SEPTA will close the Market-Frankford Line’s Somerset station in Kensington on Sunday to repair two elevators after public urination and littering with used syringes and other trash damaged their machinery.
The agency posted a notice of the indefinite closure on its website Monday. Officials also say they want to figure out a strategy to protect SEPTA workers and customers who report being harassed by the homeless people and drug users who spend their days in the station. Due to the pandemic and cold weather, more people have sought shelter in SEPTA stations.
“The idea of taking a station out of service is something we don’t take lightly,” SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said. “It is a last resort.”
SEPTA says about 800 passengers use the station daily, 40% of the pre-pandemic level. During the temporary closure, riders can take nearby bus lines or use the Allegheny Station, to the east, and the Huntington Station, to the west.
Somerset Station will reopen when the elevators are repaired, he said; there is no timeline for that until engineers and mechanics can assess the damage to the mechanisms that run the lifts. The station is in the heart of Kensington, the epicenter of Philadelphia’s opioid crisis.
The possibility of closing Somerset was first reported by WHYY. SEPTA is considering options for a plan to make the station safer, including whether to hire security guards to accompany cleaning crews there and at other subway stops with similar problems.
For weeks, regular riders on the MFL have been complaining about conditions on social media; some use the hashtag #HeroinExpress. Transit Workers Local 234, the largest SEPTA union, has been talking with system managers about the need to better protect its members.
Willie Brown, president of the local, in a video updating members earlier this month on those talks, said cleaning crews and cashiers at some subway stations have been threatened.
“Our people are in danger,” Brown said. “The stations have been taken over by homeless people … also you have drug dealers out there, you have people shooting up out there, the whole nine yards.”
He said that when shuttle buses arrive to pick up MFL riders after the 69th Street and Frankford transportation center close for the night, people swarm aboard. They “smoke weed, shoot drugs, throw things at drivers” and refuse to pay the fare, Brown said.
Shutting down the station will do nothing to help people who are homeless or in addiction, said Will Herzog, executive chairman of the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council. The Somerset stop is an important lifeline for working people in Kensington, he said.
“It’s a sort of beacon of hope in one of the most challenged communities in the U.S.,” Herzog said. At the same time, he said, the problems of homelessness and addiction are societal, and the transit agency is not equipped to solve them alone.
“SEPTA should not be a [substitute for a] safe-injection site,” he said.
Proposals for medically supervised injection sites for those in addiction have stalled. 5th Square, the urbanist political action committee, said Monday that such facilities are more critical than ever.
“A station closure due to unsafe conditions is an indicator of a social system gone horribly wrong,” said Cameron Adamez, a member of the group.