Coronavirus shutdown prompts SEPTA to reduce Regional Rail and city transit service

SEPTA headquarters (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

SEPTA headquarters (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

SEPTA will reduce Regional Rail service by 25% for the next two weeks and reductions are coming to city train and bus lines, too. The announcement came Monday, a day when staff callouts, some due to child care issues in the wake of school closures, led the agency to cancel 12 Regional Rail trips.

The two-week service reduction, a schedule typically put into effect in instances of severe weather, will go into effect Tuesday.

“This schedule, we hope, will give us the best opportunity to run our service in a manner that still fits the region,” said Scott Sauer, SEPTA’s assistant general manager for operations.

Over the weekend, Regional Rail ridership took a hit of more than 40% as people heeded public health recommendations to stay home and help contain the growing coronavirus pandemic.

Monday, Governor Tom Wolf announced a statewide shutdown of all non-essential commercial activity. SEPTA intends to provide transportation for essential workers as well as all those who need to get to a doctor or fulfill other needs.

“We want to make sure service is available for those who need to access care at medical facilities or get to the pharmacy or grocery store or other absolutely essential activities,” said Leslie Richards, SEPTA general manager. “Equally important, we need to be able to run service for the people who work in these fields.”

Roughly a quarter of Philadelphia residents use public transit to get to jobs, according to a 2019 Pew analysis of census data.

Commuters riding the subway last week avoided touching surfaces and kept hand sanitizer handy. Some wore gloves and masks.

SEPTA hopes to institute an adjusted schedule for city transit by “the end of the week or to the weekend” Sauer said. Authority officials are working out a schedule “that fits the current ridership, as well as affords our employees an opportunity to attend to their own needs and their families’ needs.” City transit ridership decreased by more than 20% over the weekend.

The weekend numbers suggest a downward trend is approaching as the region reels from coronavirus pandemic. With schools and nonessential commercial businesses shut down, Richards says Monday’s ridership numbers “will be critical in figuring out the future service that we can provide again.” She expects the ridership data tomorrow.

With the changes, Sauer warned disruptions are inevitable and encouraged riders to check SEPTA’s website, app, and Twitter updates. “There will be incidents where our employees have difficulty getting to work,” he said. “There will be places where we cannot run the service that we are advertising.”

SEPTA plans to refund fares for riders who use weekly or monthly passes, and encourages riders to shut off any automatic reloading for passes in their travel plans are uncertain.

Authority officials also shared that SEPTA board meetings will be postponed until next month. The April board meetings will also cover the agenda from March.

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