SEPTA held the first of 10 public hearings on its fare increase and 2014 budget at the Delaware County Courthouse in Media yesterday.
Rosalyn Linker of Springfield has been a SEPTA rider all her life. She's never owned a car. Grasping her walker with one hand, she exclaimed, "Even if I were still like Rocky and could run up those steps-- Why would you make it harder for someone who is disabled to have a smart card?"
The SEPTA 'smart card' is coming. But, at present it doesn't have an official name, so for now it is referred to as "New Payment Technology" or NPT. A single ride with it will cost $1.80. A single ride paid by cash will cost $2.50.
Simply put, if you use cash to ride, you will pay more. The fare hike has upset riders. "I don't trust SEPTA," whispered Linker.
The NPT system will allow payment with the SEPTA 'smart card,' debit or credit card, smartphones and other enabled devices.
"It will be cost effective if you register your card with SEPTA. The great thing about it is having automatic reload-- it's kinda like EZPass," said chief financial officer Richard Burnfield. "It's the most ambitious and comprehensive fare upgrade ever taken in the county. We presently have a very antiquated system with cash and paper transfers."
If a registered smart card is lost, SEPTA will automatically replenish the unused fare into the rider's account.
"Some individuals for whatever reason want to use cash. I don't think that we'll ever be a cashless system," Burnfield said.
Linker advocated for handicapped riders and against the fare increase during the hearing. Two dozen people attended and shared similar concerns.
"SEPTA has to meet its needs. We just hope SEPTA will hold the line on the increase. We are dependent on SEPTA to meet our needs," said Rod Powell, a blind man and representative of the SEPTA Advisory Committee for Accessible Transportation.
According to SEPTA's operating budget director Frank Gormley, SEPTA's 2014 fiscal year operating budget is 1.283 billion, which includes a $38 million or 3 percent increase from the previous year. SEPTA will vote ont he budget and fare increase at its May 23 board meeting. A summary of the planned fare increase can be found here.
In addition to the NPT, riders may receive a discounted fare by using weekly and monthly passes. Seniors will continue to ride free on buses, trolleys and subways and the senior fare to ride on regional rail is $1.
The biggest challenge for the Delaware County Intermediate Unit will be figuring out how to educate their teens on using the new SEPTA fare system. The organization works with special education students, many of which use the bus to get to jobs. Jen Raech said today's meeting answered her questions. But, her colleagues are charged with figuring out how to handle the new system and educate more than 100 students.
For travelers using SEPTA to commute to New Jersey, there may be a period of time riders need to use two fare instruments on their trip. SEPTA is working with NJ Transit to devise a plan. "They (riders) will not be disenfranchised," said John McGee, Jr., SEPTA's chief officer of New Payment Technology.
Drexel Hill's Douglas Diehl is only opposed to fare gates on regional rail. He said, "We should have more public meetings to see what the public really wants. This (new payment system) is going to be nice when it's all said and done. We are behind the times."
More public hearings are planned. The next one is tonight at 6 p.m. at the Montgomery County Human Services Center in Norristown. The SEPTA board will review the hearing comments and consider them before the board vote.