On Sunday, SEPTA may feel as close to “normal” as it has in the past seven months.
The transportation authority will add three “Sports Express" trips on the Broad Street Line, departing from Fern Rock Transportation Center Sunday at 11:15, 11:30, and 11:45 a.m. to get fans to NRG Station as the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Baltimore Ravens at Lincoln Financial Field. It’s a milestone for fans, with thousands now allowed to return to the stadium to watch live football.
“It’s very encouraging to get back to bringing fans to the stadium right now,” said SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards at NRG Station Friday, wearing a Brandon Graham jersey. “It’s a little step in the recovery direction that we’re all getting in.”
Earlier this week, city officials announced up to 7,500 people would be allowed at big outdoor venues beginning Friday. While there won’t be the packed cars SEPTA usually sees heading to the stadium on football Sundays, the authority is eager to welcome however many riders do come out.
Average weekday ridership on the Broad Street Line has dropped to 31,500 from 106,200 before the pandemic, according to figures SEPTA provided Friday. Ridership for an average Eagles game last season was around 15,600.
Sunday’s express trips won’t be free, as the authority has done in the past through company partnerships. As many people fled the system during the pandemic, Richards is reminding riders to reload their SEPTA Key cards. Thousands of Key cards expired at the end of June, with a new round of expirations coming late next month.
“Those who have not tried the system yet are a little anxious, and maybe a little fearful," she said. "So, anything that gets more people on our system so that they can see it ... with their own eyes and with their own personal experience, they’ll see all the work that’s being done and that SEPTA is a safe option for them to get around.”
SEPTA has enhanced its cleaning efforts throughout the pandemic, and has required mask wearing since June. Still, many riders think the authority could do better with enforcing the policy, according to a recent travel survey. Social distancing coaches, a group of SEPTA employees aiming to boost compliance, will be at NRG Station on Sunday to hand out masks.
While the possibility of more riders on Sunday is welcome, it’s not the big event cancellations that hurt the authority most financially, but rather the break in normal commuting routines. The authority is losing $1 million a day, Richards said.
The authority has received $644 million in federal relief to help stem losses from the pandemic. The American Public Transportation Association is calling for an additional $32 billion in emergency funding to help sustain transit agencies across the country.
“Every bit helps,” Richards said of riders who may take SEPTA on Sunday. “Farebox revenue is a big part of our budget equation, however we’re not counting on increase in ridership anytime soon to help us plug those gaps.”