Come Aug. 1, PATCO will make available a variant of its Freedom fare card that will be able to pay for rides on Philadelphia's city transit.
As one of the original selling points of the Key system that is replacing tokens and transpasses in the Philadelphia region, SEPTA touted the ability to accept payment from sources other than its own fare card. Revising the system so Freedom cards work with it is the first step to what SEPTA officials say will eventually be a system that will accept payments from credit cards, even smart phones, said Andrew Busch, a SEPTA spokesman.
The card will work on the El, Broad Street Line, and city buses and trolleys. The Freedom cards will not be compatible with Regional Rail fare card readers.
SEPTA last year approved a fare hike to increase the cost of a round trip on city transit from $3.50 to $4 for PATCO riders.
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Making PATCO fare cards work with SEPTA's readers isn't going to be quite as simple as that suggests, though, officials said. The existing Freedom cards, which work with an embedded chip, won't be compatible with SEPTA's system. Instead, PATCO will issue a new Freedom card that can be read by SEPTA's Key system. Those cards will not be sold in PATCO station's fare card kiosks but will have to be bought either at the PATCO office at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden or at a satellite office at the Woodcrest Station, open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursdays.
PATCO riders will have to register their cards on a yet-to-be unveiled web tool, PATCO officials said, and will need to link them to a bank account. Money cannot be added to these cards at the kiosks at PATCO stations.
Officials said PATCO's card readers will continue to be unable to read SEPTA's Key card. Interoperability will only go one way, though officials said PATCO readers will eventually be reconfigured to read Key cards.
About 800 riders transfer from PATCO to SEPTA on a regular basis, said John Rink, PATCO's general manager. A typical weekday sees 37,000 total riders on PATCO trains, which provide service between South Jersey and Philadelphia.
About 50 riders who regularly use both systems will be selected for a pilot program to begin in July, Rink said. The results of that pilot will determine how soon the new Freedom cards will be made available, but PATCO officials say they were prompted to begin their trial by SEPTA's plan to eliminate paper transfer slips within two months. An alternative needs to be available by then for PATCO riders who rely on the paper slips to board SEPTA transit.
The new Freedom cards will likely be made available no later than the last week of July. People who already have Freedom cards can trade them in for an updated card. People who don't have a Freedom card will be able to buy the SEPTA-compatible card for $5.
Over Memorial Day weekend PATCO implemented $2.3 million in software updates to its fare system. That work included changes that would allow PATCO and SEPTA to be compatible.
SEPTA's $297 million Key upgrade is used on all SEPTA's modes except Regional Rail. About 790,000 cards have been issued so far, SEPTA reported.