Cash payment on Metro buses has been steadily declining for years. This is good news since it improves system efficiency, given amount of time required to accept cash on buses. (Anybody who has stood in line behind a group of passengers paying cash knows exactly what I mean) A relatively pain free way to encourage more ORCA adoption would be to shorten the cut for paper transfers by 30 minutes. Current Metro policy is to cut transfers between one hour and 30 minutes and one hour and 59 minutes after a trip’s arrival time at Pike, Pine, or Union streets for Inbound trips or the terminal for other trips. In addition to this generous amount of time, Metro also directs drivers examining transfers to allow for headway time between coaches which could add, in theory, up to two hours to a paper transfer. These generous terms make paper transfers more valuable to passengers in most cases, not to mention the possibility of hoarding them.
To figure out when a transfer should be cut, I look at a trip’s arrival time at Pike/Pine/Union/Terminal, add two hours, and then round down to the closest 30 minute cut. So a 4:57 arrival time at 3rd & Pike would have a transfer expiration cut of 6:30. If the passenger is transferring to a route with 30 minute headways, the expiration time would actually be 7:00.
Long term transfers should be discontinued and a cash surcharge imposed to keep cash payment as an option but drive it to the lowest level possible. London’s bus fare structure is a perfect example. In my most recent trips to London I traveled by bus extensively and honestly don’t recall seeing a single person pay cash.
While driving my bus, I often encounter passengers who are not ready to pay their fare, sometimes resulting in significant delays. We’ve all seen them: The person who puts down their bag and then fishes around in their pockets for change or the person who pulls out their wallet and thumbs through virtually every credit card and punch card they own looking for their ORCA card. I’ve heard from many passengers that they consider this behavior rude so I’ve developed a routine to try remind passengers to have their fare ready. In as upbeat, positive, and non-scolding tone of voice as I can muster I quietly say, “It really helps keep the bus moving if you can have your fare ready when you see me coming.” People don’t like to be scolded (Seriously, have you ever enjoyed it?) but I’ve found that most folks seem to get it and realize I’m just trying to keep the bus moving for everybody.
Yesterday’s trip north on the D Line was a perfect example. After a passenger boarded at Dravus Street and proceeded to execute the “fish through the pockets” routine, I gave my gentle reminder – The passenger finished paying, moved to the rear of the coach, and I started driving. One more quick stop right before the bridge for a few passengers to jump off and then, as luck would have it, the traffic lights switched to yellow and then red – and then the bridge went up. It would have been a perfect video for Metro to use as a reminder to have your fare ready. This example is extreme – usually the worst delay is missing a traffic light cycle – but payment delays are still very common and add up, costing passengers time and Metro a LOT of money to be sure. I’m sure most of the people reading this are among Metro’s fastest paying customers, but if you aren’t yet, can you do your fellow passengers a favor? Please have your fare ready before you board. Thanks!
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 …
[ Update 7/22/11: Well, it looks like I’m late to the party, again. The US Mint has stopped taking credit cards. Too bad a bunch of bad apples had to ruin this cool program for the rest of us. Either way, you can still order $1 coins from the US Mint and not be charged for shipping. The only extra cost will be for the stamp to mail your order form. I’d encourage anybody who still feels the need to pay with cash to do so as coins are *MUCH* faster to process. That said an ORCA card is still the way to go. ]
Do you pay your transit fare with cash? If so, would you like a discount, albeit a small one, for doing so?
The US Mint $1 Coin Direct Ship program allows you to purchase $1 coins on your credit card with free shipping. In addition, there is supposedly no cash withdraw fee as you would expect. Assuming you have a cash back or a frequent flyer miles reward card, you can purchase $1 coins to spend however you choose and pocket whatever benefits your credit card gives you. Seem crazy? Since the Mint makes a “profit” of about $.70 per coin, it actually isn’t as crazy as it sounds especially since they are currently being forced to mint coins that nobody wants and pay to keep them safe in a vault.
If you’ve followed my comments on Seattle Transit Blog you know that I *hate* cash. Watching people feed $1 bills into my fare box takes up too much of my day and makes our transit system far less efficient than it could be. I’ve even been known to use scare tactics in this “war”. But for folks who are organized enough to order and use $1 coins, I’ll make an exception. Putting 4 coins (2 x $1 and 2 x .25) into the fare box is remarkably quick. Done properly, paying with coins is almost as fast as using an ORCA card. If you use the Orca card for convenience and the ability to transfer between Sound Transit and other agencies, all is not lost. The Sound Transit Ticket Vending Machines, where you can load your e-Purse, take $1 coins. Assuming the machines use the $1 coins for change, you may even be saving Sound Transit the effort of refilling the machines with $1 coins.
So how about it? Want to buy some $1 coins, earn frequent flyer miles, save the US Taxpayer some money, and make your bus driver happy? Head on over to the US Mint’s web site and buy some. I’ve ordered 250 and will be using them instead of going to the ATM. I’ll let you know how it goes and how many cashiers I annoy by paying entirely with coins.