Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Philadelphia Official Calls for End to SEPTA Student Passes

Philadelphia Controller Alan Bukovitz wants the city's schools and SEPTA to eliminate the student TransPass program, which provides Philaldephia students with free unlimited travel on the City of Brotherly Love's buses, subways and light-rail lines. He claims the passes contribute to truancy and student violence. He cites as an example a March 2008 incident in which five high school students attacked and killed a 36 year-old man.

It's no secret that crime in subways rises in the hours after school lets out. My brother-in-law was stabbed on a subway in the early 1970s while traveling from his school in Brooklyn back to his home in Howard Beach, Queens. However, SEPTA general manager Joseph Casey says crime levels in the Philadelphia subways have been fairly stable in recent years, despite the conversion from subsidized tokens to the TransPass.

Bukovitz disputes that. He contends that:
"In the first seven months of the TransPass program, disorderly-conduct incidents involving youths increased 62 percent, and investigation-of-person incidents involving such things as assaults, fighting, truancy, vandalism and trespassing were up 32 percent."
While he does not oppose free transportation for students, he says the unlimited ride program is not being properly supervised and could lead to abuses, such as pass holders lending them to friends and family members who could ride for free. He notes that the New York City Transit Authority limits students to three riders per day on student Metro Passes.

While I am not convinced there is a connection between unlimited rides and crime levels, maintaining a safe environment for passengers is essential for modern public transit systems. SEPTA officials can do a lot to improve safety through better surveillance, both with technology, i.e. video cameras and other sensor devices, and police patrols. However, a simple software fix could make a difference, as well, and it can keep the friends and family of unethical students from getting a free ride.

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