How Did This Pac-Man Token Get Into a SEPTA Machine?

Christian Alsis wanted to get 11 tokens. He got 10 tokens and a game of Pac-Man.

Namco video game token found in a SEPTA token machine

This arcade token came out of a SEPTA token machine. You’re not supposed to ride the subway with it, but it will get you halfway to a game of pop-a-shot in most arcades. | Photo: Christian Alsis

Christian Alsis lives in Pennsport and works in Old City. He takes the 57 bus to get to the office, and generally buys tokens at the machines at the 2nd Street El stop. He puts in a $20 bill, and gets 11 tokens and four nickels in return.

Last week, however, Alsis got something different: Five nickels, 10 tokens and one Pac-Man arcade token. He couldn’t believe it. He talked to a SEPTA employee in a little booth, who wasn’t having it. “I went up to him and I said, ‘Hey this machine just gave me a Pac-Man token like that instead of a SEPTA token,’” he says. “The guy said, ‘I don’t know what to tell you. I can’t really help you.’ I’m sure they get that every day, people trying to run weird token scams.”

Weird scam or not, Alsis forgot about it until emptying his pockets at the end of the day. He tweeted about it, and @SEPTA_SOCIAL got in touch with him and replaced his Pac-Man token. Plus he got to keep it — so he could conceivably use it at Time-Out at the Neshaminy Mall!

Alsis could, of course, treat the bus as if he were playing Crusin’ USA. “I’ve been joking I’m going to put it on the dash of the 57 bus,” he says, “and tell the driver my turn was next.”

But how did Alsis get an arcade token from a SEPTA machine anyway? It’s not all that complicated, says John Solecki, SEPTA’s director of revenue operations. Though bus drivers do visual inspections of whatever is inserted into the fare box or cashier booth farehead, once a coin or token (or whatever) is in there, it cannot be removed.

After they’re inserted into the fare box, tokens then go to SEPTA’s cash room. Bogus tokens are rejected based on size and weight, and removed by magnets. But arcade tokens are similar to SEPTA tokens in size, shape, and weight — so some of them make it through.

Tokens are then counted and placed into bags to be delivered to SEPTA’s token-packaging contractor. The contractor visually inspects the tokens, but some still make it through: Arcade tokens have even made it into sealed bags of SEPTA tokens. SEPTA’s token-packaging contractor processes about $2 million in tokens a month and removes about 3,000 bogus coins.

Of course, this isn’t supposed to be a problem for too much longer: With SEPTA Key on the way, SEPTA tokens will one day go the way of the video arcade.