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At a SEPTA board meeting held on the same day as the burial of Regional Rail conductor Michael Hill, the authority announced that it will move forward with virtual public hearings for its long-awaited fare restructuring proposal.
The meetings will be held virtually on May 26 at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. as well as May 27 at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Registration details will be posted on SEPTA’s website.
The planned effective date for the proposed changes, which is designed to reduce costs for low-income riders while imposing fare hikes for other riders, will be determined at a later date.
“Running service in a pandemic is a tremendous challenge, but losing our colleague and having our coworkers fall ill is definitely the most difficult part,” said SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards.
Hill served the region for 30 years. He is the fourth employee lost to the coronavirus.
More than 190 employees have tested positive for the virus.
“These times are testing us, all of us,” said Richards. I want to thank all of the employees who have gone out and done their job every single day and kept this region running. It’s hard, and every day is a challenge and a risk.”
Richards and the board were spared another challenge thanks to Mayor Jim Kenney, who stepped in to prevent the union from taking a job action against SEPTA that most likely would have resulted in suspended bus service in the city.
“Health care workers and other essential staff are relying on SEPTA more than ever and it’s critical that we work together to ensure public transportation is accessible to those who need it,” said Kenney. “We also want to make sure that the conditions are safe for SEPTA operators and maintenance workers.”
Board chairman Pat Deon also made sure to give SEPTA workers their props. Deon said SEPTA has weathered “a number of challenges and crises” during his 24 years on the board, but “nothing that compares to what we experienced in the past two months.” He said, “the dedication of the employees” gives him hope “even in the darkest moments.”
“In the most challenging of circumstances they have remained focused on making sure the essential workers have a way to get to their jobs,” he said. “SEPTA employees can always be counted on to step up during difficult circumstances and this effort has been truly inspiring.”
The meeting included a dismal financial report from deputy general manager Rich Burnfield, which revealed a $14.5 million shortfall for fiscal March, a five-week period beginning in late February, and a nine-month deficit of $6.8 million.
The proposed fare restructuring will be discussed at the May virtual hearing in the context of the authority’s operating budget. It would provide one free transfer per ride, cutting a fee that disproportionately hits commuters traveling from areas where incomes are lower, according to a Pew Charitable Trust study.