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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Sound Transit ATCMTD Application Volume 1 - Technical Application


Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment (ATCMTD) grant request will complete the Next Generation ORCA fare collection system used by seven transit agencies in the Puget Sound region. The Next Generation ORCA (Next Gen ORCA) project will replace and improve the existing ORCA smart card fare-collection system.

The existing ORCA (One Regional Card for All) smart card fare-collection system has been a success in the Puget Sound region, bringing all seven of the regional transportation agencies together to deliver a seamless, interoperable fare collection solution which regularly receives high customer satisfaction ratings. Design for the existing ORCA system began in 2003, with deployment in 2009. The vendor contract which supports operations and equipment will end in 2021. Over time, the system's technology has become obsolete and the equipment has reached the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced.

The Next Gen ORCA system will include improvements such as multiple payment options in an account-based system, with open architecture that can accommodate additional modes of transportation and additional transportation providers, improving the customer experience while maintaining a secure fare-collection system. This request for $10,000,000 of ATCMTD grant funding will complete the Next Gen ORCA fare collection system.

Scope Customer Benefits Agency Benefits
Replace the ORCA smart card fare-collection system with Next Gen ORCA: an account based system with real time communications, multiple payment options and open architecture for easier updates.
  • Introduction of a Mobile App
  • Multiple fare payment options
  • Faster access to funding, removing the 24-48 hour delay in loading products and E-purse
  • Enhancements to the customer website
  • Expansion of the retail network
  • Seamlessness: free transfers among agencies and transit modes
  • Ability to support new transportation connections in the future
  • Continued ORCA fare programs that support access to jobs, reduced fares for low income riders, seniors, youth, and people with disabilities.
  • Continued leverage to procurement as a region vs individually
  • Open payment system to evolve with future payment technologies
  • Open open architecture, able to adapt and evolve
  • Lower upgrade and improvement costs with modular design
  • Agency-controlled access to useful data and customer data
  • Faster roll-out of functionality and upgrades
  • Supports faster fare collection, improving operations efficiency, saving capital costs and service hours.

There were approximately 212 million transit boardings in the central Puget Sound region in 2016, with 66% using ORCA cards as their method of fare payment. With the improved Next Generation ORCA project, the usage of electronic fare payment (as opposed to cash) will increase, improving operating efficiency and overall system performance.

Existing ORCA System. The seven Puget Sound transit agencies have used the ORCA smart card system to create easy, seamless fare payment so people can travel more easily on the region's buses, trains, streetcars and ferries. The ORCA card replaced about 300 transportation passes, tickets and transfers when it was deployed. Currently ORCA has:

  • Over 450,000 average weekday ORCA boardings and over a million cards in circulation
  • More than 2,000 business accounts serving employees, schools and other institutions
  • Over 125 add value locations at retail stores
  • A network of over 100 self-service ticket vending machines
  • New reduced fares options for riders with low income
  • New products such as the regional day pass
  • Mobile ORCA-to-Go units serving the community with ORCA cards available at fairs, festivals and outreach events across the region.

A simple tap of the ORCA card allows riders to quickly pay transit fares on any transit system and mode in the region. To offer savings and convenience, ORCA cards can be loaded with cash value for individual trips or the value of any regional pass. With each trip, the correct fare, including any transfer value, is automatically deducted. When transferring to other modes and services within two hours, ORCA automatically applies credit from a rider's earlier bus or train trip to any other transit trip within the region. The ORCA system charges customers by deducting value and verifying pass value from an ORCA card in accordance with fare policies established by each transit operator. The system then apportions the associated revenue to each transit operator through an automated financial settlement process.

With approximately 66% of transit ridership utilizing the ORCA system, it has become the primary way most transit customers pay their fare. ORCA processes more than 11 million transactions in a typical month and includes more than 2,700 on-board and off board fare payment devices currently in operation on the transit operators' services, as well as point of sale devices. ORCA sales channels include customer service offices, ticket vending machines, retail sites, automatic customer reload capabilities, agency call centers, a regional mail center and two web sites.

The existing ORCA system, however, is nearing the end of its useful life. With the support of this grant request, the Next Generation ORCA system can build on the success of the original ORCA system by integrating more travel modes (auto parking, on-demand bike lockers, vanpool, paratransit, Transportation Network Companies, TNC's, such as Lyft and Uber) and various payment mediums, while increasing affordability and equity in the region, improving system security and incentivizing more efficient usage of the transportation system.

Key Goals of the Next Generation ORCA Project Include:

  • Eliminating the 24-48 hour delay between when customers load value onto an ORCA card and when funding is available to pay their fare.
  • Increasing flexibility for customers, including acceptance of multiple fare payment options and the ability for the system to evolve with future payment technology.
  • Improving access to ORCA via a mobile app, a customer-oriented website, and an expanded retail network.
  • Increasing flexibility to use maturing technologies, no matter how they evolve in the years ahead. The system will also leverage that flexibility to continue to improve the customer experience while maintaining a secure system.

Next Generation ORCA Builds on the Success of the ORCA system. Fare collection technology has advanced greatly since the original ORCA system development began in 2003, with innovations such as mobile applications and open payments with credit cards and smartphones. With the current ORCA vendor contract ending in 2021 and the system's technology and equipment becoming obsolete, the ORCA Joint Board approved the ORCA Next Generation Strategy in 2015 and initiated "Next Generation ORCA" to replace the existing ORCA system.

The biggest improvements of the Next Gen ORCA system are: the move to an account-based system, "open architecture" design and adding ORCA payment capability to additional transportation modes. The open architecture approach provides flexibility as technology and Agency needs change. The open architecture will apply to all fare media, system interfaces and transaction formats used for the management, distribution, funding, and inspection of fares. By moving to an account-based system the online card refills will be usable instantly, instead of today's required 24-48 hour waiting period. The current ORCA card-based system stores value on the actual card and fare transactions are processed offline by the card reader, on-board vehicles and at stations. Because data is only updated once the bus returns to base, the value purchased online is delayed 24-48 hours.

An account-based system stores information in an account in a central location so all transactions are processed centrally and in real time. Next Gen ORCA fare media acts merely as an identifier of the account to the reader. Next Gen ORCA will be designed for both open and closed-loop payments. Open payment will allow Next Gen ORCA to accept contactless credit and debit cards issued by banks and mobile wallets on enabled devices. (Seattle Transit Blog, Oct 5, 2015).

The current ORCA system is based on proprietary architecture owned by the vendor, which restricts the ORCA agencies' ability to competitively procure updates and equipment. Next Gen ORCA will also seek to design the system architecture in a much more flexible manner. Under an open architecture design with interfaces owned or licensed by the ORCA agencies, the system can updated or expanded much more easily and competitively. This flexibility and scalability are vital to handle the rapid growth of the region's transportation network. Through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), Next Gen ORCA will also include the capability to add other transportation modes to the ORCA payment system, such as auto parking, bike lockers, vanpool, paratransit, carshare programs and TNCs such as Lyft and Uber. The backend interface of Next Gen ORCA allows for pricing programs that provide incentives to take transit, carpool, vanpool or use other non-SOV modes to increase person throughput on our transportation system.

Summary of Technology Deployment. Next Gen ORCA will replace and enhance all components of the existing ORCA system. These components include:

  • Fare media and fare value sales channels including customer service offices, third-party retailers, ticket vending machines, call centers, customer website and via mobile app
  • Business Account website, fare media, product sales and account management
  • Fare collection/validation on all buses, light rail, commuter rail, ferries and streetcars Communications infrastructure for fixed and wired platform and wayside fare collection devices
  • Central clearinghouse for financial transactions and regional revenue reconciliation, settlement and apportionment
  • Fare media inventory and distribution
  • Payment processing network
  • Data management and reporting
  • Customer service support
  • Integration with agency-specific front-end and back-end systems such as automatic vehicle location (AVL), Automatic Passenger Counter (APC), and finance systems
  • System security including protection of Personally Identifying Information (PII) and compliance with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS)
  • Open payment capability
  • Mobile applications for product sales and account management
  • Communications infrastructure for real-time fare data transmission for all fare collection devices
  • Expansion of existing ticket vending machine network to region-wide vending machine fare media and product sales
  • Support for future integration of additional transit services and additional modes such as monorail, parking, vanpool, car share and TNCs.

Overarching Objectives. The Puget Sound region has the fastest-growing transit ridership in the country. Transit boardings in the region – increasing by 3.8% between 2015 and 2016 – have grown faster than any other large metropolitan area. Ridership on all modes of public transit have increased. (PSRC, "Puget Sound Trends" September 23, 2016 and NTD data). In 2016, the seven transit agencies had approximately 212 million boardings and $240 million of fare revenue. Replacing and improving the existing ORCA fare collection system in 2021 is extremely important for financial security of the transit agencies.

Next Gen ORCA Project Objectives:

  1. Increase customer satisfaction by providing instantaneous availability of loaded value
  2. Increase customer convenience by allowing for acceptance of multiple fare media types
  3. Improve service for unbanked/underbanked customers by creating programs that make it easier for customers without banking relationships to use ORCA
  4. Continue to provide pass programs that cater to business and institutional needs
  5. Increase ORCA usage by making ORCA easily usable on all modes of transport
  6. Increase market penetration by making ORCA more available
  7. Ensure that the system is cost-effective to implement and efficient to operate
  8. Lower upgrade and improvement costs by increasing the use of state-of-the-art technology and easily upgradeable modular design
  9. Implement an expandable open architecture system that's able to adapt
  10. Improve access to information by making data easier to find, access, analyze and report
  11. Assure effective security to meet industry compliance for both customer and system data
  12. ORCA Data Analysis can be used to better understand transit travel behavior.

The Next Gen ORCA project team created a graphic providing a quick reference guide detailing the technology that will be part of the Next Gen ORCA system (See Appendix B).

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