ORCA Survey: Fare Card Satisfaction "Higher Than Anticipated"

By Erica C. Barnett January 11, 2012

The board that oversees the ORCA fare card (that's the Joint Board for the Central Puget Sound Regional Fare Coordination "ORCA" System to you and me) got the results of a survey of ORCA card users earlier this week.

The upshot, according to a summary of the survey? "The overall customer satisfaction rate was higher than anticipated," which just goes to show what happens when you start with low expectations.

ORCA has been plagued with controversy since it first launched nearly three years ago. The system doesn't allow day passes; online users must wait at least 24 hours (and as long as 48) for money they've loaded online to show up on the card; e-Purse users who take single trips that are longer than two hours have to pay full fare twice, even if the trip is only a minute or two over two hours; each card costs $5 before a rider has even loaded money onto it; the web site is a mess; and there's little information at stops or on buses about how to use the card and where to "tap" it on the reader. (As ORCA regional program administrator Cheryl Huston put it this week, "We've done a lot of tap and pause messaging to improve that.")

Given all that, you might expect that ORCA wouldn't be all that popular. To a certain extent, you'd be right: Just 48 percent of users said they were "very satisfied" with the system, with 35 percent falling in the faint-praise category "somewhat satisfied" and the remainder unsatisfied. Overall, those numbers are an improvement over 2009, when 49 percent said they were very satisfied but just 29 percent said they were somewhat satisfied.

Sixty-seven percent of users said they were very satisfied with their ability to pay fare with an ORCA card---the only specific category where a majority said they were "very satisfied." Forty-five percent said they were very satisfied with driver courtesy; 34 percent were very satisfied with their ability to buy an ORCA card online; 33 percent were very satisfied with their ability to find information about ORCA online; and just 23 percent were very satisfied with drivers' knowledge about how to use ORCA.

The biggest problems users reported were the lack of places to buy an ORCA card; difficulty finding information online; and difficulty adding products to the card.

I've requested the entire survey and methodology from Sound Transit.
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