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What you need to know about a possible SEPTA strike

SEPTA is negotiating with the union that represents bus, trolley, and subway drivers in Philadelphia. Their contract expires at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 1.

The Transport Workers Union Local 234 includes SEPTA bus drivers.
The Transport Workers Union Local 234 includes SEPTA bus drivers.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

» UPDATE: SEPTA, union avoid strike by agreeing to new contract

Will SEPTA workers go on strike?

If SEPTA and the Transport Workers Union Local 234 have not reached a new agreement before their contract expires at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 1, union members could walk off the job — now that members voted Sunday to authorize a strike.

Is SEPTA service impacted now?


Who would be on strike?

About 5,000 workers in the City Transit Division. They operate buses and trolleys, as well as trains on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines. Other members of TWU Local 234 include mechanics, skilled tradespeople, maintenance workers, and custodians.

» READ MORE: SEPTA transit workers vote to authorize a strike if needed

Why would SEPTA workers strike?

The union wants a four-year contract with wage increases and a “pandemic payment” to compensate frontline workers for the risks they have taken amid COVID-19. Union leaders also are demanding paid parental leave and object to contract changes SEPTA wants that would curtail seniority rights. They also want more police patrols of the system, given high-profile crimes and abuse and assaults against members, some from passengers frustrated at federal mask requirements on transit.

Transit authority negotiators offered a two-year contract with a wage increase and pandemic payment or a four-year deal that would peg any wage increase to SEPTA’s ability to pay. With ridership yet to rebound fully from its pandemic nadir and an unclear picture of where commuting and transit-use patterns are headed, the agency says, it can’t afford to guarantee wage increases so far into the future.

When would a strike begin?

Early in the morning Nov. 1.

How likely is a strike?

A strike is not inevitable. If an agreement is close as the contract expires, union leaders could decide to keep members on the job without a contract or make an agreement with SEPTA on an extension of the current deal. Negotiations would continue.

What are the stakes of a strike at this moment?

On the system overall, ridership is at 47% of pre-pandemic levels, and SEPTA says it continues to lose $1 million a day. It has received $1.5 billion in operating funds from three federal pandemic relief payments — likely enough, officials say, to last through 2023. Future state funding is uncertain; the legislature has not acted to replace a transit funding formula that is expiring. And SEPTA has no authority to levy taxes within its five-county territory, unlike many peer transit agencies in the United States.

Which SEPTA services would be affected by a strike?

A strike would shut down buses, trolleys, and the subway and elevated train lines operating in Philadelphia.

It would not affect Regional Rail, the commuter railroad from the suburbs to Center City, which has 52 stops in Philadelphia, though fares are more expensive than on city transit. Regional trains also serve the airport, Wilmington and Trenton.

City transit riders are SEPTA’s most loyal customers, and many Philadelphia residents rely on buses, the two “heavy” rail lines, and trolleys to get to work and for essential travel — particularly people of color and those who live in lower-income neighborhoods.

» READ MORE: SEPTA bus riders are frustrated by persistent delays. Officials say a shortage of drivers is to blame.

What is SEPTA advising riders to do if there is a strike?

The transit authority notes in an online guide that Regional Rail would be the best choice on its system for travel in and around Philadelphia, where there are 52 stations. Suburban bus and trolley routes and the Norristown High Speed Line will operate, but schedules for some buses inbound to the city may be tweaked.

Many Regional Rail stations in Philadelphia offer easy access to suburban bus and trolley service.

The LUCY shuttle in University City will run regular service on weekdays, 6:10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Would a strike affect paratransit?

No, it will continue to operate for seniors and people with disabilities who are registered for the service.

How is the city preparing for a strike?

In the event of a strike, Philadelphia School District buildings will remain open, officials announced Thursday. Staff will be expected to report to work as usual; students are expected to be inside classrooms. Children who can’t make it to school will be asked to log on to their district-provided devices daily for asynchronous assignments.

The city government is making contingency plans as well. Offices will be open and officials do not anticipate any impact to services, a spokesperson said Thursday.

Departments are being asked to consider: remote work when feasible, flexible schedules so employees don’t have to travel at peak hours, and shifting reporting locations to sites near workers’ available transportation, the spokesperson said.

Other ideas include encouraging coworkers to organize carpools and “leveraging” departmental motor pool vehicles.

When was the last SEPTA strike, and what was the conflict?

A six-day TWU Local 234 walkout in 2016. The biggest issue was retirement benefits. SEPTA’s contributions toward union members’ pensions did not rise in tandem with wages when workers made more than $50,000. Managers’ pension benefits were not capped. The union also wanted to reduce members’ out-of-pocket health care costs.

» READ MORE: SEPTA workers might strike soon. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Besides 2016, when have SEPTA workers gone on strike?

Since 1975, SEPTA and its customers have experienced 12 other strikes that shut down at least some public transit. There were stoppages in 1975, 1977, twice in 1981, 1982, 1983, twice in 1986, 1995, 1998, 2005, and 2009.

What is the longest strike in SEPTA history?

The 1983 walkout crippled Regional Rail service for 108 days.

Staff Writers Kristen A. Graham and Laura McCrystal contributed to this article.