SEPTA chief urges senators to back dollar-coin legislation

, subways, and trolleys flows through one of SEPTA's sorting machines.The transit agency says this is easier than handling one-dollar bills. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
, subways, and trolleys flows through one of SEPTA's sorting machines.The transit agency says this is easier than handling one-dollar bills. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer (Money from buses)
Posted: March 16, 2012

SEPTA wants your money, but not your dollars.

SEPTA general manager Joseph Casey is urging Pennsylvania's two senators to support federal legislation to do away with the dollar bill. Dollar coins are much cheaper for SEPTA to handle, since they are counted by machines instead of humans.

"The cost to SEPTA to process 1,000 notes is three and a half times greater than to process 1,000 coins," Casey said in a letter to U.S. Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D., Pa.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R., Pa.). "Additionally, $1 coins are far less likely to jam fare machines, saving SEPTA customers time and aggravation."

SEPTA is about to install a new $130 million "smart card" fare system that will allow bus, subway, trolley, and rail passengers to pay for their trips by tapping a card on an electronic reader. But, Casey wrote, "SEPTA will continue to accept cash payment for fares on SEPTA vehicles."

Fans of dollar coins have long tried, without much success, to get Americans to shift from dollar bills. Many other countries, including Canada, have done away with small-denomination notes in favor of coins, and in the United States, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has repeatedly issued reports citing the potential savings of coins over notes.

The most recent GAO study said the switch would save $146 million a year. A dollar coin costs 18 cents to produce and can remain in circulation for decades, while a dollar bill costs 5 cents to produce but typically lasts only a few years.

U.S. dollar coins have made little headway against the dollar bill over the last century. In fact, the U.S. Mint halted production of dollar coins between 1936 and 1971. Production of the current dollar coins, carrying the likenesses of Indian guide Sacagawea or former presidents, was suspended in December because of increasing stockpiles.

SEPTA has long advocated for the switch to coins, because of the costs involved in processing the 130,000 bills it gets each day.

The transit agency employs 24 part-time employees to unfold, turn, and stack one-dollar bills in a windowless room in its Philadelphia countinghouse. Each worker does it at least 1,200 times an hour, 8,000 times a day.

Sen. Casey's office said, "the issue requires further examination, and we will continue to study it." Toomey's office did not respond Thursday to requests for comment on SEPTA's letter.

The bills in the House and Senate that would mandate the switch to dollar coins are H.R. 2977, sponsored by Rep. David Schweikert (R., Ariz.), and S. 2049, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Harkin (D., Iowa).


Contact Paul Nussbaum

at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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