Leaders of Philadelphia’s public transit system on Thursday confronted a nagging perception that city subways are unsafe by detailing steps they’re taking to fight crime and disorder in stations and aboard trains.

At the 15th Street Station turnstiles, SEPTA general manager Leslie S. Richards and Transit Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel III highlighted a new $6.1 million program that is deploying dozens of security officers to patrol the Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines.

The “outreach specialists” are unarmed and have no arrest powers. They are assigned to remind riders of the rules and nudge them to comply, and to report violators and problems to transit police.

“They are not replacements for law enforcement,” Richards said. “But they do act as a force multiplier.”

The goal is to target quality-of-life violations, she said.

For months, riders have complained of rampant disorder, including smoking on trains and platforms, open use of IV drugs, public urination, feces, garbage, and fare-jumping — particularly on the El, which passes through Kensington, the locus of the region’s opioid crisis.

Crime has risen as well. Robberies and aggravated assaults jumped more than 80% on SEPTA from 2019 to 2021, an eye-catching rate, though the raw numbers are relatively small.

» READ MORE: Reports of aggravated assault and robbery on SEPTA soared during the pandemic as ridership fell

Nestel called the 88 security people “disorder intervenors.” In their first two weeks of work, he said, they have “discouraged” 160 people from evading fares and guided 750 “destinationless riders” off the system and told them about available social services. SEPTA police use the term to describe people in addiction or who are homeless who are just riding, not traveling to a specific stop.

SEPTA has a one-year contract for extra personnel from Extrity Services; Scotlandyard Security Services; and the Philadelphia Protection Unit, with an option to renew for two more years.

SEPTA’s board approved the outreach service in February in hopes of restoring order and reassuring potential customers who may be avoiding transit. The security patrols are augmented by workers who deep-clean stations and others who try to get vulnerable people into shelters or addiction treatment.

Earlier this week, security issues dominated a 2½-hour City Council hearing on SEPTA’s budget. Lawmakers pushed the agency to hire more police officers and do more to clear out people who break conduct rules by smoking or worse.

“I think [when] they’re on your property lines there has to be no tolerance,” Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, whose district includes Kensington, told Richards, who testified on Tuesday. “If we continue to allow people to defecate and openly urinate at the stations, they’re going keep doing it. ... We have to set some boundaries.”

Other members of Council agreed that SEPTA is dealing with the effects of deeply rooted social problems — homelessness, addiction, and mental illness — that government at all levels has not ameliorated.

The situation is complicating SEPTA’s efforts to recover from the pandemic, Richards and other leaders have acknowledged. Average ridership is now at 53% of pre-COVID levels — about 520,000 people on a typical weekday.

“I‘m not so sure how we change this equation in the next 12 months unless we do something dramatic,” Councilmember Alan Domb said. “We need a Marshall Plan to really get in there and fix it.”

He asked Richards if she would support a resolution he’s introduced with Sánchez and Councilmember Mark Squilla to declare a state of emergency in Kensington, asking for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its state counterpart.

She said she’s “150%” behind the idea, noting that SEPTA, nonprofit service agencies, and city government have not been coordinated in their efforts in Kensington and should work together.

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Richards said.