SEPTA gives timeline for future of a fare overhaul

Nearly a year after awarding a $129 million contract for its new fare system, SEPTA said design work for the system is more than halfway complete and should be ready for pilot testing by the summer.

The long-awaited system, which will eliminate paper transfers and tokens, will incorporate the latest open-payment technology, allowing riders to pay by swiping smart phones or identification cards by a card reader. It is expected to go live on the subway-elevated lines, buses and trolleys next fall, while Regional Rail customers will likely see it some time in 2014.

John McGee, SEPTA’s chief officer of new payment technologies, said the work thus far has been behind the scenes, but riders will start seeing work related to the project before the end of the year.

“We [will] have teams that are actually in the field at stations. In some cases we are running power to where fare lines might be,” he said. “They might also see teams out there doing final measurements prior to installation, which is not until next year.”

The contractor, ACS Transport Solutions Group, a division of Xerox Corp., has addressed concerns promptly.

Once the technology is installed on the subway-elevated lines, buses and trolleys, SEPTA has decided to turn on all the stations at once. McGee said Regional Rail riders with a TrailPass will be able to use their card on the old systems during the transition.

Why so long?

McGee said many riders have asked about the lengthy timeline, but he explained the major overhaul involved.

“It’s a huge project … and quite frankly there’s a huge infrastructure here that we need to support so that the system is deployed successfully and that’s why the schedule is what it is,” he said.

Transition period

Here’s a look at some of the most serious hurdles in taking fare payment to the cutting edge of technology:

On customer service: To ease what is sure to be a difficult transition for some riders, McGee said ACS will have a locally-based customer support center to handle telephone and online inquiries. Information kiosks and a specialized team of employees will also be deployed at key stations.

On Regional Rail configuration: Regional Rail customers may not be thrilled, but McGee said the authority is moving ahead with plans for fare gates at Center City stations, where riders must tag on and tag off. Some transit advocates are concerned that it will lead to long lines during peak periods and fare evasion. Implementation is expected to begin in June 2014.

On what’s taken place: McGee said ACS has worked on design for all aspects of the system, including the back-end system, data network, vending machines and installation. “There’s been literally thousands of pages of documents being passed back and forth between the vendor and [SEPTA].”

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