PATCO will upgrade cards, but SEPTA compatibility far off

Posted: March 08, 2013

PATCO, the South Jersey-to-Philadelphia commuter rail line, will soon upgrade its "smart" fare card, but the move won't bring it any closer to compatibility with SEPTA's planned electronic fare system.

PATCO plans to pay Cubic Transportation Systems Inc. of San Diego $168,240 to upgrade card-readers at its fare gates to accommodate new versions of its "Freedom" cards that are implanted with an updated computer chip.

The board of the Delaware River Port Authority, PATCO's parent, is expected to approve the purchase this month.

The new card-reading software will accommodate current and new Freedom cards, PATCO general manager John Rink said.

The new cards will be purchased this summer as supplies of existing cards are exhausted. Riders will get the new cards when they replace their existing Freedom cards, which expire after 10 years of use.

Eventually, PATCO expects its system to be able to read the smart cards that will soon be accepted on SEPTA's subways, buses, trolleys, and trains.

For now, however, a card smart enough to work on both sides of the Delaware River is still on the wish list.

SEPTA plans to start its system this year, with test runs this summer and public use by fall. Regional Rail use will follow in late 2014.

In SEPTA's "open" system, riders will be able to use any bank-issued, computer-chip-equipped "contactless" card, such as a MasterCard or Visa card. SEPTA will also issue its own contactless card.

A "contactless" card, which contains a computer chip and an antenna, allows a user to make a payment by merely holding the card close to an electronic reader.

About 15 percent of the 750 million credit and debit cards in the United States are contactless, but that number is expected to grow rapidly as banks and card companies move customers and merchants toward contactless cards.

"We are looking to work with SEPTA," said DRPA chief executive John Matheussen. "We want to make sure we coordinate our efforts."

SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said passengers on the two transit systems won't be able to use a single card immediately.

"Eventually, they will. The technology will be compatible," Maloney said. "But agreements will have to be worked out, and those haven't been approached yet."

In November 2011, SEPTA awarded a $129.5 million contract for its new system to ACS Transport Solutions Group of Columbia, Md., a subsidiary of Xerox Corp.

For future system compatibility, Maloney said, legal agreements are likely to be needed both between Xerox and Cubic, and between SEPTA and PATCO.


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com

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