Protesters take up gender issue at SEPTA capital budget hearing

A preliminary SEPTA capital budget hearing was interrupted Wednesday morning as protesters called on the authority to eliminate gender stickers on its weekly and monthly passes.

The group, SEPTA Riders Against Gender Exclusion, or SEPTA RAGE, presented SEPTA officials with a “bill of rights” for riders, including adopting non-discrimination policies covering sexual orientation and gender identity.

The document proclaimed that SEPTA riders have the “right to non-disclosure” of their genders on passes and asked SEPTA to train its workers on sexual orientation and gender identity sensitivity.

One representative of the group said that forcing transgender riders to use passes with gender stickers increased the risk they will become victims of violence and said that SEPTA should focus on this issue before spending money on branding initiatives, like the renaming of regional rail lines.

He added that “SEPTA has been dishonest” about the rollout schedule for the new payment technologies project ― which officials said would eliminate the need for gender stickers.

The bill of rights, which none of the SEPTA officials present signed, has garnered the signature of state senator Rep. Babette Josephs, the Democrat representing Center City.

Afterward, SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney repeated the authority’s longstanding position that the stickers “prevent fraud” by keeping husbands and wives from passing their passes off to one another.

He said that SEPTA general manager Joe Casey sat down with representatives of the group a year ago and provided them with a confidential number for members of the community to call if they felt discriminated against while riding.

“They thought it was a good idea,” he said, noting that the hotline hasn’t received any calls.

Maloney also reiterated SEPTA’s promise to eliminate the gender stickers when smart cards are rolled out ― though he wasn’t sure what measures the new fare collection system would take to reduce fraud.

When the hearing got under way, SEPTA officials outlined the capital budget proposal they’re drawing up for fiscal year 2012.

The loss in state funding because of the failure to toll Interstate 80 and the end of construction projects funded through federal stimulus dollars punched a significant hole in SEPTA’s budget and eliminated most discretionary programs.

As Byron Comati, director of strategic planning and analysis put it: “There really isn’t a lot of prioritization” among projects because almost all of them are mandated.

Because of that, SEPTA staff is drawing up a proposal that will focus on meeting the authority’s financial and contractual obligations ― like debt-service programs and existing procurement contracts ― and federally mandated programs, like plans to extend positive train control over the entire regional rail network by the end of 2015.

SEPTA staff is also proposing to move ahead with accessibility improvements at the Race-Vine subway station and the rehabilitation of the Ryers and Primos regional rail stations.

And though a funding source hasn’t been identified, SEPTA staff are also planning on including the smart card project in the capital budget proposal.

The funding crunch occupied the attention of the transit advocates in attendance.

Matt Mitchell of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers urged the region to come together and lobby Harrisburg to replace the money lost under Act 44.

Without more money “SEPTA will be trying to triage urgent repair projects and stave off bridge and power supply failures that could shut down service,” he said.

SEPTA is accepting written comments as it develops the capital budget proposal until Jan. 15.

Riders and advocates can e-mail or send letters to:

SEPTA Capital Budgets Department
Attn: Capital Budget & Program
1234 Market St., 9th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107

SEPTA staff plan to hold public hearings on the proposal in April and expect the proposal to be voted on at the May SEPTA Board hearing.

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