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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

» READ MORE: Update: SEPTA strike averted as TWU 234 reaches tentative deal

Negotiators for Transport Workers Union Local 234 and SEPTA management began an intensive round of talks in a Center City hotel Monday with a goal of coming to an agreement on a new contract. Both sides have expressed a strong desire to avoid a work stoppage, but if an agreement is not reached, a strike could impact the lives of workers and commuters around the region. Here’s what you need to know.

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 11:59 p.m. Oct. 31, union members could walk off the job — since members voted to authorize a strike on Oct 1.

Is SEPTA service impacted now?


Who would be on strike?

The Transport Workers Union Local 234 represents 4,500 members, who work as operators for buses and trolleys, and trains, as well as mechanics, skilled tradespeople, maintenance workers, and custodians.

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

Many Philadelphia residents rely on buses, the two “heavy” rail lines, and trolleys to get to work and for essential travel, but some riders might be more impacted than others in the event of a strike. A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia concluded that on average, Black workers spent 34 minutes more per week commuting than white workers in Philadelphia as of 2019. While white workers are more likely to be able to work from home, Black workers and low-income workers are more likely to rely on public transit, according to the report’s authors.

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

Why would SEPTA workers strike?

Assaults on SEPTA bus and trolley operates have increased dramatically over the last five years, and the union wants to increase safety, which would protect members, strengthen the transit system, and preserve jobs, they say. The union is asking for more police onboard the public transit system, saying safety improvements could also help hiring and retaining bus and trolley operators, whose ranks are depleted.

The negotiators want an increase in wages, which could help SEPTA attract and retain more workers. To keep SEPTA operators who are early in their careers, the union is looking to offer them a pay boost and reduce the unpredictable schedules that often fall to less senior workers.

The union’s current contract from 2021 includes 3% annual raises, pandemic hazard pay, and two weeks of paid parental leave.

When would a strike begin?

Early in the morning Nov. 1.

How likely is a strike?

SEPTA is known as one of the most strike-prone large transit systems in the country. Since 1975, at least 11 unions have walked off the job. And earlier this month, Brian Pollitt, the union’s president, said that members would strike if needed.

“The members gave me the green light,” Pollitt said. “I don’t want to strike, but we’ll do it if we have to. The clock is ticking.”

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?

Ridership on SEPTA has not bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, as Center City’s slow recovery continues. Although workers are progressively returning to work in the office, as of February, the volume of workers in Center City was slightly less than half of what is was in 2019. That lack of workers in Center City has had a ripple effect on SEPTA, which depends on transit fares for funding to a greater degree than other systems.

As federal pandemic aid runs out, the agency projects a $240 million annual deficit starting next July. Last month, SEPTA CEO Leslie S. Richards told the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee that riders could face $3 SEPTA fares and a 20% cut in service if the state couldn’t provide more money to fill the financial gap needed.

SEPTA has also struggled with a staffing shortage since COVID-19 hit in 2020. The number of operators on the agency’s payroll decreased 15% from 2020 to 2023, according to documents reviewed by The Inquirer.

In addition to TWU, active contract talks are currently underway with three other SEPTA unions.

  1. Fraternal Order of Transit Police, Lodge 109: Patrol and special unit police officers. Contract expired March 31; strike authorized.

  2. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Division 71: Regional Rail engineers. Contract expired March 2; voting on strike authorization.

  3. International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, Transportation Division, Local 61: Regional Rail conductors and assistant conductors. Contract expired nearly two years ago; voting on strike authorization.

Will Regional Rail be impacted?

It would not affect Regional Rail, the commuter railroad from the suburbs to Center City, though fares are more expensive than on city transit. Regional trains also serve the airport, Wilmington and Trenton. The Norristown High Speed Line would also not be affected.

» 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?

SEPTA released a Service Interruption Guide on Wednesday with information for riders about their transit options.

In short, Regional Rail is the best bet. Many Regional Rail stations in Philadelphia offer easy access to suburban bus and trolley service, as well as the Norristown High Speed Line — all would continue to run during a strike. In addition, with 51 stations in the city riders can travel to some areas in Philadelphia on the commuter railroad.

SEPTA plans to staff rail stations with ambassadors who can answer questions and offer help and directions. During peak evening hours, riders boarding at the Center City Regional Rail stations must line up on the concourse level and proceed to the platform only when directed by an ambassador, to avoid dangerous overcrowding.

For SEPTA’s full guidance, go to

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 within Philadelphia for seniors and people with disabilities who are registered for the service. The transit agency will communicate with riders about possible delays and disruptions due to demand or traffic congestion, according to an agency representative.

How could a strike impact Philly schools?

District-wide, 55,000 students rely on SEPTA buses, subways, trolleys, and trains to get to school.

If SEPTA workers are on strike on Wednesday, some or all Philadelphia School District schools could close for in-person learning, Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr. said Friday. In a letter sent to district staff and families Friday, Watlington said that the district is “fully committed to ensuring that learning continues for all students in the event of a SEPTA strike” but that “staffing challenges or other conditions that may result from a strike could require some or all of our schools to shift to hybrid or 100% virtual learning.”

Temple University said it would remain open and offer extra shuttle services and free parking for students and employees who are affected.

How is the city preparing for a strike?

The city government released a statement Wednesday “encouraging residents and businesses to start preparing for alternate travel methods.” Businesses should consider work-from-home options and urge employees who must go to the office to carpool if possible, officials said.

In addition to Regional Rail and carpooling, walking and biking would work well for many travelers, city officials reminded people in the statement, particularly considering that roads would be clogged with vehicles in the event of a transit strike.

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 writer Kristen A. Graham contributed to this article.