Our region is blessed with excellent public transit systems on both sides of Puget Sound and we use them a lot. Each county has its own agency providing local bus services throughout its area. And there’s Sound Transit, which provides express bus, light rail, and commuter rail service between major transit hubs in the Tacoma/Seattle/Everett corridor.
Finally there’s Washington State Ferries, actually part of the Washington State highway system, providing connections across Puget Sound. Example: Highway 104, which begins at Lake Forest Park, the northerrn tip of Lake Washington, and ends at US101 on the Olympic Peninsular, crosses Puget Sound as the Kingston-Edmonds Ferry.
Each transit agency operates as a separate entity but two things tie them all together: the region-wide electronic trip planner; and ORCA, the “One Regional Card for All” electronic smart card fare collection system that works in basically the same way as London’s Oyster Card. We used Oyster extensively during our Spring Break trip to England in 2009, loving its convenience and simplicity, so adopting ORCA was an easy decision for us.
An important feature of ORCA is its ability to automatically recognize transfers within a single journey. With only minor limitations, when journeys involve transfers within an agency, between agencies, or from one mode transportation to another, ORCA keeps track of each leg and charges only one fare for the entire journey based on the zones you travel in.
As the self-confessed urban hiking transit tourist I don’t need my arm twisted to jump on a bus, train, or boat. So, to really put ORCA through its paces, I decided to take a trip “Around the Sound”. I used five different agencies: Sound Transit; Community Transit; Washington State Ferries; Kitsap Transit; and King County Metro. My route took me through three different counties: King; Snohomish; Kitsap; and covered more than 70 miles.
My “Around the Sound” route:
- Bellevue Transit Center to Lynnwood Transit Center on Sound Transit Express 535
- Lynnwood Transit Center to Edmonds Ferry Terminal on Community Transit 115
- Across the Sound on Edmonds to Kingston ferry
- Kingston Ferry Terminal to Poulsbo on Kitsap Transit 92
- Poulsbo to Bainbridge Ferry Terminal on Kitsap Transit 90
- Across the Sound on Bainbridge to Seattle ferry
- Seattle to Bellevue on Metro Transit 255/271
So how did ORCA handle this complex itinerary? Extremely well in fact. At each leg of the trip every time I tapped my card on the reader I was able to see if a fare was charged or a transfer allowed. My first journey, from Bellevue to Edmunds, was recognized as one trip – no problem transferring between Sound Transit and Community Transit. My outbound ferry trip was charged correctly – with no charge made for the inbound trip even though I did not return to my originating terminal. My two Kitsap Transit rides were counted as one trip even though I spent time exploring Poulsbo for awhile. I got on the Poulsbo to Bainbridge bus still within the 2-hour transfer window from my earlier Kingston to Poulsbo bus. My total cost for the day – just $13.