SEPTA wants to make some last-minute tweaks to its latest fare restructuring plan.
Pending board approval next week, children would ride free across the system, while SEPTA Key Travel Wallet users would get a longer window to take advantage of a free transfer. The changes, which would take effect July 1, were recommended during a committee meeting Thursday.
“We want to make it as easy as possible. We definitely want SEPTA to be an attractive choice,” SEPTA General Manager Leslie S. Richards said. “We are listening. What is it that they would like to see that would give them confidence in coming back on the system? We want to make it as easy as possible for them. We want to let them know we are ready.”
In its original plan, announced in March, SEPTA proposed reducing the fare to $1 for riders ages 5 through 11 and to offer one free transfer during its current 90-minute transfer window. The adjustments would mean that children under 12 traveling with a fare-paying adult would ride free, and that the transfer window would be two hours.
Currently, children are charged a full $2.50 cash fare and half the regular fare on Regional Rail. Transfers are $1 using the SEPTA Key.
SEPTA also intends to introduce new three-day passes in the fall, giving flexibility to workers outside the standard 9-to-5 schedule. The passes are likely to find newfound importance should companies adopt permanent teleworking policies, prompting fewer five-day-a-week commutes.
Last month, the authority announced it also plans to postpone fare increases until at least January to bring relief during the pandemic. March’s proposal called for a 50-cent increase to the SEPTA Key base fare, and raised prices of weekly and monthly passes for transit and Regional Rail riders.
Thursday’s recommendations come after the authority heard feedback during operating budget and fare restructuring hearings last month. Transit advocates were vocal in the process.
Members of the advocacy group 5th Square had recommended that SEPTA get rid of the transfer penalty, begin fare capping, have children ride free, and accept TransPass on Zone 1 Regional Rail. Transit Forward Philadelphia, an advocacy coalition, offered similar ideas.
The Philly Transit Riders Union rallied behind a plan to lower fares for a year.
In March, SEPTA said it expected to generate $16 million in new annual revenue from the proposed changes, less than the about $25 million seen during a typical fare increase. It was unclear how the proposed adjustments would impact that figure.
“We felt that it was worth moving forward with this at this time,” Richards said. “There’s no doubt that our revenue has been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and moving forward. But we felt that taking on these two additional recommendations at this time was not overwhelming.”
SEPTA is welcoming a trickle of riders back as the region adapts to the state’s “yellow” coronavirus recovery phase, recently releasing a reopening guide. Some seats are blocked off to encourage social distancing, and face masks are required.
The authority faces a financial challenge unlike it has ever seen as riders heeded stay-at-home orders through the pandemic. Federal CARES Act funding is expected to stem some of the losses seen from the coronavirus.
SEPTA’s board has scheduled a budget vote for Thursday.