With outrage, resignation or dread, transit riders yesterday faced the first day of their more-expensive commuting lives, as SEPTA's first fare increase in six years took effect.
The worst is still ahead for many passengers, as transfers will be eliminated Aug. 1, and there remains the specter of possible service cuts and more fare hikes in September, if the legislature doesn't approve more state funding.
Yesterday, many bus and subway riders took their first trips on their new, more expensive weekly passes, and regional rail passengers paid more for their daily or weekly tickets.
SEPTA's fare increases amount to an average of about 11 percent. The transit agency faces a $129 million deficit in its new $1.02 billion operating budget. The fare hikes are designed to fill $35 million of the gap, while SEPTA is counting on the state for the remaining $94 million.
The base cash fare of $2 for buses, subways and trolleys was unaffected, and tokens remain $1.30 each.
Many passengers yesterday worried less about the immediate impact of the fare increases than the impending loss of 60-cent transfers, which allow them to switch from one bus to another or from subway to bus. When transfers are eliminated Aug. 1, riders will have to pay a second fare to complete a two-vehicle trip, so a round trip that now costs $3.80 could cost $5.20.
"That's highway robbery. They're sticking us up without a gun," said Herb Dickens of Mount Airy, as he boarded the 18 bus at Broad and Olney.
Clement Friday, 46, an immigrant from Nigeria who lives in Fairmount with his wife and three children, paid $20.75 for a weekly transit pass, up $2 from last week. As he traveled with his three children on the Broad Street subway yesterday, he opened his wallet to display only a few coins. Trained as an accountant, he said he was looking for any kind of work "just to pay the bills and put food on the table."
Two dollars a week makes a difference, he said, and he worried that the increased cost of transfers for the children would make the burden much greater next month.
"SEPTA should have considered the masses," he said. "Not everybody has a car."
Marcine Riddick, 66, of Center City, waited yesterday for the C bus up Broad Street, which she can ride for free because she's a senior citizen. But she said she knew higher fares mean distress for many of her fellow travelers, who have been talking about the costs.
"One girl was about crying," she said. "I don't think it's fair. It's going to make it difficult for people."
One woman, who identified herself only as Melinda, said she would probably give up her Atlantic City job as a customer-service aide at Bally's Casino Hotel because of the rising costs of taking the subway and buses to work. NJ Transit last month raised its fares, and with the cost of a SEPTA weekly transit pass now up to $20.75, she said, she is paying more than $95 a week to commute.
"I can't afford both increases," she said. "I'll pay the extra price till I can find something here in Philadelphia."
Rail passengers were generally more sanguine. Many travel on monthly passes, so they won't feel the impact until Aug. 1. Others said that, even with higher fares, the train is cheaper than driving, and parking, in Center City.
Fran Greek, 42, a Center City lawyer who rides in from Norristown, will see the cost of his R-6 Zone 3 monthly pass rise from $126.50 to $142.50.
The $16 increase, he said, "is only one day of parking." The train "is still a good deal, especially with the price of gas now," he said.
Sheryl Morris, who works in insurance in Center City, was waiting for the 4:05 p.m. R2 to take her home to Warminster. Her monthly fare will rise $18 to $163 next month.
"It's not so bad. . . . It's cheaper than driving," said Morris, who is starting her second month of rail commuting. "It would cost a hell of a lot more to drive."
Eileen Barclay is spending about $4 more per week now to take the R8, unaffectionately dubbed the "R-Late," to Fox Chase. Barclay, who works for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in Center City, said the train is faster than taking the bus and the Market-Frankford El and cheaper than driving.
"I'd pay at least $50 a week for parking, and then there's the wear and tear on your car, not to mention gas," she said.
SEPTA officials predicted the higher fares would reduce ridership by about 2.6 percent - 22,000 daily passengers. Spokesman Felipe Suarez said it would probably take a week to evaluate ridership numbers.
Bus driver Chris Blake, a 22-year veteran with SEPTA, said he'd seen little change on his 124 route from Center City to King of Prussia.
"The radical change will be August 1, when the transfers are eliminated," he said.