Will SEPTA Key Unlock the Doors to Public Transportation?

For the past year or so Philadelphia’s world of SEPTA riders has been abuzz, and often very bewildered, about the impending SEPTA Key Card system. As someone who is an avid public transportation rider, but has also always lived near stations that do not even have a token machine, the prospect of the SEPTA Key is certainly intriguing. Yet the slow, multi-phase roll-out of the new card system has often left riders more confused than convinced.


The SEPTA Key officially debuted last year, but has had a slow rollout. Up until recently the Key was available for purchase almost exclusively from the SEPTA headquarters at 1234 Market Street. This past month, SEPTA added another permanent buying location – 69th Street Transportation Center.


SEPTA logo. Image courtesy of http://septa.org/service/kt21.pdf via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to tacking on a second purchasing spot, a temporary buying phase, spanning roughly from February 13th to March 3rd, descended upon all Fare Kiosks at Market-Frankford Line, Broad Street Line, and Bus Loop Stations. Don’t worry – if you missed that opportunity, the next phase should not be too far behind.


Beyond the confusion of where and when to buy the elusive SEPTA Key, the way in which it has to be bought may also strike some as odd. For a first time buyer, the Key must be purchased with a Weekly or Monthly pass. After this initial purchase, the rider has the option to either continue with the Weekly or Monthly option, or to use the card to fill their Travel Wallet. The Travel Wallet allows the rider to take advantage of the discounted $1.80 fare by filling their card with a minimum of $10 (and up to $250) and using it as they please.


At the 69th Street Transportation Center the Key Card is purchasable without the commitment to a Weekly or Monthly pass, but with a minimum amount of $10 instead.


So, if you can figure out how to get your hands on the SEPTA Key, the options are endless. The cards are reloadable at any Fare Kiosk, major sales offices (such as 15th Street Station, Frankford Transportation Center, and 69th Street Transportation Center), by phone at 855-567-3782, or online at www.septakey.org, where you can also check your balance. There is also an autoload option where the card can be set up to refill on a monthly basis.


Additionally, building on the Quick Trip option launched last year, where riders can use a credit or debit card to purchase a single-ride at $2.25 at a kiosk, SEPTA has plans to enable contactless payment with any bank issued chip card at that same price. This way, even those without the SEPTA Key Card, which is also a contactless chip card, can move through the turnstiles with similar ease.


The current token design has been in place for around two decades.


While SEPTA has not launched any program to actually terminate the token, this is clearly the long term plan. Most stations no longer even have a token turnstile, as they have been replaced with the swiping system.


Some old, since retired SEPTA token designs. Photo courtesy of “The Cooper Collections” (uploader’s private collection) Digital photographs and composite image created by the uploader, Centpacrr via Wikimedia Commons

As the last city to still use tokens for major public transportation, this is definitely an important step for making SEPTA use more accessible and convenient for all, and bringing Philadelphia’s transit into the 21st century. The token will forever be a cherished relic by many of the city’s current and former inhabitants. It was brought to the city by the now defunct Philadelphia Transportation Company in the 1940s and incorporated by SEPTA in the late 1960s.


While the rollout of SEPTA Key has happened in an often clunky and confusing manner, we remain optimistic that, once the transition has happened, the convenience and access that the card system allows for will only bolster the ever changing and growing Philadelphia. No longer tied to tokens and the limited options for buying them, Philadelphia residents and visitors alike will be able to move about the city freely and conveniently. 

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