The inspiration for writing about transit began when I made a point to notice this sign as I descended the stairs at the Tasker-Morris stop on the Broad Street Line last week: Exact fare only. The cashier has no change.
This is not a very friendly message. Since I have a monthly unlimited transpass, I can ignore that sign and keep moving. A few years ago, when I wasn't on the monthly plan, that sign used to anger me every day. Not only did this station require exact change, they did not have token machines either. Unless you're a seasoned rider, you would not know until you get to the cashier that the fare is $2. And if you had a $5 or a $20 bill, it didn't matter. $2 in bills or coins was all that would get you through that turnstile.
As I was pondering this frustration the other day, I realized (to SEPTA's credit) that in the years since I used to visit this stop regularly, they have gotten token machines! Yes, I have seen them many times, but it dawned on me that they did solve one part of the problem. Technically you don't need exact change anymore. If you have a $5 bill, you can put it in the machine and get a few tokens to be used for future trips.
But if you want to buy some tokens with all those quarters you've stashed for a rainy day, forget it! This machine does not accept coins.
Well SEPTA, you are trying.
I'm still holding out for NYC's MTA plan: MetroCards with declining balances that can be filled up at any station at any time, with cash or credit. Now that's convenient.