Transit advocates prod CAC on smart cards

The region’s major transit advocacy group prodded SEPTA’s Citizen Advisory Committee to get more involved in the authority’s signature smart card project last night.

Matt Mitchell of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers told the CAC to “exercise your role” as an oversight body by getting more heavily involved in the smart card project, which is now moving forward after receiving $175 million in financing through the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.

It had been stalled for several months because of cuts in state infrastructure spending.

Mitchell told the CAC that “you have powers we don’t” and said that it should ask SEPTA officials involved in the process to appear before the committee to explain how the system will work.

“There is no more important” issue facing SEPTA riders today, Mitchell said, adding that he feared SEPTA would permit the SEPTA Board and public only a “Hobson’s choice” on key decisions, including whether regional rail would move to a one-way fare collection system.

SEPTA general manager Joe Casey has promised an open process, with public meetings, to decide such key details.

Mitchell said the CAC should also be sending reports to Casey giving its opinions on the rollout and design of the system.

The last public CAC comment on smart cards came back in August, when it criticized SEPTA management for leaving it out of key decisions. The committee faced strong criticism at the time from SEPTA management for its statement.

In response to Mitchell’s comments, CAC chairwoman Aissia Richardson said the committee was “looking” into the smart card project and had a meeting scheduled with project manager John McGee.

She said Philadelphia’s representatives on the committee were trying to make their concerns known to the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities and asked members appointed by the suburban counties to bring the matter up with their appointing authorities.

That approach didn’t appear to go far enough for Philadelphia member Adam Krom, who said that giving input on the direction of smart cards was “one of the reasons why [the CAC] was created.” He asked Richardson to form a committee to look into the project, something Richardson initially rejected.

She then offered to form an ad hoc smart card committee, though Krom wanted the CAC executive board to choose the members on the committee.

SEPTA hopes to announce a vendor to build the smart card system in May or June.

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