Tuesday, August 07, 2007


It ain't easy being dead poor or working poor in the big city. If you have a job or need to get to school it's a chore. Most such folks have to depend on mass transit for which they have to fork out some of what little money they've got to get across town to whereve they need to go.

Which leads us to today's "class war" in America story.

In Philadelphia last month the city public transportation behemoth decided to try to screw those very people who so depend on it. They decided they'd eliminate transfers which might not seem like a big thing to you, but when you have to count every damn penny it makes a helluva difference.

What were they thinking in their nice air conditioned offices when some suited executives made this decision?

I don't care what they were thinking, the truth of their actions speak louder than their words.

A blogger at Young Philly Politics put it this way:

They have an inept system, that favors suburbanites over the city riders who foot the bills. Then, they try to penalize city riders for that inept system. Nothing like screwing poor school kids and moms taking their kids across town to church!

He is absolutely right as SEPTA (which stands for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) provides public transportation services in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties, with selected rail service in New Jersey and the State of Delaware decided to eliminate the "benefit" of transfers.
SEPTA gets people around Philadelphia which is a place, I can personally testify as someone who once lived there, is not a place you'd much want to drive in especially if like most poor and working class people you can't afford outrageous parking fees everywhere (that is if you happen to own a car to park in the first place). Consequently, you are forced to depend on SEPTA just to get by.

Well, right now SEPTA, its riders and the city are locked in a battle over whether it can move ahead with its plans to end the transfer passes.

SEPTA says it wants to no longer offer the cut-rate transfer fares to riders in need of a transit connection to reach their destinations. They had planned for this to take place August 1st, but the outcry and the city and the courts have put this on hold - for now. A Common Pleas Judge issued an injunction last week against SEPTA’s elimination of transfers after the city accused the monopoly of discriminating against black and low-income riders.

Back in Common Pleas court yesterday City solicitor Romy Diaz said SEPTA simply disregarded federal law: “There should be a minority analysis. The fact that it wasn’t conducted is disturbing. And our analysis suggests that there are going to be significant minority riders who are affected.”
And the city’s attorney who is arguing the case, Mark Zecca, went further than that: in court he accused SEPTA of racial discrimination:

"They would not have done this if it were a predominately white population,” he said.

In fact, the city’s attorney showed last week that, while fares for children and adults who take one or two transfers will go up anywhere from 36 to 200%, fares for some people in the suburbs will decline 27%.

SEPTA says it has to do this for financial reasons.

Others disagree.

Marc Stier,a member of the steering committee of the Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, argued in the Daily News that eliminating transfers won't generate much more money for SEPTA and constitutes a 36% increase for riders who previously used transfers. "That is unfair to those riders," he writes, "mostly schoolchildren and workers who can't get where they need to go on one bus or train." And as aptly pointed out by the Pennsylvania Transit Coalition many of the adults and school children who depend on transfers can’t afford to pay an additional 36% or 55%

"SEPTA," wrote Marc Stier, "has argued that eliminating transfers will encourage riders to buy a weekly TransPass, which might save them money in the long run. While that's a solution for some riders, it won't help the occasional rider or the rider who takes SEPTA three days a week. And it creates a burden for low-wage workers who can't easily afford to buy a weekly pass."

The Pennsylvania Transit Coalition points out:
"...the transfer issue also has broader ramifications. Now that SEPTA has received at least part of the dedicated funding it has long needed, it is time for us all to start working on the dramatic improvements in our transit system we have also long needed. We need both big changes—new transit lines and massive improvements in existing lines—and small changes—cleaner trains, buses, and station; more sensible schedules; more timely information and so on. We won’t get either the big or small changes we need unless SEPTA is willing to start working with—and listen to—community groups and political leaders. And a critical element of working together is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Whether deliberately or because it did not care to work with the community, SEPTA has not listened or talked honestly to the public in the past. It is time for it to start, even if it has to be forced to do so by judicial order."

The following article is from today's Philadelphia Enquirer.

U.S. agency steps into fray over transfers
Federal authorities say SEPTA must analyze the effect that fare hikes would have on low-income riders.
By Larry Eichel

SEPTA planned to eliminate its 60-cent transfers on Aug. 1 but the city stepped in and temporarily blocked the effort, so they remain valid for now.

A letter from the Federal Transit Administration has injected a potentially significant element into the legal battle over SEPTA's attempt to do away with the 60-cent transfer.

In the letter, dated Friday, the administration's office of civil rights told SEPTA that it must conduct an analysis as to whether any proposed fare increase would "have a disproportionately high and adverse effect on minority and low-income riders."

SEPTA spokesman Jim Whitaker said yesterday that the transit agency had studied the topic and was talking to the federal administration to find out whether its work met federal guidelines. No analysis has been made public.

The existence of the letter was revealed yesterday at the resumption of the hearing in Common Pleas Court regarding the city's attempt to block the elimination of the transfer fare.

Judge Gary F. DiVito gave lawyers in the case until Thursday afternoon to file briefs about several issues, including the relevance of the letter. So it is likely that will be no decision until Friday at the earliest.

In the meantime, the 60-cent transfer, which SEPTA planned to eliminate effective last Tuesday, remains in effect.

The letter apparently resulted from a telephone call to the federal administration made last week by Darlene Heep, a senior attorney in the City Solicitor's Office. In the document, the federal agency noted that fare increases that disproportionately impact minority and low-income riders are permissible if the alternatives "would have more severe adverse effects."

Much of the hearing yesterday was devoted to statistical presentations by city witnesses indicating that a high percentage of the city's low-income and African American residents rely on SEPTA and on transfers.

Elimination of such fares would raise the cost of a one-transfer ride 37 percent for passengers using tokens, 54 percent for cash payers.

Also impacted would be students. They have been able to buy tokens at a discount and transfer for free throughout the city transit division.

Elimination of transfers was part of a rate increase SEPTA described as averaging 11 percent.

In an interview, Thomas S. Biemer, an attorney for SEPTA, cited two reasons he thinks the federal letter should have no bearing on the legal proceedings.

One is that the federal regulations cited in the letter went into effect May 13, several months after SEPTA began the rate-changing process. "You can't change the rules in the middle of the game," Biemer said.

The other, he said, is that the appropriate remedy for any violation of such a regulation is up to the federal agency and should have no effect on local litigation about a fare hike.

City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. countered that the thrust of the federal regulations has been in effect for years. By ignoring federal concerns about minority and low-income riders, he said, SEPTA was jeopardizing its federal funding.

That qualifies, he said, as unreasonable behavior - "a manifest and flagrant abuse of discretion"- and thus a violation of the state legislation that created the transit authority.

In court, Mark R. Zecca, a deputy in Diaz's office, went further, alleging that SEPTA would not have eliminated transfers if doing so would have impacted "a predominantly white population."

Throughout the transfer controversy, SEPTA officials have said that only about 8 percent of riders use transfers and that many of them could minimize the impact of eliminating transfers by switching to weekly transpasses.

In court yesterday, Christopher Zearfoss, the transportation director in the city's Office of Strategic Planning, testified that his own studies indicated transfer use was at least somewhat higher than SEPTA estimated.

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