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SEPTA Key is a somewhat open, standards-based automated fare payment system used on the bus, heavy rail and (in the near future) regional rail networks of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which serves the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The system, which was launched on subway, bus and high-speed train routes in August 2017, replaces the agency's original token-based payment system with one based on contactless smart card technology. It is the third open-loop ticketing system to be installed by a major transit agency in the United States (after those installed by UTA and in the Chicago region).


Electronic validators that have been installed on bus fareboxes and at turnstiles on the system’s Broad Street and Market Street heavy rail lines and that will soon be installed at commuter rail stations will accept a agency-issued “Key Card,” Single-ride “Quick Tickets” and contactless bank cards as fare media[1]. The Key Card is a contactless smart card that can store one-day, weekly or monthly passes, as well as a “travel wallet” that holds monetary value (at a minimum of 10$) for use on single rides[2]. The card can be purchased at customer service outlets, online or from ticket kiosks at stations[1]. It can be registered on the key card’s website to permit online loading of value and to preserve cards’ balance in case of theft[3]. The Quick Trip is a magnetic stripe paper ticket that can be used to purchase individual rides (although it costs 50 cents more than an individual fare paid for through the travel wallet[3].


SEPTA’s planning for a new ticketing system, to replace its token-based payment system, began in 2007[4]. The agency issued a Request for Proposals in 2008. The agency received bids from three companies[5]: ACS Xerox, Scheidt and Bachmann (a German Company that built and installed the MBTA's Charlie Card) and Cubic Transportation Systems (which has designed most smart card-based ticketing systems in California). The agency ultimately awarded the $129 million contract to ACS Xerox[6]. An article that appeared in Mass Transit Magazine shortly after the contract was signed, claimed that the proposed system would allow passengers to pay fares with a “‘contactless’ credit or debit card or even their smartphone[7].” The contract provided for the system’s installation on the bus, trolley, subway and regional rail system.

The system’s roll-out was initially scheduled for 2013 on city transit and 2014 on regional rail[8]. However, a “limited” release of the system to 10,000 passengers did not occur until June 2016[9], with the system’s full release on city transit (subway, bus and high speed service) transpiring in March 2017[10]. The system has yet to be implemented on regional rail[1]. Articles from 2014 and 2015 cite the agency’s desire to avoid the pitfalls experienced by Chicago’s Ventra System (also released in 2013) as a rationale for delay[11][12]. An article from December 2015[13] noted more generally that the agency failed to grasp the complexity, in devising its timetable, of upgrading to an open-loop fare payment system for services on six transportation modes. A series of software bugs in detected in 2015 further impeded progress on the project[13].

The system’s contractor (ACS Xerox) imposed at least 10 change orders adding up to at least $11 million[8]. In addition to the change orders, delays had cost SEPTA at least 21.4 million by the end of 2015[13], but due to liability caps included in the contract, SEPTA could claim $14.6 million at most.

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 SEPTA. “The Program.” [1]
  2. SEPTA Key. "Fare Products." [2]
  3. 3.0 3.1 SEPTA Key. "Home." [3]
  4. Campisi, Anthony. “SEPTA Awards $129.5 million contract to build new fare system.” Plan Philly. [4]
  5. Campisi, Anthony. "A Quick Look at SEPTA's Potential Smart Card Vendors." Plan Philly. August 25, 2010. [5]
  6. Laracy, Charlotte. “SEPTA Key Now Two Years Behind Schedule.” [6]
  7. “SEPTA installs one of the nation’s first Open Fare Payment Systems.” Mass Transit Mag. 2012. [7]
  8. 8.0 8.1 Laughlin, Jason. “Still Coming Soon: The SEPTA Key Card Smart Card.” December 29, 2015. [8]
  9. Laughlin, Jason. “SEPTA smart-fare system to debut June 13.” April 16, 2016. [9]
  10. Laughlin, Jason. SEPTA’s New Card Gets Rolled Out.” March 9, 2017. [10]
  11. Wolfe, Jeff. “SEPTA Delays Implementation of New Payment Technology.” 2/27/14. [11]
  12. Orso, Anna. “Wonder why the SEPTA key is taking so long? Just ask Chicago.” 4/10/15. [12]
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Saksa, Jim. “Why is SEPTA Key Arriving Two Years Late?” [13]