SEPTA is working on defects in the ticketing functionality on mobile phones

Mark Chadwick wants to help. He downloaded the software on his Android. He keeps trying to use it but can’t.

“I still haven’t been able to create a ticket,” said Chadwick, a volunteer beta tester for SEPTA’s mobile phone ticketing app, which is in development. Its series of field trials began on October 3.

If all goes well, the interface downloads a QR-code ticket that can be read at the turnstiles as well as the bus or tram ticket on the city’s public transport. It is paid with a credit card entered on the app.

One thing it can’t do: use money stored in a driver’s keycard travel wallet. Several testers, who are mostly frequent SEPTA users, said it was frustrating. They also described the process of downloading mobile tickets as tedious, not made for spontaneous excursions.

SEPTA officials acknowledge some issues, unclear communication and initial confusion when early testers found they couldn’t link their key cards to the mobile ticket feature or use Apple or Google Pay, as the passengers on many other U.S. transit systems. But fixes are being applied and improvements such as contactless payments with debit and credit cards are coming soon.

“We are receiving constructive feedback,” said William Zebrowski, Chief Information Officer of SEPTA. “The good thing is that we don’t see anything blocking where we should stop the program.”

Authority goes forward. It sent an additional 2,500 email invitations Wednesday afternoon to people who had expressed an interest in participating in the trial. At least 1,000 people downloaded the new software in the first 24 hours, officials said. And contactless payments with credit cards are coming soon.

The drive to upgrade its fare collection technology comes at a pivotal time for SEPTA: it needs to revive ridership before federal pandemic recovery assistance for transit systems is fully expended. Overall, around 60% more people are taking the authority’s buses, metros, trams and regional trains as in 2019.

Tester Todd Schwartz of South Philadelphia said he was disappointed because he expected a similar experience to using the Google or Apple payment platforms.

“It’s laborious, and they defeat the purpose of adding an extra step,” he said. “It would be easier to get your Key Card out.”

Cameron Adamez, a tester with years of experience as a web designer and developer, said he only used the mobile ticketing app a few times. “That’s a certain amount of OK,” they said.

It would be more useful if linked to the Key Card’s Travel Wallet. “Getting a ticket was actually super easy, but it’s not as flexible as I hoped it would be,” said Adamez, from South Philadelphia. They like the ability to buy multiple tickets at once, new with mobile ticketing.

The target audience for mobile ticketing is more casual SEPTA users than people carrying key card balances, said Kevin O’Brien, senior SEPTA Key program manager.

“They’re not really in competition with each other,” O’Brien said. “Keycards have most of the benefits that mobile ticketing would have, except for multi-passenger functionality.” Said Zebrowski: “We really looked at convenience… Be at the bus station or head to the subway, maybe for an Eagles game or the Phillies game this weekend. If I have four other people in my group, I activate four tickets” and go.

For Jared Cohen, the problem is that SEPTA insisted on building everything on its own internal app instead of interfacing with third-party apps people already use, such as Transit App, Google Maps and Apple Maps.

“The end result has been a complete mess of an app that frequently crashes, randomly logs you out, gives inaccurate or hard-to-understand information, and generally feels like a chore to use,” said Cohen, a junior at the ‘Temple University. specialization in geography and urban studies. “Now add a mobile ticketing system on top of that, and you get a messy experience.”

He finds it easier to primarily use his plastic key card, but has found mobile ticketing to be handy when he was able to pay for a classmate to ride a bus with him recently.

Key, which introduced fund-loaded plastic card runners at ATMs and SEPTA sales offices, has suffered from glitches and cost overruns since its introduction in 2016 – two years later than expected. SEPTA paid approximately $239 million, nearly double the original negotiated price of $122 million.

Indeed, SEPTA asked Conduent, the contractor who built the system, to solve the initial problems and to maintain and keep the system up to date, which includes adapting to new technologies like mobile ticketing.

Developing software and installing new fare readers capable of handling mobile tickets cost about $5.75 million, officials said. Conduent is doing the work to set up mobile ticketing.

The plan is to make mobile ticketing available to the public in early 2023, SEPTA officials said. Next, the agency will begin testing the authorization of direct payments from credit and debit cards and Google or Apple Pay.

READ MORE: SEPTA’s key card program just got another $29.5 million. It’s way over budget.

Chadwick, who lives in South Philly, owns a downtown advertising company with offices in New York, so he travels there often. He said he loves the MTA’s Omni payment system, which lets him use Google Pay linked to a transit card, to pay for rides.

“It’s the least friction I’ve ever had with [paying for] public transit,” he said. “You don’t even break your stride at the turnstiles.” During a visit to Chicago recently, he seamlessly integrated CTA’s Ventra Card and noticed about 300 transit system options on his payment app.

“How do all these other agencies figure things out and SEPTA can’t?” said Chadwick.

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