IS IT NECESSARY for SEPTA to eliminate transfers?

According to a Common Pleas Court judge, no . . . at least not quite yet.

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Judge Gary DeVito granted a stay of execution for riders, ruling the transfers to remain in effect at least until Aug. 6.

In an all-day hearing yesterday, the day before it was set to eliminate transfers, SEPTA made a case that the 50-year-old paper transfer is outdated, puts a cash-handling burden on SEPTA drivers, and is hard to monitor.

And the city argued that SEPTA's proposal is unfair, unwise and, now with an expected influx of state dedicated funding, unnecessary.

What's the truth?

The truth is, that SEPTA has maintained that the elimination of the 60-cent transfers is part of a range of changes and cuts it is making to avoid larger fare increases for all. It says that eliminating transfers represents $10 million in savings - the first time that figure has been made public - and will speed the move to electronic fares.

But it's equally true that SEPTA had, up to now, failed to make an effective or persuasive case for this change, part of the "Plan a Hybrid," an 11-percent fare boost its board passed last June. Some transit advocates who knew of the transfer proposal were focused on dedicated funding from Harrisburg for transit, and stayed silent about the transfers. Until the Harrisburg money was in the bag - even that isn't a guarantee now - few seemed to care.

Sensing no opposition, SEPTA was content to let it fly under the radar, though it didn't supply many details about the transfer elimination and how exactly $10 million savings will be achieved, or why the change had to come on Aug. 1.

The city pulled together lots of ammo for the hearing, scattered as it was. It maintained that eliminating transfers discriminated against students and occasional riders.

Our question: Why didn't all the parties sit down long before now? SEPTA and the school district (which would need an additional $2 million if transfers were eliminated) operate in last-minute, crisis mode. The city should've stepped in earlier to mediate the transfer issue. All three must put their energy in meeting rooms instead of courtrooms and hold fruitful talks about these and other transit concerns. It shouldn't take a last-minute lawsuit to get agencies to do what is right. *