Let’s play word association. When I say “SEPTA Key,” what’s the first word that pops into your head?

Complicated? Malfunctioning? Slow?

Since the moment Philadelphia’s transit authority first announced it was rolling out electronic fare payment, just about every step has taken more time than expected.

The system took an unexpectedly long nine years to implement, and that was just for a pilot. It was June 2016 when a small group got to test the new method; the rest of Philly would be invited to join after another seven months.

The whole process has been defined by unrequited anticipation — and in some ways, SEPTA is still keeping us waiting.

Is it just me, or does it take what feels like a full decade to reload the damn thing at a fare kiosk?

Between the constant “Loading…” graphics and the almost-always-malfunctioning swipe machine, I feel like while I wait to add money to the card, I’m not just missing my train — I’m missing out on valuable life experiences.

We measured how long the process of reloading the SEPTA Key took, then identified a dozen things that take less time.

SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey Kneuppel uses a Key card at a turnstile in the concourse under Dilworth Park Credit: Anna Orso / Billy Penn

The Key takes around 1¼ minutes to reload

From start to finish, reloading my SEPTA Key took, on average, 1 minute and 13 seconds.

Within that minute and a quarter, it took the SEPTA fare kiosk a full 14 seconds just to start up when I tapped it. Then it took four swipes (and 20 more seconds) for the thing to actually read my card.

In 2019, the standard is about 5 seconds after card swipe for the transaction to complete. Why does SEPTA’s machine have to think so much harder than all the rest?

What else you could’ve done in that time

Time is money, folks. Here’s a few things that take less time than waiting at a kiosk for your Key account to replenish.

Registering to vote

When you use Pennsylvania’s online voter registration form, the whole process takes literally 10 seconds.

Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

The PPA ticketing your car when the meter runs out

Heard the one about an attendant dishing out a ticket before the driver even left the car?

Ordering a hoagie at Wawa

Assuming you don’t show up right at lunch time, those touchscreens move way faster than a fare kiosk. (We’re not including how long it takes them to make your order. That’s a whole different story.)

Related: Walking from one Center City Wawa to another

There’s currently one at Broad and Walnut and another at 13th and Chestnut and another at 12th and Market.

Checking your credit score

Sounds daunting, right? As a newly minted adult, I learned this process is actually pretty easy. Just remember to not give your social security number to strangers.

Flipping the Amtrak Solari board

Top to bottom, the whole thing doesn’t take more than a minute to flip.

YouTube video

Tracking down an Indego bike

These blue two-wheelers are all over the city — and if you try the app, you’ll connect with one much more quickly than you can add SEPTA cash.

Finding good beer at PHL airport

Seriously, with recent upgrades, you’d be surprised.

Climbing a greased pole

It’ll take you even less time if you do it with Super-Bowl-winning adrenaline pumping through your veins.

Gritty response turning from disgust to adoration

In what felt like seconds, Philadelphians went from super confused to getting tattoos.

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...