SEPTA smart-fare system to debut June 13
Transit agencies around the country will be watching SEPTA June 13. That's the debut, announced Friday, of the long-promised smart-fare card, SEPTA Key. It is among the most complicated systems of its kind, designed to manage fares for trains, buses, and trolleys with an open payment system, which will eventually accept not just the branded SEPTA card but certain bank cards.
Transit agencies around the country will be watching SEPTA June 13.
That's the debut, announced Friday, of the long-promised smart-fare card, SEPTA Key. It is among the most complicated systems of its kind, designed to manage fares for trains, buses, and trolleys with an open payment system, which will eventually accept not just the branded SEPTA card but certain bank cards.
"Everyone is watching Philadelphia," said Walter Allen, who runs Acumen Building Enterprise, an Oakland, Calif., company that installs similar systems. "They're trying to implement this open payment system. They are the test case."
People may want to be patient, though, he said. A system this complicated may not debut without snafus.
"There's going to be problems," he said. "These are complex systems."
SEPTA Key was supposed to be introduced in 2013 to replace Philadelphia's outmoded system of tokens, passes, and cash payments. Problems plagued the $220 million system, and SEPTA and Xerox, the parent company of the system's installer, may end up in a legal battle over the delays. Xerox downplayed that strife Friday.
"At the end of the day we're just glad that we've got a launch date ready," said Carl Langsenkamp, a Xerox spokesman.
The most recent troubles have been bugs in software that record fares and generate financial reports, and SEPTA is being cautious with a soft rollout. On June 13 just 10,000 cards will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Riders will only be able to get weekly or monthly passes. Some of the most appealing advances, including paying with a bank card, ordering and maintaining Key accounts online, and getting a single ride, will not be available at the outset. The cards won't work on Regional Rail until 2017.
"This is very challenging to do all at once," said Rich Burnfield, SEPTA's deputy general manager. "We've learned from other transit where they've tried to launch."
A slow rollout for SEPTA is the smart path, said Peter Benjamin, a former chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. He oversaw installation of an earlier incarnation of this kind of system in the nation's capital in the 1990s.
"I would say that's a fairly straightforward process, and I would expect it to work reasonably well," Benjamin said.
The problems most likely to appear in the rollout are almost always software-related, he said.
"Is the card communicating properly with the turnstile, with the gate?" he asked. "Is the communication between the gate and a central location working well?"
Cards will be sold at kiosks at subway stops at 69th Street, 52nd Street, 30th Street, 15th Street/Dilworth Park, Erie Torresdale, and the Frankford Transportation Center on the Market Frankford Line and at Olney Transportation Center, Erie South Mezzanine, Cecil B. Moore, Dilworth Park, Walnut Locust, and Snyder on the Broad Street Line. The cards will also be available at SEPTA's headquarters at 1234 Market St. The weekly passes will be available June 13, but the monthly plan will not be available until June 20.
The cards should register a fare paid when tapped against readers installed throughout SEPTA's network. If cards are lost or stolen users can put holds on them and get replacements. A website to guide SEPTA Key users will go online closer to the introduction.
SEPTA is unsure when all customers will be able to use the SEPTA Key. It wants to see how the system works for the first people who use it. It will not say when the sun will set on tokens and cash payments.
"We really are anxious to hear from our customers," Burnfield said, "and that will help us to really fine-tune the program as we move forward."