New SEPTA plan considers post-pandemic future

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — SEPTA has just released a COVID-19 recovery plan the transit agency hopes will generate public confidence and an eventual return of riders.

It’s called "SEPTA - Move Better Together."

Jody Holton, SEPTA's assistant general manager for planning, said it was put together during the past few months to give the transit authority a path forward.

She said planners and consultants looked at a variety of pandemic scenarios here and in other parts of the country and how systems are coping.

Holton said they also came up with ridership forecasts to help the agency better understand its financial future.

"We've been in conversations with major employers throughout the region such as Comcast and Brandywine and the hospital at Penn and learning what their plans are for reopening so that we can respond and provide the service levels that they need," Holton said.

Holton said SEPTA also has been keeping an eye on who's riding and where.

"We've been seeing ridership at about 35% of normal, or pre-COVID, I should say," Holton explained. "And that has been consistent. It's slowly going up. We've seen slight differences in the different modes.

"The Regional Rail is a little lower in terms of ridership, maybe 10% of normal. And then transit itself is more around 35 or 40%. So, buses, the Market-Frankford line and the Broad Street line."

Holton said the results of a rider survey found disinfection of SEPTA equipment, mask wearing and social distancing remain the top concerns.

"We provided an employer tool kit that talks about things that we're doing to disinfect and clean our vehicles," she said, "and then also recommends that if employees can come back to work that hopefully they could do it in those off-peak periods and try to flatten the peak periods for our service."

And, Holton said, there's a new a way-finding signage master plan that's being rolled out.

"So that those that are not familiar with the system or have different language needs will be able to navigate through our system in new ways with new signage," she said.

Holton said the plan recognizes the $664 million in CARES Act funding SEPTA received will help it keep vehicles on the street and on the tracks through the middle of next year.

But beyond that, she admitted, SEPTA will need more than a massive return of riders to stay in business.