Updated 5 p.m.: You can now transfer your Key card balance over the phone.
On July 31, nearly 40,000 SEPTA Key cards will go into the light. Stop working. Kaput. Out of commission.
The stoppage isn’t a glitch, but rather planned obsolescence — all Keys have an expiration date. It’s three years from when they were issued, which means it’s about to come due for the first batch of early adopters, who copped their cards when the alternate fare payment was introduced in July 2016.
So if you’re among the 39,386 people who got their Key card three years ago, the clock is ticking. Even if you didn’t snag one then, you also will see the day that your SEPTA plastic will croak.
Unlike when a credit card expires, the transit authority will not automatically send users a replacement. So what do you do?
If you use the card with a monthly or weekly TransPass, there shouldn’t be a problem. Just stop at a Key kiosk and buy a new one with that same plan.
But if you have actual cash loaded onto the card — i.e. maintain a balance in what SEPTA calls the Travel Wallet — it’s a slightly different story. How can you save that money before the end date comes up?
There are basically two ways to make sure you don’t lose any dough:
- Use up the remaining funds in your Travel Wallet before the card expires. Then buy a new card. You’ll be charged $4.95 for the new plastic, but that money will be applied to transit fares if you register the card on SEPTA’s newly consumer-friendly Key website.
- Visit a sales office and have the balance transferred to a new card — there are nine of these spots across the city. You can do it any time after the card expires, SEPTA confirmed, so there’s no rush.
- Starting June 3, you can call up the SEPTA Key helpers at Conduent (they’re at 855-567-3782) and ask them to transfer your balance over to a new card.
Option 1 is sometimes easier said than done. If you have your card connected to a bank account and set to auto-reload when it hits a certain threshold, you’ll need to turn that off or else your balance will never reach zero.
And the third option arrived late. Per SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch, transit officials realized their customers were pissed when they learned they’d have to move their money in person. That’s when management added the phone option, which Busch expects will be ready by Monday.
“We want people to know we hear their feedback and we’re taking it in,” Busch told Billy Penn. “This is a direct response to that.”
Likewise, you won’t be able to zero out the balance if you end up left with an amount that’s lower than the price of a single ride — $1.99, for example. In those cases, you’ll have to default to Option 2 and interact with an actual customer service rep at the authority.
Hope for ‘a better way’ in the future
If you want to tack this onto your list of reasons to hate SEPTA, know that the three-year expiration is a security rule set by MasterCard, the partner agency that helps produce the cards.
“As part of the agreement with them, that’s a standard,” Busch said.
Across the country, it’s pretty normal for transit cards to expire. Chicago riders have some more time — with four years from Ventra Card purchase to expiration. Meanwhile, in New York, MetroCards are set to self destruct after just a year.
When the NYC fare expires, there’s a similar method to transfer the leftovers — you’ve gotta hit up a station booth and ask them to do it. Chicago, meanwhile, has instituted a long-term solution. The CTA is producing brand new cards that last a mighty 20 years.
For what it’s worth, SEPTA’s open to improving its own system. That three-year expiration is likely to stay — but Busch sees a future when funds could be transferred online, instead of in person, at a sales office.
“We don’t have a firm idea yet on what we might be able to do differently,” Busch said. “But moving forward, we’re going to see if there’s a better way to do this.”