Thursday, September 07, 2006

SEPTA: Never Risk Obsolescence

One quote jumped out at me while I was reading Craig McCoy's story in the Inquirer today on Philadelphia's disgraceful lack of response to the post-9/11 security demands. James B. Jordan, SEPTA's security chief, was explaining why it was impossible for the transit agency to install emergency communications equipment in the trolley and subway tunnels so that officials and rescue workers could get up-to-date information in case of an attack. "Our fear," he explained, is that the equipment "would be obsolete by the time it took to install it."

Hearing that sentence took me back a few years to the day when SEPTA's board decided against adopting the farecard system used by most big-city transit agencies. Farecards would replace the weighty, antiquated, and frequently unavailable metal tokens that the city's occasional transit riders are now forced to haul around. Farecards are like E-Z Passes. Because people buy trips in advance and store the fare on a lightweight card, they're much more likely to hop on a bus or trolley at the spur of the moment. Farecards would enable SEPTA to do away with it's annoying, 60 cent transfer passes (Try to dig that last dime out of your pocket!) and to offer promotional fare incentives. When New York's MTA introduced its Metrocards, ridership skyrocketed because it was so much easier for people to slip a card in their back pocket than to carry around a sack of tokens. Ever since Rite-Aid stopped selling tokens here, buying them has become a real ordeal.

Anyway, after studying the matter for two years, SEPTA concluded that the farecard technology would be obsolete by the time it took to install it.

It's lucky for Philadelphia that Peter Weidner didn't decide that the trolley system would be obsolete by the time he installed it.

It sounds like that quote has become SEPTA's all-purpose excuse to do nothing about anything.


Anonymous Howard Haas said...

The current fare system, of zones, transfers, trolleys & busses & subways & trains, is so CONFUSING that often different bus drivers on the same route ask for different amounts of money. Nobody understands the system.

Inga is totally correct in that a fare card is needed. I don't want to keep remembering how much money for this, for that, when I get on a Septa vehicle. I just want to insert a card.

And, for safety, Septa should also wake up to current real world conditions.

THANKS, Inga, for raising another important issue. Septa is important for our infrastructure and the future of the Philadelphia region!

8:20 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

Here's another vote for farecards. SEPTA's refusal to institute them has always baffled me. I had ruled out plain old stupidity as the reason, but now it appears I was wrong. What a foolish policy. And howard haas is right about the fare system. Try figuring out the cost of SEPTA travel using their Web site. Or don't, because in many cases you will spend the entire day doing it.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why cant we just hand over the city division of septa to PATCO and make a real system?

This is insanity! BART in the bay area has been using farecards since 1972!!!!!!

11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there's nothing like going to the 40th st subway station and being told that the nearest token machine is at 30th st. i swear septa doesn't actually want people to use it.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SEPTA is waiting for other systems (e.g. Chicago, DC) to work out the kinks and lower capital costs through economies of scale. Have faith - it'll happen, and when it does it will be compatible with PATCO's Freedom Card.

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In all fairness to Septa, Patco's system is so antquated, as to be absurd ! It only accepts change for fares of as much as $4.90 r/t.

12:27 PM  
Blogger RaslDasl said...

Anonymous @ 10:40 was talking about PATCO's new farecard system.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Regional Rail Rider said...

Or how about improving the regional rail ticket machines? LIRR and Metro North both let you search for the station name on the computer instead of looking it up on a chart. NJTransit and both MTA systems allow you to purchase tickets with a credit card. I'm tired of fighting with the Septa machines trying to get them to take bills and then being stuck with dollar coins as change.

2:44 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

Or how about improving the regional rail ticket machines?

A well-designed farecard system would include trains and make the ticket machines obsolete, along with the widely scattered and inaccessible token machines, paper transfers, tokens, and all those other little irritants.

5:57 PM  
Blogger CitySpinner said...

This just proves that a total management overhaul is necessary at this so-called Transit Authority. If SEPTA management had its way, it would run diesel buses in the subway tunnels.

12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I imagine one reason septa doesn't seem very enthusiastic about adopting new technology is the unions. The unions don't want machines replacing their overpaid, full-time workers, so they resist any change that may improve the efficiency of the overall operationg, making certain jobs obsolete.

How many people are aware of the fact that, aside from health insurance, a major issue the union went on strike over last year was the fact that SEPTA wanted to be able to hire part-time workers and contractors (the current labor contract requires that all employees be full time, salaried workers).

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the city's lack of support and promoting of public transit, will be what keeps Philadelphia a second rate city, instead of the world class city that it deserves to be.
it's especially disgusting that our mayor, who touts himself as "Phys ed minded" should turn a blind eye to this problem.
as long as the parking authority and such have a strangelhold on this issue, we will never rise higher.

Public transit isn't JUST for poor people.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous sarah said...

out of town visitors always ask me why our public transit doesn't have a farecard. how much easier would it be for me to buy them a 10$ card instead of 10$ worth of tokens? a lot easier.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other really vexing problem is that when there have been forward-looking GMs, and the last one I can think of is David Gambaccini from quite some time ago, who ideas and want to change things--keep running head-on into the multi-county SEPTA board who only seem to be concerned with the status quo. And since Philadelphia appears to be underrepresented on that august board, considering the services and where they are, continuously screwed.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two things:

1. It cost around around $50 Million to replace the system with farecards

2. Septa doesn't have the money.

Is that enough for you to understand.


PS. This isn't NYC...we don't have the same density or need to use Septa and going Farecard would remove unlimited travel. Amazingly not everyone lives in Center don't forget about the other 1.2 Million who would have to pay for distance to get to work.

(80% of Septa riders are coming in from the outlying sections to CC the other 20 are going out to the burbs)

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Ryan said...

Zur, as a city Philly has some of the highest density in the country, especially for residential neighborhoods outside of CC. It may not be as dense as NYC, but it certainly is far dense enough to support SEPTA.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with SEPTA is that it just doesn't care about providing good service to it's commuters.

In NYC, Boston, DC, Chicago, and even in LA, Miami, and Atlanta, they use electronic cards for fare control systemwide, heck even Camden is starting to change it's antiquated system. So what makes SEPTA so special to still use tokens.

Also, they should get rid of the transfer fare NOW!!!!! There should be absolutely no reason why it should exist.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Public transit is not a zero-sum game. The easier it is to use, and the better it is, the more people will use it. DC's boom over the last 15 years has been entirely concentrated around the metro stops. This is no accident. If riders can easily swipe a fare card and ride from one side of the city to the other, SEPTA will find that the 50 million required to refit has paid for itself several times over in a matter of a few years. Yes, there will be people that pay more ... but there are other solutions for that.

11:39 PM  

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