Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Sound Transit ATCMTD Application Volume 1 - Technical Application


Next Gen ORCA provides several quantifiable benefits as shown below.

Benefit Description Quantification of Benefits
Accurate and Reliable Fare Collection Without Next Gen ORCA, agencies risk losing fare revenue.

The useful life of the existing system ends in 2021. The existing system must be replaced and improved.

In 2016, a total of $240 million of fare revenue was collected through the ORCA system.

Next Gen ORCA is needed for new light rail and BRT expansions.

There is potential for increased fare revenue with Next Gen ORCA due to more accurate ridership/fare revenue calculations and reporting.

System performance and Operational Efficiencies Faster fare collection improves overall performance and efficiency of the transportation system; reducing delay and vehicle dwell time, especially in the congested downtown Seattle area.

Next Gen ORCA simplifies fare collection and other data collection systems, reducing administration costs.

Next Gen ORCA payment instead of cash speeds boarding by 4-6 seconds. Faster boarding times are estimated to save 14,303-28,605 annual service hours, with a cost savings for transit agencies of $1.5 million to $2.9 million annually.

Per the City of Seattle's One City Center Plan, faster fare collection reduces bus dwell time, saving $5.5 million of expected additional transit agency operating costs beginning in 2018. Private vehicles and delivery trucks also benefit from reducing delay in downtown Seattle.

Next Gen ORCA provides integration with agency specific front-end and back-end systems such as automatic vehicle location (AVL), Automatic Passenger Counter (APC) and finance systems.

Travel time benefits for passengers Cash fare payment is a major source of delay for passengers. Next Gen ORCA will reduce delays due to fare collection, improving passenger travel time. King County Metro has observed a 25% decrease in dwell time at BRT stops on 3rd Ave in downtown Seattle having off-board fare payment. With faster fare collection, riders can save an estimated 2.9 million hours of travel time worth over $900 million annually.
Equity Benefits –

Users Save Money

Using transit helps people save money as compared to the costs of car ownership and parking.

Programs that reduce transit fares will be available through the Next Gen ORCA. Examples: ORCA LIFT low income program; ORCA Youth/ORCA summer youth programs; Multifamily ORCA passport and employer-provided business accounts.

People in the Seattle area can save up to $11,040 annually or $920 per month by taking transit instead of driving (Source: APTA)

A seamless system: riders get free transfers between 7 agencies and 8 transit modes.

Next Gen ORCA will improve service for unbanked/underbanked customers by creating programs that make it easier for customers without banking relationships to use ORCA.

With Next Gen ORCA, paratransit customers would have improved functionality, improving conditions for people with disabilities.
Also, Next Gen ORCA will make it more convenient to re-value accounts. Retail access will be expanded from the existing 125 retail locations to 500-800 retail locations in Next Gen ORCA.

Total Cost of Ownership Benefits Cash fare payment is more expensive to administer– for Reducing cash fare payment can save costs. Decreasing cash fare payment can help defer or avoid cost of replacing aging farebox system.
Reducing long term costs collecting, counting and depositing fares; maintaining fareboxes; printing/distributing tickets and transfers; and selling tickets.

Next Gen ORCA can reduce future capital costs for Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs).

Next Gen ORCA will use modular equipment, available from numerous vendors, not proprietary equipment from a single vendor, thus lowering costs

With Next Gen ORCA, King County Metro estimates saving ~ $17M if new "Smart fareboxes" do not need to be purchased. Next Gen ORCA increases the potential for all-door boarding with less expensive onboard validators.

Design standards for new light rail stations include 2-3 TVMs per entrance. The Next Gen ORCA mobile app can reduce the number of TVMs needed. Each TVM costs approx $58,000. Operation and maintenance for each TVM is $28,800 per device, per year.

The current proprietary ORCA system inflates costs by 33% for equipment with the same functionality, such as new wayside validators.

Ease of use/seamless transfers Next Gen ORCA is convenient. There's no need to carry exact fare and it is valid on transit throughout the Puget Sound Region

Expanded retail network and Mobile Apps would improve access to ORCA for all residents in the region.

Transfers are automatically counted with Next Gen ORCA. Transfers are free between all modes and 7 agencies.

With Next Gen ORCA, there will be no 24-48 hour delay in loading values online or over the phone. This delay is the single largest customer complaint about the existing system.

Next Gen ORCA will have expanded access (e.g. gift card network, mobile app, improved website) and more fare media options (ORCA cards, smart phones, etc). 77% of Americans own smart phones, making payment by mobile app very convenient.

Safety and Security Benefits Next Gen ORCA provides increased security of credit card and other personal information.

Transit is a safer mode of travel as compared to driving. The region is expecting another 8 million annual transit boardings by 2040.

Next Gen ORCA system security includes protection of Personally Identifying Information (PII) and compliance with Payment Card Industry security standards (PCI-DSS)

Traveling by transit is 10 times safer per mile than traveling by car. By 2040, 8 million additional transit boardings are expected to reduce approx. one fatality, 43 injuries and 106 crashes.

Next Gen ORCA reduces driver/passenger conflicts over fare payment and reduces cash payment, improving driver and passenger safety.

Reducing Congestion and Costs. Next Gen ORCA will expedite transit passenger boarding and reduce delay in downtown Seattle and other congested business districts. The Next Gen ORCA system will allow contactless smart cards or smart phones to be tapped at a reader, reducing payment time. Using Next Gen ORCA instead of cash, speeds each boarding by 4-6 seconds, resulting in reduced vehicle dwell time and improved operational reliability, particularly at high volume stops like those in downtown Seattle.

Reducing delay caused by cash boardings is a shared objective of all seven transit agencies. Next Gen ORCA can increase electronic fare payment, which will speed boarding. Faster boarding will help maintain schedule reliability and reduce travel time for riders. The share of transferring riders is growing as the agencies move to frequent service networks and inter-modal travel. Next Gen ORCA will be an essential tool for transfers, offering convenience, speed, and savings.

  • If ORCA were used instead of cash payment (saving an estimated 5 seconds per boarding), an estimated 14,303-28,605 annual service hours could be saved.
  • The operating cost savings from increased ORCA usage range between $1.5 million to $2.9 million a year.
Calculations for service hours saved and operating costs saved Current With 95% ORCA Usage Target Difference (additional boardings) Cost savings at $102.43/hr
Total Transit Boardings in region (2016) 212,000,000 212,000,000 No Value No Value
Current ORCA Market Share 66% 95% No Value No Value
Non-ORCA Boardings (approx
34% are cash customers)
72,080,000 10,600,000 61,480,000 No Value
Estimated % of transfer/nonpayment 33% 33% No Value No Value
Cash boardings 48,293,600 7,102,000 41,191,600 No Value
Hours of cash fare transaction time (5 seconds per transaction) 67,074 9,864 57,211 No Value
Service Hour savings equal
25% of transaction time savings
No Value No Value 14,303 $1,465,019
Service Hour savings equal 50% of transaction time savings No Value No Value 28,605 $2,930,039

Avoiding Expected Future Costs and Additional Dwell Time. According to the "One Center City Plan" the City of Seattle must accommodate large scale changes for downtown Seattle over the next 5 years, including the Alaskan Way Viaduct removal, expansion of the Washington State Convention Center and several other large construction projects. The most impactful change will be the transition from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, currently serving both buses and light rail, to only serving light rail. More frequent light rail service in the downtown tunnel (4 minute headways), requires that the tunnel buses must move to already congested surface streets.

  • If nothing is done, the additional buses operating on city streets increase dwell time and increase operating costs up to $8 million per year. Doing nothing would add approximately an average of 3.5 minutes of travel time to every downtown bus during peak hours. Travel time for private vehicles and freight/delivery trucks would also be delayed and additional operational costs incurred.
  • Faster fare collection, including off-board payment, allows more buses to use the corridor as dwell time decreases. Expanding off-board payment and reducing dwell time is estimated to decrease annual transit operating costs to less than $2.5 million, from the $8 million mentioned previously – a savings of $5.5 million per year.

Next Gen ORCA Improves Transfer Efficiencies and Fare Policy. Next Gen ORCA is supported by all seven ORCA transit agencies in the region. An Interlocal Cooperation Agreement has already been signed by the seven agencies establishing the framework, roles and responsibilities, allocation of revenue from the ORCA system, agencies funding commitments and allocation of regionally-shared costs of operating maintaining and updating the ORCA system.

  • The ORCA system calculates and distributes fare revenue among the partner agencies for all rides and transfers, providing efficiencies for every agency.
  • In preparation for Next Gen ORCA, the ORCA partner agencies are simplifying and coordinating fare policy.
  • ORCA allows transit agencies to offer a more sophisticated fare policy. (For example, ORCA automatically calculate distance-based fares for the rider.)
  • One fare collection system improves efficiencies for transfers between different modes and transit agencies. The overall ORCA inter-system transfer average is 20%.
  • Ease of transfers between seven transit agencies and 8 modes and simplified fare policy makes transit easier to use and more accessible.

Cash or paper transfers increase the dwell time of a bus. Approximately 49% of King County Metro riders use transfers. ORCA enables riders to transfer quickly and seamlessly among modes. A two-hour transfer credit is built-in for buses, rail, streetcar and water taxis. If a ride within that time period costs more than the first ride, the customer pays only the incremental fare. In contrast, riders who pay cash require separate full payments for each additional trip meaning ORCA saves money for riders transferring between modes or agencies. As the region becomes more dependent on inter-modal transfers, ORCA gains importance as a cost-savings and convenience tool for a growing number of riders.

Improving Equitable Access to Jobs. This project strongly supports the USDOT's Ladders of Opportunity initiative. The Next Gen ORCA system, used on the extensive and growing regional transit system, will increase connectivity to employment, education and other opportunities. In the Puget Sound region, transit can be much faster than driving congested highways and transit is cheaper than driving and paying for parking. The Puget Sound region added 59,400 jobs in 2016. Using transit and Next Gen ORCA gives people an affordable way to access those jobs.

Example of Transit Travel Time Benefit
Sample Trip Number of Jobs Accessed Approx. Driving Travel Time Approx. Light Rail Travel Time Travel Time Reduced by Taking Light Rail
Highline College to Downtown Seattle (18 miles one-way) Downtown Seattle Growth Center has 154,278 jobs 60 minutes 38 minutes Saves 22 minutes compared to driving
Highline College to Univ. of Washington (22 miles) Seattle / U District has 37,481 jobs 80 minutes 48 minutes Saves 32 minutes
compared to driving

Sources: Google Maps and NEPA EIS. Sample trips assume traveling from Highline College and arriving at the sample destination at 8AM.

Benefits to Employers, Schools and Universities. The ORCA Business Passport program is a comprehensive, annual transportation pass program for employers. Standard pricing and elements are available for employers with 20-499 employees. Employers with 500 or more employees receive custom pricing and the option to include vanpool/vanshare subsidies and the Home Free Guarantee program.

  • 2016 fare revenue from Employer Business Accounts was $150 million (Employer Business Accounts are 63% of ORCA revenue)
  • University of Washington's "U-Pass" was one of the first universal student pass programs, beginning in 1991. About 56,000 UW students and employees have an annual U-Pass.
  • Employers, Schools, Universities - More than 2,000 businesses manage their ORCA accounts online (Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Expedia and all major hospitals)
  • 54% of commuters in downtown Seattle take transit. Most of those riders are using the existing ORCA system.
  • The growing light rail system will provide fast, reliable access to 433,000 jobs and six colleges/universities

Reducing Transportation Costs for the User. Public transportation plays a key role in reducing transportation costs and improving access to job opportunities. Cities with good transit services can significantly improve the jobs-housing balance and reduce the cost of job access, especially to low-income families. According to the FHWA's Livability Initiative (2015), transportation is the second largest expense for most households after housing. Households living in the Seattle area spend 31% of income on transportation costs. With transit providing access to employment, shopping, restaurants and other amenities, household transportation costs can be reduced from 31% to 9% of household income.

Next Gen ORCA will be a tool for Affordability and Equity. Taking transit is much cheaper than driving. According to the APTA Transit Savings Report, people in the Seattle area can save
up to $11,040 annually or $920 per month (6th highest in the nation) by taking transit instead of driving. Seattle has some of the highest parking costs in the country. It costs $4 per hour to park a car on-street in downtown Seattle and parking garages can cost $25-$50 per day. An adult paying the fare for a light rail ride or bus ride would only pay $2.25 to $3.25 depending on how far the person traveled. Savings from parking costs alone would be substantial.

ORCA LIFT. Next Gen ORCA will support discounted fares for low-income riders, youth, senior citizens, and those with disabilities. Next Gen ORCA will offer "ORCA LIFT" Reduced Fare Transit Passes to increase accessibility for low-income populations. ORCA LIFT provides a fare discount to all riders who pay with special low-income ORCA LIFT program. With the ORCA LIFT, income-qualified riders can save up to 50% or more on transit fares. The eligibility threshold for a person to qualify for the low-income fare is 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, currently $23,760 for an individual. Transit agencies have partnered with libraries, nonprofit agencies and Seattle and King County Public Health to administer the ORCA LIFT program, improving outreach to lower-income residents and local community groups. As of April 2017, more than 45,350 ORCA LIFT cards have been issued.

A study published by the Smart Card Alliance (2008, Serving Unbanked Consumers in the Transit Industry with Prepaid Cards) noted that 20% of US households have no bank account, and that these households are more likely than those with bank accounts to be low-income and minority. Next Gen ORCA will offer solutions that aim to accommodate the needs of unbanked and underbanked populations. These programs will make it easier for customers without banking relationships to purchase fare media, take advantage of ride discounts and participate fully in any services ORCA may offer, providing access to

ORCA Outreach, Promotions and Reduced Fare Programs. The ORCA partnership agencies are providing several promotions to assist transit user groups that currently have lower levels of ORCA usage – including non-English speakers and youths. A sample of King County Metro's outreach programs are outlined in Appendix D. The "Understanding ORCA" educational campaign is designed to increase ORCA use and convert cash customers to ORCA customers by highlighting ORCA features, fare payment options, cost savings for transfers between modes and the discount associated with ORCA LIFT. ORCA and transit fare information has been translated into multiple languages including Korean, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

ORCA Youth Programs. Youth programs increase ORCA use across the region, maximizing benefits to all transit agencies and the City of Seattle. The ORCA Youth program distributes approximately 22,390 pre-loaded $10 ORCA cards to high school students across the region who do not have an ORCA card. The program includes staffing for an outreach team to provide mobility education for youth and parents so they know how to use transit and how to load additional value on their ORCA cards. The ORCA Summer Youth Promotion offers a discounted fare during summer break 2017 (July and August). The purpose of this program is to test whether a reduced summer ORCA youth fare can significantly increase ORCA youth ridership, ORCA youth market share and overall ridership during the summer, when school pass programs are not in effect. The fare discount will only apply to ORCA fares, not cash fares.

A significant number of transit riders use reduced fare programs. In the peak period, approximately 30% of transit ridership uses a Youth/Senior/Disabled/Low Income ORCA LIFT program. Next Gen ORCA will continue these programs to support affordable access and mobility in the region.

ORCA Provided for Multifamily Housing. The ORCA "Multifamily Development Passport" is an annual transit pass that property owners can offer to residents that:

  • Provides a new, attractive amenity to residents
  • Improves competitiveness in a crowded real estate and rental market
  • Reduces congestion by encouraging transit and facilitates easier parking management
  • Promotes environmental sustainability - the passport secures LEED points
  • Lessens impact on neighborhood parking
  • Ensures a convenient and affordable transportation option

Example of ORCA Provided for Affordable Housing. Capitol Hill Housing (a non-profit housing authority) Seattle and King County are implementing Capitol Hill Housing transit pass, similar to the ORCA Multifamily Development Passport. The Capitol Hill Housing transit pass program provides pre-loaded, monthly ORCA card transit passes to the residents of low income housing with the intention of encouraging transit and all the accompanying benefits of decreased SOV usage like reduced congestion, pollution and the personal financial cost of car ownership.

The Capitol Hill Housing transit pass program would allocate ORCA cards to every apartment in three separate low-income Capitol Hill Housing buildings at the cost of around $15 dollars per month, while Capitol Hill Housing would also pay $15 with money from the city. The pilot legislation would permit the Seattle to reimburse Capitol Hill Housing with permit fees that carshare companies like Lyft and Uber already pay to the city. (These fees are already required to be used to alleviate congestion and on-street parking occupancy in residential parking zones.) Capitol Hill Housing has also been renting out unused parking spaces in their buildings to drivers who live in other buildings and also attempting to gauge parking usage with data. The idea is to create a pool of shared parking to reduce the need for developers to create large parking structures.

Affordable Housing Near Transit Stations. ORCA partner agencies make specific outreach efforts to low income, senior and other transportation disadvantaged populations. In 2015, King County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chairman Dow Constantine announced an initiative to create or preserve 700 units of affordable workforce housing in mixed-use, mixed-income communities around transit stations. The community social service agency El Centro de la Raza has moved ahead on its own with private financing and in 2016 completed Plaza Roberto Maestas, a 112-unit low-income apartment complex adjacent to the Beacon Hill light-rail station. (Source: "Next Stop: A Greater Seattle via Transit-Oriented Development," Seattle Business Magazine, April 2016.)

Next Gen ORCA is Expandable to Add Modes. Next Gen ORCA will be flexible to expand to add additional modes – including monorail, bike parking and auto parking. Currently, auto parking facilities at light rail and commuter rail stations are operating at or above capacity (100%+ utilization). In an effort to increase the number of transit customers accommodated per parking space, improve the efficiency of facilities and services, and to improve customer satisfaction Sound Transit is implementing parking management tools. These tools include: designated parking for HOV and vanpool vehicles; designated parking for transit parking permit holders; parking validation systems and parking fees. Shortly after the implementation of Next Gen ORCA, the ORCA transit agencies plan to implement parking payment to the system.

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