Riders who avoided SEPTA’s Regional Rail during the pandemic will notice something a bit different whenever they resume their commutes.
Come July 13, SEPTA Key card’s Travel Wallet, or pay-as-you-go feature, will finally launch for Regional Rail customers as the authority adopts a “tap-ride-tap” method for riders to use on the system.
Passengers traveling to and from SEPTA’s five Center City stations will need to open their trips by tapping Key cards at the platform or turnstile validators, and tapping out at their destination. SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said the changes will make the “system easier, more convenient” to use.
SEPTA expanded the “tap to exit” feature at Center City stations earlier this year, well before stay-at-home orders were put into place, in an attempt to get riders used to the new routine. Signage and platform announcements will be added to remind passengers of the process as they resume riding, she said.
“People have seen the equipment appear, so this should not be a surprise,” Richards said, “but we know that people need to be reminded when we’re asking them to change their behavior.”
While Travel Wallet is already an option for transit riders, the rollout onto Regional Rail has been slow. The feature lets users load funds onto their Key card and pay by trip, instead of buying a pass.
The tap in and out method ensures that the authority charges customers the correct zone fare. While SEPTA officials plan to be lenient with penalties as riders adjust to the changes, Travel Wallet customers could eventually be charged up to a Zone 4 default fare of $6.50 per ride if they don’t tap in or out. Rail conductors will also be able to validate fare with handheld devices.
The authority touted the hygienic benefits of using the Key card, a contactless travel option.
SEPTA currently isn’t accepting cash on board because of the coronavirus but is still taking previously purchased paper tickets. Those without a valid form of payment onboard will need to pay fare upon reaching a Center City station.
SEPTA is still “working on the schedule” for when it will be able to roll out mobile payment, said Rich Burnfield, SEPTA’s treasurer and deputy general manager. Last year, the authority outlined a $4.4 million plan to replace more than 4,000 card readers that would allow riders to pay with a credit card, app, or digital wallet.
The Key card also has yet to be added to CCT Connect, SEPTA’s paratransit operation.
“I will never say that the Key implementation is complete because it is an ongoing process and that is one of the best attributes of the Key card system,” Richards said, “is that it grows with us and it gives us flexibility as we continue to improve our system.”
The authority began to boost Regional Rail service earlier this week, anticipating the region’s entry into a “green” reopening phase. Regional Rail was the first service SEPTA reduced in March to accommodate dwindling ridership during stay-at-home orders. About 95% of riders use Regional Rail to get from outlying stations to Center City stations.
SEPTA has not yet set a timeline for a return to more “normal” schedules. On Wednesday, the authority implemented some changes of its latest fare proposal, including free fare for children under age 12 across the system.