November 30, 2023

ORCA Team Spotlight: ORCA System Operations


We’re kicking off our ORCA Team Spotlight series with a discussion with Tim Bowen, the Deputy Director of ORCA System Operations. In the below conversation, Tim covers all things ORCA System Operations, offering insights into how much work goes into maintaining the ORCA system.

What is your team responsible for?

Whenever a transit customer uses the ORCA app or vending machine to make a purchase or even taps their ORCA card to pay for a trip, our team ensures that it works as expected. A significant amount of technology and effort by our team is required to ensure that riders have that experience every time. Our small team consists of two System Administrators, one Systems Engineer, and one Business Operations Systems Analyst who maintains the current system. It plays a significant role in delivering system enhancements. The ORCA System Operations team provides a single point of contact for all seven transit Agencies participating in the regional ORCA payment system. Equally important is ensuring those Agencies have all the tools needed to service ORCA customers at customer service and call centers. While our team resolves many issues independently, we also work hand-in-hand with suppliers to deliver solutions.

What does a “normal” day look like for your team?

Fortunately, no two days are the same, as our work is heavily driven by the health of the ORCA system. However, on an ‘ideal’ day, when there is no emerging issue, we monitor system health, address incoming support requests from the seven transit Agencies, or work on long-term ORCA improvement projects. The System Operations team has an in-depth understanding of the highly technical ORCA system components required to troubleshoot many complex issues.  We also have numerous technical initiatives in progress that improve and optimize ORCA for customers and Agencies by adding security, automation, and other solutions. We often respond to and monitor significant system issues, even on the weekends, even though we aren’t staffed or chartered.

What would you like customers (riders) to know about ORCA?

First and foremost, I want ORCA riders to have a seamless experience when utilizing their ORCA card. I would like to give customers a hint of the fantastic things that happen simultaneously to make that happen. Within one-half-second of tapping a card on one of the thousands of ORCA devices, the ORCA system determines the balance on the card and the service they are requesting. It automatically processes the approval and payment, permitting them to ride with the green check mark. It’s impressive that all that happens reliably 99.99% of the time for thousands of customers every minute spread all across the Puget Sound area. Even more incredible is that the system instantaneously splits that ride’s cost amongst
the seven different transit agencies.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I love the dedication of the Regional ORCA Operations Team (ROOT) and the staff at the seven transit agencies to strive daily to deliver an effective, equitable, and best-in-class fare payment system. Our shared passion to provide quality service daily makes this all possible. Knowing that you are making a difference by serving your community is a great reason to get up and go to work enthusiastically every day!
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