SEPTA smart-card official retires, takes job with consultant

A Silverliner V , the new generation of railcar. JULIETTE LYNCH

The leader of SEPTA's delayed $130 million smart-card fare system retired last week and went to work for the company that is assisting SEPTA in creating the new system.

John McGee, SEPTA's chief officer of new payment technologies, is prohibited by SEPTA rules from working on the SEPTA project for one year for his new employer, LTK Engineering Services of Ambler.

A SEPTA spokesman said McGee's departure would not further delay the installation of the smart-card system, which will replace tokens, passes, transfers, and tickets on SEPTA's buses, subways, trolleys and, eventually, Regional Rail trains.

Riders will tap a smart card on an electronic reader that will automatically deduct the fare. They will be able to use any "contactless" bank card or SEPTA's own chip-equipped card.

In November 2011, SEPTA awarded a $129.5 million contract for its new system to ACS Transport Solutions Group of Columbia, Md., a subsidiary of Xerox Corp. Related projects, such as new control centers and elevator modifications, will bring SEPTA's total cost to about $200 million.

The debut of the system is now about a year behind schedule, with the first smart-card use scheduled for fall. Regional Rail riders are now expected to switch to smart cards in mid-to-late 2015.

SEPTA officials have had recent high-level discussions with Xerox officials to solve problems delaying the system.

Anxious to avoid the kinds of glitches that have bedeviled the rollout of the Chicago Transit Authority's new fare-payment system, SEPTA officials vow they won't go public with the new system until all the bugs are worked out.

"There have been a lot of challenges, but we're making good progress now," SEPTA spokesman Fran Kelly said Friday.

The smart-card system is the priority of deputy general manager Jeffrey Knueppel, who is overseeing the project, Kelly said.

McGee's deputies, Leslie Hickman and Kevin O'Brien, will assume day-to-day management of the project, Kelly said.

McGee, who joined SEPTA in 1984, "was eligible for his retirement after 30 years, and he opted to do that," Kelly said. He retired April 1.

A spokesman for LTK said McGee would work on that firm's fare-payment projects for transit agencies in other cities, but not on the SEPTA project.

LTK was hired as SEPTA's consultant for the smart-card project for $9 million in August 2011.

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