old SEPTA token

If you’re not a Philadelphia resident or a regular visitor, you may not know this, but the city’s subway system, operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), still uses tokens. Yeah, the same technology that your grandparents reminisce about, are still in operation in Philly.

Fortunately, that is changing. SEPTA is in the midst of a transition from the tokens to contactless fare cards. Basically, from the oldest possible subway fare charging technology to the newest. Try not to get whiplash.

In fact, SEPTA is trying to save you from the whiplash because they’ve been rolling out the new system in pieces instead of all at once. Currently, around 120,000 of the 800,000 daily riders have the new “Key Cards.” They can be used on subways, buses, and eventually regional rail (all the way from Delaware to Trenton, NJ!).

The coolest feature of these new cards (in case system reliability and convenience isn’t cool enough for you) are the fact that they will eventually function as a debit card, much like similar cards in the Hong Kong, Tokyo, and other metros. And the convenience will only go up as Philly businesses adopt the card readers.

This transition will finally bring Philadelphia into the 21st century. Well, eventually, since most of their riders are still using tokens. Other cities shouldn’t be laughing though. New York, for example, has needed to upgrade the MetroCard system for a long time now. Why?

That’s the “MetroCard Song” and it highlights the flaws in the MetroCard system. And, at least, Philly has a working subway system that gets you places (looking at you LA, Houston, Atlanta, and other suburbanized US cities) and is governed by a single transit authority as opposed to a tangled mess of several of them (Bay Area).

Now that I’m done throwing shade at all these transit systems, just appreciate that you have them and they’re pretty good at getting you to shows.

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