Swarthmore’s ID card, the OneCard, is an essential tool used throughout the campus. It permits access to specific buildings, libraries, and facilities. The OneCard is also used for meal payments and swipes on campus and at other Ville venues.
On Nov. 1, students, faculty, and staff received an email from Director of Campus Services Anthony Condo about the new Digital OneCard available on mobile device wallets. Through the GET app, Swatties can now attach their Digital OneCard to their mobile wallets on Apple and Android devices, allowing them to scan their phones instead of their physical OneCards.
In an email interview with The Phoenix, Condo explained the long journey it took to make the Digital OneCard a reality.
“We had this [Digital OneCard] on our roadmap with the inception of the OneCard Office in 2016 as an emerging technology. All campus stakeholders at that time fully supported this initiative but knew it would take a few years to come to fruition,” Condo stated.
Since 2016, the college has been working to implement the Digital OneCard by ensuring that campus technology, including card readers and locks, would be compatible with mobile wallets. The original plan was to formally implement the Digital OneCard in the Summer of 2020, but the COVID pandemic put the project on an approximately two-year hold.
“We [began] the formal process in May of 2022. This phase lasted roughly six months, with a few items we still need to complete on upgrades with our vending contractor and the libraries,” he explained. “The process involved working with our OneCard vendor CBORD, Apple, and Google to get the back-end programming in place along with testing. We also had to visit every card reader on campus – roughly 1000 – during these six months to apply some firmware updates.”
A test trial of the Digital OneCard was granted to a small group of Residence Advisors (RAs), faculty, and staff at the start of the Fall 2022 semester to find any potential issues or malfunctions prior to the Digital OneCard’s release to the campus community.
“In consultation with OSE, we felt it would be beneficial to engage the student RAs to be our formal test group. Also, we had some select groups of faculty/staff as well. The group of RAs wound up having 25 participants, and they had access to this technology for about a month,” he said. “Only a few minor issues were reported and immediately addressed, and there were no reports of this being a difficult adjustment.”
Cynthia Shi ’23, an RA from Mertz who was part of the test trial, described her initial reaction to hearing about the Digital OneCard.
“At first I thought ‘oh gosh, finally!’ As someone who loses her OneCard all the time, I thought it would be such a big improvement to have the Digital OneCard. Options like ApplePay have become such a popular way of digitally accessing payments and tickets. I also know some friends in other schools who said that they have their student ID on their phones,” Shi stated.
Many students, including Shi, wish that the Digital OneCard had come out earlier.
“I think it would’ve been nice to have it earlier. I tend to lose my physical OneCard, and it has made my life somewhat difficult. I would always worry about losing it and carrying it around, and not leaving it behind (otherwise I won’t be able to do anything on this campus). And in the past years, I’ve also seen many people losing and leaving behind their OneCard,” she said.
Condo believes that the Digital OneCard will positively impact campus accessibility. In addition, the Digital OneCard will have real material effects for the OneCard office.
“Probably one of the biggest benefits will be the enhancement to the community experience in that you will be able to move around campus with ease using your phone or watch. People are much less likely to lose or forget their phones, so we expect issues stemming from lost or forgotten cards to decline. Over time, we also expect to see a substantial decrease in the number of plastic cards we have to print,” Condo said.
Shi discussed how the introduction of the Digital OneCard comes amid a general increase in college accessibility initiatives.
“I think that the college is moving towards replacing traditional dorm room door keys with Digital OneCard readers, which Mertz and NPPR have at the moment. [The locks] can be an added layer of security for students and encourage them to lock their doors more often. This will hopefully reduce the number of lockout accidents, which can be incredibly stressful,” she said.
Currently, the only campus locations that do not accept Digital OneCard access are libraries and campus vending machines. The college plans to increase Digital OneCard access to these areas by 2023.
Students are having a positive experience with the Digital OneCard, especially now that they don’t have to use their physical OneCard for each entry or payment. Alex Wuttig ’26 stated that he appreciates the convenience of the Digital OneCard.
“The Digital OneCard has been surprisingly seamless. I haven’t had any real issues using it to get into buildings. It is very convenient in those moments where you are a bit distracted and forget that you need to pull out your OneCard from the depths of your pockets. But now, I can just put my Apple Watch up to the sensor, and everything works out,” said Wuttig.
While making the switch from the physical to the Digital OneCard was seamless for Wuttig, he cited one source of insecurity regarding the ease of scanning into the Dining and Community Commons (DCC).
“Beware of using it [Digital OneCard] at the DCC or anywhere with a line. One time I tried to use my Apple Watch for a meal swipe, and I held my wrist up to the scanner for about four seconds. It was not scanning my watch, and it created needless embarrassment in my day,” said Wuttig.
Despite these minor flaws, the use of Digital OneCard is spreading across campus. Condo reflected upon the release of the Digital OneCard, which he hopes will ease the process of getting around campus.
“We are just excited that we can offer this technology to our campus community to help make gaining access to spaces an easier process,” said Condo.