Our 2021 SEPTA Fare Restructuring Comments

May 31st, 2020

James Cullison, CPA
Director, Operating Budgets
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
1234 Market St., 9th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(Submitted via E-Mail to operatingbudget@septa.org)

Dear Mr. Cullison:

On behalf of myself and my fellow advocates at 5th Square, I want to say thank you to SEPTA for keeping our region running through our current crisis.  The agency’s management and staff have been doing truly heroic work and have suffered great personal losses because of it. From all of us at 5th Square, a huge thank you.

We recognize that SEPTA is facing a dire financial situation stemming from the dramatic loss in ridership, farebox revenue and potential loss in Turnpike revenue.  We join our fellow advocates both locally and nationally calling on the Turnpike to fulfill its transit funding responsibilities, and demanding Congress to increase the amount of aid to transit agencies in their next relief package.

We thank SEPTA for its movement towards a better fare structure.

SEPTA’s Fare Restructuring Plan represents an important first step towards a more affordable, equitable, and efficient transit system. The agency’s plan is prudently based on an equity analysis which found the proposal will reduce costs, on net, for riders living in communities with incomes below the city median; shifting costs to higher income residents.

Given the current COVID-19 pandemic and the lasting impact this will have on our region, SEPTA, and its riders, we present our 2020 Fair Fares Platform, which I submit along with a list of over 350 people who signed on their support for our plan in this email.

Our Main Recommendations are:

  • Eliminate the Transfer Penalty Entirely
  • Implement Fare Capping
  • Provide Free Rides for Children
  • Accept TransPass on Zone 1 Regional Rail

Adopting more equitable fares will be critical to restoring ridership after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed while providing much needed cost relief to its most financially-burdened riders.

We sincerely hope that SEPTA considers our recommendations in its decision-making for its proposed Fare Restructuring.  

We are advocating for eliminating the transfer penalty entirely ahead of SEPTA’s pending fare restructuring.

SEPTA has proposed one free transfer within 90 minutes of initial tap. This is a bold step towards improving equity and ensuring the system works for riders in all corners of our city. We want SEPTA to provide an unlimited number of free transfers within two hours from the first tap. Free transfers benefit low-income riders who tend to make transfers as part of their commute. It enables system efficiency and shorter travel times for many. Free transfers are also necessary ahead of a bus network redesign and enjoy the broad support of Philadelphia city government.

We are also requesting fare capping ahead of SEPTA’s pending fare restructuring.

A low-income rider should not pay more than a higher income rider for the same service. But that is frequently the case when it comes to passes. Low-income riders often can't pay the upfront cost of a pass and can pay more in single fares over the same time period as a result. We want SEPTA to implement Fare Capping. Fare capping allows riders to pay for the cost of a pass over time. When riders have paid enough in single fares equal to a pass, the rest of their rides for that period are free. SEPTA Key would "cap" their fares so Travel Wallet riders never pay more than pass riders. This is central to the principle of equal service for equal payment.

We want free rides for children incorporated into SEPTA’s pending fare restructuring.

SEPTA proposed cutting fares to $1 for children 5 - 11. This fare must be paid in cash separately and isn’t eligible for the free transfer. We want SEPTA to eliminate fares for children 12 and under. This would encourage more family ridership and make transit an affordable option for parents. Eliminating youth fares would greatly simplify its implementation. Riders and SEPTA employees would not have to risk handling cash. Additionally, this step would reward ridership and spare the costs associated with collecting the extra cash. Free youth fares are an important part of instilling transit habits in the next generation, and should be viewed as part of a pipeline from free youth fares to expanded student passes and then finally universal university passes.

We are asking SEPTA to accept TransPass on Zone 1 Regional Rail for SEPTA’s pending fare restructuring.

Zone 1 of the Regional Rail Network includes many of Philadelphia’s most underprivileged and transit-reliant neighborhoods. Yet this zone suffers from poor ridership, mainly because regional rail is much more expensive. Zone 1 is also served by cheaper, more frequent, albeit slower transit. We want SEPTA to accept weekly and monthly TransPasses for travel on Zone 1 Regional Rail—with the intention of eventually matching the cost for single rides. This would be a tremendous move toward making SEPTA a unified network, integrating these two disparate systems.