ORCA a whale of an improvement for Community Transit

  • Sun Feb 7th, 2010 11:35pm
  • News

By Kristi O’Harran, Herald Columnist

A buck fifty here.

A buck fifty there.

Not a sum of money that will break the bank, but a change in bus fares nearly left my husband stranded.

Chuck rides Community Transit and Everett Transit three or four times each month. He doesn’t drive — bum eyes — so he depends on the bus when I’m at work.

For a downtown Everett doctor’s appointment, he caught the CT bus in Mill Creek, just half a block from our house.

That cost $1.50. The No. 115 took him about a mile to the Ash Way Park and Ride in Lynnwood.

At Ash Way, he used to flash a transfer slip and ride on the original $1.50 to the Everett Transit Center.

At the big bus station, he gets on an Everett Transit coach that costs 75 cents to ride around Everett.

Chuck ran into a change on Monday. CT no longer issues transfer slips. It cost Chuck an unexpected $1.50 at Ash Way to get to Everett.

He had to rummage through his pockets for extra coins.

“I am sorry your husband was caught off-guard by this change,” said Martin Munguia, spokesman for Community Transit. “It has nothing to do with the service change proposal we recently announced, nor budget issues.”

He explained that CT joined six other regional transit agencies Jan. 1 and eliminated paper transfers.

It’s all about ORCA (One Regional Card for All). There are several ways to get the card that eliminates paying fares with cash or coins.

Visit orcacard.com online.

Riders may use the electronic system to cruise from bus to bus.

When the card runs out of money, it can be reloaded.

“By eliminating paper transfers and paper passes, the agencies will save printing and handling costs,” Munguia said. “ORCA will allow more efficient fare reconciliation amongst agencies, meaning we will get the correct amount of fare due each agency, rather than a guess.”

That sounds pretty handy. You just “tap” ORCA on the card reader next to the bus driver, at ferry terminals or at train or light rail stations. After you tap, the reader automatically accounts for the correct fare. The card does the math, calculating transfers and reduced prices.

When I picked Chuck up on Colby Avenue at the doctor’s office, he handed me a pamphlet he got on the bus, all about ORCA.

Munguia suggested that Chuck get started on the ORCA program before March 1. After that, it will cost $5 just to get the card, then you pay to load it with money.

“Transfers are not gone, but they are now on ORCA,” Munguia said.

With ORCA, riders get a two-hour transfer from the time they tap the card. Some people ride three or four buses in that time frame, Munguia said.

Sounds like Chuck should get One Regional Card for All.

Sooner or later we embrace an electronic world.

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com.