SEPTA payment plan shifted to 2018

TSG plan to create payment options on Owl Cards stalled due to technology.

Following dashed hopes for Owl Cards serving as a fare payment option on SEPTA, TSG officials are working to keep the issue open for alternative solutions.

In October, The Temple News reported that the university had been informed by SEPTA that its New Payment Technology, an initiative to update the fare system, was not compatible with Owl Cards.

The long-term solution proposed is to wait for the next generation of Owl Cards, which aren’t expected until 2018, to integrate compatible technology in them. The short-term alternative is to work a deal out with SEPTA for compatible readers to be installed.

Additionally, Darin Bartholomew, Temple’s student body president, is a member of the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council.

“We’re working on three different proposals with the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council,” Bartholomew said. “We want to fill in the gaps for the interim.”

Bartholomew would not reveal the proposals TSG was working on with the council. As SEPTA moves further along in its implementation of the NPT project, which has already suffered delays and faced potential funding pitfalls, the possibilities for students are slimming.

Although the university could request SEPTA add readers capable of scanning Owl Cards, therefore offering a quick solution, funding may keep this idea out of reach.

In September, SEPTA unveiled a “doomsday plan” to eliminate nine of its 13 rail lines and one subway line and convert some trolleys to bus routes, if the state budget did not allocate more money to public transit.

Then in November, the state legislature approved a large boost to transportation funding, with plans to contribute roughly $400 million to SEPTA by 2018. With new funding on the horizon, SEPTA introduced plans to replace much of its infrastructure. Since then, Temple officials have not announced any collaboration with SEPTA on Owl Card implementation.

Bartholomew said TSG has made it a top priority to design the next update of the Owl Cards to fit SEPTA’s technology.

The last major U.S. transit system still using tokens, SEPTA plans to make the NPT work with refillable cards, key fobs, ATM cards and smartphones, as well as cash. These payment options are already available in many transit systems around the Northeast, including the PATCO line, which connects Philadelphia with South Jersey.

A year after SEPTA announced its new system, Temple introduced the current form of Owl Cards in 2012, in time for the last presidential election. The student IDs were made to be used as a form of voter identification at the polls, and they also included a “tap and go” scanning feature.

SEPTA aims to complete its NPT project by 2015 and plans to have new payment methods available on buses, subways and trolleys by this summer.

Regardless, Bartholomew said that a proposal will be a “scale-back from the original idea.” He said that he was disappointed with how the original initiative fared but that it is not a dead issue.

Joe Gilbride can be reached at Marcus McCarthy contributed  reporting.

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