4 things we are going to miss about SEPTA tokens


SEPTA has been the butt of many jokes over the years. Their service can be a bit shoddy, they’re still stuck in a 19th-century payment system and most of us have no idea when they’re going to get to any of the numerous projects designed to make Philadelphia’s transit system top-notch again. But hey: It looks like the Authority is finally getting around to weaning off tokens and onto smart cards. They recently introduced New Payment Technologies, which over the next three years will purportedly “replace SEPTA’s legacy system of tokens, tickets, and paper transfers with a streamlined system that applies best practices from the broader consumer payments arena to transit fare payment.”

It’s what we’ve always wanted, sure. But SEPTA tokens have become such a staple of life in Philadelphia that, when we really thought about it, we realized there are certain things we’re going to miss when they’re gone forever. Things like:

That feeling when you’re fishing $2.25 from a change jar — and find a token

The Folgers plastic tin advertised it could make up to 270 cups when you bought it. It did, the last 170 tasted truly awful, and then you had an empty plastic tin. Wasn’t too long until it was full of the coins you had left over in your pocket. Then your minor wealth began to add up. But now every time you leave your apartment, you’ve got to fish nine quarters from the ever-decreasing barrel of change to get anywhere. Then you’ve got to walk the block or ten to the El/Broad Street Line/trolley/bus with a pocket full of change. And that’s annoying. But sometimes this happens: Somewhere amid that scrounging through pennies to find quarters, dimes and nickels, a token you forgot about perks up its tiny, copper-in-nickel head. Triumph: No change rattling around in your pockets, no waiting for the SEPTA booth attendant to count the cash. Feels good, man.

Helping a stranger out by trading a token for a swipe

Ever buy a handful of tokens from a kiosk at 15th Street while a teenager watches from not-so-far-away? Sure you have! She’s not being creepy — she just wants to trade you a token for one of her unlimited rides. She’ll swipe you through, then you can give her a token. It costs the same for you, but for her friend who’s visiting for the weekend and needs to get on the El, you just made that person’s day. With the inevitable smart card system in place, you will never make that person’s day, ever again.

Using tokens as currency

If you’ve been in Philly long enough, you’ve probably used a token for payment at a corner store at least once. Maybe you needed to stay at someone’s apartment but were completely broke aside from some transportation coinage. Maybe your dealer needed rides once. Whatever the case, many Philadelphians have bartered with SEPTA tokens. Try doing that with a computerized plastic card with an invisible X-number of rides on it. Any given card might have one ride, or ten, or none; you could barter with it, but the person accepting the card would be gambling on your honesty.

Complaining about tokens

Like we said earlier, SEPTA is the butt of many jokes; when we complain about city services, the Authority is never forgotten. Stepping up to cutting-age-for-a-decade-ago technology for all our buses, trains and trolleys means we’ve got one less thing about which to complain. You know that “I can’t believe we still use these fucking tokens!” conversation? Dead. That means all we’ll have left is the Eagles, the government, the taxes, the garbage and the people. And is that really enough?

What else will you miss about not having SEPTA tokens to kick around anymore? Comment/email or tweet at us: @PhillyWeekly@RandyLoBasso

3 Responses to “ 4 things we are going to miss about SEPTA tokens ”

  1. PhillyGal says:

    as a long-time SEPTA rider, and someone who, for years, relied on tokens before finally buying monthly transpasses, i love this.

  2. Matt Hazz says:

    1. Finding a token instead of quarter, yeah, will miss that but seriously how often does that happen, maybe once, twice in your life?

    2. Swipes for tokens? You mean swipes for drugs or cash. Whatever it is called fraud and its probably illegal.

    3. Again, how often does this happen, maybe once in your life? I mean when was the last time you bartered with stamps?

    4. Complaining about tokens, sure there won;t be tokens but the buggy mag stripe system thats easy to bypass? There will be plenty of complaining about that to take its place.

    - Matt Haz

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