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Could ORCA cards finally be coming to the Monorail?

A proposal from the mayor’s office lays out a plan

A monorail train shot from the front Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr

The city—and transit riders—have been talking about integrating regional ORCA transit passes with the Seattle Monorail for a long time now, but it’s never fully come together. Now, a new plan from Seattle mayor Ed Murray’s office would put the card to use on the 55-year-old, one-mile route.

The transit card, which first debuted in 2009, works on most regional public transit options in Seattle, including King County Metro, Sound Transit, the Water Taxi, Seattle Streetcar, and Washington State Ferries, plus multiple other Puget Sound Transit agencies. But not the monorail—it doesn’t even take credit cards currently, although it’s in the works.

Under Mayor Murray’s proposal, ORCA would be added as a payment option, and fares would be adjusted to align more closely with other agencies that take the cards.

Adult fare on the monorail is currently $2.25, with a planned 25 cent fare increase October. A city study of monorail ridership projects that after that increase, plus another 25-cent charge to cover the additional operating costs (bringing total fare to $2.75 for an adult), the revenue would pay for ORCA implementation and then some.

The study also found that 2 million people per year ride the monorail—although day-to-day, ridership does greatly vary. In 2016, daily monorail ridership wavered from around 1500 to around 15,000, depending on whether it was Folklife or just, say, a normal Tuesday.

Ridership could increase 7 to 16 percent with ORCA integration, the study said.

The City Council started discussing studying ORCA integration on the monorail way back in 2014. It’s also been floated as a potential public benefit of the upcoming KeyArena redevelopment.

During the 2014 discussions, Seattle Center director Robert Nellams was cautious, even hesitant, about integrating ORCA cards onto the system: “We want an opportunity to study that and assess what the impacts are,” he told the Seattle Times at the time.

Now that it’s been a few years, Nellams even has an enthusiastic quote in the mayor’s press release: “Integration into the ORCA system will ease the path to our campus for millions of visitors, encouraging greater use of the extraordinary amenities offered throughout the grounds,” he said in the statement.

The monorail first began operating in Seattle as part of the Century 21 Exhibition in 1963. While the city has owned the monorail since 1994, it’s operated by Seattle Monorail Services, a private company.