SEPTA’s “social-distancing coaches” aren’t going away — at least through September.
The transportation authority extended the initiative that has managers and administrative employees handing out face coverings and promoting social distancing at stations to protect against the spread of COVID-19. The effort started in August and was planned to last through last week but will resume after Labor Day weekend following “a great response to the initial rollout,” said SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch.
“Hopefully we can help people, remind people that the mask needs to cover their mouth and nose, and get them into good habits as we move forward,” Busch said. “We do expect that ridership is going to continue to build a bit here.”
Ridership nosedived as the pandemic hit but is trickling back. SEPTA now sees about 35% of its normal bus, trolley, and subway ridership. Mask wearing will be critical as more people board public transportation and social distancing becomes more difficult.
Facial coverings have been required on SEPTA since June, but, like governments and universities, the authority is looking for ways to boost compliance with safety measures. While about 81% of SEPTA riders wear masks properly, just 63% were doing so on the Market-Frankford Line in July, according to a video analysis aboard SEPTA vehicles. SEPTA intends to conduct another analysis.
Complaints abound on social media.
The program will stick with the approach SEPTA used through August. Two to four “coaches” will be stationed at different locations on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 7 until 10 a.m. and 2 until 5 p.m. The authority gave away more than 300 masks last month, Busch said.
Next week, they’ll be at the Broad Street Line’s City Hall, Snyder, and Walnut-Locust stations, as well as the Fern Rock and Olney Transportation Centers, according to a draft schedule. The following week, they’ll head to the Market-Frankford Line’s 15th Street, 34th Street, and Spring Garden stations, as well as the 69th Street Transportation Center. The third week will send coaches to Center City’s Regional Rail hubs: Jefferson, Suburban, 30th Street, and Penn Medicine stations.
SEPTA’s social-distancing coaches are a revamped form of its Ambassador program, in which employees help customers during big events like the Philadelphia Flower Show. Nearly 100 employees volunteered for the role shortly after an initial callout in July.
The program is led by Jessica Mangold, a statistical reporting project manager at the authority. Transit police are not involved in SEPTA’s mask compliance efforts.
SEPTA’s social-distancing coaches may continue to work into next month.
“It’s definite that we’re going to continue to do something beyond September,” Busch said, “Whether it’s specifically this program, or it takes a little bit of a different form, it’s still yet to be determined.”