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Added functions on SEPTA's fare cards just scratch their potential

SEPTA launched its Travel Wallet Monday, which will allow riders to load money onto the SEPTA Key fare system and pay for rides as they go, without committing to a weekly or monthly fare plan.

The Travel Wallet is a step toward the long-term goal of taking tokens completely out of SEPTA's system. Here's what we wrote today on some of the Wallet's features. What's available starting this week, though, is the just the tip of the Travel Wallet's promised functionality.

As of now, the card will still need a user to choose to put more money into a Travel Wallet account when the amount on the card is used up. Users also can only add money at one place, SEPTA's headquarters at 1234 Market Street. This limitation, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said, is to ensure SEPTA staff are on hand to assist anyone who is confused by the Travel Wallet function.

The promise of SEPTA Key, though, is a lot more flexibility than is currently available. Eventually card holders should be able to set up their cards to automatically draw from a bank account when the value on the card is depleted. They also should be able to manage those accounts from home either online or by phone, without having to interact with SEPTA's sales office or a kiosk.

SEPTA hasn't set up a timetable for when these more expansive functions will become available.

"We'll have to see how smoothly this part of the rollout goes," Busch said.

For now, users can put a minimum of $10 on the card, and a maximum of $250. SEPTA made 1,000 new cards available for Travel Wallet this Monday, taking the number of SEPTA Key cards in riders' hands somewhere north of 15,000. The first cards were introduced in June.

Busch estimated the additional card functions could be unveiled some time between the end of this year and early 2017.

As for when tokens will finally disappear, that's a big question mark too. SEPTA is committed to making SEPTA Key the sole fare tool for its system, but for now tokens are staying around. Because they're so ubiquitous on the system, SEPTA expects to do a big public information push when the time comes to relegate tokens to Philadelphia's transit history.

As an aside, there are apparently still plenty of SEPTA Key cards available so if you want to try it out the Travel Wallet you still have time to get one at SEPTA's headquarters.