SEPTA’s smart-cards: Questions abound

SEPTA is a few months away from selecting a vendor for its long-awaited new fare system, but there are still plenty of questions about what the system will look like for thousands of Regional Rail riders.

SEPTA is touting the $100 million project as an E-Z Pass for transit, which would eliminate tokens, tickets and paper transfers and allow riders to pay using debit or credit cards and even newer smartphones. But on the Regional Rail side, the agency is considering installing fare gates at five Center City stations where passengers would pay when they board or get off the train. Another option includes conductors using handheld card-readers.

“One of the challenges that we have with Regional Rail … is that if you’re using electronic payment mechanisms, you need an electronic handshake and today fare collection on the railroad is purely visible,” said John McGee, SEPTA’s chief officer of new payment systems.

SEPTA is holding a public session Friday at its headquarters to preview the technology and get feedback from riders. After it awards a contract this summer, the agency expects system-wide implementation to take two and a half to three years. McGee also said riders on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines to be the first to get the technology.

“This is arguably the biggest, or near biggest, project SEPTA will have in our generation,” SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney added.

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