The Federal Transit Administration has backed off its demand that SEPTA analyze the impact on poor and minority passengers of eliminating bus and subway transfers.
After SEPTA insisted it has already studied the impact of eliminating the 60-cent transfers, the federal agency apologized for demanding a study and declined to further involve itself "at this time" in the ongoing transfer battle between SEPTA and Philadelphia.
The city solicitor yesterday responded by asking the FTA to investigate SEPTA's claim. A SEPTA official has testified in court that the transit agency didn't study the effect of eliminating transfers, said Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr., so the city is asking the federal agency to find out whether SEPTA did the study or not.
A ruling in the battle over SEPTA's plan to eliminate transfers is expected next week from Common Pleas Court Judge Gary F. DiVito.
The city says the use of transfers is greater than SEPTA claims and disproportionately affects poor and minority riders. City officials said as many as 45,000 adult riders and 18,000 school students - who receive discounted tokens and free transfers - could be affected by SEPTA's move.
Eliminating transfers would raise the cost of a one-transfer ride 37 percent for passengers using tokens and 54 percent for cash payers. Riders would be required to pay two full fares, rather than one full fare plus 60 cents.
In a letter sent Thursday to SEPTA general manager Faye Moore, FTA administrator James Simpson apologized for an Aug. 3 letter from the FTA office of civil rights. That initial letter gave SEPTA 30 days to analyze whether its new fare increases, including the elimination of transfers, would disproportionately affect poor and minority passengers.
"We should have contacted SEPTA first and asked a few questions before sending the letter out," Simpson wrote in his Thursday letter to Moore. Simpson said that since SEPTA contends that it has already analyzed the effect and determined there is no adverse impact on poor or minority riders, "no further action by FTA is warranted at this time."
Moore wrote to Simpson on Wednesday that SEPTA had already analyzed transfer usage and determined there was no adverse impact on minorities. SEPTA also said in a court filing Thursday that it had examined the percentage of transfer usage on all its bus routes and determined that "the usage of paper transfers is greater on those routes which primarily serve nonminorities."
Moore yesterday declined to make public the analysis, citing the ongoing court battle. She said SEPTA would make the study public after the court case is over.
Diaz, the city solcitor, yesterday challenged Moore's claim that SEPTA had analyzed the effect of transfers on poor and minority riders.
Diaz said John McGee, SEPTA's chief revenue and ridership officer, testified in court on July 31 that no such analysis was done.
"We have a letter stating one set of facts, and sworn testimony stating just the opposite," said Diaz. "So I filed a complaint under the Civil Rights Act asking for an investigation."
Diaz wrote to the FTA's office of civil rights yesterday that "SEPTA fails to recognize the longstanding federal requirement for avoiding disparate impact."
SEPTA's court filing Thursday said that transfer use varied from 2 percent of riders to 13 percent of riders, depending on the route. Overall, about 8 percent of riders use paper transfers, SEPTA said.
The SEPTA board raised fares by an average of 11 percent last month. The transfers were to be eliminated on Aug. 1, but the city went to court, arguing that elimination of transfers violated a state law requiring fare hikes to be "reasonable and equitable." DiVito issued an injunction on July 31, temporarily blocking the move.
SEPTA says it needs to eliminate transfers to streamline its fare collection and to encourage more riders to use passes.
In a court brief filed Thursday, SEPTA argued that the city cannot block elimination of transfers because SEPTA did not violate federal regulations and because the city should take its complaints to the FTA, not to court.
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia also filed a brief in the court case, arguing that SEPTA faces no financial crisis compelling the elimination of transfers.
The battle may not end with DiVito's ruling next week.
Moore said yesterday that if SEPTA loses in Common Pleas Court, it will appeal.
"I'm very comfortable with what we've done," Moore said. "It might not be well received by everybody, but I'm very comfortable with it."