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SEPTA is beginning a ‘lifeline’ schedule, closing stations and limiting service Thursday

SEPTA is also asking those who are still riding to wear facial coverings.

A nearly empty subway station at Broad and Snyder Ave., in Philadelphia, March 24, 2020.
A nearly empty subway station at Broad and Snyder Ave., in Philadelphia, March 24, 2020.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

SEPTA is dramatically slashing service and urging an end to nonessential rides as it faces its third employee death from the coronavirus.

The “lifeline service schedule” goes into effect Thursday, closing a number of subway stations, limiting bus and trolley service, and suspending some Regional Rail lines.

“If you don’t need to be out on the system, I’m begging you, please stay off the system,” said Fran Kelly, SEPTA assistant general manager for public and government affairs.

Ten stations on the Market-Frankford Line — Church, Tioga, Somerset, York-Dauphin, Second Street, Fifth Street, 13th Street, 56th Street, 63rd Street, and Millbourne Stations — will close. On the Broad Street Line and Broad-Ridge Spur, eight will temporarily shutter: Tasker-Morris, Lombard-South, Spring Garden, Fairmount, Susquehanna-Dauphin, Wyoming, Logan, and Chinatown Stations.

The 13th Street, 19th Street, 33rd Street, and 36th Street trolley stations, too, will close.

“This is not optional,” SEPTA general manager Leslie Richards said in a statement. “The SEPTA Transit Police will be in stations and on vehicles ensuring that those who are traveling have good reason to be on the system."

Service will shrink to about 60 bus and trolley “core" routes, while Regional Rail’s Chestnut Hill East, Chestnut Hill West, Cynwyd, Manayunk/Norristown, West Trenton, and Wilmington Newark Lines will be suspended. Paoli/Thorndale and Lansdale/Doylestown Lines will be shortened.

Buses, subways, and trolleys that are still running will continue on reduced Saturday schedules, while the remaining five Regional Rail Lines will run every two hours. There will be no additional changes to the Norristown High Speed Line.

Plummeting ridership that followed stay-at-home orders has taken a huge financial toll on SEPTA. Despite $643 million in federal coronavirus relief aid carved out for the transportation authority, it anticipates challenges beyond the pandemic’s end.

It most recently asked riders to board buses and trolleys using the back doors, and suspended onboard fare payment.

SEPTA is now asking riders to wear masks or facial coverings, echoing a recommendation made Tuesday by Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.

“Remember, wearing a mask is about really protecting the people around you, and you’re around people when you’re in a bus or in a subway,” he said.

Managing Director Brian Abernathy stressed that SEPTA’s services are still needed to get essential employees to and from work.

“We’ve expressed to SEPTA that we want to make sure that they continue to operate, but also understand their concerns,” Abernathy said at the city’s coronavirus briefing Tuesday.

Three SEPTA employees working in maintenance have died from the coronavirus, spokesperson Andrew Busch confirmed Tuesday. SEPTA now has more than 80 confirmed coronavirus cases among its employees. And absenteeism believed to be related to the coronavirus has cut SEPTA’s workforce by 10% to 15%, officials say.

Willie Brown, president of Transport Workers Union Local 234, said Michael Holt, a bus driver who had transferred into maintenance at SEPTA’s Midvale Depot, died of COVID-19, becoming the third agency employee to succumb to the virus. Brown said he learned of Holt’s death early Tuesday morning.

Brown said Phillip Williams, who worked out of SEPTA’s Southern Depot, and Ted Nixon, who worked in its Elmwood Depot, also died of the virus. Both were veteran SEPTA employees, said Busch, who did not confirm the names.

“Our thoughts are with their families and loved ones during this difficult time,” Richards said in a letter to employees. “We will plan a memorial to honor our colleagues in the coming months and we will share more information as plans are finalized.”