Editor’s note: This post is the first in a series about using an ORCA card to connect between buses and Link. The next post will share a few example riders’ trips to show how ORCA works with Link.
Now that Link light rail and our northeast Seattle and Capitol Hill bus changes are just around the corner, we’re hearing a lot of questions about how fares will work when using both buses and Link light rail to make trips. Having an ORCA card will be the easiest and cheapest way to pay.
This post will hopefully help you better understand how to navigate the Metro and Sound Transit system seamlessly, how ORCA can work for you, the different ways to get an ORCA card, and how to use it. We’ve created a few example riders who are updating their planned trips because of the new Link service. Read about their decisions in our next blog post and how to ride buses and trains together with ORCA in practical terms.
First things first: If you don’t already have an ORCA card, let’s get you one ASAP. Connecting between buses and trains is faster, easier and less expensive with an ORCA card. Cash just takes more time when boarding the bus and the paper transfer you get isn’t accepted on the train.
There are card types for everyone – adults, youth, seniors and people with disabilities (Regional Reduced Fare Permit), and people with little or no income (ORCA LIFT). Due to the type of information that is required to get some of these cards, the place you can get one will vary per card type. However, once you get your card you can load passes or e-purse value (think cash) at any location.
To get your ORCA card, take one of these steps:
- Check out the Metro Fares & ORCA webpage to learn about the process and various fares and use the ORCA website to get your card. You can order adult cards via the ORCA website. You can also download a form to get adult and youth cards by mail. You will need proof of age for the youth card order, which is explained on the ORCA website.
- Visit a customer service center to speak to a Metro employee in-person; you can get help at both King Street Center in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood as well at the Westlake Customer Stop in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. The Westlake location is only open the first and last four business days of the month, and only sells adult and senior cards. The King Street location, however, is full service and sells all ORCA types. You can register for a regional reduced fare permit (RRFP) in order to get a reduced fare ORCA card, and you can also order adult, youth and senior cards. ORCA LIFT cards, however, cannot be ordered as this location, but rather at the Public Health office just down the block in the same building.
- Visit one of dozens of retail locations at supermarkets and stores.
- Use an ORCA vending machine at train stations, the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, and at major transit centers throughout the region.
- Connect with an ORCA To-Go sales van in your community.
- Talk to your employer to see whether you have a pass program (if you don’t, there’s information about signing employers up at Metro’s Employer Commute Services website).
- Call 206-553-3000 or 1-888-988-ORCA to talk to someone who can get you a card.
For ORCA LIFT reduced fare cards, you need to register at ORCA LIFT enrollment locations to check your eligibility and issue you a card. In many instances, the ORCA To-Go sales van will be accompanied by the ORCA LIFT registration table so you can register and receive an ORCA LIFT card, and then put a reduced fare pass and/or E-purse value on it at the same time.
ORCA cards make paying for bus, train and ferry rides across the Puget Sound region easier and can save people money.
Here are a few of the ways you can use your card:
- Some people load their ORCA card with money and pay each fare as they go, utilizing the two-hour transfer window for the original fare to go between buses and Link as long as the fares are of equal or lesser values. If the fare is higher on the bus or train you transfer to, then your E-purse on the card will just deduct the difference in fare after the transfer credit is accounted for.
- More frequent riders typically buy a monthly pass to save money. With an ORCA card, there are many levels of fares to choose from so you can decide what value works best for you. Our customers typically figure out a fare that covers most of their daily rides and any trip with a more expensive fare will have the difference subtracted from their account.
- And then there are people who get ORCA cards through their employer, school or other programs.
With ORCA cards, transfers between buses and Link – and buses and buses for that matter – are easier and cost less.
This is especially true for all our riders who will be using the new Link light rail stations at the University of Washington and Capitol Hill. Simply tap your ORCA card as you walk or roll through the system: tap the card when you get on the bus, before you get on the train and when you get off the train. Remember light rail fare is determined by how far you ride. If you don’t tap when you get off the train, you will be charged at the highest fare. If you’re using RapidRide, then you can tap your card at RapidRide stations before getting on the bus the make boarding faster. The first trip you take determines the fare you pay.
If you make a connection to another bus or train within two hours, then it’s a transfer. Transfers are free as long as the second (or third or …) trip isn’t more expensive than the first. If it is, then you’ll be charged the difference, which in most cases in the county is less than a dollar. Any trip that costs more than your monthly pass will come out of your E-purse.
If you don’t have an ORCA card, make sure to get one set up today at a customer service outlet near you or call 206-553-3000. And don’t forget to see if you qualify for the new ORCA LIFT reduced fare card. You may also qualify for a Regional Reduced Fare Permit or youth fare to make traveling less expensive.
When you do tap out, look at your balance. When you see it lower than you expected, you realize you have been overpaying, and that will help you remember to tap out next time.
We find it difficult to remember to tap the cards on leaving the train in a hurry and/or in a crowd. Is there any way that the system can present reminders to the riders?
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