Proposed SEPTA changes, fare hikes criticized

Lance Haver, director of the Mayor's Office of Consumer Affairs , testifies during a SEPTA hearing on fare rates and changes.
Lance Haver, director of the Mayor's Office of Consumer Affairs , testifies during a SEPTA hearing on fare rates and changes. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 19, 2013

A standing-room-only crowd packed SEPTA's boardroom Wednesday to criticize plans for a new electronic fare-collection system and proposed fare hikes.

Especially unpopular were planned transfer charges, senior-citizen identification requirements, turnstiles for Regional Rail stations, trip limits on weekly and monthly passes, cost increases for paratransit services, and the elimination of bus and subway pass use on weekday trains to the airport.

The Nutter administration, which has two seats on the 15-member SEPTA board, said it "has a number of serious concerns with how the [new payment technology] fare policies will impact city riders in comparison to other users, and a concern that SEPTA is opting for policies that will make it more difficult, not simpler, for occasional riders to use the system."

Andrew Stober, chief of staff to Deputy Mayor (and SEPTA board member) Rina Cutler, urged SEPTA to change its plan for costly transfers and to continue to accept bus and subway Transpasses on the Airport Line to permit airport employees to take the train to work.

And Stober decried SEPTA's proposal to charge a $2.50 cash fare plus a 50-cent fee for riders who use a "smart" card not registered with SEPTA.

That plan, he said, "fundamentally undermines the promise of [new payment technology] to make the SEPTA system easier to use for occasional riders and tourists, particularly those riding buses and trolleys."

The city's board members have the power to veto the SEPTA plan at next month's board meeting, but a veto could be overridden at the following monthly meeting by a three-fourths majority of the suburban-dominated board.

Lance Haver, director of the Mayor's Office of Consumer Affairs, urged that the fare hikes be rejected and that riders get a six-month grace period to use either the old or new fare-payment systems during the changeover.

About 120 people showed up for the first of two hearings Wednesday at SEPTA headquarters. It was the third day of hearings; sessions also will be held Friday in West Chester and Monday in Doylestown.

The proposed fare increase, to take effect July 1, would hike the cost of a cash bus, subway, or trolley fare to $2.25. The fare has been $2 since 2000.

The cash fare would rise again, to $2.50, when the smart card system is fully in place next year.

The cost of a weekly bus and subway pass would go up 11 percent on July 1, to $24.50 from the current $22. The cost of a monthly transit pass would also go up 11 percent, to $92 from the current $83.

The cost of a monthly Zone 3 rail pass would go from $155 to $163, a 5 percent increase; the cost of a Zone 4 pass would go from $176 to $191, up 9 percent.

A token would cost $1.80 on July 1, up 16 percent from the current $1.55, but tokens would be eliminated when the smart-card system is fully installed on the bus, subway, and trolley lines in 2014.

For senior citizens, free bus and subway rides and $1 train rides would only be available with the presentation of a state-issued photo identification card, such as a driver's license.

To collect rail fares, SEPTA plans to install subway-style gates in Center City stations and electronic card-readers in outlying stations.

Rail passengers roundly criticized the notion of gates and turnstiles at Wednesday's hearing.

"This turnstile thing is insane," said Alexa Obolensky of Germantown, urging SEPTA to try a European-style honor system instead, with conductors making spot checks to assure that fares are paid.

Willie Pollins of Claymont, Del., said gates in Center City stations won't work well with rush-hour crowds that pour onto platforms to catch their trains.

"At rush hour, people will knock you down the steps to get to their trains," he said. "Turnstiles are crazy for Regional Rail."


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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