ORCA Card.jpg
Location Puget Sound region
Launched April 20, 2009[1]
Technology MIFARE DESFire[2] Contactless smart card
Operator ERG Transit Systems (USA) Inc
Manager Central Puget Sound Regional Fare Coordination Project (ORCA)
Currency US Dollar ($300 maximum load)
Stored-value E-purse
Credit expiry None
Auto recharge Autoload
Validity King County Metro, Pierce Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, Sound Transit Express, Kitsap Transit buses
  Link Light Rail
  Sounder commuter rail
  Kitsap Transit and King County Ferry District ferries
  Washington State Ferries
Retailed Online
  Sounder and Link Stations
  ORCA Customer Service locations
  Telephone 1-888-988-ORCA
Variants Reduced Regional Fare Permit (RRFP) ORCA
Website http://www.orcacard.com/

The ORCA ("One Regional Card for All") Card is a contactless, stored value smart card used for payment of public transport fares in the Puget Sound region. ORCA was introduced on a limited basis on April 20, 2009, to be followed by an extensive public launch in late 2009.



Central Puget Sound transit agencies have collaborated in a region-wide fare system since 1991 with the introduction of U-PASS and later FlexPass. In 1996, voters approved Sound Move, which called for an integrated regional fare policy for a "one-ticket ride."[3] That goal led to the creation of the PugetPass in 1999, which allowed transit riders to use a single pass for five transit agencies.[4] On April 29, 2003 an agreement to implement a smart card system between the seven agencies in the Central Puget Sound Regional Fare Coordination Project (Sound Transit, King County Metro, Community Transit, Everett Transit, Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit and Washington State Ferries) was signed along with a $43 million contract[1] awarded to ERG Transit Systems as the vendor of the project. The ORCA card was originally anticipated to be operational in 2006.[5]

Introduction phase

On Friday, April 17, 2009, ORCA announced the limited rollout of the regional smart card beginning April 20, 2009. The limited rollout allowed remaining technical issues in the system to be resolved. An extensive rollout and public outreach campaign followed in June 2009. Blank cards were available at no charge during the introductory period, but as of March 1, 2010, the card costs $5 ($3 for reduced fare permit holders). Users of PugetPasses, FlexPasses, and other passes will be gradually transitioned to ORCA. [1]

Launch timeline

The ORCA launch press kit gave a launch timeline as follows[6]:

  • April 17, 2009 - Press release announcing launch of ORCA
  • April 20, 2009 - Orcacard.com and 1-888-988-ORCA call center launches. Customer Service Offices begin ORCA card distribution
  • May 2009 - Sounder Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) begin ORCA card distribution. "ORCA is Here" inserts and posters appear in Customer Service Offices and on board buses, trains, and ferries. Begin switch of Reduced Fare customers and Business Accounts to ORCA (continues into 2010)
  • June 2009 - "ORCA is Here!" radio and print ads and bus billboards appear. Public outreach campaign with blank card distribution.
  • July 2009 - Link light rail service begins and Link TVMs begin ORCA card distribution.
  • Jan 1, 2010 - Elimination of intersystem paper transfers[7]
  • Fall 2010 - The planned replacement of University of Washington student and employee ID cards with ORCA-integrated photo ID cards was delayed until sometime in 2011. The U-PASS and the King County employee passes will be dual purpose passes and will include the ORCA chip.[8]

Public beta test

Between November 9 and December 22, 2006 as many as 6,000 transit riders were asked to participate in a live test of the smart card system. The test was conducted on selected routes of the seven participating agencies.[4] The University of Washington conducted a separate test for integrating ORCA with the Husky Card and U-PASS during the same period[9].


The card uses RFID, specifically ISO/IEC 14443[citation needed].


The ORCA project is jointly managed by staff of Sound Transit and King County Metro[10]. The system is centrally managed by ERG[10].


The ORCA Card is currently accepted on:


  • Intercity Transit of Thurston County, Washington will accept ORCA cards only on Olympia Express buses from Tacoma beginning January 2010. [13]
  • A Community Transit official said that the Whatcom Transportation Authority, along with Intercity Transit, will probably be the next system to join ORCA. He also said that in the future, other transit agencies from all over Washington, Oregon, and even Idaho could join the system. [14][15]
  • ORCA readers have not yet been installed on the South Lake Union Streetcar. Seattle transportation officials are investigating ways to bring ORCA to the streetcar, but do not yet have a timeline for implementation.[16] In the meantime, ORCA cardholders can show their cards to ticket inspectors as proof of payment on the Streetcar. [17]



Orca Card Fare Vending Machine

An ORCA card can be used as a stored-value card through a function called the electronic purse (E-purse). The E-purse holds value that can be used like cash to pay fare. The minimum value that can be added to an E-purse is $5. The maximum value that can be stored in an E-purse is $300.[18]


Funds can be added to an ORCA card by the card user's business under the ORCA Business Choice program which allows businesses to add funds to employee ORCA cards on a monthly basis. Employees can apply the E-voucher funds to the purchase of a monthly pass or the funds can be converted to an E-purse. Any unused E-voucher amount at the end of the month is removed from the employee ORCA cards and refunded to the business.[19]

Regional pass

The regional pass, similar to a PugetPass, allows unlimited travel on transit services in the region, except Washington State Ferries, for a specified period of time. Regional passes are valid for payment of fares up to the value of the pass.[18] Pass values available range from 50¢ to $4.75.[20]

Agency pass

An agency pass covers rides on a specific transit agency's service[18]. Examples include Washington State Ferries' monthly passes, Metro ACCESS paratransit passes, and Metro vanpool passes[20].



ORCA cards allow a two-hour transfer from the time fare is paid. If an E-purse or regional pass was used to pay fare, transfers are allowed on any bus or rail system in the region. If an agency pass was used, transfers are allowed only on services within that agency. Transfers are stored on the card and automatically calculated for the user. Transfers are not given or accepted on Washington State Ferries.[21]

Fare preset

ORCA card users paying with an E-purse can set their zone preference for King County Metro and Sound Transit services where zone-based fares are used. For example, a person who regularly travels one zone on a two-zone bus can preset their zone to avoid having to tell the driver to change the zone preset on the reader.[22]

Card registration

Several features of the ORCA card are only available when it is registered.

Balance protection

Balance protection protects the user from losing any value on the card when it is lost or stolen. A replacement card is issued with its value restored for the cost of a new card if the card is registered.[23]


An Autoload automatically adds transportation products to an ORCA card on a regular basis using a Visa or MasterCard. Examples of autoloads are adding value to an E-purse when its balance falls below a certain amount and recurring purchases of monthly passes.[24]

My ORCA account

A My ORCA account can be created on the ORCA website to monitor and manage ORCA cards. The account lets the user view transportation products stored on their card (E-purse balance, validity period of passes), transaction history, purchase additional ORCA cards for others, setup an Autoload, set fare presets, and report lost, stolen, or damaged cards.[23]

Privacy concerns

The ORCA card, especially subidized ones may be used to track users.[25] Information regarding the trips of a card's user's trips may be released to third parties including employers who subsidize the cards. Many other parties may also obtain detailed trip information.[26]


  1. ^ a b c King County News Center, ORCA smart card limited rollout gets underway
  2. ^ Intro to ORCA/Husky Card Presentation. UW SocTech, Spring 2007
  3. ^ Sound Transit. "Sound Move—The 10-Year Regional Transit System Plan". 1996.
  4. ^ a b "Transit Agencies Gear Up to Test “Smart Card”" (pdf). Central Puget Sound Regional Fare Coordination Project. 2006-08-28. Archived from the original on 2007-01-09. http://web.archive.org/web/20070109151050/http://www.orcatest.com/press_release.pdf. Retrieved 2009-02-14.  (via Archive.org)
  5. ^ "Smart Card - Signing of the Interlocal Cooperation Agreement and Vendor Contract". Central Puget Sound Regional Fare Coordination Project. 2003-04-29. http://metro.kingcounty.gov/prog/smartcard/sc_signing042903.html. Retrieved 2009-02-14. 
  6. ^ Seattle Transit Blog - ORCA Rollout Begins Monday
  7. ^ Trip Planner Tips - Fare and transfer information
  8. ^ University Transportation Committee Meeting Minutes, October 14, 2008 page 2
  9. ^ UW Commuter Services: ORCA Smart Cards
  10. ^ a b "King County Job Listings: Functional Analyst III (ORCA Operations)". King County, Washington/King County. 2011-02-11. Archived from the original on 2011-02-11. http://www.webcitation.org/5wPRh9u7z. Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  11. ^ King County Water Taxi fares; See page 4
  12. ^ Where to use the ORCA Card
  13. ^ What is happening to the PugetPass? (Intercity Transit) 2009-12-03
  14. ^ Transit agencies unveil all-purpose pass
  15. ^ Riding Seattle's rails, ferries, buses, ORCA style (Contactless News) 2009-10-06
  16. ^ "Streetcar Ridership Continues to Grow". Seattle Department of Transportation. 2011/01/10. http://sdotblog.seattle.gov/2011/01/10/streetcar-ridership-continues-to-grow/. Retrieved 2011/03/14. 
  17. ^ The Streetcar, light rail, and ORCA
  18. ^ a b c ORCA: Fare Products/Card Types
  19. ^ ORCA Business - Products Available for Sale
  20. ^ a b ORCA Products List
  21. ^ ORCA: Transfer Questions
  22. ^ ORCA FAQ: Fare Questions
  23. ^ a b ORCA FAQ: Password and Account Questions
  24. ^ ORCA FAQ: Revalue Questions
  25. ^ Lindblom, Mike (17-DEC-2009). "Is Big Brother watching your ORCA card?". The Seattle Times. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2010537022_orcacard18m.html. 
  26. ^ "RCW 42.56.330 Public utilities and transportation.". Washington State Legislature. 2007. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=42.56.330. 

External links

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