The Puget Sound region’s ubiquitous ORCA fare cards are migrating into a new software network, that will someday make transit payments easier and more versatile.
Starting Monday, tens of thousands of you will need to adapt.
More than 175,000 transit customers with online accounts need to re-register their blue fare cards at the new website, www.myorca.com, or through in-person and phone options. That must happen within the next two weeks for anyone needing a June monthly pass by June 1. Re-registration is also required to continue automatic fare loading.
ORCA cards are for use on Sound Transit, King County Metro, Washington State Ferries, Community Transit, Everett Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, King County Water Taxi, Seattle Streetcar and Seattle Center Monorail.
Later this year, new “ORCA Black” cards with sea foam pink-and-blue trim will go into circulation, and riders will need them to conduct ORCA business at participating retail stores.
A new phone app for Apple and Android devices also launches Monday, allowing people to create accounts and pay using smartphones.
“Customers will no longer have to wait one to two days to see money and products loaded into their ORCA account,” promised Brittany Esdaile, payment technology director for Sound Transit.
Esdaile said the $80 million technical upgrade, by new contractor INIT, is flexible enough so ORCA can someday be applied to potential services such as park-and-ride fee payment, scooter rentals, ride-hailing charges, or even coffee and snacks.
Puget Sound travelers took as many as 500,000 daily trips paid by ORCA (One Regional Card for All) in fall 2019, or two-thirds of all transit rides, before the pandemic slashed ridership in half. People are slowly returning.
Here’s what to know the first few weeks.
Does my blue card still work?
Yes. “Your current ORCA card will continue to work like normal come Monday morning and for the foreseeable future,” project staff tweeted. There are approximately 1 million blue cards in active circulation. All cards distributed since 2009 are still reloadable with monthly passes or e-purse dollars.
Do I need to change anything online?
People with business-distributed ORCA passes will rely on the 1,900 participating employers to handle the transition in late May, so their June passes are renewed on the same blue card.
But customers who manage their own monthly passes must reenter their information at the new website before June 1 to renew passes for June and beyond.
If you carry an e-purse card, where you occasionally add dollars in lump sums, just wait until you need to add money before you re-register at www.myorca.com. But if your account is on autoload, whenever funds run low (similar to Good To Go highway toll accounts), it’s wise to re-register soon.
Whatever e-purse value was on your card Friday has carried over Monday into the new system.
Can I move money into my fare card without using the internet?
The same options exist as before, such as buying ORCA e-purse fare at a station ticket-vending machine, or a retail shop that handles ORCA transactions.
Help by phone is available at 888-988-6722 for English and 800-823-9230 for other languages, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Or visit one of the five customer service offices: Everett Station, Lynnwood Transit Center, Tacoma Dome Station, Bremerton Transportation Center, or King County Metro headquarters at 201 S. Jackson St., in downtown Seattle.
Do people holding discounted senior-citizen monthly passes need to re-register?
Yes. Their situation is the same as other cardholders. For a monthly pass, or automatic reloads, seniors must transfer their accounts onto the new website, or by other methods.
Does my low-income ORCA Lift card, which provides a $1.50 flat rate or lower for most transit modes, still work?
Yes. Keep using your existing card. Similar to seniors, youth and disability-discount passholders, re-register your online account at www.myorca.com before you need a monthly pass or more money put on the fare card.
Can people still pay with cash on the bus, or pay cash into a train-ticket machine?
How can I get a cool new black ORCA card?
Those won’t be released until late summer, because the agencies need more time to replace all 6,000 ORCA readers so they’re compatible with the new cards, said Sound Transit spokesperson Scott Thompson. Then they’ll be sold for $3 by retailers, ticket machines, or the ORCA website, and free to reduced-fare customers. If you order through the app, cards arrive by postal mail in five to seven business days. Even if you buy a new card at a ticket machine, those will be blue this spring.
So why bother minting the black cards?
Unlike the legacy blue cards, the new black cards will have bar codes, to allow faster transactions at the 150 retail outlets, which will increase to improve convenience and social equity to more neighborhoods. When black cards enter circulation later this year, you’ll need to switch from blue to black cards to add fare at a retail store. The bar code makes buying an ORCA card similar to gift cards, officials say.
When can I pay fare with my smartphone?
You can’t tap your phone against a yellow ORCA reader to pay until sometime next year. Once that service begins, an existing app-based ticket called Transit GO will be discontinued.
Why have other cities (New York, Chicago) used contactless credit-card payment for years and we can’t? Why is an ORCA stored-value card even necessary?
Project managers say the new software can someday accommodate direct credit card payments instead of tapping a fare card. More technical and political work is needed. “It just takes time,” Thompson said. The first priority for this May rollout was to ensure people who already have cards can continue to use them, he said.
Do I actually have to pay fares?
Currently there’s no fare enforcement on Sound Transit light rail or Metro’s RapidRide buses with three-door loading. Sound Transit’s governing board seeks to reorganize its fare enforcement methods by Sept. 17, while helping people avoid collection agencies and courts. But elected officials haven’t finished decision-making yet. Sound Transit and Metro withdrew fare officers in mid-2020 to reduce COVID-19 exposure, and to reduce impacts on Black and homeless riders, who’ve been punished disproportionately. Sound Transit staff estimated 42% of light-rail passengers didn’t pay as of last winter. Many riders pay voluntarily.
Once the black cards arrive, fare-enforcement officers would see the same limited information as before — an account number, and paid or unpaid.