ORCA eats my OWL

Sick of scrounging around for three quarters every time I want to ride the bus (and always interested in trying some newfangled thing), I went online and got a free ORCA card (as of Feb. 2010, they cost $5). At first, it seems like ORCA is going to make taking the bus just a little bit easier. But after a few uses, I realized that ORCA is chock full of hidden costs.

No OWL Changes

This is by far the worst and most expensive change. ORCA keeps track of your transfers, so when you get on a second bus within two hours of paying your fare, it will not charge you a second time. This is nice because you don’t end up with tons of little, nearly identical pieces of paper in all your pockets (well, maybe this is a just a problem for me).

However, ORCA does not give you an OWL. If you are paying cash after 8:30 p.m. or so, you are issued a full transfer ticket that is good for the rest of the night AND even the first bus in the morning (if I am reading the first bullet on the back correctly. I’ve never actually made it to a first bus). But when you pay with an ORCA card, it gives you the standard two-hour transfer period. So, basically, every night you go out, it is twice as expensive to use ORCA instead of cash because your card gets charged twice.

UPDATE: OK, it appears that somewhere around 9:30, your ORCA scan does operate as an OWL transfer. On my test runs, it must have been right before 9:30, so my friends got OWL paper transfers, but I have to pay again. So I guess the issue is more about how computers are cold and exact. It’s good to know that it does work, though, so long as you don’t get on right before the computer clicks over…

From Seattle Transit Blog

To do some quick math, if you go out four evenings a week, that’s an extra $28/month, or $336/year, versus paying cash. That’s a ridiculous amount of money for the convenience of just swiping your fare. It seems like this would be an incredibly easy software fix on ORCA’s part, but I think they would probably rather have my $336 instead.

Pay as you leave

Because of the free ride area in downtown Seattle, buses leaving downtown are typically pay-as-you-leave. Paper transfers state that they are good so long as you BOARD the bus before the time shown. If you pay with ORCA, however, it doesn’t matter when you got on. If you scan your card on the way out just 2:01 after you paid the first time, you get charged again. When it’s rush hour, that’s another $2 every time this happens. So there you sit, in traffic on Aurora, contemplating getting off early just so you don’t get charged again.

I am going to start asking for paper transfers when I pay with ORCA to see if any drivers are OK with it. I will report back in a bit with my results.

Cards cost $5

Starting in Feb, 2010, ORCA cards costs $5. They also cost $5 to replace if they are lost, as Erica at Publicola points out. Why they would charge $5 for a card that will make them more money the more people use it, I cannot understand.

I have also read that ORCA deactivates your card if you don’t use it for 30 days, though I have not yet gone that long to test it. In these cases, people had trouble getting their E-Purse money back, which sounds like a huge headache. I was planning on just keeping a little money on the card for cases where I can’t find change, but even that sounds like it might be trouble.

UPDATE: Oran from the Seattle Transit Blog has clarified the 30 days issue in the comments:

The tap within 30 days rule only applies to people who load their card online or over the phone. Due to the way the system works, which is now explained on the (crappy) ORCA website in the FAQ > ORCA Tips. Once you tap your card, the value is transferred to it and stays there forever. I got and put money (in person) on an ORCA card on the first day it came out. I’ve gone months without using it and my money is still there.

If you load your card in person, either at a ticket machine or service office, you don’t have the 30 day issue. So that’s the best way to get a card for infrequent use.

So, basically, ORCA has been a giant letdown and I am not going to use it regularly anymore. It will be there for when I can’t find change, and that’s it. They need to rewrite these rules and give some kind of financial incentive (or at least equal financial incentive to paying cash) if they want the system to take off.

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under My Life, Uncategorized

8 responses to “ORCA eats my OWL

  1. The tap within 30 days rule only applies to people who load their card online or over the phone. Due to the way the system works, which is now explained on the (crappy) ORCA website in the FAQ > ORCA Tips. Once you tap your card, the value is transferred to it and stays there forever. I got and put money (in person) on an ORCA card on the first day it came out. I’ve gone months without using it and my money is still there.

    If you load your card in person, either at a ticket machine or service office, you don’t have the 30 day issue. So that’s the best way to get a card for infrequent use.

    As for incentives to use it, how about this: Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, you need an ORCA card to get a free transfer between agencies. So ride Sound Transit and Metro in one trip? Use ORCA or pay twice. Also, for all agencies except Metro and Pierce, paper transfers are eliminated. This is really happening.

    • Thanks for the update on the 30 days thing. That makes me feel better about using ORCA as a back-up.

      I should also have clarified that I am a Seattle resident who is almost always just using metro buses in a single zone, so the “incentives” for inter-agency transfer (which are really just disincentives to using cash) are not something I encounter often. I definitely like the idea of making a uniform payments system for all the agencies, and am in favor of the idea of ORCA. It’s just proven itself frustrating to try to use for simple one zone bus rides.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. The pass is too expensive. I ride my bike when I can, so I am only using the bus if the weather is bad or if I am with people who don’t have bikes. So the passes will not pay for themselves the way I use the bus. Therefore, it’s cash or e-purse for me.

  3. Jason

    crap. I am a total night owl afficionado. I often ask drivers if they’ll give me a night owl even if I board a little early (some do :). The orca has already pissed me off in the sense that it takes the power to extend the transfer away from the driver. BUT..I had assumed that if one were to board at 8:30 or 9, you would at least register an owl transfer on the orca for that night. If they are gonna nickel and dime on that, it really pisses me off. And it will mean more drunk drivers, since they are de-incentivizing riding the bus at night.

    Are you sure about this change in policy on owls for the orca? Do you have personal data on this? I’ll ask the driver tonight…

    • I have definitely hopped on a bus and paid with ORCA while friends paid with cash and got OWL transfers. Then, I paid again later that night. Totally lame.

      • Jason

        I took a bus on Saturday night and asked the driver. He said that the owl kicks in on the ORCA card at 9:30pm. He also said that- in the meantime -many drivers will give paper owl transfers to orca users if you get on just before that time.

        I’m gonna try to find out when the next public meeting is for Metro, and I’ll post that info here.

      • Oh, that’s great news. Maybe I got on just before 9:30. I’ll try to ask for a paper transfer in the future if it’s close. Thanks for the help. I should test this ORCA OWL thing soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s