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Tapping off with U-PASS on light rail
Why tap on and tap off with your U-PASS on light rail?

Hopefully, you’ve gotten this message before: Always tap your U-PASS before you get on a Link light rail train and after you get off.

But you might wonder: Why should I worry about tapping my U-PASS twice? What difference does it make? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, will it really matter how many times I tap my U-PASS?

The answer is YES! It matters a lot. Let us explain.


On Link (or on a Sounder train), your fare is based on the length of your trip. One-way adult fares on Link range from $2.25 (that will get you from University of Washington Station to Capitol Hill) to $3.25 (that gets you from the UW to Angle Lake).

If you tap your card before you get on the train but fail to tap when you get off, you’ll be charged for the most expensive possible trip. If you’re using an ORCA card to pay your fare, that’s probably reason enough for you to tap twice.

But what if you’re using a U-PASS? As you well know, you can take unlimited transit trips with your U-PASS, so what difference does it make if you don’t tap off?


If you fail to tap on or tap off, you might run the risk of a $124 citation. That’s the penalty for riding Link or Sounder without paying a fare.

If a fare enforcement officer comes around to check that you paid your fare, you can’t just show your Husky Card as proof of payment. The ORCA technology that brings your U-PASS to life is embedded inside your Husky Card. Fare enforcement officers use RFID readers to detect the ORCA chip hidden in there. And if you fail to tap on before you board the train, those readers will be able to tell. You risk receiving a citation.

But you could also be at risk if you fall to tap OFF. Here’s how: Let’s say you get off a Link train without tapping your U-PASS. After grabbing coffee and a snack, you get back on another train soon after. When you tap your U-PASS to get on the train, the reader will actually register that as a tap OFF. If a fare enforcement officer checks your card now, it will show that you haven’t tapped on for your second train. There’s that citation risk again.

Just remember to tap on and then tap off, and you can rest easy.

But the risk of a citation is not the only reason to do it.


When U-PASS members tap on and tap off, it helps keep costs down for everyone. You see, the U-PASS program pays area transit agencies for each trip taken by U-PASS members. That means that if you fail to tap off and are charged for a more expensive trip than the one you took, the U-PASS program has to pay the difference.

For example, if a U-PASS member takes a ride downtown from UW Station to do some shopping, the cost of the trip should be about $2.50. But if the U-PASS member doesn’t tap off, the program is charged about $3.25.

We know what you’re thinking: Why does 75 cents matter? If I found 75 cents in my couch, I’d still need to find five more quarters to wash a load of laundry! But the U-PASS program has nearly 58,000 members. Among such a huge group, 75 cents here or there can really add up. That’s a lot of laundry.

That means tapping on AND tapping off helps keep U-PASS costs as low as possible, for you and all other U-PASS members.


What if you’re transferring to a bus, or another train? Should you still tap off? Yes! It’s simple:

  1. Tap on before boarding any transit vehicle using your U-PASS.
  2. If you’re riding on Link light rail or a Sounder train, tap off at the end of your ride.
  3. If you’re transferring, just follow those steps again on the next leg of your trip. That ORCA technology inside your Husky Card will be able to tell that you’re transferring. It’s that smart!


Using U-PASS


This post was originally published May 23, 2016 by Matt Erickson. Updated September 26, 2017 by Thomas Roselyn.