SEPTA modernization

Sandy Smith covers the key SEPTA upgrades expected for the year. I follow this stuff, but tend not to write about it often because I don’t like wandering too far into the weeds. But two of these upgrades represent significant modernization that will change the experience of Greater Philadelphia for residents and visitors alike.

First is SEPTA Key, which looks like it will finally be launched, starting in phases, this spring or summer. It’s not simply a smart card system, which many cities have. It also supports NFC on iPhones, which is important because it means you’ll even be able to travel with a just an Apple Watch eventually. This positions Philadelphia way ahead of its peers, and will make traveling SEPTA throughout Greater Philadelphia as frictionless as taking an Uber—no cash, tokens, tickets, or waiting lines at ticket booths and machines.

Second, real-time GPS tracking will start to arrive in earnest for buses, regional rail, trolleys, etc. Game changing when deciding whether to run to catch a train, especially in winter. As much a safety improvement as a tech improvement.

I think it’s more useful to think about transport as “networked v. non-networked” rather than “public v. private”. This paradigm doesn’t quite make sense yet in terms of mainstream experience. It will sense over the next 15-20 years as autonomous vehicles and chip-infused transport networks blur the distinction between public v. private ownership.