Police Interactions with SEPTA Riders During COVID-19

Published: 2 minute read


Friday, April 10, 2020

Two videos circulating Friday morning give a glimpse into the disturbing reality faced by transit riders in Philadelphia. In one, a man who appears to be a SEPTA supervisor orders riders off a bus, some with face coverings, stating “if you don’t have a mask you cannot ride public transportation.” In another, no less than seven Philadelphia police officers are shown dragging a transit rider off a bus, apparently for not wearing a face mask.

If riding public transit requires a face mask, then SEPTA must provide masks to transit workers and riders.

On Thursday, SEPTA “urged” riders to wear face masks, despite masks still being listed as a prohibited item on other parts of SEPTA’s website. At some point later in the day, masks apparently became a “condition for riding transit,” although a rider would only know this if they asked SEPTA directly on Twitter. Bus operators received a conflicting message that transit riders did not have to wear a mask.

Under normal conditions, conflicting messages from SEPTA management might only cost riders their time– missed birthdays, graduations, job interviews, doctor’s appointments. During the COVID-19 pandemic, an interaction with an armed police officer could cost a Philly transit rider their life. The Philadelphia Police Department began limiting contact with the public on March 17th. Was this interaction necessary? This response indicates that harassment and profiling will be used to determine who is allowed to use public transit and who is considered “essential”.

Friday, SEPTA said its transit police will “engage customers” to make sure riders are traveling for an “essential reason”. SEPTA must define these essential reasons and ensure any interaction with police does not end in violence.