Five million rides on city transit have already been bought using SEPTA Key cards, but SEPTA expects that number to get a lot higher, with the program set to "graduate" to an expanded model this spring.
The turnstiles at major SEPTA stations are ready for it, with wide rows of SEPTA Key turnstiles. But subway riders aren't rushing through those SEPTA Key turnstiles just yet. Some riders just aren't as receptive of the change.
"I will never buy that piece of junk," was how one older woman at a North Philadelphia station described the SEPTA Key, pointing at its glowing computer screen.
Other riders attached to tokens say the changes in turnstiles are creating logjams at some stations.
"I have always used tokens," said Rachel Cox, adding that the token turnstile was removed from Cecil B. Moore station near Temple, but she can't buy a Key there. So she ended up in line, waiting to hand her token to the teller.
"Since the spring semester started, the lines at the teller window have been out the door at rush hour every night," she said. "A bunch of people, including myself, usually miss a train while waiting."
SEPTA's Key is still in its early adopter phase. The key is only for sale at certain locations. Other features like Travel Wallet have gotten positive reviews from customers.
SEPTA executives expect use of the SEPTA Key to grow after they expand sales of the Keys across the transit system, which is tentatively scheduled to take place this spring.
"We've heard from our customers, they want it in their home station," said Leslie Hickman, chief officer of the Rail Transit Division at SEPTA. "We anticipate a lot of our customers moving over."
SEPTA executives also defended the changes in turnstiles, and pointed out that token-holders can use those tokens to buy a Quik Trip single ride at SEPTA Key kiosks, instead of waiting for the teller. They believe the eventual benefits will outweigh the growing pains.
"Last night, I walked by the 15th Street sales office and given it was Jan. 30, there was a long line and there were people in line to either purchase a weekly pass or a monthly pass," said Richard Burnfield, SEPTA deputy general manager. "The benefits of having a keycard are not having to wait in line, being able to reload your card from home, and you can register your card for protection, so if you lose it you don't lose the value."
The date when tokens will stop being sold has not yet been set. But customers will be able to load the value of tokens onto their SEPTA Keys.
"If you go to New York or Boston, I don't think customers are nostalgic for their tokens," Burnfield said. (Boston stopped accepting tokens in 2012, New York in 2003).
After weeks of putting up with the lines, Cox herself decided to get a Key.
"I just can't risk those lines anymore," she said. "So far it works and I like that you just tap it instead of swiping it. I like the tap, that's the only positive."
By the numbers
-Rides on SEPTA Keys
-SEPTA Keys sold
-Quick Trips sold