SEPTA's plan to eliminate all 60-cent paper transfers starting today has been derailed temporarily by Common Pleas Judge Gary DeVito.
"We are enjoined until Monday, August 6, from eliminating transfers," said SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney last night, after receiving the judge's handwritten decision in a lawsuit brought by the city.
"The judge wants more time to study the case before making a final decision," Maloney said, adding that SEPTA has enough transfers to serve riders until Monday.
City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz, Jr. said in a statement that he was pleased by the judge's action.
"This ruling gives immediate relief to the many thousands of SEPTA customers, including schoolchildren, who would otherwise have been forced to pay two or more full fares to reach their transit destinations," he said.
Deputy City Solicitor Mark Zecca spent yesterday in court, arguing that SEPTA's eliminating transfers is "discriminatory" because students and low-income riders will suffer the most.
Zecca said that although SEPTA claimed it raised all fares an average of 11 percent, eliminating transfers increases fares by 37 percent to 80 percent for 45,000 adult riders and 18,000 city students.
Diaz said that by essentially enacting unequal fare raises for different groups of riders, SEPTA is being "discriminatory and disproportionate" - and therefore should not be allowed to terminate transfers.
John F. McGee, SEPTA's chief revenue officer, testified that eliminating transfers is a first step toward an eventual smart-card system - like EZPass now used on toll roads - where cash instruments would have no place.
SEPTA's attorney, Todd S. Biemer, told the judge that the city must prove SEPTA committed a "flagrant abuse of discretion" consisting of "bad faith, fraud, dishonesty," to prove its case.
"Your honor is not supposed to sit up there and say, 'I would have treated schoolchildren differently,' " Biemer said, and therefore rule against SEPTA.
School district spokesman Fernando Gallard said the district budgeted $17 million for tokens and transfers - of which $15 million will be reimbursed: $6 million by students who buy reduced-rate tokens and $9 million by the state. Students do not pay for transfers.
"We don't know what the cost of the new fare instrument" - some form of school pass - "that replaces tokens and transfers will be," Gallard said last night, "because we haven't come to an agreement with SEPTA.
"If a student loses a token, it is easily replaced," he said.
"But what if he loses the new weekly or monthly SEPTA pass? Would that pass be replaced or would the student's family have to pay for a new one?"
"This is a poor city," said Gregory Wade, president of the Home and School Council, during a break in the hearings.
"Eliminating transfers is just another slap in the face. Parents with half-decent jobs, trying to make ends meet, are calling me, frightened, asking, 'How are we going to get our kids to school?' "
"It's disgusting that [SEPTA] has the sheer audacity to charge double fare for what is essentially a one-way trip," said Salonae Graham, a grandmother from West Philadelphia.
"I'll definitely get a second-hand car."
"Gas prices are constantly rising, the Philadelphia Parking Authority is inventing reasons to write tickets, and now SEPTA is [eliminating transfers]," said Gary Sweeney, 28, of Southwest Philadelphia.
"The minimum wage is so low. The majority of people can't afford the extra expense.