As long as I’m re-posting work that was published awhile ago, here’s my first (and so far only) piece for Axis Philly. It’s about transit in Philadelphia, the historical fights over fare increases, why this one isn’t attracting as much flak, and why it should (in some ways).
The continuing existence of high transfer fees is a big reason for protest.
For those who don’t live close to the trolley lines that spider out across West Philadelphia, or the city’s two principal subway elevated lines, transfers are a persistent, costly, and completely unnecessary expense. In fact, for these riders SEPTA’s cheap fares are only so much of a boon: Transfers cost $1, so in the best case scenario, if they have access to tokens (which are inexplicably difficult to access outside downtown hubs), their fare is effectively $2.55. If they use cash it’s $3.00 each way. And that’s before July’s fare hike.
“If you are living far away … chances are your bus route is designed to take you to Broad Street or the El and that’s the way SEPTA wants you to travel because it’s more efficient ,” says Irv Ackelsberg, who was CEPA’s lawyer in a number of fare fights beginning in 1989. “It’s transit 101: The more people on the fast dedicated vehicles, the better off everybody is. Less traffic and everyone moves faster, but they’ve set up the fare structure to penalize the people who are riding the way you are supposed to ride.” The transfer cost gives riders an incentive to take the slower buses all the way downtown, adding to congestion and slowing their own trip, instead of hopping on a subway-elevated line.
In the past SEPTA could argue that the transfer slips could be abused, sold to other riders and the like. But with the implementation of the New Payment Technologies later this year, transfers can be documented in each individual’s account with a swipe of a smart card or phone. Now the only reason left to keep transfers is for the miniscule amount of revenue they bring in, which cannot be worth the inconvenience and congestion engendered by transfers.
“The connection is not an added product or service, rather, it’s an inconvenience imposed on the customer by the geometry of the transit system,” writes Jarrett Walker in his book Human Transit. “Transit agencies can’t eliminate this inconvenience but they can certainly avoid adding to it by including a free connection.”