It's time for SEPTA to give riders a break, and stop charging an extra $1 penalty to transfer between buses, subways, and trolleys.
Last spring, 5th Square and Clean Air Council ran a campaign pushing SEPTA to end the $1 transfer penalty when they voted on a new fare tariff. Now PlanPhilly is reporting that SEPTA management is considering making this change, thanks to public pressure and an internal push to redesign and improve the bus network. Here are just a few reasons why the time has come to make transfers free.
The transfer penalty is regressive
The $1 transfer penalty is unfair and regressive. It's an unfair burden on anyone whose home isn’t on the exact transit line as their job, family, friends, school, grocery store, or place of worship. One SEPTA fare should cover your whole trip, from start to finish. With free transfers, every SEPTA rider would have the opportunity to access the whole city, on equal footing with every other rider.
It's bad transit policy
It also costs SEPTA more to run the system this way. A well-designed bus network is based on lots of simple, straight routes, and lots of opportunities to transfer between the routes. Philly’s street grid is perfectly organized for this type of network. We could have more frequent bus service if we encouraged more transfers, though riders tend to avoid transferring. Charging people extra to do something they don’t want to do -- but which is ultimately important for achieving a faster, cheaper, and more frequent bus network -- is very misguided, and bad transit policy.
It causes pointless crowding and congestion
The transfer penalty encourages people to use the transit network in silly and inefficient ways that waste their time and create unnecessary traffic congestion. For example, many riders will take the 23 bus all the way to Center City from Germantown, rather than transferring to the Broad Street Line at the Broad and Erie station. Taking the bus all the way downtown adds about an extra 20 minutes to the journey, but lots of people do this to avoid paying an extra $1 each way. The result is to send more -- and more crowded -- buses into downtown traffic, which could be reduced if more people began transferring to the Broad Street Line.
The technology is ready
SEPTA Key makes free transfers technologically very easy to implement. That's because SEPTA already has a framework for a free transfers policy in SEPTA Key. When you tap onto the subway shortly after getting off the bus, SEPTA Key knows, and it only charges you $1 instead of the full fare. For up to 90 minutes, it will only charge you a dollar for tapping onto the bus. That means the technology and policy are already in place to make free transfers possible. Your base fare should be good for up to 90 minutes, and you should be able to tap onto any other transit vehicle for free during that time. Instead of paying for a ride on each individual transit vehicle, your base fare would pay for your entire trip.
SEPTA could see a big ridership bump
A 2011 study from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission looked at a few different scenarios for eliminating the $1 transfer penalty and found that eliminating transfer fees could lead to an 11% increase in ridership over the long term while reducing farebox revenue by only 3.6%. SEPTA could see greater short-term revenue loss and a more modest bump in ridership in the near term. They collect about $12 million in revenue from transfers each year that they would need to make up somewhere.
But this needs to be considered within the larger context of falling city transit ridership. SEPTA lost 10% of its bus ridership in last year and they're going to need to take action to win riders back. As the DVRPC report suggests, they could cut that ridership loss in half in the short term by eliminating the transfer penalty. And in the long term, they could grow ridership by 11%. Winning back riders won't be free, and out of all the ideas under discussion, eliminating the transfer penalty is one of the cheapest and most impactful.
- Sign the petition: Tell SEPTA to eliminate the $1 transfer penalty
- Call your City Councilmember and ask them to sponsor a resolution supporting free transfers
District 1: Mark Squilla: email@example.com, (215) 686-3458, (215) 686-3459
District 2: Kenyatta Johnson: firstname.lastname@example.org, (215) 686-3412, (215) 686-3413
District 3: Jannie Blackwell: email@example.com, (215) 686-3418, (215) 686-3419
District 4: Curtis Jones, Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org, (215) 686-3416, (215) 686-3417
District 5: Darrell Clarke (Council President): email@example.com, (215) 686-3412, (215) 686-3413
District 6: Bobby Henon (Majority Leader): firstname.lastname@example.org, (215) 686-3444, (215) 686-3445
District 7: Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez: email@example.com, (215) 686-3448, (215) 686-3449
District 8: Cindy Bass: firstname.lastname@example.org, (215) 686-3424, (215) 686-3425
District 9: Cherelle Parker: email@example.com, 215) 686-3454, (215) 686-3455
District 10: Brian O'Neill (Minority Leader): firstname.lastname@example.org, (215) 686-3422, (215) 686-3423
Blondell Reynolds-Brown: email@example.com, (215) 686-3438, (215) 686-3439
Allan Domb: firstname.lastname@example.org, (215) 686-3414, (215) 686-3415
Derek Green: email@example.com, (215) 686-3450, (215) 686-3451
Bill Greenlee: firstname.lastname@example.org, (215) 686-3446, (215) 686-3447
Helen Gym: email@example.com, (215) 686-3420, (215) 686-3421
David Oh: firstname.lastname@example.org, (215) 686-3452, (215) 686-3453
Al Taubenberger: email@example.com, (215) 686-3440, (215) 686-3441