SEPTA has announced that they have pushed back the estimated launch date of SEPTA Key, a new fare card system that will replace tokens and tickets on Philadelphia’s public transportation system. SEPTA is the only transit system servicing a major American city still using tokens as the major form of payment.
SEPTA had previously hoped to begin implementing the new payment technology in April but it has been pushed back to at least early June; the arrival of SEPTA Key is two years behind schedule.
“By and large, everyone would agree that we would like this system as soon as possible, but it is well worth it to do this right the first time,” said Jeff Kessler, executive chair of the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council and a Wharton and Engineering senior.
The fare card system has been in the works since 2008 when SEPTA first issued a request for proposals. A contract with Xerox subsidiary ACS Transportation Solutions Group was signed in 2011.
Andrew Busch, public information manager at SEPTA, said there are many challenges that SEPTA has to face because “there has never been a project like this before that reaches all parts of the SEPTA system.”
Officials at SEPTA and Xerox will be meeting on April 14 to figure out if the phase-in roll out is a “go or no-go.” If SEPTA is given the go ahead, it will take approximately six weeks to prepare the rollout.
The delay has been caused by numerous problems including unexpected complexities and software bugs, according to from PlanPhilly. The project is also massive in scope: a $140.6 million program that includes 1,850 onboard fare processors, 350 vending machines, 650 turnstiles, 550 platform validators, 300 parking payment systems, 480 handheld sales devices, 1,200 offside card purchase locations and 2,000 card reload locations.
Learning from the experiences of cities with similar payment systems, SEPTA has been taking precautions to ensure a smooth roll out of the fare card system. Chicago’s Ventra system , including cards that would not load fares but still charged credit cards, and fare cards double-charging even if the customer only swiped once, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Kessler noted that SEPTA has focused a lot of their attention in the past on fixing the infrastructure and allocating its funds for the primary goal of having a strong transportation system.
“Even though the tokens are inconvenient, they still work,” Kessler said.
SEPTA plans to expand a testing program by adding up to 10,000 transit customers — a group called “Early Adopters” – who will use a new key card for their regular travel. Busch said the Early Adopters are individuals who are looking forward and most ready to use the new payment system. They will also work with SEPTA to give feedback on any complications.
On the SEPTA Key website, it says, “We know that you’ve been waiting for our new fare program and we’re anxious to introduce it to customers. But maintaining your trust and confidence is as important — maybe even maybe even more important — than launching the whole program and assuming the system will perform without any issues.”
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