May 29, 2009

What's What | ORCA Card

Changes are a-coming to the Northwest public transit systems. The change goes by the name of ORCA, or One Regional Card for All. Will this revolution affect you? It will if you use any of these transportation systems: Sound Transit buses and trains, Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit and Washington State Ferries. Picture an old man, grumbling, “Back in my day, we used walk to school barefoot, for four miles, in the snow!” Someday, you will be that old man or woman, talking about the old days when it was so complicated to ride the bus in the Northwest. Pay as you leave or pay as you enter? If you’re crossing a county line, you better have an extra dollar. Do not ever, ever, forget to grab a transfer. These hardships will soon make people sigh with remembrance of times long past. For now, we are still at the beginning. The ORCA card was being distributed as early as April, and is available now, but the big campaign starts in June.

What you should know about ORCA:
  • It’s your pass…: ORCA can be loaded with your preferred regular pass, thus serving in lieu of your pass
  • …and your fare: Instead of a regular pass, you can load it with a cash value. If you do have a paid pass on your card, you can still add cash value, and it will kick in any time your pass doesn’t cover your fare (if you have a one-zone pass, but are crossing a second zone, for example).
  • It’s simple: Load it and tap it. There is a little reader on the buses that reads your card and subtracts value or acknowledges your loaded pass. I don’t take the train or ferry, but I can only assume it’s just as easy. Everyone is still getting used to it, but if there are kinks, they will be well worth it. So far it has worked great for me.
  • It’s a transfer: If you ride multiple buses, trains, or ferries, it remembers your last fare and acts as a “transfer” automatically. I’ve seen this beautiful process in action on the bus. When you scan your card on the second bus, “XSFER” appears on the ORCA reader screen, and the bus driver will nod at you in a friendly manner, allowing you to board.
  • It’s protected: Your card has a computer chip in it that can be registered in your name, so if you lose it, you can recover the money. Just report it right away to transfer the money to a new card.
  • It’s free… for a limited time only: For now, you can acquire a card for free. Go here to see how. Eventually they will charge $5 to get a card. They’re designed to last for a lifetime, so get yours soon and you’re home free.

Everything there is to know about the ORCA card, is on their website:

Posted by Alyssa Ballinger Johnson

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