SEPTA has lost an estimated $22.9 million in revenue since last July to people who jump the turnstile, piggyback on someone else’s Key Card, or breeze on a bus or trolley without paying.
To combat the problem, the transit agency plans to install tall fare gates at two Market-Frankford El stations that cannot be obstructed by any person. They stand about 7 feet, 8 inches from the floor to an overhead gantry that houses the electronic sensors. That’s eight inches taller than Sixers giant Joel Embiid and just slightly shorter than the 8.25 feet world record high jumper Javier Sotomayor cleared.
And there isn’t enough room for one sneaky fare evader who crawled under it.
“We are piloting the gates at these locations to understand how effective they are at deterring,” said Andrew Busch, a spokesman for the transit agency. If it reduces abstinence, “we can increase it.”
SEPTA needs the money, but neither does the customers who pay their fares to feel like chumps for doing the right thing.
“You don’t want to get into a situation where people are asking why they even bothered to pay,” Busch said. “Let’s appreciate them.”
In addition, experience shows that fare jumping is often a prelude to other “bad acts,” from assault or theft to quality-of-life violations like smoking on the train, he said.
SEPTA Transit Police issued 2,792 theft-of-service citations to fare evaders in 2022 and have 355 have been handed out until February of this year, although most offenders are not caught. Citations carry an administrative fine of $25, the same as violations such as disorderly conduct on the transit system and public urination.
The likely loss since this fiscal year began on July 1 is $22.9 million system-wide — $12.5 million of which is on the two elevated subway lines, according to SEPTA’s finance department. That means about 20% of rail transit fares go unpaid, and about 6% on bus, trolley lines, and the Norristown High Speed Line.
Quantifying lost income is not a definitive endeavour. Officials make estimates by comparing the number of people on board transport vehicles captured by passenger counters to the amount of fares collected through Key Card taps, quick-trip cards, and cash
The new gates can help narrow the numbers, as they are designed to take 3D images of people, strollers, suitcases, and wheelchairs moving through them; those who succeed in foiling the gates will be counted. (The pictures are not pictures suitable for enforcement, but alarms will go off if someone sneaks in by drafting behind another passenger.)
SEPTA’s board on Thursday approved the purchase of 22 of the vertical gates from Conduent Transport Solutions Inc. for $924,950. They are expected to be installed at their test locations later this year or in early 2024, Busch said.
Sixteen of the gates, eight for each side of the platform, are reserved for the 13th Street Station El stop, and three of them will be placed on either side of the mezzanine at the 34th Street Station El stop.