SEPTA publishes Service Interruption Guide to ready transit riders for looming strike

With negotiations to avert a city-wide transit strike at an impasse, SEPTA has two words for you if you ride the bus, subway or trolley: Get ready.

With less than a week left before 5,185 members of the Transport Workers Union Local 234 say they will strike, SEPTA published a “Service Interruption Guide” on its website.

Negotiations began July, but the two sides remain far apart on pension reform, health care, wage increases, and non-economic issues. The union authorized a walkout two weekends ago if an accord remains elusive come November 1st. SEPTA spokesperson Carla Showell-Lee said the agency is “hopeful” a deal can be made before then, but declined to comment further on negotiations. 

If TWU does strike, it will mean all city buses, both subway/elevated lines and Trolley Routes 10, 11, 13, 15, 34, and 36 will shut down. Those services provide around 884,000 trips on an average weekday. 

SEPTA’s Regional Rail, the Norristown High Speed Line, Suburban Bus routes, the LUCY, Route 310 (Horsham Breeze), Route 204, Route 205, Cornwells Heights Parking Shuttle, Trolley Routes 101 and 102, and CCT Connect services will remain in service. 

SEPTA’s online strike guide contains schedules, maps, and charts suggesting which available services could fill in for those affected by the strike. 

PATCO will also remain in service. 

TWU’s last strike came as a surprise: Local 234 President Willie Brown announced the strike just after the Phillies beat the Yankees in Game 5 of the World Series. Most riders faced a rude awakening the following morning, which also happened to be Election Day. The 2009 strike lasted 6 days. 

A strike will further strain an already overburdened Regional Rail system, which only recently returned to regular schedules following significantly reduced service over the summer caused by a widespread defect in a third of SEPTA’s railcars. During the 2009 strike, Regional Rail platforms were mobbed by passengers trying to replace their usual bus, subway or trolley trip with a train ride. 

SEPTA now has 85 of the 120 sidelined Silverliner V cars back in service. Even if it had a full set of trains, however, SEPTA would be incapable of significantly increasing Regional Rail service, which is more constrained by traffic on the lines shared with Amtrak, turn-around capacity at the rail yards, and a staffing shortage that has plagued the railroad for months now. 

SEPTA will try to add trains where they can, said spokesperson Carla Showell-Lee, and will convert express trains into local service to accommodate the influx of intracity riders. But the system can only do so much, she said. “As far as the trains are concerned, we can’t accommodate everyone, naturally.”

“People are going to have to find alternative routes in order to travel. They’re going to have to think about carpooling, they’re going to have to think about flexing their hours for work. They’re gonna have to be a little bit more creative in getting to and from the city,” said Showell-Lee, who asked riders to be “patient” if there is a strike. 

Should the walk out last, suburban services could also shut down: TWU Local 234 represents 175 maintenance employees whose contract expires November 18th, and 222 bus operators and mechanics whose contract expires Nov. 23rd. SEPTA officials said they do not expect those employees to join the pickets while their contracts remained in place. 

“We ask everyone to be prepared for very crowded trains and travel inconveniences. If at all possible, we would encourage individuals and businesses to consider adjusting their work/business hours, in the event of a service interruption. This may help to make your trip just a little bit more comfortable.”

Philadelphia’s court system is doing that already, at least a little bit: If TWU strikes, then the First Judicial District will put all court matters where SEPTA is a party on pause. 

TWU representatives did not respond to requests for comment. 


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