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SEPTA fare card rollout for Philly transit users nearly complete

On Monday, SEPTA will begin selling fully functional versions of its new smart-fare Key cards at El and subway stops, with a plan to make them available at 55 locations within two weeks.

The cards will be available Monday at the Olney Transportation Center; the 11th, 13th, and 15th Street stops on the El; and, on the Broad Street Line, the Cecil B. Moore, AT&T, Walnut-Locust, and City Hall stations. Other stations will be added to the rollout on subsequent weekdays.

The Travel Wallet allows cardholders to carry a balance on their cards and pay for one $1.80 ride at a time, rather than committing to a weekly or monthly fare plan. The card works on all city buses, trolleys, and trains.

The cards can be registered, allowing users to add money through a home computer or link the card to a bank account and automatically reload it. The card can be replaced without losing the balance if it's lost or stolen.

"Once you have the Key card with Travel Wallet, you never have to get back in line," said Rich Burnfield, SEPTA's deputy general manager and treasurer.

While Monday's expansion of the Travel Wallet marks the last stage of introducing the cards in the city, the cards still aren't functional on Regional Rail. When that will happen isn't clear. On April 17, SEPTA will start selling Quick Trips — single-trip one-way tickets — on the Regional Rail's Airport Line.

SEPTA Key card readers on turnstiles are also designed to scan credit or debit cards with embedded chips, and are compatible with a smartphone app, meaning riders would eventually not need a separate fare card.

The Key cards sell for $10, which will then go toward rides, or riders can put as much as $250 on the card. SEPTA has distributed 39,000 Key cards since they were introduced in June 2016. An additional 13,000 cards for seniors are to be mailed by the end of March.

The Key card has received praise from adopters.

Some users called the rollout confusing, but the biggest complaints appear to be about the website SEPTA set up to manage the cards, something SEPTA officials say they are aware of and are working on.

About 576,000 riders use city transit each day, and the wide release of Travel Wallet will be a major test for the SEPTA Key system's ability to handle the transactions and accounting that takes place with thousands of people boarding and disembarking from public transit. SEPTA intends for Key to replace all of its fare systems, and plans to stop selling monthly and weekly pass cards by late spring, Burnfield said. The agency has not yet decided when it will phase out tokens.

Key has been a long time coming, and expensive. The system was originally scheduled to debut in 2013, and the contract for $129.5 million with ACS Transport Solutions of Columbia, Md., a subsidiary of Xerox Corp.,  grew to $150 million, with approximately $70 million in related project costs.

[Updated: This post was updated April 3 to include the exact date of the Quick Trip fares for the Airport Line.]