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SEPTA general manager outlines agency’s plans


Leslie Richards, SEPTA’s general manager, spoke highly of the public transportation agency’s record during a recent meeting of the Lower Bucks Chamber of Commerce, as she reviewed its response to the pandemic and future improvements.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic “SEPTA never stopped serving customers” as it enhanced its cleaning procedures, had mask requirements, used personal protective gear and a “successful employee vaccination effort,” said Richards.
“There was not one case since Covid began where transit was shown to be a spreader,” Richards told the chamber’s virtual meeting, adding that SEPTA’s vehicles refresh their air supply every two to three minutes, more frequently, she said, than CDC requirements.
The pandemic brought a “dramatic decline in ridership and fare revenue,” the general manager said, with SEPTA losing $1 million a day.
“Our budget is less than half of our sister agencies with legacy systems,” said Richards. Using a significant infusion of federal pandemic relief funds, SEPTA is working to fund a $1.5 billion budget this year and has suspended a fare increase.
Proposed support from the federal infrastructure bill would be “great,” Richards said, “I hope it passes,” but “it’s a one-time investment, it’s not going to fix this problem.”

Secure, sustained transportation funding must be a legislative priority in Harrisburg, the manager told the chamber of commerce members. Without it, Richards said, reductions in service will be necessary.
Despite financial challenges, SEPTA is undertaking a number of improvements and initiatives. “We’re reimagining regional rail” as transportation habits and patterns change, said Richards.
Americans with Disabilities Act improvements are planned, as is second language signage. LED lighting, concrete repairs and painting at the Bristol Station are also starting, and, using a federal grant, grade crossings are being improved. “They save lives,” she said.
Quoting SEPTA’s board chairman, “Pat” Deon Sr., Richards, said, “Transit is not a cost, it’s an investment.”
Addressing homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness, Richards said, is “an overwhelming challenge across the region” and, one that the agency is working to deal with “in a compassionate way.”
Through community partnerships and additional security guards, efforts are being made to create a more secure environment for riders, while helping those in need, said Richards.