SEPTA’s top executive had a message Thursday for riders who’ve been entangled in the labyrinth of locked entrances and closed passageways in its concourse beneath Center City: We hear your frustration.
The authority started installing clearer signs last weekend to help people navigate between services, and it is updating concourse maps, said Leslie S. Richards, CEO and general manager.
But, while some areas may gradually be reopened, barriers are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, she suggested.
“We want to have as much open as possible. However, we have to balance that with our duty to maintain a safe and clean environment for our customers,” Richards said during the agency’s monthly board meeting.
In the summer of 2020, the transit authority began locking stairwells and restricting access to the concourse between Jefferson and Suburban Stations. SEPTA acknowledges at least ten people have been trapped.
In early February, Brandon Tubby, a public housing finance consultant, was trying to catch a train at Jefferson Station. He and another rider tried an entrance on Market Street. Locked. A sign directed them to an entrance on 10th Street, but it was also barred.
Getting to the train platform “felt like breaking out of an escape room,” Tubby told The Inquirer. “What kind of business would want its customers to feel this way?”
Transit officials said the restrictions were for public safety, citing a steep drop in ridership early in the pandemic, leaving empty stretches of the concourse that were difficult to patrol and became refuges for homeless people.
“All the gates in the concourse should be kept open. It’s negatively impacting riders,” said Cameron Adamez, a transit committee member of the urbanist group 5th Square. Better signs are a “just a Band-Aid” and SEPTA needs the city to do more for unhoused people, Adamez said.
The board also approved a plan to spend $95 million in fresh federal infrastructure money to speed up long-term projects.
It raised SEPTA’s capital budget for fiscal 2022, approved last year, to $714 million from about $619 million.
The money will be used to invest $30 million more than planned to modernize the region’s trolley system and another $30 million on projects to upgrade transit stations to ADA accessibility standards.
SEPTA’s allocations won wide praise from transit advocates, many of whom have harshly criticized the agency’s spending and service priorities.
Daniel Trubman said the spending plan “reveals a focus on the fundamentals” by pouring money into the popular trolley system in the city and Delaware County suburbs and improvements for bus riders rather than parking garages at Regional Rail stations.
Trubman, a transit advocate with 5th Square, praised Richards and the board for “making smart decisions focused on growing ridership with these newly available funds.”