A SEPTA bus passing through the intersection of 17th Street and JFK Boulevard. (Nathan Morris for Billy Penn)

You can now use your cell phone to pay for your SEPTA ride — and for the rides of any friends you have with you.

Called “SEPTA Key Tix,” the mobile payment option is now available to anyone who uses the transit authority’s Apple or Android app. QR code fares currently work on all transit modes except for Regional Rail, which SEPTA said is coming sometime in 2023.

To buy the passes, you also need to have a credit or debit card, plus an online SEPTA Key account (which is free to create on the app). 

The $2 mobile passes include one free transfer within two hours.

Unlike a typical Key card, however, the QR code lets you swipe through multiple people at once. Just enter the number of people going for a ride — up to five at once — and buy the pass. It’s good for the bus, trolley, Broad Street Line, Market-Frankford Line, or Norristown High Speed Line.

The idea isn’t to replace Key cards for regular riders, per the agency. Rather, it’s “a simple solution for occasional riders who want to enjoy the same benefits as cardholders.” 

Eventually, the Philly transit authority plans to catch up with several other urban transit systems and accept contactless payments like Apple and Google Pay and tap-to-pay credit cards. Implementation for what’s being tentatively dubbed “SEPTA Key 2.0” is slated to begin in 2025, with the full roll-out expected by 2029.

SEPTA has previously teased mobile ticketing and multiple-rider access. The agency held a closed pilot for SEPTA Key Tix starting August 2022, where over 1,200 people tested the app; not everyone was thrilled with the experience, The Inquirer reported. A beta version open to everyone was made available in December 2022.

How to buy and use mobile tickets

Want to try it out for yourself? Here’s what SEPTA says to do.

First, make sure you’ve downloaded the SEPTA app and have made a SEPTA Key account.

Once you’ve gotten those set up on your phone, you can buy mobile tickets by logging into your account and tapping “Buy or Manage Key Tix,” located right at the top of the app.

From there, you can select the number of tickets you want — you can buy up to 10 at once and store a max of 20 in your account.

If you have a credit or debit card saved to your SEPTA Key account already, you can use that to pay. If you don’t, you can type in information for a new payment method. You can’t use existing funds in your travel wallet to buy a pass.

To actually use the tickets, you have to activate one per rider — up to five at a time — from the “Purchased” tab within the Key Tix menu, and then pull up the QR code from the “Ready to Use” tab to scan it at a station turnstile or vehicle’s fare card reader.

You’ll need to have your phone screen “facing upward at the bottom of the bus or gate validator.” If you’ve activated tickets for more than one person, you should only have to scan the code once.

Tickets stay activated for 2 hours, and unactivated passes expire 6 months after you buy them.

If you have a problem with the app, you can submit it to SEPTA at their mobile ticketing issue report form.

Updated June 30, 2023

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...