An Orca card on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

An Orca card on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

ORCA card makes transit simpler — and cheaper, too

Following an article about a trip from Everett to Sea-Tac, readers wrote in with one resounding suggestion: Get an ORCA card.

Of the many responses to my Oct. 15 column on a first-time trip from Everett to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport via public transit, a couple stood out.

Specifically, the transit experts who noted I could have saved money with an ORCA card. As of this writing, I’ve now ordered the One Regional Card for All online for $3. If I wanted it a little faster, I could have gone to the nearest Safeway to purchase one from a kiosk — or any location listed at myorca.com/where-to-buy.

Following the same trip I took to Sea-Tac last month, it would have cost $3.50 (instead of $6) for a one-way trip to the airport, or $7 round trip using the card. This is because ORCA cards only charge for the most expensive fare of your trip within a two-hour transfer window (in this case, the light rail ride). Basically, it wouldn’t have charged for the two bus trips I took.

Everett Transit Director Tom Hingson gets credit for doing the math here.

So now that my ORCA card is on the way, what exactly does it do?

“It makes it easier for people to get around,” Sound Transit spokesperson David Jackson said.

It essentially works as a reloadable debit card. Linking it to a payment method allows you to automatically reload it. You can also buy monthly passes from various regional transit agencies and add them to your ORCA card.

This includes Everett Transit, Community Transit, Sound Transit, King County Metro, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit and Washington State Ferries.

Buying a PugetPass, available at 23 different prices, is also an option. It is a regional pass, meaning it works with multiple agencies.

PugetPass is valid on Everett Transit, Community Transit, Sound Transit, King County Metro and Water Taxi, Kitsap Transit, the Seattle Monorail, the Seattle Streetcar and Pierce Transit.

It has a sliding scale, where all rides under a certain price are then free. So, say you buy the monthly “$3.50” PugetPass, which costs $126. It would be good for unlimited rides that would’ve cost $3.50 or less. It would take about 40 transit rides, each costing $3.50, for the pass to pay for itself, meaning a daily commuter could benefit from it.

This is also where having money in an “e-purse” comes in handy. The money loaded by the transit rider into the e-purse would cover the difference of more expensive transit. So, say, you have the “$2.50” PugetPass monthly pass ($90 per month) and want to take a $3.50 ride on the Link.

Using the ORCA card, the first $2.50 would come from the pass, with the extra $1 coming out of the e-purse.

This is also why it’s critical ORCA users tap their card at the beginning and end of a trip and during all transfers. The ORCA card will track that, automatically adding and subtracting fares — as in my original example of using the ORCA card to Sea-Tac.

If I had gotten off at a closer destination on the Link — say, from Northgate to the U District stop — it would only cost $2.50, not the $3.50 it costs to get from Northgate to the airport.

ORCA also offers reduced fare programs, including ORCA Lift. Riders aged 65 years and older, Medicare card holders and riders with disabilities are also eligible for reduced fares. All youth 18 years and younger are eligible for free rides as well.

“We try and make it as easy as possible for people who are low-income to be able to access transit, so they can get the opportunities, and get to health care appointments, and all the things that they need to do,” Jackson said.

An app, myORCA, allows you to add funds on the go.

In the future, ORCA might be even easier. Google recently announced ORCA will be coming to its Google Wallet application soon, meaning you could use your phone instead of a physical card.

As for iPhone users?

Well, Jackson said: “We hope to make other improvements to the ORCA card in the near future.”

Got questions, comments? Send us an email at StreetSmarts@HeraldNet.com.

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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