"There's no easy way to do this," she asserts. "All these options have benefits and flaws to them. The agencies here decided to use the inter-local agreement option and have gone forward with that even though there are vast differences among them.
"There are city government, state government, county government, public transportation government, so that adds a layer of complexity to decision making and certainly to writing this agreement." She continues, "They all decided that they would cooperate and that they would all have equal votes, if you will. So all of these agencies are coming together as equals, even though one agency has 40 buses and another has 2,000."
"We took a phased approach to bringing it on board," says Patrick. "We started with a limited roll out and in January we added a major step of ending paper transfers between the systems and replacing those with ORCA and I would say that that's been an effective mechanism for rolling out a sweeping set of changes."
Expanding on the lessons learned, Carlson talks about how to schedule projects of this nature. "It takes so much more time than when it's a single agency doing something and I don't know who really knows how to get a handle on it."
She stresses, "The engineering part of it is not the biggest challenge, the biggest challenge is all of the business rules that have to be rationalized amongst the agencies because you want your customers to feel like they're just dealing with one system, not seven.
"All of your customer service rules, your accounting rules, they all need to be the same. So what you're really doing is a business process reengineering of seven agencies with really different practices. It takes a lot of time."
Carlson continues, "All of these business rules, in many ways become software, so they drive the system. When you're seven agencies like we are — that were very committed and very involved in every decision, we had 13 different teams of subject-matter experts making these decisions — it just takes time"
With a tired laugh she adds, "And yet someone on the outside will say, 'Why is this taking so long?'
"We're working 12-hour days and we?re tearing our hair out, there's not enough time, it's just very challenging to understand the scope of what you're doing and the time it takes."
She stresses, "I would say setting expectations would be a really big challenge for anyone doing it."
An integral component of the ORCA card is the business accounts. "Central to our image is our business account system," says Carlson. "That was very important to our design and distribution of the passes."
The business accounts provide employers an easy way to provide transportation benefits to employees or students. The program includes card management, including Web-based program management.
From the card to applications, they are constantly thinking of ways to improve ORCA and make it more convenient for its riders. "It's on a card today, but it could be on a keychain or a watch fob," Carlson shares as one possibility. She expands, "I think taking it to that next level to make transit applications a really convenient thing for people to load it on their phone or whatever.
"It's certainly an exciting development, not one we'll be getting up and ready today, but there are a number of ways to go with it."
Connected in the Bay
Carlson says the ORCA team has always worked closely with San Francisco on matters of regional fare collection because they have the same vendor, ERG Transit Systems out of Australia. They have the same vendor, but there are significant differences in how the operations are run. She emphasizes, "It was helpful to have someone, but they're really not the same models at all."
John Goodwin, public information officer for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in the Bay Area, says of Translink, "It was an effort to stitch together the roughly two dozen separate transit agencies that we have in our region. The idea was to knit those together into a seamless, passenger-friendly network so that a single card could be used to pay your fare on any of the agencies."
He adds, "We're not all the way there yet, but we?ve got most of it that accounts for the bulk of the ridership."