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Monday, June 8, 2009

Seattle Region's ORCA Card beats SF Bay Area's Translink Program

This is embarrassing to hear: in the Puget Sound Region (where Seattle is located), a similar Translink smart card program just took a big leap less than a week ago with a huge public launch of their ORCA card program.

But the news gets even more interesting...

The ORCA card uses the same exact technology and vendor who installed the Translink card readers in the SF Bay Area, better known as ERG (see image). The reader looks exactly the same, and if you watch the YouTube video below, it will show you similar card readers, like the ones installed at the Golden Gate Ferry terminals and Muni Metro stations.

But what makes me really curious about the ORCA program is that they are able to get NINE transit agencies in full use while Translink only has a few agencies using the card. They were also able to install the self-serve add value machines at every single rail station using the program as well. Even more interesting, it looks like the ORCA program was built and operational in much quicker time than Translink.

As you may as well know, the Translink card program here in the San Francisco Bay Area has been a slow and painful process. I think a lot of our transit agencies continue to bicker (or I call bitchin') about this program.

I was a pilot tester starting in 2001 and I've been a loyal cardholder for eight years; but I am so shocked on just how long it takes just to get only TWO transit agencies in full public use (AC and Golden Gate), ONE agency still "testing" but allows any Translink cardholder to use it (Muni/SFMTA), and TWO agencies still under "construction" (BART and Caltrain). This still does not account for the other major agencies like Samtrans, VTA, Vallejo, WestCat, etc.

Translink needs to kick it into gear NOW. We've been surpassed by many other regional transit programs out there, including in Washington D.C., and now we can add Seattle to the list. If you want the public's confidence, you need to do more public campaigning for the program.

Start out by telling the public about the goal dates for the program (not "2010," an EXACT DATE):
  1. When is Muni ready for full public use? This means: ending the trials, getting the Cable Car conductors equipped to handle the cards, installing readers on the remaining historic streetcars including the"boat" car and the "Desire" car (all PCCs are done), and start Translink fare collection for passengers leaving the SF Giants baseball game.
  2. When will BART start their public trial? "Early in the summer" is just an excuse for BART to say, "we'll try... sometime."
  3. When will Caltrain start their public trial?
  4. When will the other agencies start their public trial?


Greg said...

If I recall correctly, most agencies in the Puget Sound area don't do distance based fares (or tack on additional charges) they way BART does, which makes things easier. Although, then again the Ferry system is a bit different, IIRC (it's been several years since I lived there).

Sound Transit isn't exactly a model of efficiency - they've spent billions with little to show for their efforts, and there were significant problems with ST during their land aquisition phase, whereby they dawdled on buying property - only to see the values increase and thus have to pay more.

ST is also a very incomplete agency - it is a poor substitute to a far better plan that was voted down in 1995 by NIMBYs in King County.

one thing to note though - King County merged with the METRO transit authority to create a unique hybrid government agency, with a goal towards making more comprehensive decisions and cutting out bureaucracy. Same goes for most other agencies - they're often a subset of existing county government (but not always - see Community Transit).

Anonymous said...

Not so fast on the ORCA card kudos...I have a ongoing complaint about the ORCA card. When I had not used the card in over 30 days, ORCA deactivated my card and my $25 residing in my "e-purse", which I never used, is gone. Zero balance it says. I contacted ORCA about this and was assured via email on 8/4/09 that the funds would be restored within 10 days. As of today, 8/17/09, I still do not have access to my funds and thus cannot use the card. I am awaiting a response to yet another complaint.

Marina said...

My orca balance disappeared after I reloaded then did not use for a couple months as well. I sent an e-mail to customer service and will call them tomorrow. My 20.00 is lost in space so far as I can tell.