The Old System: (This section is just for background, so you can skip it if you need to.) For the past several years, I often took the SEPTA train from Marcus Hook into Philly on my own just to explore the city, or with my wife to have lunch at the Reading Terminal Market and perhaps browse briefly in Chinatown, which is right outside of the Jefferson Station (formally the Market Street East Station). Usually we did this on a Saturday morning to avoid the commuters and to park for free at the Marcus Hook Station. The Marcus Hook Station had more frequent trains and was no farther for us than the Delaware stations. What was crowded on weekdays was almost deserted on Saturdays. The fare was only $1 and we could be asked to show our Medicare card for identification as seniors. Nothing else was accepted, and later on, the conductor did not even ask to see our Medicare card. We were obviously seniors. Parking at the Marcus Hook Station was plentiful and free on Saturdays. Once in Philadelphia, any subway, bus, or trolley was free anytime for seniors. The whole trip was a pleasure, and going into the city became one of our main hobbies. It was comforting to know I could jump on any SEPTA transportation and come back by the same route when I was ready to go home.
Technically, the system was only meant for Pennsylvania residents, but I never felt I was mooching off the Pennsylvania taxpayers because anytime I went was there were many empty seats, and once in Philly, I spent money (albeit as little as possible). No one ever questioned my residency.
I wrote my adventures in this blog. You can retrieve them by scrolling all the way down the right column and selecting the category “Philadelphia.”
After the discovery of my wife’s medical problems, we stopped going in for over a year, then this summer we did a trial run to see if she could climb the train’s steep steps to board the train. She could, thanks to the help of the railings on either side. (Once in Philadelphia, the station platforms are level with the train.)
The New System: SEPTA announced they were ending the old system of relying on Medicare cards and begin a new system using a photo card they called a Key card. The new card would have an embedded chip and all we would need to do was tap the fare box with the card. All SEPTA transportation—trains, subways, buses and trolleys—would be completely free for seniors within Pennsylvania.
Back then, we found the stations littered with barriers and fare boxes waiting to be installed. The change would be a big deal, but had to be done.
I thought this new system would also be only for Pennsylvania residents, but nowhere did they mention this. Here was the glitch: The two locations they list on their website to get the free card are only open during weekday business hours, meaning I would have to travel with the crowds of normal commuters and pay a one-way fare to get there. One location was Room 109 at Suburban Station and the other was at their office at 1234 Market Street.
So, yesterday (a Tuesday) I went into Suburban Station to maybe get my card, or at least see how it all works. Later, I will take my wife to get hers. I took the train like always from Marcus Hook. The Station Master at Marcus Hook (Joanne, who’s been there for years) told me to tell the conductor the reason for my trip, and, sure enough, he understood, only asked to see my driver’s license, and did not charge me a fare.
I was lucky to get the last parking spot at Marcus Hook. The Wilmington train station is being rebuilt, and once that is finished, I suspect I will be able to go there, but that is probably a year away. SEPTA folded the old Marcus Hook line into the new Wilmington-Newark line, giving Delaware official recognition.
Suburban Station was transformed and filled with rushing commuters. I did not recognize anything, but many SEPTA workers were there to guide me. They were very eager to help, and waved me through an empty turnstile. They also led me to Room 109, just around the corner.
Going into the Room 109 was like going into any spartan DMV: bare white walls, garish fluorescent lighting, several people waiting on plastic chairs, and a bank of sullen black girls at computers entering the data.
But in only a few minutes, I walked out with my free SEPTA Key card in hand, good until 2023. I think an updated card then will cost $5, but if I am lucky, I’ll be dead by then. What were those others waiting for? Who knows? Don’t ask, just like at the DMV.
On the trip back to Marcus Hook, I was ready to show my new card, but the conductor did not ask to see it. Darn!
I assume there is a liberal grace period for everyone to adjust to the new system, and I suggest you go soon to get yours while it is still in effect. Just be sure to take your driver’s license (Pennsylvania or Delaware, maybe New Jersey). Check the Internet before you go. My driver’s license has a gold star in the upper right corner that means it can be used for identification just like a passport.
There is a lot about the system I don’t know, but neither does anyone else. The system seems to be still evolving. All I can tell you is what worked for me. Try it yourself and good luck.
What To Remember: All SEPTA transportation (trains, subways, buses, trolleys) are free for seniors. The only question is how to prove you are a senior. Wrinkles on your face? No. Medicare card? No. Driver’s license? No. Passport? No. Doctor’s note? No.
The only method acceptable is by the SEPTA Key card with your photo on it and an embedded chip. No point in trying anything else. If you forgot to bring your Key card, pay full fare or go home. A sign in Suburban Station said full implementation of the new system would begin September 1, 2019.
Eventually, I understand, everyone will have a SEPTA Key card, just not a Senior Key card. It will replace tokens and paper transfers for the sub-senior customers.
SEPTA is giving you a great perk with no restrictions, no exceptions. The least you can do is cooperate.
To learn more about the full program (more than just the seniors part), search for SEPTA KEY or simply click here.