SEPTA wants to delay planned fare increases in hopes of luring riders back

A SEPTA bus approaches City Hall in a bus lane.

A SEPTA bus approaches City Hall in a bus lane.(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

SEPTA riders likely won’t see the cost of their rides on city transit or Regional Rail increase until at least July of 2021.

The agency was set to increase fares at the start of the new year in January, according to  a Fare Restructuring Plan approved in June. But after months of a pandemic that has battered the economy and the wallets many riders, SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. “Pat” Deon Sr. wants the agency to push back the timeline six months.  Deon is expected to ask the board to approve the delay at the SEPTA Board meeting scheduled for Thursday, said Andrew Busch, a SEPTA spokesperson.

“Everybody is still struggling through COVID,” Busch said. “We want to make the system as equitable, as affordable, and accessible as possible. So at this time we don’t want to add, for riders, any kind of increases. We want to help build our ridership back up.”

The plan approved in June would increase the cost of a single trip with the SEPTA Key card from $2.00 to $2.50. Weekly transpasses would cost  $1 more and the cost of a monthly transpass would increase by $3, a 6% increase for each. In a bid to make the system more equitable, the plan added one free transfer for every trip and made travel free for children under 12 riding with an accompanying adult.

The authority moved forward with the free transfer and free kids rides as the fare increases in June, even as the increases were put on hold. But as the pandemic continues and SEPTA’s financial situation grows increasingly dire, the agency must grapple with hard decisions. SEPTA officials estimate ridership is down to 30% of pre-pandemic levels, and estimate losses of $1 million a day at the farebox. Officials expect a $350 million deficit to the operating budget by the end of the current fiscal year, said Busch.

The authority received $643 million in federal aid earlier this year. The money is expected to last through the end of next year. Authority officials are seeking more federal aid to avoid service cuts and layoffs.

“We are in an extremely difficult financial situation right now,” said  Busch. “We have to look at everything that we do and determine whether or not there’s things that we can do differently.”

Should the board approve a delay, Busch says the authority will reassess the increase around Spring 2021.

“All our efforts are focused on trying to make sure that we’re still there as best as possible to serve people through this recovery,” said Busch.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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