SEPTA: fake tokens ‘very rare’ but not impossible to come across

This a story I wrote for WHYY’s NewsWorks.org, where I work full-time as the Feed Blogger.

I spoke with SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch about fake tokens: where do they come from and how do they end up packaged with real ones? After a little digging, I got details on how and where tokens are sorted and packaged.

You can read the full story below. It originally appeared on NewsWorks [pdf version].

Every now and then you’ll get change the store and find a Canadian penny in the mix. No big deal; the penny looks just like U.S. currency and only the most observant cashier would notice the difference when you tried to pass it off later.

But there is no Canadian penny equivalent of fake SEPTA tokens. Get a bum token in your pack and there’s no way that thing will make the turnstyle work. So then how do the phonies end up sealed in your token pack in the first place?

The most likely explanation? “Somebody put a fake token in the machine and it got repackaged,” SEPTA press officer Andrew Busch explains.

Though the mix-up happens pretty rarely, Busch says the coins and tokens from SEPTA machines get taken to a third-party packaging site where they’re sorted by weight.

See that laundromat token to the right? It came wrapped tight in a pack of tokens I bought a few months ago. It’s similar to the one Behavioral Health reporter Maiken Scott got recently. It must have weighed just about what a token weighs and ended up sealed in with the real deals.

SEPTA revenue attendants take the tokens and coins to be sorted and bundled into the appropriately sized packs. Packaging Services, Inc., a large company with facilities in Connellsville, and McAdoo, Pa., puts the tokens in those plastic wraps you buy from SEPTA.

So what do you do if you get a non-token?

“Make sure you examine them right at the point of purchase,” Busch advises. Once you walk away from the desk, the token purchase is considered final. While Busch says SEPTA is “not inflexible” when it comes to working with customers short a token, walking up to a booth with several non-tokens in your hand won’t get you very far.

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