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ORCA Puts Ferries, Buses and Trains on One Ticket

The system's NFC RFID card can be used for transportation in four Seattle-area counties.
By Claire Swedberg
When a rider uses one of 1,269 NFC-enabled buses, that individual taps his or her card near the vehicle's NFC reader, which not only receives the ID number and data regarding available funds, but also deducts the correct amount from that balance and writes the new balance onto the tag. The reader also stores the ID number and new balance, to be downloaded to the Vix ERG server at the end of the day. The device itself illuminates a green light if the card is accepted, a yellow light if the balance is running low, or a red light if the card lacks sufficient funds.

At train stations, the card can be used at fixed card readers prior to entering a train, while staff members aboard the trains employ handheld interrogators to verify that passengers possess valid passes. At ferries, a user taps his or her card at a turnstile before entering a ferry. The group has installed a total of 126 train station readers, and 146 handheld interrogators are being used on the trains themselves. There are 97 NFC-enabled turnstiles at the ferry terminals.

Vix ERG's server stores data regarding each rider, as well as his or her balance, and sends reports to the agencies at the end of the day. The company's software manages that information, as well as the reading devices in buses, train stations and ferry terminals. Only train station vending machines and ferry terminal turnstiles are hardwired to a back-end system and can rout updates in real time. The bus devices store the data, then download it at the end of the day upon arrival at the Wi-Fi-enabled bus terminal.

The system has enrolled several large companies in the area, including Boeing, to purchase the cards for their employees. Participating firms can view or manage fare data for their staff on the ORCA Web site.

"The real advantage is not just for agencies, but for the passengers," Huston states. "It makes the travel more seamless."

Vix ERG has deployed similar solutions in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Winyard says, as well as in Singapore, Hong Kong, Stockholm and Rome. The company not only provides the software and server, but also offers technical support in the event that a customer calls in to the ORCA help line (staffed by Sound Transit's employees) and requires specialized assistance. In such a case, the call is then forwarded to Vix ERG.

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