Rider advocates call on SEPTA to cut Regional Rail fares to ‘integrate’ system

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority trains are seen parked in the vicinity of 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority trains are seen parked in the vicinity of 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

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SEPTA is unlikely to significantly modify its fare restructuring plans despite the economic changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, but that isn’t stopping riders from telling officials what they want to see change.

Tuesday marked the first in a series of virtual hearings for SEPTA’s operating budget and fare restructuring plan. Pending board approval, the plan will provide one free transfer for SEPTA Key Travel Wallet users and create $1 fares for children under the age of 12 — fare reductions intended to help cash-strapped commuters and increase equity across the system.

The regional transit authority also plans to postpone planned increases to the SEPTA Key base fare and Regional Rail weekly and monthly passes until 2021 to help riders through the pandemic and its economic fallout.

But transit advocates who commented during Tuesday’s hearings want SEPTA to do more to help riders through financially trying times. Speakers called on the authority to implement unlimited free transfers, allow children under 12 to ride for free and implement a fare-capping system, where a rider’s single fares typically go toward weekly or monthly passes.

“Free transfers and reduced child fares are a very good start and will help many people,” said Alison Macrina, a member of Philly Transit Riders Union. “But base fare increases and full cash fares will needlessly target those vulnerable riders.”

Advocates from the urbanist PAC 5th Square also pushed for SEPTA to extend TransPass usage to Regional Rail stops in Zone 1. Daniel Trubman, a member of the group, said the zone covers some of the region’s most “underprivileged and transit-reliant neighborhoods,” but the Regional Rail fare is too expensive for them to take advantage of the service.

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Andrew Busch, a SEPTA spokesperson, said the suggestions will be considered and evaluated. A hearing examiner will gather the feedback for officials to review. However, there is “no indication at this point” of any major modifications being made to the plan, he said.

SEPTA faces an enormous financial challenge coming out of the pandemic. The crisis has cost the already beleaguered agency hundreds of millions of dollars and the lives of seven workers while simultaneously changing the habits of riders who may not return to their pre-pandemic commuting routines.

SEPTA will host two more hearings tomorrow. Officials will continue taking feedback on the plan until May 31. The fare proposal will go before the board in June.

“It’s great to see everyone engage and get that level of feedback, particularly under these circumstances,” Busch said.

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