ORCA Card Tips, Reloaded!
April 2011 marked the second year of ORCA card life–”one regional card for all,” as the nerdiest transit payment system’s acronym spells out. In terms of broader public perception, of course, two years is like two weeks. Transit riders are still learning the ins and outs of the card, and Metro is still learning that this tips page is useless. “Website changes are coming,” promises the ORCA home page.
Here’s our brief tip list:
- If you are ethically plastic, you can ride the Seattle Streetcar for free. There are payment kiosks at the boarding stations, but without card readers, fare checkers have no way of determining if you’ve swiped or not. Producing your ORCA card is proof of payment.
- ORCA cards come in Adult, Youth, Senior, and Disabled options. They are good on: Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, and Washington State Ferries. Seattle’s privately-owned Monorail remains a hold-out. On ORCA, you can purchase a Puget Pass, WSF monthly pass, or a regular monthly transit pass, or just pay as you go.
- ORCA cards do track your card’s usage by serial number. It’s possible for your employer to determine whether you’re using your card responsibly for business-only purposes, if they are willing to go through the trouble to do so.
- Adding value to your ORCA card online is convenient, but not immediate. It can take 24 to 48 hours for your added cash to appear, because your card needs to be updated by a reader that “knows” the new value. “A big part of the lag takes place because transactions (like adding more money to your card) have to go through the California clearing house before they are ready for downloading to our buses,” explains King County’s Linda Thielke. Plus, buses need to physically visit the base to download the new data. Adding value via kiosk is immediate.
- Finally, if you need to pick up an ORCA card quickly, Metro has a sales office on the mezzanine level of Westlake Tunnel Station, and at their main building (201 S. Jackson St. in Seattle). In and outside of business hours: “Standard adult ORCA cards can be purchased from any ticket machine at Central Link light rail stations or Sounder commuter rail stations.”
To level up in transit geekery, know this: As we’ve mentioned, King County Metro is undergoing an OBS equipment upgrade that should complete in late 2012. Thielke says that while OBS doesn’t integrate with ORCA, it does “include using 4.9Ghz wireless instead of 2.4Ghz WiFi. 4.9 allows for faster downloads which may improve [ORCA] lag time. Sometimes the buses are not able to get the full download of information in the morning before they pull out.”
Also, Seattle Transit Blog explains how ORCA fare revenue gets parceled out when you make multi-modal (run by multi-agency) trips.