After hearing the city accuse SEPTA of discriminating against black and low-income riders by eliminating 60-cent transfers and forcing them to pay a second full fare, a Common Pleas judge has ordered the transit agency to keep issuing transfers for now.
Yesterday was the second time in a week that Judge Gary DiVito temporarily halted SEPTA's planned Aug. 1 elimination of paper transfers.
City attorneys showed DiVito a letter from the Federal Transit Administration's civil-rights director, sent Friday to SEPTA and requiring it to analyze whether its fare increase would "have a disproportionately high and adverse effect on minority and low-income riders."
The FTA requested that analysis within 30 days.
The city alleged that SEPTA did not analyze the impact of eliminating transfers on thousands of black and low-income riders who use them - effectively raising their fares 37 percent to 80 percent instead of the 11 percent hike for riders who don't use transfers.
DiVito ordered both sides to file final briefs by Thursday. Transfers will remain in effect until he decides the case.
Christopher Zearfoss, a transportation expert in the city's Office of Strategic Planning, testified that it makes "no sense" for SEPTA to eliminate transfers several years before it modernizes fare collection by converting to smart cards.
After court adjourned, City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. said SEPTA had not analyzed the "disproportionate impact" that eliminating transfers would have on minority and low-income people.
Impact analysis, Diaz said, is required by federal law.
SEPTA attorney Todd S. Biemer said that the FTA guidelines don't apply in this case because they were new this spring and weren't issued until the fare boost, including the elimination of transfers, was almost complete.
"They can't use it now to blow up our fare increase," Biemer said. "It applies in the future. Not now."
But Diaz said it is unseemly for "a transit agency dependent on federal, state and local funding to say, 'We didn't know what the federal standards were.' "
Calling SEPTA's elimination of transfers "a reckless disregard for low-income and minority riders," Diaz said, "You shouldn't have to be hit over the head and forced" to enact a fare hike that does not "discriminate."