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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Sound Transit ATCMTD Application Volume 1 - Technical Application


The Next Gen ORCA project is a multiagency public / private partnership.

  • The current seven ORCA Agency transit partners (as listed previously)
  • Business Community Partnerships
  • ORCA Data Analysis Partners include: WSDOT, University of Washington and the Puget Sound Regional Council.

Business Community Partners: In the Puget Sound region, transit agencies have been partnering with private sector employers for years. The business community is increasingly adding ORCA cards as a staple to their employment benefit package. There are over 2,000 ORCA business accounts which account for nearly 50% of total ORCA system revenue and represents more than 265,000 employees. The employer programs provide access to ORCA, transit vouchers, vanpools, and other benefits to help large employers comply with state Commute Trip Reduction law and offer efficient commute options to employees, students and clients. Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia, Starbucks, University of Washington, King County, City of Seattle and other large employers all have Employee Business Accounts providing ORCA transit passes.

ORCA Data Analysis Project. The ORCA Data Analysis Project is a collaborative effort between the PSRC, Sound Transit, the Washington State Transportation Research Center (TRAC) at University of Washington, and WSDOT to use and analyze actual transit travel use and behavior through ORCA data in order to better inform decision making and resource allocation.

Every Tap becomes a data point ... resulting in a massive data resource of actual transit travel behavior

In addition to the financial transaction data, ORCA also functions as a database describing actual transit use. The ORCA Data Analysis Project has developed analytical techniques and systems which provide unmatched insight into regional transit travel behavior. For example, the nine-week data set in 2016 upon which the software was built and tested contains over 11,500,000 origin/destination pairs, allowing detailed examination of transit travel patterns by time of day and for all days of the week. Because ORCA tracks the use of specific transit pass types such as those for low income individual, seniors and disabled riders, it is possible to examine not only the travel patterns of these key rider groups, but determine if specific service improvements are needed specifically to service those groups.

Additional preliminary results include providing quantitative information on:

  • Transfer Behavior. ORCA allows determination of :
    • The size of specific route-to-route transfer behavior and the stops at which those transfers take place.
    • How that transfer behavior changes during the course of the day
    • The distances walked in order to transfer (by boarding stop location)
    • The time required to transfer (by boarding stop location)
    • The locations where specific rider types (e.g., senior, disabled, low income) are transferring and the statistics that describe those transfers.
  • Origin and Destination Analytics. The new Sound Transit ridership forecasting model has used the ORCA origin/destination information as part of its calibration/validation process.
  • ORCA also allows determination of the average number of transfers required to go from one geographic area to another geographic area, as well as the distribution of the number of transfers required. This allows planners to understand is large numbers of riders are making movements that require an excessive number of transfers.
  • Trend Data. Analysis of ORCA data provides information on travel behavior changes that occur as a result of major service changes. For example, with the opening of the University Link project, ORCA data are being used to determine the number of riders that:
    • Changed from taking buses with 30 minute headways directly to campus but now use high frequency light rail
    • Changed from taking high frequency bus service to downtown and transferring to other high frequency buses between downtown and the university and now take Sounder trains service and transfer to light rail
  • In addition to mode shifts, ORCA data is being used to examine the quality of service
    actually being experienced (total trip time including transfers) and how those service
    levels explain the changes in ridership described above.
  • The effectiveness of promotions and Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) programs. Examples of recent ORCA data:
    • ORCA cards with pass products issued by employers have significantly higher
      transit usage than cards loaded with an e purse;
    • Employee match subsidy and flex time programs corresponds to higher transit usage;
    • How changes in transit quality of service impact transit to work patterns in comparison to changes in pass subsidy levels
  • Geolocated ORCA usage data have also been used by King County Metro as input to their design process to size their wireless communication needs, as current ORCA fare card payments are a good estimator of the communications load to be imposed by Next Gen ORCA.
  • Market Share Analytics, Better Descriptive Statistics, Better Data Visualization

The ORCA data project and the follow-on project (the Transportation Data Collaborative) being pursued by the ORCA Joint Board are currently developing data use policies that ensure the most widespread public availability of key performance metrics while also ensuring the privacy of individual transit users. These data use policies will be in place prior to the start of Next Gen ORCA.

The ORCA Data Analysis project is also very concerned about understanding and accounting for bias in the data when using ORCA statistics for operations and system planning. Consequently, ORCA data analytics include direct comparisons between ORCA boardings and ridership statistics collected from automatic passenger counters. This allows the analytics system to account for differences between cash payments and ORCA payments by route and stop, thus ensuring that system plans account for these different payment mechanisms. Further extension of the ability to understand how the availability of different payment mechanisms affects transit use patterns will be a significant benefit of the Next Gen ORCA system.

University of Washington Involvement. Students in a University of Washington summer fellowship program called "Data Science for Social Good" used ORCA travel data to help improve bus service. In 2016, a team of UW Ph.D. students took 21 million ORCA-card readings and incorporated the data into a form to reveal where, and when, transit riders go. Knowing where people get on and off the bus, and where they transfer, leads to improvements — such as new bus shelters in popular locations. (Seattle Times, UW student project taps ORCA cards, unlocks data trove, August 21, 2016).

Seattle's Smart Corridors Project. The City of Seattle is creating "smart corridors" with advanced technology and better information for travelers. The Next Gen ORCA project is being coordinated with WSDOT and the City of Seattle to provide information on the fastest way to travel – including TNC, bus, train, biking and walking times.

Regional Private Sector Support. The Next Gen ORCA project is consistent with the goals of the recent "Challenge Seattle" initiative. This initiative is led by Former Governor Christine Gregoire and is made up of several of the region's businesses including Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, Chateau St Michelle, JP Morgan Chase, Alaska Airlines, Starbucks, REI, Nordstrom,
Expedia, Madrona Venture Partners, Weyerhaeuser, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH, Costco, Zillow and Puget Sound Energy. The Next Gen ORCA project supports the Challenge Seattle vision. Challenge Seattle goals include:

  • Building a framework that allows those managing our transportation systems, including bus, rail, ferry, bikes, freight, automobiles and commercial vehicles, to work together, using comprehensive data and analytics.
  • Using real-time data-gathering technologies and advanced data analytics to plan and schedule system components to optimize performance of an integrated system.
  • Payment systems should be coordinated so that all users can pay and access their accounts easily, using either a single card or their mobile devices.
  • The ORCA card was developed to bring together multiple transit options on one system. The Next Gen ORCA project will be able to simplify payment, adapt to the new systems, modes and technologies of the future without requiring an overhaul.
  • A key performance measure of the Challenge Seattle Initiative is measurement of the number of integrated payment methods. (Source: Challenge Seattle, Working together for a better future, page 12)
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