SEPTA Key is almost ready, and the changes are big

SEPTA Key is almost ready, and the changes are big
Dan Kelley

The executive behind SEPTA’s push for a new fare system said that by 2016, riders should be able to use their transit cards as debit cards, and that they may be able to use their debit cards to pay for rides on buses, trolleys and the subway systems.

Kevin O’Brien, the project manager for SEPTA Key said in an interview Monday that the new fare system will debut for riders on city buses, trolleys and subway lines by the end of the year, with new features rolling out over the next several months. The system should go on line for regional rail riders in 2016.

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SEPTA announced that it would implement the new fare payment system back in 2011, hoping that it would be ready in 2013. But in recent months, riders have seen signs that the project is moving forward.

The first big change customers will see? Those new payment kiosks that have been popping up at SEPTA stations will get turned on, O’Brien said. Then the transit agency will begin phasing out tokens.

Riders will also have the ability to register cards, meaning that if they are lost or stolen, they can be replaced. That’s because the key cards aren’t like regular transit cards. They are more like pre-paid debit cards in that they are tied to an account that has value behind it — they even have the Mastercard logo on them.

Behind them will be accounts in which users can store up to $10,000, or $1,000 for an anonymous card.

At the same time, they’ll function like a transit card in that customers can buy a weekly or monthly pass.

“It’s a transit card, with benefits,” O’Brien said.

Customers who have stockpiled tokens as a defense against rising fares will be able to put tokens in one of the payment kiosks to add the value to the card.

The big changes, the ability to treat the transit card like a debit card won’t be rolled out until June, O’Brien said. Not all bank cards will be able to be used at turnstiles, just the ones with the RFID chip in them.

The features that would allow riders to use their transit card at the grocery store were designed to help people who do not have access to bank accounts access the financial system.

But that does come with costs — just as the growth of prepaid debit cards have been criticized for high fees.

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Buy a SEPTA Key card will cost about $4.95, and there may be a monthly fee associated with it.

The fees would be waived, O’Brien said, for customers who use their cards a certain number of times.