Queues blues

07May08

Waiting in line for regional rail line tickets at 30th Street Station, Philadlephia
Philadelphia’s public transit system in 2007 eliminated its ticketing machines, which means regional rail passengers must go to a window to buy single tickets or rail passes, or pay a hefty surcharge for tickets bought aboard a train. Lines such as this one at 30th Street Station (in April 2008 ) are common.

In this case on a Saturday afternoon, two service windows had agents, but only one of the agents was actually helping customers — a common frustration of the crippled system. If riders need a ticket when the offices are closed, the only option is to buy aboard the train, with surcharge.

Why would a major transit system remove its ticketing machines? The agency said the machines could not recognize the new U.S. currency. Clearly Septa did not have the money to upgrade or replace the machines, but when it instituted the hard-line surcharge policy — even though many of its regional rail stops do not have ticket agents — it was met by derision from its customers, particularly those who did not use the system frequently enough to need a rail pass.

In response, the agency eventually devised a byzantine procedure for a return-trip credit that compensates for the surcharge, but only if the credit application is made on the day of travel at a staffed window. Which means being at a station that has a staffed window and, chances are, standing in line.

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