On a solo COVID vacation I wandered through Los Angeles on public transit. When I tried to enter the front door of the 109 bus from Rosecrans & Nash to Manhattan Beach Pier, a sign taped to the bus door explained: “Please enter the bus at the rear door & avoid paying fare, this bus is free of fare to ensure driver safety from COVID-19.” The bus was explicitly free of fare.
Less than a week previous, I had ridden on a packed SEPTA bus (the 17) in Philadelphia from 22nd & Wharton to 9th & Market; this bus ride was not free. Not only did I pay for this ride, but the SEPTA bus was not socially distanced. As new riders got on the bus they often fumbled in their purses and wallets for elongated periods of time directly in front of the driver while attempting to pay the fare.
In a recent article published by WHYY, SEPTA workers discuss fearing for their lives while on the job for a variety of reasons. Gun violence and crime have been peaking throughout 2021, riders are refusing to pay fare or wear masks, and overall tension has been mounting on public transit since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that the Philadelphia Transit Workers Union is losing faith in SEPTA’s ability to protect their workers. Both the WHYY & Inquirer articles have come out in the last four days, but disputes over the safety and cleanliness of SEPTA have persisted throughout the pandemic.
People who take public transit often don’t have alternatives, they also don’t typically have a mountain of money stashed away to attempt to bypass their need for public transit. It’s evident that Philadelphia does not take public transit seriously, the continued shutdowns of service and neglected maintenance has resulted in unreliable service and dirty stations.
Tomorrow, (Tuesday March 23rd) activists are protesting the temporary closure of Somerset Station in Kensington. Months from now the public will see if SEPTA or Philly makes any meaningful improvements to that station, or if this is just another stalling tactic.
Los Angeles is a dump. LA is a city that’s been bought entirely by oil companies and is destined to drown in the next 50 years; however they’re right about their busses. The bus from Rosecrans to Manhattan Beach would’ve cost me $1, but Beach Cities Transit decided that the relationship with their employees was worth more than my $1.
SEPTA on the other hand does not value anyone’s health or safety. SEPTA wants passengers to walk right up the driver, fumble through their wallet for exact change for bus fare and then march through the bus. The fare is more important than the workers who drive the buses and the passengers paying the fare. SEPTA knows that its ridership is captive.
SEPTA should immediately make buses free and lock the front doors to every bus. This would provide safety and peace of mind to the SEPTA workers that the City relies on everyday. Protect bus drivers from COVID, protect bus drivers from dangerous passengers, and provide some financial relief to SEPTA passengers who have no other options.