Owl Cards a no-go for SEPTA

NPT technology not compatible with current ID cards.

Despite the excitement surrounding the possibility brought up by last year’s student government campaign, Temple’s student IDs will not likely be able to work on SEPTA’s updated fare system until 2018.

In 2011, SEPTA announced that the company would be updating how it collects fares in what was named the New Payment Technology system. Temple officials and students were hopeful of joining in on the changes.

The current ruling party of Temple Student Government, Temple United, originally included the prospective Owl Card payment technology in their election campaign platform last year.

The NPT initiative was part of a larger overhaul of SEPTA’s fare collection system, which will do away with tokens, transfers, passes and Regional Rail tickets. Instead, the “smart” technologies of the NPT are scheduled to be phased into operation.

This offered the prospect of using Owl Cards, Temple’s student IDs, as payment as well. However, SEPTA recently informed Temple officials that the technology used in Owl Cards is not compatible with the readers to be installed for the NPT initiative.

This update is likely to keep Owl Cards out of use for SEPTA in the near future. The current practice is to update them every six years for security reasons, allowing for the next update to possibly include compatible technology.

Owl Cards were updated last year, therefore it’s not likely that Owl Cards will work with SEPTA’s NPT until 2018.

Richard Rumer, associate vice president of business services, said Owl Cards currently use technology such as the “tap and go” feature for scanning. The NPT will not include readers capable of this feature.

The other possibility is for SEPTA to add readers compatible with Owl Cards, though the university has no concrete plans on convincing SEPTA to take such a route.

“Whether or not that’s going to work, we don’t know,” Rumer said.

Darin Bartholomew, Temple’s student body president, welcomes the thought of improving the possibilities of the Owl Card in other ways.

“There’s still an opportunity to get more value to Owl Cards,” he said.

Future negotiations including these possibilities are likely to be affected by other forces as well.

Massive budget reduction and a possible collapse of services is looming for SEPTA. What’s come to be known as the “doomsday budget” was made by SEPTA officials in reaction to the proposed state budget which severely cut its funding.

This doomsday plan would close nine of the 13 rail lines, eliminate a subway route and convert some trolley lines to busses. Negotiations for the budget and allocations are ongoing in Harrisburg.

Also affecting the negotiations are the delays of NPT. The pilot test of the new system was moved back to next month due to equipment failure.

The timeline for the NPT implementation is for subways, busses and trolleys to begin switching over in the spring of 2014 with token sales ending in July of that year.

Pilot tests for the technology’s use on Regional Rail lines are set to begin early 2014. Implementation of NPT on Regional Rail will begin in the summer of that year and is planned to be entirely in place by 2015.

This update was a part of SEPTA catching up to other national transportation networks’ fare systems. SEPTA is the last major U.S. transit agency still using tokens.

The payment options to be offered via NPT are refillable cards and cash. They will be accepted across the public transit network.

This past summer, SEPTA announced fare hikes on most transportation routes. The cost of a token rose a quarter to $1.80 and the single-ride fare also rose a quarter from $2 to $2.25. SEPTA is planning in implementing another round of fare hikes after it installs the NPT.

Marcus McCarthy can be reached at marcus.mccarthy@temple.edu or follow on Twitter @Marcus.McCarthy6.

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