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What to do if your U-PASS doesn’t work

Attention: This blog post is 5 years old. For current information about U-PASS, go to the Transportation web site.

Every class day at the University of Washington, a huge horde of Huskies uses transit to get to work or class. On a typical day, nearly 25,000 student or employee U-PASS members take transit to campus, using six different regional transit systems.

For nearly all of those thousands of trips, paying a transit fare with U-PASS is as easy and seamless as a quick tap of your Husky Card. But every once in a while, in such a big and complicated system that takes people so many different places, some wires get crossed and things don’t go as expected. That’s why it’s good to know ahead of time what you should do in the rare event that your U-PASS doesn’t work.

If an ORCA reader doesn’t recognize your U-PASS when you tap your Husky Card, you’ll see a red light and hear five beeps – instead of the green light and single beep you’ll get on a valid tap. Here’s what to do if that happens:

First, take a deep breath. It’s OK! The red light and beeping can make things feel a bit stressful, especially if there are some folks behind you in line to board. But technical issues happen from time to time, and there’s no reason to fret.

Next, try again. Tap your card again on the reader. If your card is inside a purse, wallet, smartphone case or other holder, take it out and tap it on its own. There’s a good chance the tap will work this time, and you’ll be greeted by a green light.

But if you get a red light again: Look at the error message on the reader screen. It might say “Error – Tag Card Again,” or it might say “Insufficient Funds.” Note which message you see, because it will help you make sure this doesn’t happen again later.

But before you do anything else: Explain your situation to the driver. Tell him or her that you are a registered UW student (or faculty or staff member), that your U-PASS should be working, and that you will contact UW Transportation Services about the problem.

Before you get off the bus, be sure to write down some information. Sometimes, there is a problem involving a particular bus. To help us identify the problem, please record some information. Most importantly, be sure to record the coach number. The coach number is a unique three- to five-digit number used to identify the bus. (It might be four digits followed by a letter.) You can see the coach number above the front windshield from inside the bus, or in a number of places from the outside of the bus: underneath the windshield, on the back of the bus, or on either side of the bus. The coach number is easy to find if you look for it; try to spot it the next time you get on the bus.

Be sure to record this information about the bus, as well:

  • The date and time
  • The route number
  • Where you were boarding
  • Direction of travel or destination (e.g., “Route 48 southbound” or “Route 48 toward Mt. Baker”)

Contact Transportation Services to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again.

Think back now to what the error message on the ORCA reader said. If it said “Error – Tag Card Again,” this probably means the reader can sense the RFID antenna embedded in your Husky Card, but the signal was too weak, or it was muddled by another RFID signal nearby (perhaps another card in your wallet). This issue is usually resolved by tapping the card again on its own.

If that didn’t work, check the card for damage. If it’s cracked, chipped, peeling or warped, you’ll need to visit the Husky Card office to ask for a replacement. (A fee is charged for most replacement cards.) If you can’t see any damage, bring it to Transportation Services and we’ll work to troubleshoot the problem.

The other error message you might have seen is “Insufficient Funds.” This means the reader can read your card, but your card is not on its list of cards that are valid for travel. This could happen for a few reasons:

  • If you’re a student, you might not have registered for classes in time to ensure advance U-PASS activation. (Find that deadline on the UW academic calendar.)
  • Your U-PASS takes 24-48 hours to activate after you registered or purchased it, and that time might not have passed yet.
  • Or, if neither of those things is true, there might be another problem, and Transportation Services can help. With the information about your bus in hand (including the route number), contact Transportation Services and we’ll help you.

It’s unlikely you’ll have to follow these steps, but now you’re prepared just in case something happens. If you tap your card and see a red light, there’s no need to panic.