With ridership down due to COVID, SEPTA is hurting

With ridership down, SEPTA is trying to weather the COVID-19 pandemic as best it can. And, Philadelphia’s new restrictions announced Monday don’t include any changes to SEPTA services, for now.

It may look different than this time last year, but for people like Denise Womack, who rely on SEPTA every week, she says she’s fortunate there is still a train to catch.

“It’s not as crowded because people are working from home and whatnot, or going to school. It’s not the same, but this is convenient,” Womack explained.

Maybe a quieter, more spacious ride these days, but for SEPTA’s General Manager, Leslie Richards, the 70 to 80 percent drop in ridership, coupled with expenses in responding to COVID-19, means they are losing $1 million a day.

“We can only provide the service that we can pay for. Our riders, who are using us, many of them are also essential workers getting to their essential jobs,” Richards commented.

Richards expects that to continue even with the new restrictions announced by the city Monday. But, she says, the issue is bigger than the operational side. It is also the capital side of SEPTA – what state and local funders, responsible for subsidizing SEPTA, will decide in budget talks and if there will be any federal relief.

If not, Richards explains, “We will have to make cuts. We will have to look at service. We will have to look at potential layoffs. It’s about being able to pay people for the work that they do and if we don’t have the money to do that, we have to make some difficult choices.”

Advocacy group Transit Forward Philadelphia says SEPTA cuts due to lack of proper funding has a devastating ripple effect. Hundreds of thousands of jobs lost in Philly and even more stranded for ways to travel.

In the meantime, SEPTA is encouraging riders that public transit is safe. Some riders do agree.

“I felt safe because there wasn’t too many people on there and I had my mask and my shield,” stated Karen Downing.



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