SEPTA stepping up penalties for quality-of-life crimes

Major crimes on SEPTA are down, but some offenses have been going unchecked. The transit agency is now working to increase enforcement.

A transit security officer works on the platform of the Girard stop

File photo: A transit security officer works on the platform of the Girard stop of the Market-Frankford El train on July 15, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Beginning July 1, SEPTA will increase its enforcement of quality-of-life crimes on the transit system with a goal to make trains and buses safer, cleaner and more appealing to the riding public.

When the pandemic hit, SEPTA Police Chief Chuck Lawson said the agency changed its enforcement model, replacing stiff financial penalties and court dates with a simple $25 fine.

Lawson says that change just hasn’t been working.

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“We’re getting serious crime under control and those numbers are very clear. But we gotta get our hands around antisocial behavior, low-level criminal offending, and we’re not having success with that with the tool that we’re using now,” he said.

Under the new policy, transit police will issue a ticket to the offender that will be handled by the Office of Administrative Review. The fines will go from $25 to $150, and those who don’t pay the fines will face a court date. Chronic offenders will be banned from SEPTA property and vehicles.

Lawson said beginning next month, the offenses that will come under the new regulations will vary: “smoking, loitering, open containers of alcohol, disorderly conduct, public urination, defiant trespass, harassment, things like that,” he said.

By adding the threat of court action, Lawson hopes it will be a deterrent for violators.

The transit agency has been working to make the system safer by adding more cameras for “virtual patrols” and growing its police force. More than 30 cops have been added since 2022.

SEPTA plans to hire even more officers to “bolster safety and security.”  Serious crime is down by 45%, according to the transit agency, in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same time the previous year.

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But fare evasion is up, and Lawson said they are working to acquire more of the full-sized fare gates used at the 69th Street Station to keep people from vaulting over the turnstiles to get a free ride.

test gates at 69th Street Station
New test gates at 69th Street Station (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

The upgrades would cost millions, which the transit agency hopes will come from the state in the upcoming budget.

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