Why is there a semicircular bar at the base of the ORCA card reader?

ORCA is the public transit card system for the Puget Sound area. One of my friends noticed that there is a semicircular bar at the base of ORCA card readers. You can see it in the following picture. (Click to enlarge.)

Whereupon there was speculation as to the purpose of the bar. Some guesses were serious. Others not so much.

  • It's to protect against people crashing and damaging the card reader. This doesn't seem likely because the card reader extends further from the post than the bar does, so the bar doesn't actually stop anybody from crashing into the card reader.
  • To scrape the mud off your boots.
  • To use as an umbrella stand.
  • To hold your taco.
  • To help people with mobility scooters, somehow.
  • To aid with installing the card reader.

Meanwhile, one intrepid person took the radical step of asking the bus driver. The bus driver didn't know, and the issue escalated all the way up to the head of safety and engineering for King County Metro, which explained that the bar is there so that people who are visually impaired and use a guide cane can feel for the bar and know where the card reader is.

"Sadly, this was a much less glamorous answer than I was expecting."

Comments (18)
  1. wyatt says:

    I wonder how many people who use guide canes actually use it as such.

    1. Gene Hamilton says:

      False. Canes can’t guide you.

      The way it’s been explained to me by visually impaired people that a cane is more of an obstacle detector. (Where guide dogs are obstacle avoiders)

  2. Simon Clarkstone says:

    I see the camera has interacted in an interesting way with the scanning frequency of that electronic sign.

  3. Antonio Rodríguez says:

    The mud scraper theory is an interesting one – if it weren’t for the strange place, just under a public appliance. In fact, “boot scrapers” were pretty popular in London and other big European cities up to the 19th Century. Many streets weren’t paved, and the most common form of transport was horse riding or horse-drawn vehicles, so mud and manure were common in the streets. Because of that, many buildings had a boot scrapper next to the door, so guests could clean their shoes before entering. Some are similar to the car reader’s curved bar.

    1. Dave says:

      My grandparents’ house, built in 1929, has a boot scraper outside the front door, it’s an H-shaped metal thing concreted into the ground. So these were standard items as late as the 1920s and 1930s.

      1. ender9 says:

        The house I live in was built in 1940, and had a boot scraper next to the front door until it was renovated about 20 years ago.

      2. Jamie says:

        Having grown up in a rural area of England (with the extra mud this entails) a further alternative exists to the H shaped fixture. The downpipe for the guttering flows out of a hole at boot level and at the exit of the pipe there is a bar welded across the brickwork (for strength). Thus the heavier it is raining and therefore the more mud you are likely to encounter the stronger the flow of the boot scraping and wash mechanism.

    2. Brian says:

      If you go to a small town Texas or Oklahoma motel, particularly one where there’s a lot of fracking in the area, boot-scrapers at the entrances of the hotel are quite common. There’s a lot of mud in this area (the surface soil is mostly clay).

      1. Rick C says:

        You can find boot scrapers in cities like Dallas. There’s a convenience store in Plano, which is north suburban Dallas, that has one. It might be more of an affectation, though.

  4. skSdnW says:

    And here I was, expecting a post about signing MSIs with a smartcard. Turned out to be a post about something much less glamorous :)

  5. You must have some huge tacos in Seattle.

  6. David Candy says:

    Our OPAL readers are on the bus, not the bus stop. We have 600 bus routes and many thousands of stops. Why ir ORCA economical?

    1. Only high-volume stops get an ORCA reader. Putting a reader at the stop lets people prepay, and then they can board at any door, rather than all queueing up at the front door.

      1. Muzer says:

        In London, they simply put an Oyster reader at all doors of the bus and allow only Oyster users to board by any door. How do they ensure in Seattle that all those who have boarded have paid? Do they have random ticket inspections or something?

        1. Yes, random ticket inspections. Also, the “board at any door” thing applies only to the train and to RapidRide buses. Metro and Sound Transit buses are “enter (and pay) at the front door”. It sounds confusing but you learn the system quickly.

      2. smf says:

        All the cool towns are switching to directly paying with contactless cards/apple pay/android pay etc. With automatic caps so you don’t pay more than either a daily or weekly ticket.

  7. cheong00 says:

    On the other hand, facilities supporting visually impaired people in Hong Kong tends to use audio indications.

    Generally it’s repetitive “tick” sound, and then the “station map with braille indication” in MTR stations often come with soft music.

  8. mikeb says:

    I have often wondered about various ‘infrastructure affordances’ that I come across that obviously have some use and a rationale for that use, but which isn’t obvious to me.

    For example, for a long while I wondered why there was occasionally a blue reflector in the middle of the street. I finally noticed the relationship that whenever I saw a blue reflector, there was a fire hydrant on one side or the other of the street,

    Similarly, the dark glass blocks in sidewalks in downtown Seattle made me wonder when I first moved here. I never noticed anything like that in Washington, DC. Then I took the Underground Tour and found that they’re simply a way to let sunlight through the sidewalk. I guess it never occurred to me that sidewalks had anything but dirt under them. Or if there was a space under them, it’d be lit with light bulbs like any other basement.

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