No matter the mode of public transit, SEPTA commuters will soon be paying more to reach their destinations, but they'll be paying in a way SEPTA promises will be more convenient than the technologically outdated mode involving tokens, tickets and paper transfers.
"The ease of using smart-card technology ... is going to have huge positive benefits for our customers," Richard Burnfield, SEPTA chief financial officer, said at a news conference announcing the changes.
Among those benefits: no more waiting in line to buy passes and tokens, and easier replacement of lost or stolen passes that are registered with SEPTA, he said.
Officials said there will be no layoffs as a result of the high-tech changes in fare collection.
The fare increases are expected to bring in $25 million in additional revenue for the cash-strapped agency, but that would still mean a $38 million shortfall in the fiscal budget effective July 1. State funds are being sought to make up the difference.
With the new system, hundreds of vending machines at bus and subway stations will sell refillable cards to replace weekly and monthly transit passes, tokens and paper transfers. Riders also will have the option to pay their fare by tapping a smartphone or smart-chip embedded credit or debit card on a turnstile equipped with an electronic reader, which will withdraw the fare from a SEPTA-linked bank or other account.
The so-called New Payment Technology program will make SEPTA among the country's first transit agencies to adopt a system that allows riders to pay fares using their own phone or bank card, rather than requiring riders to use an agency-branded fare card. The transition will begin this summer, with trial runs on new turnstiles first in the city and then the suburbs. The switchover will be completed by the end of 2014.
Under the proposal, the bus, trolley and subway base fare would rise from $2 to $2.25 on July 1, then to $2.50 when the smart-card system is completed by the end of next year. As is currently the case, full fares would apply to those riders, about 10 percent, who pay with cash. Riders who pay with cards and smartphones will get discounted fares, as token and transit pass users do now.
Tokens jump from $1.55 to $1.80 in SEPTA's proposal but they will be retired late next year after the smart-card system is fully installed. Paper transfers will also be phased out, so riders paying cash will have to pay full fare for each leg of their trip.
Weekly and monthly city passes with stickers designating the rider as male or female, an anti-fraud device that was long opposed by transgender commuters, are also being eliminated. Weekly fares rise from $22 to $24.50 and monthly fares from $83 to $92 under SEPTA's proposal.
For suburban rail commuters, monthly Zone 3 passes would increase from $155 to $163 and Zone 4 passes from $176 to $191. Fare zones are also being changed on the regional lines.
Public hearings on the proposed fare hikes will be held next month in Philadelphia and the four suburban counties served by SEPTA. In the coming months, SEPTA will conduct outreach efforts to familiarize riders with the new fare system.