SEPTA: educate riders about Key

Riders need to know about the Key so they can begin reaping its benefits.

As I walked down the steps of Cecil B. Moore subway station, I noticed a long line of about 10 people waiting to pay for their ride. As I got closer, I realized why: these people all had tokens.

Since June 2016, SEPTA has been removing turnstiles that accept tokens and replacing them with machines that accept the SEPTA Key, a new tap-and-go fare payment method. Riders can load funds onto their Key online or at kiosks in subway stations.

But until this transition is fully complete, many riders seem confused. Many face long wait times when using tokens because their only option is to deposit them in the SEPTA attendant’s box. This means all riders must pass through one line.

But these wait times can be avoided if riders purchase a SEPTA Key and pay their fare using the newly installed machines. Unfortunately, many riders don’t realize the SEPTA Key is already available, or that the transition occurred in the first place.

The programs SEPTA has released related to the Key during its trial period have been confusing, and many riders aren’t sure if they can purchase one or how they’d add money to it at this stage in the process. SEPTA needs to better educate the public so riders can take advantage of the perks of the SEPTA Key.

Andrew Busch, SEPTA’s chief press officer, said making the switch from tokens to the SEPTA Key has taken longer than he expected.

“We’re in a transition phase right now,” he said.  “Putting in the new kiosks and getting the technology up-to-date, logistically it’s been a pretty heavy lift. It takes a lot of time and is expensive to do.”

Juwan Jordan, a sophomore computer science major, said he recently noticed the unusually long lines to board the subway.

“I know that the only way you can use the token with the SEPTA Broad Street Line is if you go to the actual person and give them a token,” Jordan said. “And that causes a lot of lines and a lot of back up and people missing trains.”

“It certainly is slower,” said Adam Conte, a sophomore film and media arts major. “When there’s a line, I can’t just throw in my token and get on. I have to now wait.”

Cities like New York and Washington, D.C. have had card access for their public transportation systems since the 1990s. SEPTA followed suit only recently because of past financial restraints.

“We’re going from how things operated in the ‘80s to how things will be in the 21st century,” Busch said.

While it’s good that SEPTA is evolving its system to equip Philadelphia with more modern transportation payment, the lack of clarity and disorganization in this transition process has caused confusion for many riders.

The Key has become more accessible in the past few months, but many students are still unaware that it exists and continue to use tokens.

“I don’t know where to get the SEPTA Key,” Jordan said. “I do think it’s a good idea. I think they could’ve implemented it a little better.”

“The only way I found out about it was actively researching it,” Jordan added.

Those still using tokens should make the switch to carrying a SEPTA Key. I’ve been using the Key myself and it’s very convenient. I no longer have to wait in line to enter the train and the physical card is easier to carry around than tokens or exact change.

Riders can now order a personalized card online through a SEPTA account. This card has the rider’s name imprinted on the front of it, and the more striking benefit is that it’s free, as opposed to the instant cards purchased at some kiosks and other sales locations for $4.95. All cards can now be reloaded with funds at kiosks.

This is the type of information SEPTA should make accessible to riders directly at subway stations in the city. SEPTA also needs to educate riders on what the Key does and how to use it

There are some SEPTA attendants at subway stations who can explain the Key, but not all locations have these attendants, Busch said.

Busch added that SEPTA wants to advertise to promote the Key before it employs more attendants in subway stations.

“We wanted to make sure everything was in place by the time people started using it,”  Busch said. “Some agencies didn’t do a gradual rollout, they did it all at once and they had a lot of problems with confusion among customers and people not really knowing how to use it. There wasn’t enough time for education for riders.”

If anything, the slow rollout with a lack of communication has been the main source of confusion. It’s not fair for riders to be uninformed as they continue to experience rough commutes.

Currently, SEPTA has yet to set a date for discontinuing token sales, but Busch said it will determine this later in the year.

Until this transition is complete, SEPTA should devote more effort to informing riders of the transition. And students should take matters into their own hands by asking attendants about the Key and visiting SEPTA’s website for more information.

I think this new system will ultimately be an upgrade, since I’ve already experienced the benefits of the Key. But now other riders need to do the same.

Alisa Islam can be reached at

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