The transfers live.
A Common Pleas Court judge ruled yesterday that SEPTA must not eliminate the paper transfers that permit bus and subway riders to change vehicles for 60 cents.
The transit agency said it would appeal Judge Gary F. DiVito Jr.'s decision.
SEPTA had wanted passengers to pay full fares ($2 with cash or $1.30 with tokens) whenever changing from one bus to another. The city sued, saying that poor and minority passengers would be especially hard-hit by the elimination of the transfers.
In ordering the board to reinstate the transfers, DiVito called the SEPTA decision "capricious and . . . a manifest and flagrant abuse of discretion."
"What the evidence demonstrates," DiVito wrote, "is that SEPTA's board (1) voted to eliminate paper transfers (2) to mollify the legislature in hopes of ensuring funding (3) without any study of the impact on those who would be most adversely affected (4) without any semblance of a 'modernization plan' ready (5) with no agreement with the school board in place when (6) they could have designed a plan with an equitable impact on all of its riders."
SEPTA, which had maintained that doing away with transfers would encourage riders to use weekly or monthly passes, will appeal the ruling to Commonwealth Court, spokesman Richard Maloney said.
He said that SEPTA was "disappointed" by DiVito's decision and that "we still believe in the fundamental fairness" of the plan to eliminate transfers as part of an overall 11 percent fare increase.
Mayor Street said yesterday that he would talk to SEPTA board chairman Pasquale T. "Pat" Deon Sr. and urge him to not appeal the decision. "I think the goodwill they lose will more than offset the revenue they would gain," Street said.
The mayor said the city was "very supportive of the across-the-board 11 percent fare hike . . . we understand they have to have an increase in fares." But he said SEPTA should raise fares in a "fair and equitable way" that did not place a greater burden on transfer users.
About half the riders who use transfers are school students. SEPTA agreed Tuesday to provide free passes to about 36,000 middle- and high-school students who live more than 1 1/2 miles from school. Students who live closer will be able to buy reduced-price passes.
A deal could be in the works to end the legal battle over transfers.
State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) said Tuesday that he was "cautiously optimistic that we'll have something on that soon," but he declined to elaborate. Fumo was a prime mover in the agreement on the student transfers and on the transportation-spending bill that was approved by the legislature last month. He said he hoped a deal could be worked out on the transfer issue before lawyers filed briefs on an appeal in Commonwealth Court.
The Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, which opposed the elimination of transfers, called yesterday's ruling "a victory for the thousands of passengers in the city and the suburbs who ride SEPTA regularly but do not ride it every day and for whom a weekly or monthly pass is not economical."
"Rather than continue to fight in court against the city and the passengers, SEPTA ought to start over, hold new hearings not clouded by the threat of budget calamity, respond to the serious questions raised by DVARP and by the city, and have an open and honest debate about balancing the interests of the passengers and the interests of SEPTA management," the DVARP said in a statement.
The elimination of transfers would have required riders to pay full fares for two-vehicle rides. That would have raised the cost of a two-vehicle trip by 37 percent for passengers using tokens and 54 percent for those using cash.
SEPTA officials said only about 8 percent of riders used transfers. City officials said the number of passengers using transfers was higher than SEPTA estimated.
SEPTA said it needed to eliminate transfers to help streamline its fare structure and to accommodate state demands for the transit agency to raise more revenue.
Maloney said that because of DiVito's decision, SEPTA would now have to "begin to prepare for the possible loss of that revenue." SEPTA officials previously had said the restoration of transfers would cost between $5 million and $10 million.
City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. said yesterday that the city "will certainly work hard to sustain the decision" if SEPTA appeals. Diaz said he would "commend to the SEPTA board an across-the-board fare increase that affects everyone fairly and equitably."
Unresolved by yesterday's ruling was a complaint by the city to the Federal Transit Administration that SEPTA failed to study the impact that elimination of transfers would have on poor and minority riders.