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SEPTA Key costs balloon to fix smartcard snafus

May 4, 2018

SEPTA has increased the estimated price of implementing the Key card payment system to $297.77 million, up about 70 percent from the $175 million cost SEPTA estimated after selecting the project’s main contractor.

The price jump in the capital budget for the upcoming fiscal year comes along with a three-year delay on the project’s finish date until 2020. The project was originally scheduled for completion in December 2013.

Both changes can be blamed on unexpected do-overs and additions needed for the system software, and design upgrades for the notoriously user-unfriendly kiosks.

Every fix needed to make the cards easier to use means a revision to the initial contract with the contractors implementing Key, said Tom McFadden, SEPTA’s chief financial officer.

“There have been change orders that we’ve put in for either additional capacity or additional functionality,” said McFadden. “So, as we hear information from customers, things that they’re looking for, we start to look at ways that we can add functionality to the program. And all that gets thrown into the change orders, and that’s what really results in a higher budget.”

In March, SEPTA’s board of directors authorized the 18th change order with Conduent, the primary contractor for the Key system, raising the contract price to about $160 million.

The board simultaneously approved SEPTA’s 11th change order with Edens Corp., which is working on the Key’s implementation on Regional Rail, increasing the total contract price to about $82 million. And the contract with SEPTA’s technical consultant on the project, LTK Engineering Services, has been extended six times, bringing the total contract price to almost $16 million.

The changes to the original contracts come as SEPTA runs into unexpected problems with the smart card system’s rollout, and as the agency decides that Key should have additional features.

For example, in response to criticism over the kiosks’ confusing interface, SEPTA requested more intuitively designed machines. SEPTA also decided to hire a new design firm to build an easy-to-use website for the Key.

Constantly shifting goalposts have plagued the project from the start. Conduent, which due to mergers and spinoffs has changed its name three times during the Key implementation (from ACS Transport Solutions to Xerox Transportation Solutions to the current name), signed a contract in December 2011, three years after SEPTA first solicited bids from contractors.

Over that period, SEPTA added 26 addenda to the bid document, each of which, like the change orders, modified the scope and specifications for the new payment system. — (WHYY)