Our maiden voyage with the Orca card

Orca card

Using an Orca card is as simple as tap and go.

We’ve been without a car for week, and our only expense so far was bus fare to Seattle from the Bellevue dealership that bought our car. Grand total: $5. That is until last night.

Karen was heading to South Florida for business, and it was the first chance for her to use Light Rail to get to the airport. Since it was her first trip sans auto, she had a request: “Please go with me to the airport.” I was more than happy to accompany her so we could learn the ropes together.

She applied for an Orca card (electronic wallet for local transit) last week and it arrived Friday. So we loaded $20 in anticipation of our trip to the airport.

Sea-Tac is 16 miles from our apartment, and we can get there by car in about 25 minutes. Add another 10 minutes to park and walk to the terminal, and the time spent is about 35 minutes. Light Rail, on the other hand, is a 45-minute trip. Add in the time to walk to the station from our apartment, and then from the Sea-Tac station to the terminal, and your looking at a total time of 75 minutes. All part of the trade off.

When we got to the Pioneer Square station, it was our first chance to use the Orca card. Karen tapped once for herself — bingo, the card was debited $2.75. So, being the novices we are, we tapped again to tally my fare. That tap cancelled Karen’s first attempt.

Lesson #1: Orca cards can only pay for one person at a time when using Sound Transit Light Rail. And that made sense since I remembered reading that you tap once at the beginning and once at the destination to register the correct fare amount for the cardholder.

As Karen was re-tapping the Orca card, we heard an announcement that the next train was arriving in two minutes. I told her to go on ahead and I would follow after purchasing a ticket at a kiosk. A few taps on the touch screen, a swipe of my debit card and I was 20 steps behind her. As we were walking down the platform, I asked if she was official with her re-tap at the Orca card kiosk and she said, “I think so,” which required a quick stop at a platform kiosk to verify. When we tapped again, it cancelled the fare, which meant she was already good to go.

Lesson #2: If you get a cancelled message, that means you were already good on the last tap. The Orca card does not double charge you because it knows you haven’t left the station. Smart card.

So another tap and we were good to go, just as the train arrived.

Lesson #3: Fare Enforcement Officers walk through the cars to verify passengers have tickets. No ticket or sufficiently tapped Orca card could result in a $124 fine.

We made it to the airport in plenty of time and tapped the Orca card on the way off the platform. I noticed that it came up with a “Transfer” message, but I had no idea what that meant! After escorting Karen through baggage check and to security, we had a round of hugs and kisses, and then Karen was off and I was on my way back to the station.

When I tapped the Orca card at the kiosk, the screen displayed $0.00. I tapped again and it showed cancelled. Cool. Learned that earlier. So I tried again and it still showed $0.00. I went over to a transit guard and asked if I was doing this correctly and he watched the process. He said it will show up as $0.00 because I hadn’t left the station yet. Tapping at my final destination would debit the correct fare based on distance. Okay, that makes sense. But I wondered why it didn’t do the same when we tapped at Pioneer Square on our way to Sea-Tac. It showed $2.75 as the debit amount. Hmm. Well, I’d just have to see what happens when I get off.

Once back to Seattle, I was fully expecting $2.75 to appear on the kiosk when I tapped the Orca card, but it displayed “Transfer” and an amount of $0.00. I’ll have to investigate a little further, but it’s quite possible that my return trip was treated as a transfer because I was within the two-hour transfer window for Seattle Metro/Sound Transit. All in, it was $2.75 for me roundtrip and $2.75 for Karen one way. Not bad.

I’ll be tracking our expenses on a shared spreadsheet (to come!) so we can compare actual vs. projected expenses.

Oh, and one other added benefit of this carless outing: exercise — 4,127 steps roundtrip. I can feel the weight melting off already!


6 thoughts on “Our maiden voyage with the Orca card

  1. You are well one your way to becoming mass transit pros! You only need to use the Orca card once on buses. When you go from one bus to another enroute to your final destination you can get a transfer.

    • All good on the Orca card! The transfer is automatic when you use the card, just need a paper transfer from the driver when paying with cash. Learning one step at a time!

  2. Congratulations. It sounds very stressful! All this tapping and the train is coming into the station. Argh! I’m sure time will help, wish you well. =]

  3. Pingback: Going carless in Seattle makes more sense every day

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