Statement on Postponement of SEPTA's Virtual Hearings

Monday, March 30, 2020


SEPTA Should Proceed with Public Input on Fare Restructuring by Reaching Out to Transit Riders

SEPTA had originally proposed virtual public hearings for its Fare Restructuring Plan in lieu of traditional in-person hearings in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Now the agency has announced these virtual hearings are postponed.

While we understand the limitations that virtual public hearings present, it is important to note that traditional in-person meetings also have their limitations, requiring riders to have the luxury of free time to attend. Neither option is perfectly ideal, either for today or in the future. 

At the same time, the people's business must go on, and SEPTA's proposed fare restructuring will bring important benefits to riders that should not be delayed. In light of this, 5th Square believes a concerted public outreach effort is required through multiple channels. Some examples include focus groups, electronic polling, or phone and mail surveys. By reaching riders through multiple channels, this would ensure more voices are heard, and more people can submit vital feedback on their own time. 

We are also interested in the quality of online public hearings, and want to hear more details from SEPTA about how they will be run after the 30-day postponement period. At their best, these can be a forum for active two-way dialogue between senior staff and the riding public—or at their worst, a stage-managed video presentation. SEPTA needs to show how they will engage with public feedback and then explain how it has been incorporated into revised tariffs and budgets. Learning from and adopting best practices for public engagement from other peer transit agencies would help greatly in this effort.

While SEPTA’s proposed fare plan isn’t perfect, and we are advocating to make it better, it’s a big improvement over the status quo, and needs to be deliberated and ratified sooner rather than later. Given the agency’s dire financial outlook due to the coronavirus crisis, the longer the delay, the harder it will become to win important improvements, like fare capping, free child fares, and more free transfers.

SEPTA’s fare restructuring proposal would bring about a more equitable and efficient system with big benefits for riders in pass value, customer value, and ease of using the system. In particular, their proposals to reduce fares for children to $1, provide one free transfer, and offer a three-day convenience pass would mean a lower cost of living for many in our region. Taking the fare restructuring plan even further in this direction through fare capping, free child fares, and unlimited transfers within a 2-hour window will also be critical to winning back riders after the coronavirus crisis ends, while providing much-needed relief to the most financially-burdened riders.

Now is the time to get it done.