Not Carding

A Fare-Free Weekend Ushers in a New ORCA Card System

Riding public transit in Seattle is more enticing on Saturday and Sunday.

By Benjamin Cassidy May 13, 2022

Fare enforcement has been lax lately, but this weekend, it's unambiguously legal to ride for free.

As a new ORCA card system is set to debut Monday, travelers on light rail, buses, Monorail, and streetcars won't need to tap their plastic passes to board between 3am Saturday and 2:59am Monday. Those walking onto Washington State Ferries won't either, but they will have to flash their cards. Drive-ons must fork over the fare per usual, albeit with alternate forms of payment.

That's because the ORCA card system, with 6,000-plus pieces of aging equipment, is prepping for a major reboot. Starting Monday, a new website and smartphone app will allow riders to instantly load more money and make other changes to their accounts. Previously, card readers couldn't handle these remote forms of real-time transactions.

We're a little ways off from the ease of boarding via app; smartphone "tap-to-pay" (we can't QR code this?) won't roll out for months. In the meantime, there's no need to trade in the old blue card for the spiffy new black model. It'll still work for all fare programs. (Eventually, retail stores will only distribute the new card, which is now $3 for adults instead of $5.)

Riders should, however, create a new account on once it debuts in full form next week. Businesses with ORCA programs should also visit the new site, as it will replace

The changes stemmed from a survey of 2,600 ORCA customers. The respondents wanted easier ways to pay for public transit, including an app.

Officials say this is just the beginning of an overhaul to the system as light rail expands to the suburbs. They also warn that riders may experience "disruptions" when they try to pay the fare amid the upgrades.

But at least we don't have to worry about that this weekend.

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