SEPTA leads the way in fare collection technology

By Mary Ebeling
SEPTA’s new fare collection system, New Pavement Technologies, transitions SEPTA from being the last large transit agency in the U.S. using tokens to the agency with the most broad-reaching contactless fare system. SEPTA plans to launch NPT with a phased approach, with project completion scheduled for 2015. From a technological perspective, SEPTA’s NPT positions the agency at the forefront of progressive fare collection technology. These improvements provide operating efficiencies for SEPTA and a simplified fare system that is more attractive to riders. It also presents equity questions and concerns over how or if the system will affect the city’s low-wage workers and unemployed riders.
NPT replaces magnetic cards (weekly or monthly passes), paper tickets, and tokens over time, with tokens and passes completely phased out by 2014. Riders will pay with contactless fare cards, credit, debit, government benefit cards, ID cards, and smart phones simply by passing their payment device over a fare reader. The ability to use bank cards addresses convenience for most residents and visitors alike. However, not all transit riders have bank accounts, cards, or smart phones. Cash will remain an option for purchasing fare cards, but it will be critical that locations for cash purchases of fare cards remain available and convenient for riders who require them.
SEPTA operates the fifth largest transit system in the country, providing more than 300 million passenger trips a year. SEPTA’s new fare system may facilitate coordination with its regional partners, including PATCO, which connects to Camden, NY; New Jersey Transit, connecting through Trenton; and Delaware Transit Corporation, Delaware’s bus system. SEPTA has opened a conversation about the NPT with partner agencies, but the details of how transfers between these regional systems will work have yet to be fully ironed out.
Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.