A growing economic liability
COVID-19 has brought these issues to the forefront. The recent shift towards working from home has all but eliminated the suburban white-collar rail rider. As a result, ridership on Regional Rail is down an astonishing 90%. Essential workers, however, do not have this option and must still commute to their jobs. The ridership numbers highlight this disparity, with buses, subways, and trolleys collectively showing about 60 times more weekday ridership in July than all regional rail lines combined.
In response to abysmal Regional Rail ridership numbers, SEPTA has cut this service to the bone. The agency has suspended service entirely on two of its lines and has cancelled all late-night service.
We want SEPTA to do what it really takes to save Regional Rail: Incorporate it within an integrated network. We want SEPTA to restore service on all of its rail lines, lower regional rail fares to match bus, subway, and trolley fares within Philadelphia, and accept TransPass on regional rail trips within Philadelphia.
Operating regional rail is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. SEPTA should look into examples of commuter rail modernization currently underway in Boston and already implemented in Berlin and Paris. Reimagining our regional rail network in this way would quickly increase system capacity and allow for better social distancing. It would bring riders onto empty trains and help thousands of low-income commuters throughout our region.
With the latest fare restructuring, SEPTA has shown a serious commitment to equity. By providing free transfers and free rides for children, the agency has demonstrated respect for people of color, youth, and low-income riders. SEPTA can continue this line of equitable thinking and better adapt to the new demographics of ridership. Reforming regional rail should be the next step SEPTA takes in order to cement the agency’s commitment to not just some but all of its customers.
Camille Boggan is a member of 5th Square’s Transit Committee and a city planning graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.
Krista Guerrieri is an AICP-certified planner with a Master’s Degree in City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a member of 5th Square’s Transit Committee.