Brian Gralnick, 40, of Elkins Park, is taking precautionary measures when using his SEPTA Key card on Regional Rail.
He was worried about the possibility of illness spreading through the authority’s smart fare system even before coronavirus cases appeared in the Philadelphia region. Now, the questions are pressing. Most of the region’s confirmed cases so far are in Montgomery County, where he gets on a train.
“I’ve been sort of sanitizing my Key card as well,” said Gralnick, who travels to Suburban Station from Elkins Park. “Sort of when I get into the office, or get home from work.”
SEPTA is encouraging its “TAP.RIDE.TAP” system on Regional Rail, but conductors aboard the trains are also scanning riders’ Keys on handheld readers to validate trips, sometimes making direct contact with the face of the card. Another rider contacted The Inquirer with concerns over hand-to-hand ticket collecting.
SEPTA is in the process of reinforcing best practices with its conductors and workers from Edens Corp., who act as ambassadors and ticket agents on the Regional Rail system, said SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch.
For their safety and the safety of riders, they’ll be asked to hole-punch tickets without grabbing them from passengers and be reminded to just hover over Key cards with the validators.
Weather permitting, SEPTA is considering propping open doors into stations where possible to limit handle grabbing.
“We’re kind of figuring out more things that we can do to move forward to hopefully help with these mitigation efforts,” Busch said.
COVID-19, which has so many unknowns, has raised lots of questions about cleanliness and caution. More people are sanitizing their cell phones, while restaurants are removing salt and pepper shakers or trading utensils for disposable forks and knives, in addition to larger precautionary measure such as the suspension of professional sports seasons.
Seattle’s Sound Transit is taking social distancing measures. This week, its fare enforcement officers have been directed to limit hand-to-hand and close interactions with passengers. Washington state has seen the most reported cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SEPTA has boosted cleaning efforts on transit and Regional Rail. On the authority’s coronavirus update page, it touts the hygienic benefits of a contactless card.
SEPTA has seen a dip in transit ridership this week amid the coronavirus, though it’s unclear if that’s because people are avoiding public transportation, are directed to work from home, or if mounting event cancellations are keeping them inside. Regional Rail ridership was down 16 percent Friday, compared to weekday averages through last week.
Bernard Norwood, head of the SEPTA conductors union, made note of a lighter load, too. Though, he had not heard the concern over the handheld validators. The cards can be scanned from a distance, and passengers holding the card steady makes the process faster for conductors, he said.
The problem could be how the passenger is presenting the card. Having it wrapped in a plastic cover, in a wallet, or next to another magnetic card could make it more difficult to scan from a distance.
“But if they just have the ‘naked’ Key card itself, you can get within inches of it and it would read it,” he said.