Get ORCA now to avoid the January rush

Publish Date

PugetPasses, most transfers replaced with ORCA beginning Jan. 1

Transit riders can take steps to avoid expected lines and phone waits at customer service centers in January, by getting their ORCA smart cards by the end of the year, and heeding a few tips.

Jan. 1 will bring major changes to public transit in the Puget Sound region as ORCA cards replace PugetPasses. New policies for transfers will also make ORCA necessary to avoid paying twice for transfers between transit systems. The number of people expected to adopt ORCA in early 2010 will temporarily mean longer waits for ORCA purchasers who call or visit customer service offices instead of taking advantage of online sales or ticket vending machines.

Volumes at transit customer centers are also expected to be higher in January because some retail outlets that previously sold transit passes are not set up with the electronic equipment necessary to add value to ORCA cards.

ORCA's many advantages include added options and flexibility for paying to ride public transit. ORCA cards never expire but rather can be reloaded with a new pass or more e-purse value. Riders can even set up their ORCA cards with an "autoload" feature. Long term, switching to reusable smart card technology will reduce the need for trips to customer centers. Short term, riders are advised to be ready for more activity at customer centers and use other options for getting ORCA if possible.

  • Visiting to obtain or revalue an ORCA card is by far the easiest option for people with computer access. Buying online does require planning ahead since it takes five to seven business days to receive a new ORCA card by mail and 24 hours to add value to an existing card. Online sales are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Ticket vending machines at Link light rail and Sounder commuter rail stations accept major credit cards and can immediately provide a new card or add value to an existing card.

Information on customer service centers operated by the ORCA partner agencies is available on the agencies' respective Web sites.

ORCA cards will be available with no card fee through January. Starting Feb. 1, a standard adult or youth ORCA card will cost $5. This is a one-time fee to obtain a card that is expected to last 3 to 5 years under normal use. There is no fee for loading the fare on the card. As in the past, eligible customers can get a Regional Reduced Fare Permit added to an ORCA card for $3 by presenting the required materials at a customer service center.

Customers who order or revalue cards online or by phone must tap the card at a card reader within 30 days for activation.

ORCA advantages

  • ORCA is a durable, plastic smart card containing a microprocessor. Passengers simply "tap" their ORCA card on a card reader on board buses or at train, light rail and ferry stations, and enjoy their ride. With each trip, the correct fare, including any transfer value, is automatically deducted. Gone are the days of rummaging for correct change and lost paper transfers.
  • ORCA is good throughout the region. The partner agencies include Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and Washington State Ferries. ORCA is also good for rides on the South Lake Union Streetcar. Beginning Jan. 1, ORCA passes will be accepted on Intercity Transit's Olympia Express Routes 603 and 620.
  • ORCA cards come equipped with an "e-purse" function that allows a rider to preload fare value onto the card.
  • ORCA offers transfer credit automatically. The "smart card" technology will automatically apply credit from a rider's first trip when they transfer within two hours, whether the trip involves one agency or multiple agencies.
  • Purchasing a monthly pass on an ORCA card enables a rider to take unlimited transit trips.
  • Customers can protect against lost or stolen cards by registering their cards. Registered cardholders also can select an "Autoload" feature that adds value to a card automatically when the e-purse is empty or when the monthly pass expires.

New transfer policies start Jan. 1

On Jan. 1, transit agencies in the region will stop accepting paper transfer slips when a rider moves from service on one transit agency to another - such as transferring from a Metro bus to a Sound Transit train. Some agencies will eliminate paper transfers altogether.

While King County Metro and Pierce Transit will still offer paper transfers that are good within their own systems, Community Transit and Sound Transit will switch to all-electronic transfers and will not issue or honor paper transfers. Everett Transit and Kitsap Transit have already phased out paper transfers on their systems, and transfer policies for ferries remain unchanged with the ORCA system.

Getting ORCA instead of using cash is the way riders can avoid paying twice. ORCA's "smart card" technology will automatically apply credit from a rider's first trip when they transfer within two hours. Cash will continue to be accepted by all seven ORCA partner agencies, but beginning Jan. 1, riders using cash instead of an ORCA card to transfer between different agencies' systems will pay the full fare for each leg of their ride.