A payment system where multiple agencies within a geographic location offer riders a unified system of consistent fares and policies allows for easier convenience for riders and cost-savings in fare processing for the agencies.
Riders are able to transfer from one agency to another easily, without multiple transactions. Agencies are able to share costs related to reconciliation and processing.
Agencies looking to work together need a formation of a governance structure for the program to lead the cooperative establishment of policies, resolution of financial issues and clarification of operating issues. After talking to several people involved in the process of regional fare system development, it sounds like you also need a lot of patience and a sense of humor to maintain your sanity.
One CarD For All
"I think recognition back in the '90s was that everyone will benefit by having a fare system that makes it easier for people to use transit," says Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick, "and that all agencies benefit if more riders are encouraged to get on board."
ORCA, which stands for "one regional card for all," is a simplified fare collection system using smart card technology for bus, rail and ferry in King, Kitsap, Snohomish and Pierce counties in the Central Puget Sound area of the state of Washington.
The agencies participating in this regional fare system are Sound Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Community Transit and the Washington State Ferries.
The E-purse is a stored value on the pass and is used like cash by riders. The fare is deducted from the E-purse on the ORCA card. Paper transfers are no longer needed as they are automatically calculated with the ORCA card.
"You have a card that is transferred from one bus to another. The value you paid for your first ticket is good for two hours," explains Patrick. "You buy a $2 ticket at one agency, you go get on another agency's bus or train, that $2 you paid on the first trip is applied to the second; you only pay more if the second trip costs more."
He adds, "The card tracks it all and provides a means for the program to allocate revenue from that trip to both agencies."
Of course it wasn't an easy task to accomplish, as ORCA Contract Administrator Candace Carlson explains.
"There's a long history here in the Central Puget Sound amongst the seven agencies of intersystem transfers — and really since the mid-1970s there have been various regional pass programs that have tried to knit the agencies together using a variety of technologies.
"They have a history of doing that and doing revenue sharing, so then two things happened that kind of pushed it into the ORCA world," she says.
The first is when Sound Transit was formed as a regional transit authority by the state legislature. Sound Transit made one of its founding principles that it would achieve a truly regional ticket pass for everyone, which was part of its enabling legislation.
"The other thing is that the technology, smart card technology, was really becoming a very viable alternative for doing the kind of complex fare programs that we have at the transaction base level," says Carlson.
"Those two things kind of came together and really pushed it to the next level," she states. "It's so hard to do the revenue reconciliation amongst the many agencies based on survey data. I don't want to say they failed, but they certainly were flawed." She reiterates, "The technology made it possible to support our regional revenue sharing."
Another complex issue is determining the governance structure. Carlson explains the three options.
"One is called a joint powers association, where you actually spin off a kind of governmental entity to operate the fare system. The other is a lead agency model, where one agency signs to contract with a vendor, really assumes most of the liability and the responsibility and the other agencies kind of follow along. And then the third option is the inter-local agreement option which is much more of a cooperative communal approach where the agencies are bound by an agreement to share costs and responsibilities.