SEPTA moves uniformed ambassadors into place to help with riders with no destination

An empty SEPTA train car.

An empty SEPTA train car. (Anna Orso/Billy Penn)

A new effort to improve safety on SEPTA is underway. The transit system has added uniformed ambassadors designed to supplement police and help with unruly passengers and fare evaders.

Leslie Richards, who heads up the mass transit agency, said 88 employees from three contractors have been working on the Market-Frankford Line, the Broad Street Subway as well as the concourses in Center City.

The goal is to both supplement police officers and work in a non-threatening way with people who need social services rather than arresting them.

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Richards said the addition of the ambassadors will be good for everyone.

“They are an added visible presence and we hope that will help make our customers and our employees feel safer,” Richards said. “We also believe that this new program will help reduce quality of life complaints and make the system more welcoming to our riders.”

The ambassadors will also take over some of the administrative duties formerly assigned to police. That includes the responsibilities of opening and closing the subway stations, which now allows police officers more time to conduct more patrols during the overnight hours. The outreach personnel are equipped with phones to facilitate direct contact with transit police. The specialists will act as additional eyes and ears on the SEPTA system.

“Every day, social workers are engaging with members of the vulnerable population who are seeking refuge on our system,” said Ken Divers, who’s leading the effort for SEPTA. “We are connecting them with housing and services for addiction and mental health issues.”

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SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel said the ambassadors have been on the job for two weeks and are already seeing some successes.

The new crews work as “ambassadors and essentially disorder interveners,” Nestel said. “They have folks that are out on the system, on the trains and in the stations, on the Market Frankford Line and the Broad Street Line, talking to people, educating them about the rules, warning them. And if people don’t adhere to the information that they’re provided, they’re notifying us.”

He said the field observers have already discouraged 160 people from evading fares and have guided 735 people off of the system and offered them social services.

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