SEPTA wants to drop transfer fee and offer $1 fare for kids starting July 1

A SEPTA train on the Market Frankford line approaches Center City. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A SEPTA train on the Market Frankford line approaches Center City. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

SEPTA wants to move forward with a plan to provide a free transfer with every trip and offer $1 fares for children starting July 1.

The regional transit authority described the fare reduction as part of an “effort to help customers during this challenging time and aid in the region’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.”

The two proposals are part of a fare restructuring introduced in March that also included increases to Travel Wallet fares and SEPTA pass products. Those increases will be deferred until at least 2021.

“The Fare Restructuring Plan was designed to improve equity, affordability, and ease-of-travel for our customers,” said SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards. “We are proud to be a partner in the region’s economic comeback, and we look forward to helping our customers as we get through the COVID-19 crisis together.”

The free transfers are available to SEPTA Key users and $1 fares are valid for up to three children between the ages of five and 11 traveling with a fare-paying adult. Up to three children under five-years-old can ride for free.

Yasha Zarrinkelk, lead organizer of Transit Forward Philadelphia, an advocacy group, said while the changes are a step in the right direction, SEPTA can do more.

The group is calling for unlimited free transfers and free rides for children under 12.

“We understand that it might be a little bit harder, but we still believe they should go further. It’s something that is going to prioritize the rider. That’s what needs to be done.”

SEPTA also plans to roll out its new three-day passes in the fall for both transit and Regional Rail. The board will vote on the fare restructuring plan in June.

The authority hopes the fare reduction will make the system more attractive to travelers as it braces for a future of financial uncertainty as farebox revenue and state and local subsidies decline.

The coronavirus pandemic has already cost SEPTA at least $150 million and Richards expects the agency to come up short “hundreds of millions” for the fiscal year that ends in June and the following fiscal year.

“It’s worrisome,” Richards told PlanPhilly. “There is no funding security in the future and we’re not really sure what that is going to look like.”

SEPTA, MTA, NJ Transit call for more federal relief

SEPTA, Tuesday, joined a coalition of transportation agencies and unions, including New Jersey Transit, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York, and the Transport Workers Union, to call on the federal government to provide another round of federal relief in the amount of $33 billion.

“The federal government must recognize the ongoing emergency and the vital role of transit and infrastructures as economic drivers,” said Pat Foye, chairman and CEO of the MTA. And “as agencies that transport first responders and essential workers during the pandemic.”

Federal legislators passed the CARES Act in March and earmarked $25 billion for transportation agencies across the country. SEPTA received $643 million of that money.

But SEPTA’s budget needs far exceed that amount of aid, Richards said.

In addition to ridership and state funding issues, the SEPTA top boss said the authority’s financial challenges stems from “costs related to ongoing and future social distancing, vehicle and station sanitizing, and employee screening and virus testing protocols.”

“SEPTA’s ability to meet the transportation needs of our region will determine how quickly and fully the state recovers from this crisis,” said Richards. “We know recovery will require the full amount of CARES Act funding and sustained actions from all levels of government including additional direct federal assistance.”

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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