SEATTLE — While Sound Transit continues working on the Eastside light rail extension set to begin opening next year, it also announced a plan for new ticket vending machines and even a mobile payment option.
The new ORCA ticket system, which encompasses the Puget Sound region's seven transit agencies, began rolling out on May 16, which is when existing ORCA cardholders can begin registering their account on the new website.
Riders have probably already noticed some work at light rail stations where the new ticket vending machines are being installed. These won’t come online until the new ticketing system is fully activated later this year.
However, the first improvements include a new ORCA website and app that give riders more access to their accounts and be able to load money on their cards or buy passes.
These new management tools also get rid of the one- to two-day loading delay, giving riders the ability to use the money they’ve loaded onto their cards instantly.
According to Sound Transit, the key improvements on the new website include giving cardholders the ability to manage multiple cards, move balances between cards and buy e-purse value or monthly passes with multiple payment methods.
The app will allow cardholders to order new or replacement ORCA cards, lock or unlock cards, add fare money or passes to their cards or even unlink or deactivate cards.
The effort spans more than 6,000 pieces of equipment and involves transferring over 5 million customer accounts to the new system, which could disrupt account access in the coming weeks, according to Sound Transit.
“We’re beginning to deliver the first features of the new ORCA system and appreciate the patience of riders as we pivot between vendors and launch improvements over the next few years,” said Christina O’Claire, ORCA joint board chair and King County Metro mobility director.
Additionally, the ORCA retail network is expanding in July, making more locations available for riders to buy an ORCA card or load more money onto their card.
These changes ultimately lead to the new ORCA card rollout, which will begin by the end of the year. In 2023 or later, Sound Transit plans to retire the old ORCA cards.
Eventually, Sound Transit plans to give riders the ability to use their phones to tap and pay.
As for the new ticket vending machines, riders can look at the screens to determine whether they are in service. Old ORCA equipment will be removed from stations as the new system continues its rollout.
“When fully launched, the new ORCA system and features will make riding transit easier and more accessible and will help riders save money as they access the ever-expanding transit network in the Puget Sound region,” O’Claire said in a release.
The changes will affect businesses that supply their employees with ORCA cards, too.
Meanwhile, Sound Transit is working to avoid delays to the $3.6 billion East Link light rail expansion project. The line extending from Seattle's Chinatown-International District to Redmond was slated to finish in the summer of 2023, but Sound Transit said in late April a recent concrete workers' strike and quality issues along the Interstate 90 corridor could pushback the completion date.
Correction: A previous version of this story implied that physical ORCA cards would go away under the new system. However, transit riders will still be able to use their current cards.