Last-minute trips to Center City might not require a frantic stop for subway tokens.
SEPTA has launched a three-year plan to replace its current token fare collection with an “open payment system,” where travelers can use a refillable SEPTA-issued smart card or any “contactless” bank card. These bank cards contain a “smart chip” that allows travelers to simply wave their cards across a reader when they board a train or bus.
Press Officer of SEPTA Media Relations Andrew Busch said the transition to the new technology is already under way. Construction has already began at the 69th Street station on the Market-Frankford line.
In November 2011, SEPTA awarded a $129.5 million contract to ACS Transportations Solutions Group to develop the new faring system on its bus, subway, trolley and Regional Rail lines.
Known as New Payment Technology, the new faring system will be implemented first at SEPTA bus, trolley and subway stations. After evaluating its performance at these sites and making any necessary improvements, SEPTA will integrate the system on their Regional Rail lines. The company expects the project to be up and running on all of its transit networks by 2015.
While the NPT is still in its preliminary design and testing phase, Busch said travelers can expect to see some changes as early as next year. SEPTA will be adding surveillance cameras to monitor fare lines and constructing booths for customer service.
In June 2013, SEPTA will begin a “pilot phase” to implement the NPT on buses, subways and trolleys. At subway stations, for example, travelers will find the new card-reading screens along with the current token-accepting machines. In the next year, SEPTA will begin outreach campaign to educate residents on how the new system works.
Busch said with the NPT, SEPTA is following examples of other major transit authorities in the country.
According to Busch, SEPTA is the only major transportation system in the country that still uses tokens.
“The technology we use right now is just not what our customers want,” Busch said. “We’re at the point where we have to upgrade.”
While only about 15 percent of credit and debit cards in the United States are contactless, Busch believes that “as we go along more people will want to use these more efficient technologies.”
“This is where the trend in the transit industry is going,” he said. “What we’re putting in place will be the next generation.”
He expects that as more banks begin to issue cards containing the smart chip, more travelers will embrace the NPT.
Some believe that having the option to use their credit or debit cards on subways will encourage more students to go off campus.
College senior Pallavi Podapati recalled that when she worked with a community service group that travelled off campus, there were freshmen “who got on SEPTA and said, ‘This is terrifying.’” She said the NPT, therefore, “may make it feel a little less intimidating.”
However, while SEPTA hopes the NPT will increase efficiency by eliminating tokens, College sophomores Rosa Escandon and Alexander Goldman see some benefits to the current token system.
“If you have a token, you know it’s good for a single fare,” Goldman said. “But when you have a card, you don’t have as good a sense of how much [money] you have on there” at any given time.
Escandon agreed, adding that “there is a level of romanticism with tokens” and that refillable cards can often be a source of waste for SEPTA customers.
Nonetheless, Goldman said the NPT is “definitely a good business plan,” noting that travelers often purchase tokens in bulk before major fare increases.