Home U.S. Transit SystemsSEPTA Photo: Philadelphia’s blast from the past

Photo: Philadelphia’s blast from the past

by Benjamin Kabak

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No trip to Philly is complete without a walk down memory lane. #tokens #septa

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I’m in Philadelphia this week for a few days for work, and I’m always reminded when I take a trip down here how, despite the problems New York has, I’d rather have the MTA running things than SEPTA. They did manage to get commuter rail through-running through Center City right — which is something the MTA and New Jersey Transit have yet to achieve. Meanwhile, my absolute favorite part of any SEPTA trip are the tokens. Somehow, Philadelphia doesn’t even have last-generation fare payment; they have mid-20th century fare payment in place. They’re working toward a new payment technology and may have something in place nearly half a decade before the Metrocard is phased out. For now, though, I’ll enjoy using the token. It’s a public transportation time machine.

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44 comments

Jeff October 12, 2014 - 11:41 pm

SEPTA does have passes that work on everything from buses and subways to commuter rail – even just for the day. So that’s kinda cool.

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Andy October 13, 2014 - 12:02 am

When I visit my brother in Philadelphia I’ll take the Amtrak to 30th street station then transfer to SEPTA. However they don’t have any ticket vending machines. So you have to wait in line, get this tiny postage stamp sized ticket, and run upstairs to the platform. I really wish they had vending machines. Also half the time riding back into the city I haven’t had my ticket collected.
Still, I do really like the rail around there. The cars are nice and comfy. 30th street station is gorgeous. I love that they still have a split flip display on the main room.

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Peter L October 13, 2014 - 10:45 am

I thought all the old-school Solari boards were gone. Cool. If you miss them, you can always get a fix here: http://dixielandsoftware.net/Amtrak/solari/ (no audio, sadly).

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Aaron Priven October 14, 2014 - 2:57 pm

The San Francisco Ferry Building put up a new flap sign just last year:

http://www.mtc.ca.gov/news/pre.....rel594.htm

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Bolwerk October 13, 2014 - 1:25 pm

I would go to that counter to get spools of tokens. It was the only way to buy them with a credit card that I could figure out.

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Eric Brasure October 14, 2014 - 2:38 pm

I may be misremembering this, as it’s been a few years since I took SEPTA, but I believe the NJ Transit vending machines will sell you SEPTA tickets, probably because a not-insignificant number of people do the NJ Transit to Trenton-SEPTA to Philly trip.

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Bolwerk October 14, 2014 - 4:22 pm

Think I bought them in NYC before, actually.

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pete October 15, 2014 - 9:36 pm

It isn’t a SEPTA ticket, its a ticket to philly printed on pink NJT ticket stock that the SEPTA conductor accepts.

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Michael Noda October 13, 2014 - 4:28 am

Nobody with the power to do so would ever dream of giving SEPTA $4.45 Billion for any one project, but if they did, SEPTA would not spend it on three subway stations along two miles of double track.

Sorry, I can accept wanting the MTA’s infrastructure as opposed to SEPTA’s, but if you want MTA’s management vs. SEPTA’s, you are out of your mind, and I’m also going to be salty about it.

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Nathanael October 15, 2014 - 1:27 am

SEPTA’s management has been great about infrastructure construction, but their attitude towards operations is…. antiquated.

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RailPhilly October 13, 2014 - 8:27 am

Harrisburg’s contempt for Philly and SEPTA makes Albany and the MTA look like best friends. If SEPTA had MTA’s funding levels they’d have moved to farecards by now, and have achieved several of their never funded projects. Philly’s corollary to SAS is the Roosevelt Boulevard Subway, a decades long pipe dream. But where MTA gets billions, SEPTA gets told to try BRT.

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Ivan October 13, 2014 - 9:44 am

At least you don’t have to swipe the token ten times…

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Peter L October 13, 2014 - 10:43 am

SEPTA abandoned their Regional Rail line numbers so on paper there are no through trains. I don’t know if the trains themselves actually run through or not. Besides, you have to remember that it’s extremely important that the Reading Co trains never mix with the PRR trains. Can’t have that.

As for tickets, there is some sort of “tunnel ticket” that allows you to connect from NJT to SEPTA. Don’t know if it works from Amtrak. The ones I’ve seen seem to come from a TVM.

Why has SEPTA been so antagonistic with their unions over the years?

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Eric October 13, 2014 - 11:46 am

Most of the trains still through-run, but not always to the same destination. I believe that every trains still through-runs from 30th Street to Temple University (the main urban stretch), but some terminate at 30th or Temple.

Of course, the utility of through-running is somewhat limited in Philadelphia, because all the lines end in the north or west, so through-running between suburban stations requires a U-shaped detour through downtown. Sometimes I wonder if the PATCO line could be made into a branch of SEPTA regional rail, and the River Line and another one or two NJ rail ROWs used as additional branches, so that each of regional rail routes could take a relatively straight route, and it would be possible to get almost anywhere in the metro area with one downtown transfer.

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JJJ October 13, 2014 - 2:09 pm

You can use the NJTransit machines to buy your SEPTA ticket from Trenton to Philly. You dont have to be in Trenton to do that.

If youre in Philly, you can also buy your NJTransit ticket from the ticket window, but only one employee has access to the machine, so you have to wait for the window with the tiny paper sign that says “NJTransit tickets sold here.” In both cases, you get NJTransit ticket stock, rather than the tiny SEPTA paper.

No, they dont work with Amtrak.

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adirondacker12800 October 13, 2014 - 2:38 pm

Last time I checked, I’m not going to be in Philadelphia so I’m not going to check right now, your Amtrak ticket is good for travel to Suburban and Market East.

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JJJJ October 13, 2014 - 3:15 pm

Yes, because they dont collect tickets in the underground stations.

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Nathanael October 15, 2014 - 1:29 am

It is *officially* good for travel. This is a concession made when Broad St. Station was closed and it’s been maintained.

Charles Krueger October 13, 2014 - 10:56 am

SEPTA has five transport modes (subway, heavy rail, light rail, bus, trackless trolley), which are far better integrated than the MTA (OK, much smaller). Once the much-delayed new fare system rolls out, I predict SEPTA will be an interesting test case for what is possible in NYC.

Meanwhile, no “Please swipe again at this turnstile”! Tokens and passes are a much faster and cheaper system than the Metrocard.

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Eric October 13, 2014 - 11:40 am

Most of the trains still through-run, but not always to the same destination. I believe that every trains still through-runs from 30th Street to Temple University (the main urban stretch), but some terminate at 30th or Temple.

Of course, the utility of through-running is somewhat limited in Philadelphia, because all the lines end in the north or west, so through-running between suburban stations requires a U-shaped detour through downtown. Sometimes I wonder if the PATCO line could be made into a branch of SEPTA regional rail, and the River Line and another one or two NJ rail ROWs used as additional branches, so that each of regional rail routes could take a relatively straight route, and it would be possible to get almost anywhere in the metro area with one downtown transfer.

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JJJ October 13, 2014 - 2:06 pm

Theres a ton of “test cases” you dont need another one. MBTA also has heavy rail, commuter rail, trolleys, buses, trolleybuses, and ferries, and they managed (more or less) to transition to the modern tap system. That is, there are plenty of things the MBTA did right, and plenty the MBTA did wrong.

Enough with the pilots and test cases, cant they just do it right?

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Eric October 13, 2014 - 11:46 am

Oops, ignore this, I meant to post it to the previous thread.

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Eric October 13, 2014 - 11:47 am

Ignore the reply to Charles Krueger. (I think there’s a problem with the comment system.)

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JJJJ October 13, 2014 - 2:04 pm

No problem with the tokens…whats mind blowing is that you cant buy a commuter rail ticket from a machine in Pennsylvania.

You have to stand in a twisting line and speak to a person to buy the piece of paper.

…Unelss youre in New Jersey. You can use a NJT machine to buy a SEPTA ticket from Trento to Philly (and back). Its printed on NJTransit paper.

…Actually, that did remind me of a problem with the tokens. Some of the subway stations for the trolleys dont even have token machines, so you have to pay cash on board…

Even the MBTA in the token days had token machines everywhere and/or stations with token booths.

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Jen October 14, 2014 - 5:36 am

Unions?

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Matthias October 20, 2014 - 1:02 pm

Most of the subway stations don’t have token vending machines–you have to find a corner store that sells them or pay cash to the attendant (in exact change, of course). I lucked out and had a really nice attendant who let me in for the change I had in my pocket–otherwise I would have just given him a $5 in order to make it to 30th Street in time to catch my train.

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Charles Krueger October 13, 2014 - 4:02 pm

Here a SEPTA bus driver talks about tokens and other Philly things: http://po.st/y8jUsS

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Phantom October 13, 2014 - 5:08 pm

I’ve taken the SEPTA Paoli and Airport lines a few times, as well as the subway to Phillies games. Its a good system, and the regional rail trains generally seem to keep to the schedule.

It is genuinely weird that there are no ticket vending machines

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SEAN October 13, 2014 - 5:15 pm

SEPTA believe it or not got something right! There busses have AVS from Clever devices & the MTA hasn’t been able to master that one yet. I thought SEPTA’s new fare card system was going to be in operation this year?

There was a news story on I believe Dateline NBC a few years ago regarding a scandal involving false injury claims. They were paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars to people who claimed to have suffered an injury while riding the bus without investigating the truthfulness of such claims. As it turns out – I guess you can figure out the rest.

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Phantom October 13, 2014 - 5:25 pm

Philadelphia is famous for fraudulent personal injury incidents. They’re quite proud of it, as New Orleans is proud of its gross political corruption.

There was an incident in Philly years back when there was a bus crash, and pedestrians were climbing onto the bus in order to be fake plaintiffs.

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Eric Brasure October 14, 2014 - 2:41 pm

Philly is the worst city in America. I’d rather spend time in Boston.

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Phantom October 14, 2014 - 5:43 pm

It’s the angriest city in America. I don’t know why, but it is.

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Nathanael October 15, 2014 - 1:31 am

I prefer Philly to Miami, which is the city with the highest rate of pedestrians getting killed by auto drivers.

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Kai B October 13, 2014 - 11:34 pm

I’m assuming the SEPTA Subway still also has the punch cards I experienced two years ago. I got a deal by buying seven rides at once but each time I wanted to use it I had to wait in line to have the station attendant punch it with a hole puncher and buzz me in through a gate. At one station on the Broad Street Line there was no station attendant to be seen, so I walked to the next station.

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Phantom October 14, 2014 - 6:52 am

Ages ago, I went with friends to Philly to see a baseball game at the Vet. As good mass transit users, we took the subway.

We bought the tokens but as first timers didn’t know where they went. We asked the token clerk, who screamed ” You put the f***ing thing in the goddamned slot ” he was pointing at.

Philadelphia is a special place.

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Matthias October 20, 2014 - 1:03 pm

Indeed. Service is really hit or miss. I’ve had good luck with transit workers, but buying a sandwich? Not for the timid.

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John October 14, 2014 - 9:05 am

You can still use tokens in Toronto too. They’re TINY, so there must be tons of them lost. They have other payment methods too, but I just had to go with the tokens.

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SEAN October 14, 2014 - 8:53 pm

Soon Toronto will be using Presto cards. http://www.prestocard.ca

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George October 15, 2014 - 4:33 pm

Septa is smart – going right from one reliable form (tokens) to another reliable form (smartcard). They are managing to skip the “please swipe again” era that will be present in the MTA for decades to come. Enjoy using that Metrocard, losers!

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Nathanael October 15, 2014 - 5:44 pm

“tap cards” (contactless cards) are really not reliable. Sorry to disabuse you of that mistaken notion. In other systems, there are all kinds of reports of double-charging, failure to make contact, conflict with other contactless cards, etc.

There actually hasn’t been anything as reliable as tokens since then.

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Phantom October 15, 2014 - 8:25 pm

I swiped someone in the subway at 34/Penn IRT station today before swiping myself in. Try that with your smart card! The MetroCard remains a superior technology

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JJJJ October 15, 2014 - 10:45 pm

Uh, what? You can tap for as many fares as you need….

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Phantom October 16, 2014 - 7:55 am

JJJJ

OK, I know that you can’t use London’s Oyster Card for more than one person – is this because they have a zone system?

Other smart cards ( for single fare systems? ) allow you to pay for more than one person at a time?

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Alan October 22, 2014 - 6:05 pm

San Diego still uses tokens, as well, although they don’t seem widespread. I kept one in my bike toolkit for emergencies.

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