Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Transit riders who are sick of fumbling with their SEPTA Key cards may now have an opportunity to ditch the plastic, as part of a new pilot test for mobile tickets that could be fully operational as soon as October.

SEPTA is about to launch the second testing phase for technology that will allow users to tap in and out with their smartphone, on all transit modes except Regional Rail.

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The agency is currently seeking a few hundred volunteers who ride the bus, Broad Street Line, Market-Frankford Line, trolleys and Norristown High Speed Line, SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch told Billy Penn.

The new method means that riders can use a SEPTA Key account on their smartphone without any card at all, Busch said, though the cards will still be available to riders as an option.

Mobile ticket users will not only be able to carry one less item with them, but they won’t have to worry about hiccups that can occur when Key cards get damaged. The upgrades will also allow users to “multitap,” paying for multiple riders on a single account (up to five people), which is especially useful for frequent riders hosting out-of-town visitors, Busch noted.

An initial mobile ticketing pilot in May included less than 200 people, most of whom were SEPTA employees and others already involved in the project. That test identified a few bugs — like occasional issues with reception on moving buses — but generally garnered positive feedback, Busch said.

Now, “we know we need to get feedback from other users who aren’t as familiar with the program. We don’t want it to be a situation where someone has to be an expert in all things SEPTA key to use it,” Busch said.

If all goes well with the next pilot, slated to start in September, the smartphone tickets will be usable across all modes except Regional Rail later in the fall, Busch said, potentially in October.

Regional Rail riders, many of whom have recently experienced glitches causing duplicate charges on their Key cards, will have to wait a little longer for the new tech.

The goal is to implement mobile tickets on Regional Rail in spring 2023, which will allow all SEPTA users to pay for rides on their phone system-wide. The longer timeline is due to Regional Rail’s different fare structure, per Busch, and the need for new technology at outlying stations.

Volunteers can sign up to participate in SEPTA’s mobile ticketing pilot using this online form.