Metro plots new course for 2010

December 22, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

For Metro Transit riders, the new year will mean out with the old — certain paper transfers — and in with the new — ORCA smart cards and higher fares.The changes can be attributed to equal parts new technology and tough economic climate. The adjustments will affect everything from transit fares and passes to how riders transfer between buses and trains across the region.

Officials raised some transit fares by 25 cents to counter a wide budget gap. The fare hikes will go into effect Jan. 1 in adult and senior fares, while youth fares will remain unchanged. The increase will also apply to Metro fare passes and ticket books.

Transit officials also encourage riders to switch from the PugetPass to the ORCA, the electronic One Regional Card for All fare card used to pay on transit systems in King, Kitsap, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

Metro and Sound Transit are among the seven agencies in the ORCA partnership. Combined, the buses, trains and ferries across the system carry about a half-million riders every weekday.

ORCA is a plastic smart card outfitted with a microprocessor. Riders tap the card on a card reader aboard buses, or at train and light rail stations and ferry terminals, to pay the fare.

As part of the ORCA switch, transit agencies will stop selling the paper PugetPass or card after Dec. 14. Starting Dec. 15, the monthly PugetPass will instead be issued on the simplified ORCA card. Valid forms of the other passes will be accepted until the passes expire.

Unexpired, employer-provided passes will also be accepted by Metro and other agencies. Customers using employer-provided passes of any type will be switched to ORCA throughout 2010.

The systemwide switch to ORCA will mean the end for paper transfers. On Jan. 1, paper transfers used between Metro and other transit systems will be nixed. Transfers will instead be made electronically on the ORCA card. However, paper transfers will remain valid for riders traveling between Metro buses.

Metro riders will notice other changes as King County and transit officials implement steps to save money amid a severe budget crisis. Besides the fare increase, Metro will cut staff and delay capital projects.

The transit agency plans to revamp scheduling for buses and operators. Part of the effort will entail cutting the amount of time buses lay over at the end of each trip. Officials will also use scheduling software to determine cases in which a single bus can better handle routes.

Officials will adjust the cleaning schedules for buses, and the maintenance schedules for bus shelters and transit centers. The agency will also tap into $40 million from the fund meant to replace aging buses, in order to shield the system from the budget axe.

And, in a noticeable effort meant to raise money, the County Council last month authorized Metro to sell bus-wrap advertising throughout the system.

On the Web

Find fares, learn about the One Regional Card for All system and buy a card at www.orcacard.com. The cards are available for free through Jan. 31. Beginning Feb. 1, the cards will cost $5.

Reduced schedule

Before big changes launch in 2010, Metro Transit riders must navigate a reduced weekday schedule on several holidays through the end of 2009.

The reductions are planned for holiday stretches, when Metro historically sees 20 percent to 40 percent fewer weekday riders. Metro will operate on a Sunday schedule on several upcoming legal holidays. The transit agency will also operate on a full week of reduced service at the end of December.

The reduced weekday schedule will be in effect:

Dec. 24, Christmas Eve

Dec. 28-31, the winter holiday period and New Year’s Eve

Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Metro will operate on a Sunday schedule on the following holidays:

Dec. 25, Christmas

Jan. 1, New Year’s Day

On weekdays with reduced schedules, some commuter and school-oriented routes do not operate, and other routes will have trips canceled. Many routes will have no changes. Regular fares apply in most cases. See a complete overview of all Metro holiday service at http://metro.kingcounty.gov.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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