By Lindsay Larin
Gone are the days of fumbling with paper tickets and juggling different passes to get from one place to another on mass transit. The launch of the new ORCA-One Regional Card for All (ORCA) pass program has made traveling around the Puget Sound easier than ever.
The ORCA program is a result of a combined effort by seven regional transportation agencies and is ideal for both individual use and business accounts. The program launched in April of 2009 and will eventually replace the PugetPass, FlexPass, Vanpool Pass, and Commuter Bonus Vouchers. The card is available in three types: standard adult card, a youth card, and a regional reduced fair permit for seniors and disabled commuters.
According to Candace Carlson, the Regional Project Manager for ORCA system, the idea of a single pass program has been in the works for a while.
“In the Puget Sound, there has always been a high degree of commuters using multiple systems to get around. In the past, transportation has depended on flash projects – getting from Point A to Point B by visually showing a pass to the driver,” Carlson explained. “We have come up with a more convenient way to connect Puget Sound commuters and to distribute revenue regionally.”
The all-in-one ORCA card uses smart card technology to automatically account for different fares and transfers on Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and Washington State Ferries. The ORCA program offers users the advantage of reloading funds, known as the card’s E-purse value. Users can reload an ORCA card online, by phone, mail or at transit or light rail stations around the Puget Sound.
An ORCA card also can be loaded with a transit pass that can be used for unlimited trips during the period the pass is valid.
The card is free if requested before February 1, 2010. It will be available for purchase online, at any of Sound Transit’s customer service offices, at transit and light rail station link TVM (kiosks), or local grocery stores including some Safeway and QFC locations.
While researching a new pass program, Carlson and her team looked elsewhere for implementation ideas. Large cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C ., and Houston all use some form of all-in-one transportation.
“Most major cities have some type of program similar to ORCA but we wanted to take it one step further,” she said. “We have seven separate agencies who have agreed to come together and collaborate on this one program. That is huge.”
The ORCA system will be able to track data in a more efficient way, Carlson said, from the number of morning commuters to the most populated modes of transportation.
“This will allow us to make adjustments and improvement in the most accurate way possible,” she noted.
As the ORCA card program continues to roll out, more options of transportation will be available including Van Pool.
If a card is lost or stolen, the it can be canceled and funds can be transfered to a new card. E-purse funds can be added according to travel needs or can be automatically programmed to upload funds from a direct account on a monthly basis.
“OCRA card users can go online and reload the card’s fare on the Web site and the great thing is that the electronic purse (E-purse) doesn’t expire,” Carlson explained. “With the ORCA program, we are making things better for the customer and it provides us with data from a business standpoint.”
The ORCA card program also offers a number of advantages to business owners and large corporations. ORCA enables businesses to pick the transit products that best fit their business needs while providing them with tools to make it easier to manage their transportation programs. Businesses have the choice of two programs – the Business Passport and Business Choice.
“From a business standpoint, the ORCA card programs just make sense,” Carlson said. “We have already issued 25,000 cards to Microsoft employees. Companies such as Boeing can use the ORCA business Web site to track how much ridership they have to save on cost. For large businesses, this could result in huge savings.”
The Business Passport includes a comprehensive, annual transportation pass program that offers employees options for their commutes. With the Passport option, employees can choose to ride by bus, transit, rail, vanpool and guaranteed ride home service.
The Business Choice option gives employers the discretion to provide ORCA cards to as few or as many commuters as they choose and can load each card with a variety of product options including a monthly pass, E-purse or E-voucher. The advantage of the E-Voucher is that it allows the employer to provide a set value that their employees can convert to an e-purse or monthly pass. If the voucher goes unused for 30 days, the value is refunded to the company.
How to get your ORCA card
Ten customer service offices and three retail outlets are located throughout the four-county ORCA region Visit www.orcacard.com for more information on these locations. ORCA cards purchased from customer service offices and retail outlets are fully functional and immediately ready for use.
You also can order a new ORCA card online at www.orcacard.com or by phone at 1-888-988-6722 or TTY Relay at 711:1-888-889-6368. ORCA cards ordered online or by phone are typically processed and delivered by mail in five to seven business days. Once a new card arrives, it must be tapped on a card reader before it is fully functional and ready for use.
How to use your ORCA card
When using an ORCA card to ride Link, tap your card at a card reader on a yellow pole before boarding the train. Present your valid ORCA card to the fare inspector upon request. When exiting, tap your card again at the card reader at the station to complete your transaction and ensure that the correct fare is deducted.
How to reload an ORCA card
Users can reload an ORCA card at any Link TVM with either a pass or more E-purse value. Simply insert your card in the ORCA card holder and select the product you would like to load onto your existing card. Card reload transactions done on a TVM are immediately processed and ready for use.
You also can reload an ORCA card at an ORCA Customer Service Office or a participating retail outlet or online at www.orcacard.com, 1-888-988-6722.
Lindsay Larin is a writer for the Bellevue Reporter. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.