💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

The SEPTA Key digital turnstiles have tempted us and caused delays since they started popping up around the city last fall. SEPTA keeps saying to be patient, that the highly-anticipated technology should be ready by some point this year. But not everyone has to continue waiting: SEPTA has confirmed to Billy Penn that people age 65 and up can use the Key system right now. Senior citizens are experiencing this tokenless future before everyone else with the simple swipe of a driver’s license.

A major component of SEPTA Key is the ability to read the magnetic strip on the back of driver’s licenses. Anyone age 65 and older can swipe his or her license and get a free ride on the subway, bus and trolley lines. On many of the city’s newly-installed SEPTA Key digital turnstiles this technology is already working.

“Some seniors have found that they have been able to use it,” said Andrew Busch, public information manager for SEPTA. “It’s kind of been a word of mouth thing among customers.”

Busch warns that not all of the turnstiles are fully functional. They might not always read a swiped driver’s license. That’s why SEPTA has not made a formal announcement. If a driver’s license doesn’t scan, seniors can still present their transit ID card, Medicare ID card or Railroad Retirement Annuity card to a station employee.

First conceptualized in 2007, SEPTA has been cautious with launching the Key in part because of the mess that ensued after Chicago converted to its Ventra system. Riders complained about machines that didn’t read their cards and being charged twice for rides.

SEPTA Key, when it fully launches, will make tokens and the pain of not being able to break a $20 bill with a station employee a thing of the past. People will be able to store money for rides on SEPTA Key cards, their debit or credit cards and even on an IPhone 6.

The scanning of a driver’s license is just another piece of the future… the piece that (for some) is ready right now.

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...