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The Seattle Monorail takes a big step toward transit integration

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Now nearly 60 years old, the Monorail will finally accept ORCA cards—and even some transfers

A train with a rounded front and large front windows is stopped at an open-air train platform with white railings, white gates, and a rounded canopy above the track.
A monorail train at the Seattle Center platform.
Shutterstock

Monday, the Seattle City Council approved an agreement between Seattle Monorail and Seattle Center that, among other things, that loops the monorail into the regional ORCA pass system—a long-overdue step toward embracing the 57-year-old route as part of Seattle’s transit landscape. The train will start accepting the passes on October 7.

Originally built in 1962 as part of the Century 21 Exposition, along with other landmarks like the Space Needle and the Pacific Science Center, the Monorail runs just one mile between Westlake Center in downtown Seattle and the Seattle Center. While it’s been owned by the city since 1994, it’s operated by Seattle Monorail Services, a private company. In addition to ushering in the ORCA card, the agreement approved by the council allows the Seattle Center to negotiate details with the operator on the city’s behalf.

ORCA—that’s One Regional Card for All—first debuted in 2009 and 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 the Monorail has been relatively siloed from the city’s transit landscape up until now, and despite a fraught proposal to dramatically expand the monorail system in the 2000s, it has historically been pretty inconvenient for anyone who needed to take the train on a regular basis. Until recently, it didn’t even take credit cards. The train’s been chugging along toward the future though, and even accepts tickets through the Transit Go app, which is also used by King County Metro.

The proposal to bring the Monorail into the ORCA fold was originally floated by then-mayor Ed Murray in 2017. The city conducted a study on how that integration could affect ridership,. A city study 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 1,500 to around 15,000. Ridership skyrocketed during major Seattle Center events, like Folklife and New Years Eve.

Ridership could increase 7 to 16 percent with ORCA integration, the study found. At the time, the city hadn’t yet finalized a deal to gut the Seattle Center stadium formerly known as Key Arena—and with an NHL franchise coming to the city with the arena as its home rink, the number of major events in the area will likely increase.

The study also found that with a $2.75 adult fare, the revenue would pay for ORCA implementation and then some. That was a couple of years ago, though—when the system starts taking the passes next month, one-way fare will be $3 for adults, 25 cents more than King County Metro fare.

Riders can either pay with an e-purse value—that’s a certain dollar amount loaded onto the card—or with a monthly pass for $3 fare or more. If a rider has a $2.75 monthly pass, they’d just owe an extra quarter upon entry that could either be paid in cash or from an e-purse, confirms Seattle Center spokesperson Denise Wells.

Transfers on an ORCA card (but not paper transfers) will be accepted for monorail boardings, says Wells.

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