Recent violence on SEPTA services has left many Philadelphians feeling unsafe when using the public transportation system. For the hundreds of thousands of riders that use the transit agency to navigate the city, issues including excessive trash, lack of cleanliness, the escalating drug crisis, and even assault have become common deterrents. In March of 2021 SEPTA had to close the Somerset station in Kensington to repair elevators that had been damaged by urine and syringes.
Moreover, just last week, a 17-year-old girl was robbed and assaulted when exiting the Broad Street Line stop at Girard in broad daylight. These issues are not restricted to just these stops and have been concerning riders for some time. Willie Brown, President of the Transit Workers Union Local 234 admitted, “Never a day goes by that there isn’t some intimidation, assault, or thing of that nature”. SEPTA does not seem to be immune to the city’s rising violence crisis, and riders are demanding that action be taken by local officials at the government level.
Many are calling for SEPTA to allocate more of its budget to its police department in order to keep riders safe. Until then, many residents have switched to other forms of transportation that they deem safer and cleaner, albeit more expensive. However, what does this mean for Philadelphia residents who do not have the means to purchase their own form of transportation or pay for ridesharing services on a regular basis? Public transportation has long been a cost-efficient way to travel around the city, specifically aiding residents that do not own any form of transportation themselves either by preference or economic inability. The lack of proper public transit facilities disproportionately affects lower income riders who have no alternative options but to continue risking their safety just to commute.
This problem was highlighted during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, as middle to upper class riders who were able to work from home stopped using public transit, while “those who still rely on public transit, possibly putting themselves and those they encounter at risk, include many of the country’s poorest workers”. While many struggles and fears from the Covid-19 pandemic have decreased in the last two years, there are still very real threats to public safety and peace of mind while using SEPTA services.
It is important to not only provide accessibility to all Philadelphia residents, but to ensure that these facilities are safe for any and all riders. The inequalities within Philadelphia’s public transportation system mirror some of the social and economic inequalities that we see in the city itself. It is our job as a community to look out for one another, and continue pushing for clean, safe, and affordable services for all residents.