Tariffs imposed on Chinese goods by the Trump administration are affecting the cost of transit in our region. That's because a 25 percent tariff was levied on the Chinese manufacturer of the plastic ORCA cards used on public transit here. But riders won't be paying the extra cost. The board that oversees the ORCA system is pulling money out of its reserve funds to cover the increase.
The ORCA board — made up of representatives from King County Metro, Community Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Everett Transit, Sound Transit and Washington State Ferries Board — voted Monday to take $400,000 out of its contingency fund to cover the extra costs of the ORCA cards for 2019.
Cheryl Huston, ORCA regional program director, says taking money out of reserves keeps the tariffs from hitting transit riders directly.
"It’s something where we’ve tried to minimize the impact to customers on these kinds of things, when you have hiccups with vendors," Huston said. "We certainly don’t want to pass it along to our customers and we have no plans to do so."
She said the 10 percent tariff levied last year on the cards was easily absorbed into the budget, but that wasn't possible with the higher tariffs.
Huston said her staff did look at using another card manufacturer, one not impacted by tariffs on Chinese goods, but it wasn't practical or cost effective. In the past few years, she said, a lot of investment has gone into the current vendor and switching at this point doesn't make sense.
Transit agencies are in the process of updating the ORCA card, under what's called the Next Gen ORCA Project. Among other things, it will include a mobile app that would let you load money into your account immediately. With the current card, if you add money to your account online it can take 24 to 48 hours to show up on your card. There also are plans to allow you to use your ORCA card at public parking kiosks.