SEPTA is considering making the Key compatible with PPA kiosks Credit: SEPTA

SEPTA says the Key is like its slogan: It’s getting there. It ought to take another four months or so.

The new payment system that will take SEPTA into the 21st century probably won’t be installed before the Papal visit at the end of September, but transit officials say they still hope to have the thing up and running by the end of the calendar year.

SEPTA leaders have long touted the transit company’s still-yet-to-come electronic payment system (as you probably know, we’re still stuck with tokens and passes) that would allow consumers to load money onto cards and then tap their card on the turnstile to get on a train, bus or trolley.

Beginning last fall, SEPTA began installing the new system on less than half of the turnstiles in the city on both buses and the Broad Street/ Market-Frankford lines. Those new validators, which can now only be used by some senior citizens (explained here), have caused some delays in riders getting on and off of trains and buses.

SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said the new system won’t be rolled out to the public before some expected 1.5 to 2 million people descend on Philadelphia in late September for the Pope’s visit to the city for the World Meeting of Families. Important to note: SEPTA has special Pope transit passes for the Regional Rail — which isn’t expected to get SEPTA Key until after it’s rolled out on buses and the Broad Street/ Market-Frankford lines, anyway.

But Busch did say that while he doesn’t have a specific month or date to release publicly, the Key should still be ready for public use by the end of the year, as SEPTA officials have said since early 2015. So why’s it taking so long?

“It is still in the testing phase and that’s an internal test, so it involves some SEPTA personnel and some Xerox personnel,” Busch said. “We know it’s taking longer than originally projected, but that’s a very important part of the process, and we’re doing everything we can to ensure that when we roll it out to the public, that it’s ready to go.”

Busch didn’t elaborate on specific problems or bugs that testers have run into, but said that once this phase of testing is complete, SEPTA will move to a second phase of testing with what they’re calling “Friends and Family” — a select group of stakeholders who will test the new system made up of a larger group of employees, community leaders and people from advocacy groups.

The SEPTA Key system has been in the works since 2007, and officials are being cautious in its rollout. That’s probably a good thing considering the near-disastrous introduction of Chicago’s Ventra card system, which saw complaints from Chicagoans who were struggling with the contact-less system.

Here in Philly,  Xerox Corporation’s Transportation Solutions division won the $130 million contract to create the system in 2011. The Xerox group has handled electronic payment systems for transportation and parking in places across the world from Dubai to Venice to Los Angeles.

Once SEPTA Key is fully launched here, riders will — in addition to loading money onto cards via an account — also be able to use debit, credit and even and iPhone to pay for their rides via the contact-less system. Using the Key is expected to look something like this:

YouTube video

At least, hopefully, before January.

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.