05 Aug

Fashion for your ORCA card

This ORCA card needs a sleeve. Photo by Atomic Taco.

This ORCA card needs a sleeve. Photo by Atomic Taco.

I haven’t been posting much lately — been busy working on the Beacon Hill Blog and other stuff, but one thing I have done a bunch of is riding our new Link light rail trains and using my new ORCA card to pay the fare. I was used to a similar card from our trip to England last year, where we used Oyster cards to pay fares for the Tube.

Oyster cards, as it turns out, are exactly the same size and shape as ORCA cards. And as with Oyster, you might find a need for a storage sleeve for your ORCA card. Sure, you can just put it in your wallet with your credit cards, and, depending on the wallet, sometimes you can even tap the card in without removing it. But then there are times when you have to show your ORCA to a fare inspector, or remove it to get it to tap, and it becomes necessary to keep your ORCA in something easily accessible and quick to find in a crowded purse or backpack, while also protecting the card from damage and wear. No one wants to be late for work and then find out that their ORCA won’t work because it’s bent and worn out from being tossed around a purse with your keys and stuff all the time.

In London, where they’ve used Oyster for several years now, Oyster card sleeves are a booming business. When you get your Oyster card, it comes with a plastic folding sleeve. Our Oyster sleeves last September were bright yellow, sponsored by IKEA, with an IKEA logo, and listing the four London-area IKEAs along with instructions of how to get there by transit — convenient! (This seems like a good way for ORCA to generate some advertising cash without selling advertising on the cards themselves: get local business to sponsor the sleeves.) Other businesses have sponsored giveaway Oyster sleeves. I particularly like this one from The Guardian newspaper and this one from skilljuice.com.

Along with the giveaway Oyster cases, however, you can buy tons of stylish or unusual Oyster sleeves from a variety of vendors, or even knit your own. You can get an Oyster case to suit just about any aesthetic or interest, and some even have added functionality — the London Transport Museum, for example, sells an Oyster sleeve with a map of the London Underground Network. The British Library has sleeves with the art of Olga Hirsch, and Tate Modern features the art of Orla Kiely. A search for “oyster card” on Etsy brings up a bunch of handmade, artsy card cases.

Lots of people use their Oyster card sleeves as their wallets, carrying not just their transit card, but also money, ID, and other stuff. (The sleeves generally have two pockets, one for the card and one for anything else you want to carry.)

Since Oyster card holders are the right size for ORCA cards, if you want your ORCA to be kept stylishly in a London Underground map Oyster sleeve, no problem. Perhaps eventually we’ll have some interesting local ORCA sleeves to choose from, but in the meantime, many of the UK sellers do ship them here. If you find an Oyster sleeve that expresses your personality, go for it. Or you can just keep it, along with all of your money and random stuff, in an old plastic card case like this.

06 Oct

London’s electric cars

(Last month Jason and I spent two weeks in England. I’ll be posting a series of entries about the trip, with photos, over the next few weeks.)

Our UK adventure began in London, where I was attending a symposium. We stayed there for eight days, in the Fitzrovia area. Instead of a hotel, we stayed in one of the residences for University College London, Astor College. So, basically, we stayed in a dorm, which was a bit strange. We had a little fridge in our room, but had to share a bathroom. It was inexpensive by London standards, at least.

Astor College is well-located; we could easily walk to the British Library, the British Museum, and quite a few other attractions, and down Charlotte Street, just a few minutes from the residence, there were a ton of interesting restaurants. There were several Tube stations within easy walking distance as well.

One of the things I noticed quickly was that there were no SUVs in London. I think we saw one all week; it belonged to the university and was parked. I did not see a single one driving.

We did see a lot of Smart cars and various electric cars, which would be pretty useful in London traffic. (Apparently the electric cars are exempt from London’s congestion charge, too.) The cars pictured here were parked a couple of blocks away from Astor College, and there were actually 5 of them on the block at the time we took this picture — three parked, and two driving down the street! I think they are probably Reva G-Wiz cars.

Though little cars like this would be useful in London, really, cars were not too necessary. The tube lines cover most of the area, and the “black cabs” are everywhere as well. It is very easy to get around there, and I can easily imagine living there without a car. (However, there are some access problems if you are mobility impaired. It is not a very accessible city. Lots of stairs.) People seem to walk everywhere.

Something else I noticed that might be related to that: very few overweight people. There were some. Some were clearly tourists, some were not. But in general, the percentage of overweight people walking the streets of London was lower than the percentage of overweight people seen on the streets or in the malls of Seattle. I read earlier today (and now I can’t find the URL or I’d link it) that the UK has the highest national level of obesity — after America. (Where does Canada fit in, I wonder?) But even so, the population seemed noticeably more fit. Of course, we were in one of the most walkable cities in the world. The story might be different in other areas, where people need to rely more on their cars. Though we did notice that even suburbs were more dense and compact and less-strictly zoned than American suburbs, making them far more pedestrian-friendly.

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