellow) bus. Metro does paper transfers, but Community Transit (serves Snohomish County mostly) and Pierce Transit only do ORCA transfers.
Posted by bobjoebob on February 5, 2014 at 11:20 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 19

How is autoload supposed to help tourists?

I also don't care to give Metro/Sound Transit an interest-free loan. Since they can't be bothered to process payments in a timely manner, I simply don't use ORCA.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 5, 2014 at 4:01 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 20

I rarely think to fill ORCA before maybe the day before I need it (like maybe the day before Bumbershoot I'll think of it), which means that it's already too late. Whenever I think about it, I'm not sure whether to get angry or just laugh.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 5, 2014 at 4:04 PM · Report this

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