David McNeeley started riding SEPTA's Market-Frankford elevated train line in Philadelphia few times a week to see his girlfriend.
The former New Yorker has ridden public transit a lot over the years. He says nowadays on SEPTA, he doesn't get a strong sense of law and order. But he also doesn't know if it's all the transit system's fault.
"It definitely feels like there's not really any authority," McNeeley said. "And that's not to say that I really think that, like, a ton of cops would be the best move, necessarily, because I kind of see it as like a larger issue with the city."
McNeeley was one of 2,500 SEPTA riders to take the NBC10 Investigators' third annual SEPTA survey. From daily commuters to occasional riders and even those who have abandoned mass transit during the COVID-19 pandemic, those surveyed identified reasons they like SEPTA and reasons they have a problem with SEPTA.
Crime, homelessness, drug use and cleanliness are among the chief concerns identified by those who answered the survey's 27 questions.
SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards and SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III said in interviews that they are trying to allocate as much resources as possible to making riders feel safe, keeping the transit lines and buses clean and helping homeless people find a place to stay.
Finding transit police officers remains a fundamental problem, Nestel said.
"If I went to SEPTA and said I have 300 people that want to become transit police officers, they would say hire them," he said. "I don't have 300 people that want to be transit police officers."
Mapping SEPTA Crimes
Below is a map with locations of SEPTA stops. Click on red circles to see the location and what types of crimes occurred at each location in 2021, according to statistics provided by SEPTA.
SEPTA is trying to determine the best way to use $900 million in federal infrastructure funding provided in the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last year to improve the system, Richards said. But she added that there must also be a longterm vision for the funding that makes lasting improvements.
The money has helped keep trains and buses operating, Richards said, despite ridership still only about 50% of the levels it was at pre-pandemic.
"If we didn't have the money on the operating side, there's no doubt we would have had to do significant layoffs. There's no doubt that we (wouldn't) be able, you know, to provide the service we are now," she said. "We will have good options for when that federal fund funding runs out because I don't think anybody is counting on another infusion of federal funding like what we've just been given. And so we've got to figure out what do we look like without it?"
Commuter Ronald Blue, who took the SEPTA Survey, said his concerns are immediate. He wants to see better on-time service and less lawlessness on trains.
"It was two days in a row where it was a 15 minute delay on the Market-Frankford line," Blue said while standing at the 60th Street Station in West Philadelphia. He added of one violent incident he witnessed, "They assaulted this one kid on the bus, and kicked the bus door in."
Richards and Nestel said they are throwing all resources available at problems that are keeping riders from returning to SEPTA. Of 1,300 survey-takers who said they stopped riding SEPTA, 43% identified crime as the main reason why.
"We won't exist if people don't feel safe on our system and people need us and the Philadelphia region needs us just as much as we need them," Richards said.