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Let's Make Transit Less Complicated

Last weekend I got a chance to spend a bit of time in Philadelphia. This is the second time in a few years that I've visited the city. It's a very cool place, and I appreciate many of its unique offerings. One thing, however, that drove me crazy, was a public transit system that seemed stuck in the early 1900s.

(from Eric Harmatz on Flickr)

On Saturday morning a few friends and I walked to the 46th Street station on the Market-Frankfort Line. SEPTA is one of the few systems in America that still uses tokens. While most cities have moved to farecards or electronic smart cards, Philly requires you to buy a small coin to take advantage of the discounted fare.

When we got to 46th Street, we approached the woman sitting in the fare booth. She wouldn't sell us tokens. The token window (which is independent of the attendant booth and staffed by a different person) is only open on weekdays. We could pay the attendant the $2 cash fare, but she was completely unable to sell us tokens from that same window. If we wanted tokens, we could purchase them at a station that had token machines (this one did not) or the local supermarket.

I'd like to think that there's a reasonable explanation for why SEPTA operates like this, but I'm yet to hear it. The process for purchasing tokens is confusing, odd, and outright silly. I can understand how people get turned off by a transit agency that makes them jump through such hoops.

Using public transportation should be as easy as reasonably possible, and transit agencies should make this part of their mission. I can sympathize with people in Philly who might not use the SEPTA system because it's overly complicated, which is sad, because it's a reason that's likely the fault of the agency and completely correctable.

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