Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Good ORCA, Bad ORCA

First, let me say that after months trying to add credit to my ORCA card, much of it the fault of that system, I was finally successful thanks to some help from ORCA telephone support when all other forms of advertised support had failed, where I spoke with an someone who said she gets calls like mine all the time. Many thanks to her not only for applying the credit that their system recognized, but also the earlier credit that had been invisible to them, even though they charged my credit card. See earlier chapters in my overlong saga here:

ORCA
ORCA again
ORCA, Part 3
ORCA, Part 4

The fix finally happened a few months ago, and I've been using my ORCA card largely without trouble since then. I sincerely hope that disappearing credit purchases like mine are an ORCA card issue of the past, and that people don't continue to see them going forward!

However, ORCA card usage is still not entirely smooth sailing. I spent most of July on vacation, taking three separate long trips, two of which had transit components, one of them significant. More on that in a later post. On two of those trips, I took a bus/light rail combo to Sea-Tac Airport on my way out of town. Both times I saw new and unexpected behavior from light rail and from my ORCA card.

In a previous post I wrote that every trip I've taken on light rail I've seen transit cops go through the train and verify that every passenger had paid for their trip. Well, on one early-morning trip to the airport last month, that didn't happen. I paid for our whole family to get on a bus to downtown using my ORCA card, with the bus driver manually indicating to his console that I was using it to pay for multiple people. But there were no transit cops on the light rail trip from downtown to the airport. No big deal, right?

Except that on my next trip on light rail to the airport, I learned something else interesting. I took a bus to downtown with my son, paying for both of us with my ORCA card. And then on the light rail train from downtown to the airport, when a security cop took my card to verify that we'd paid for that trip, he told me that ORCA cards can't accommodate transfers on trips made by additional people. It recognized my personal transfer just fine, but apparently I was supposed to pay for my son's trip on light rail separately, even though it should have been a simple, no-additional-fare transfer for him as well as for me.

Major hole in the ORCA system here, it seems like.

On the return, my wife used my ORCA card to pay for her trip from the airport to downtown on light rail, knowing from me that she needed to buy separate tickets for the kids, which I believe were recognized as transfer slips by the King County Metro bus driver who drove her the rest of the way home from downtown.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

ORCA actually can and does recognize multiple transfers for group pay transactions - but only when transferring to buses. The passenger using the multi-user pay needs to inform the bus driver on the bus they are transferring to that they are using multi-pay so that the Operator can set up the reader, THEN tap your card. ORCA should register the same number of transfers as fares you purchased, providing it's within the 2-hour window. This does not work when transferring from bus to Link, however.

You're right - it's a major hole in the system, and I have recommended on my own blog that the Group Pay feature be discontinued entirely as it's seldom used, has limited utility, and bugs such as you mentioned.