SEPTA releases proposal for July 1 fare hike and NPT-related fare rule changes

Updated 2013-3-16 7:00p

After months of speculation, and not a little bit of pleading from this blog and others, we are finally learning some of what is waiting in store for SEPTA riders when NPT rolls out later this year. This is coming wrapped up with fare hikes and rule changes that SEPTA will be implementing on July 1 as part of its policy to increment fares every two or so fiscal years to keep up with cost inflation. Details are available at

SEPTA is saving itself a round of public hearings by folding both the preprogrammed fare hikes and the NPT changes into one plan, but is not doing itself any favors in terms of PR by linking the two moves in the public consciousness. NPT-related changes will go into effect on July 1 2014, or 60 days after SEPTA gives notice that NPT rollout is complete, whichever comes first.

There are a lot of details to keep straight, and I’ll be diving into those for the next week or so in follow-up posts, but the key takeaways are as follows:
On the transit side:

  • The venerable SEPTA token will spend its last few months in circulation at $1.80, up from $1.55. The cash fare will go up from $2.00 to $2.25 on July 1, and up again to $2.50 when the NPT rollout is considered complete.
  • Transfers will remain $1.00, but NPT will deep-six the paper slip, and also put a 90 minute limit on transfers (there is a poorly-enforced 120 minute limit with the paper transfers today).
  • The Monthly Transpass is going up from $83 to $92. This makes the break-even point for riders who don’t transfer a little more favorable, at 52 single-seat rides per month instead of 54.
  • The Norristown High Speed Line and the Premium Bus Routes (123, 124, 125, and 150) will now have one flat charge for all riders, higher than the current maximum fares, even for short-distance travel.

On the railroad side:

  • Zone 4 is being abolished. Six stations are being moved to Zone 5 (which will then be renamed as the new Zone 4), the rest are being moved to Zone 3.
  • Trailpasses for Zones 1, 2, and 3 are going up. Anywhere Trailpasses are staying the same. Most Zone 4 passholders will see fare reductions as their home stations are moved to Zone 3; the remainder will pay more for an Anywhere Pass. The Cross-County Pass will now come in Weekly as well as Monthly flavors. The IM-1 Intermediate Monthly pass is being eliminated.
  • Occasional riders of Regional Rail will see marginal increases in ticket prices, but those paying with NPT Smart Media cards will now be paying rates that were previously reserved for Ten Trip ticket purchasers.
  • Gender stickers on passes are headed to the dustbin of history where they belong. To prevent abuse, “unlimited” passes will be limited in software to 50 uses for a weekly, 200 for a monthly.

A note for SEPTA non-professionals: SEPTA’s public hearings are not a joke, and they are not a show trial. While some things, like the overall amount of revenue to be collected, are fairly fixed, new fare rules can, and do, get modified due to public outcry and public pressure.

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  1. Other technical questions that need answering:
    1. Will NPT be a magnetic stripe or chipcard system? (Chipcards are now standard in Europe.)
    2. Will NPT be compatible with PATCO’s Freedom Card? (If they are, the 8th St. station can be made a free transfer, and a virtual transfer can be instituted between Walnut-Locust, 12th-13th, and 15th-16th St. stations.)
    3. Will NPT be made open-ended enough to be readily compatible with neighboring transit systems? (That is, will it allow for future NJ Transit, Amtrak, DART, BARTA, etc., farecards to be compatible with it?)

    All four of these questions are asking questions of fare coordination, which remains an issue here but is largely solved elsewhere in the First World.

    1. From SEPTA’s NPT page:

      1. Chipcards, key fobs, and NFC-equipped smartphones will be accepted.
      2. PATCO’s Freedom Card is not compatible (nor was it considered open or extendable to do what SPETA wanted to do with it).
      3. SEPTA is developing NPT to be built on open and extendable protocols. Other systems will be able to adopt it as they see fit.

      If you, who are presumably paying attention, had this much uncertainty over what NPT entails this close to the implementation date, then SEPTA’s PR outreach must have been a complete failure. This bodes poorly.

      1. To a certain extent, I’ve only become interested in NPT (again) since I’ve had cause to return to fare coordination issues recently.

        As far as NPT and Freedom Card are concerned, there is such a thing as back-compatibility as well. The 3DS is back-compatible with the DS (itself back-compatible with the Game Boy Advance, and so forth). The Wii U is back-compatible with the Wii (itself back-compatible with the GameCube). AFAIK the PS Vita is back-compatible with the PSP. Game companies do it all the time. Why is it so hard for mass transit agencies?

        IIRC, when PATCO rolled out its Freedom Card (chip-based, btw), it was designed to be forward-compatible for when SEPTA rolled out NPT. If SEPTA does not extend basic back-compatibility to the Freedom Card, what right does it have to expect that anybody else will utilize its own forward-compatibility?

    1. This only affects the Airport Line; Transpasses lost their within-city-limits off-peak privileges in the last fare hike. Airport Line commuters are now going to be covered by Zone 1 passes, which is a step backwards but still reasonable. (This restores parity with City off peak and is overall an improvement from a decade ago when the required pass was Zone 2.)

  2. I also just came across the “Via Center City” fare changes (I’m someone who uses those a lot). Is it possible they accidentally put in bad numbers? It shows the same $8.50 charge for all VCC fares, which would be a huge increase for those going from zone 1 – 1, but a decrease for those going from zone 4 – Trenton, which strikes me as odd.

    1. There’s a lot of flattening of fares on the RRD. I’ll get into it more in my in-depth NPT/RRD post, but 1) it’s bad, and 2) it may be meaningless, given the unenforceable nature of Intermediate and Via Center City fares under NPT.

      1. It’s worse than meaningless, because the ridiculously steep prices actively disincentivize behavior that follows the rules. If your choice is paying $8.50 or paying nothing and probably not getting caught, nobody is going to choose to pay $8.50. Which seems pretty idiotic, and not the kind of thing SEPTA ought to be wanting to do.

        This stuff will in fact be somewhat enforceable until NPT actually takes effect, right? Although limited by the fact that conductors are merely human.

      2. You’ve hit the nail on the head. By trying to squeeze shut a tiny window of fare evasion, the back door is being left wide open.

        Of course, all this will be very enforceable in the year or so between July 1 2013 and NPT, since there’s not a serious fare evasion problem today. So people will just stop riding, in that year. Myself personally, I would rather people evade fares en masse than drive, but then again I’m not SEPTA, and my priorities are different from theirs. Bad fare collection can be fixed, but defections to the car are usually permanent or semi-permanent (sunk costs).

      3. Right. If you have to buy a car (or a second car) to commute to work — you have a car now, and you have to drive it, if only for the car’s continued well-being. Even ignoring the sunk costs.

        Even SEPTA should be able to see that transit systems do better financially when they successfully convince people to take them. NPT already places literal barriers to ridership, with this plan of constructing actual fare gates in rail station that work perfectly well now, thank you. Adding financial barriers to this is going to make taking the train even more daunting, and add to the overwhelming impression that SEPTA is trying to guard its precious trains from those people who want to actually ride on them.

        1. SEPTA has historically preferred to collect a dollar now even if it loses ten dollars later. Putting turnstiles on Regional Rail platforms is simply the latest example. Look at the mess with its on-board cash surcharge – no other commuter railroad in the country imposes a penalty on riders who board at a station where there’s no ticket office or vending machine, but SEPTA does. That punishes people who aren’t “well behaved” riders; i.e. they don’t or can’t use a pass, they ride outside of standard ticket office hours, or they have the temerity to board at a station where SEPTA doesn’t provide an alternative purchase method. It’s also a major problem for outbound Airport Line riders who have NO way to purchase tickets in advance. Every time I’ve used that line there are disagreements between passengers and conductors, but SEPTA refuses to budge. How many visitors’ views of Philadelphia have been soured because SEPTA can’t bother to install ticket machines at PHL?

          1. no other commuter railroad in the country imposes a penalty on riders who board at a station where there’s no ticket office or vending machine

            Not quite. NJT imposes its $5 on-board surcharge at all times. Now, every station in the NJT system has at least one TVM, but there’s no leniency on the surcharge if the TVM isn’t working.

            The Airport Line is definitely a substandard welcome for visitors, and even SEPTA understands that (the last generation of ticket machines survives at the Airport longer than anywhere else on the system). I’ve forgotten if there was an explicit question about fare ending machines at the airport during the hearings, but I’d be shocked if the airport wasn’t considered a “Transportation Center”, all of which are slated to get machines. There will be a ruckus if Wissahickon gets a machine and the Airport doesn’t…

  3. What was SEPTA’s team thinking (or not thinking) when they decided to charge a full 3-zone fare for local riders on the 12X routes in King of Prussia? Those lines not only carry people into Philadelphia, they also provide local services to Upper Merion, Valley Forge Park and Chesterbrook. Do the “planners” at 1234 Market really think it’s equitable to charge local passengers the same fare as people who are riding to Center City? How many people will stop taking those buses because their costs have suddenly doubled? And what happens where those routes coincide with others that continue to charge standard fares? For example, the 124 and 125 routes coincide with 99 within King of Prussia, and the 123 coincides with three other routes from Manoa to Upper Darby. Over those stretches the other buses and the 12X routes provide identical service using identical vehicles, yet one will charge twice as much as the other simply because it carries a different number on its signboard. It seems like SEPTA is creating a logistical and public relations nightmare for itself.

    1. During the hearings, SEPTA did indicate that they were going to partially roll back the 12X changes. 124/125 riders will be charged local rates for rides that begin and end west of Gulph Mills. The 123 will go back to being an express service along West Chester Pike, making only two or three intermediate stops between 69th St. and I-476.

      Nothing is final until the SEPTA board votes to approve a new tariff, but I would point out that the SEPTA reps who made those statements were testifying under oath…

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