I’m back to driving the Sound Transit 550 and while I enjoy the freeway driving and wide stop spacing, I am missing RapidRide’s off-bus payment. There were lots of passengers paying cash on RapidRide but at least other passengers frequently had the option of paying off the bus and getting to their seat while I pulled out my keys to unjam my fare box or watched a stream of $1 bills go into the bill slot.
I realize that my distaste for the $1 bill can border on the obsessive. I still go out of my way to obtain and spend dollar coins and let everybody that will listen know that they are the 2nd best way to pay for the bus. (An ORCA card is the best) While waiting for bills to work their way into the fare box, I’ve taken to daydreaming about London’s bus fare structure to keep myself sane. To pay cash on a London bus, you’ll have to fork over £2.30 (approximately $3.50) vs. only £1.35 (~$2) if you pay with an Oyster card. To further encourage Oyster use, there is a daily cap of £4.20 (~$6.50) in lieu of an all-day pass. How’s that for a war on cash?
With the Ride Free area going away in September, it’s frankly mystery why Metro and Sound Transit have not switched to a similar fare structure to encourage ORCA adoption. After all, do we really want that passenger who dumps a mixture of small denomination coins and lint from a tattered envelope into my fare box, promptly jamming it, holding up the 5 buses behind me? That scenario hasn’t played out yet, but it will…
One of the most frustrating issues I see, both as a driver of Sound Transit routes and as a passenger, are the delays created by accepting cash payment on the bus. Even the most thoughtful and organized passengers can cause delays by inserting multiple $1 bills or small coins, into the fare box. To see exactly what I am describing, watch a 550 unload at any of the busier stops in Bellevue. The delays can be especially noticeable on a busy weekend when there are more passengers paying with cash.
I urge Sound Transit to study and implement ways to further reduce cash payment including:
. Have the next fare increase be for cash payment only. ORCA users will use current fare structure
. Offer a $.25 discount for ORCA payment
. Provide more outreach to non-English speaking customers about ORCA, how to get one, and how to use it
. Adopt Metro’s RapidRide off-bus payment system, either for the entire route or for selected high-volume areas.
. Provide change machines that dispense quarters and $1 coins at high volume locations. These would allow passengers who need change to get it easily and dollar coins coupled with quarters are almost as fast to use for payment as ORCA passes are.
. Partner with Coinstar to load change onto and/or distribute ORCA cards.
With the discontinuation of the Ride Free Area coming, it is even more urgent for Sound Transit to look at ways to reduce or speed cash payment. Please consider these ideas to keep buses moving and leverage the limited transit funding that we have.
As part of my job as a bus driver, I often watch passengers work feverishly to unjam my fare box after they have attempted to stuff a month’s worth of pennies into it. Since I tend to choose busy routes, there is inevitably a long line of impatient passengers behind them watching too. Anybody who pays attention to my Twitter feed knows I prefer passengers use an ORCA card and that I can get kind of snarky about it. While not perfect, paying with an ORCA card is much faster and gives the user a 2 hour transfer on service provided Sound Transit, Metro, Pierce Transit, and Community Transit. ORCA really is the way to pay for public transportation in the greater Seattle area.
But what about all those pennies, nickels, and dimes you have kicking around? You may already know about Coinstar machines, located at many local grocery stores, that can automatically count all of your change, for a 9.8% fee. But you may not know that Coinstar allows you to convert those same coins into eCertificates and gift cards for Amazon.com, Apple’s iTunes, Starbucks Coffee, Albertson’s, and many other retailers without a counting fee. That’s right, at a Coinstar machine you can convert the mountain of coins that you’ve been holding onto for years into music, books, groceries, or jet fuel (aka Coffee). Just take at least $5 in coins to any Coinstar machine and follow the instructions to get an eCertificate or gift card that can be redeemed at your favorite retailer or web site.
So how about it? Why not give Coinstar a try?
Now, if we could just get the good people at orcacard.com to accept eCertificates, then you could convert ALL of your change into bus fare without jamming my fare box and with the added advantages that ORCA brings… Think of all the road calls to repair broken fare boxes Metro could save …