SEPTA Transporting Police to Protests: A Timeline

SEPTA Management continues allowing the use of SEPTA vehicles to transport police to protests

Published: 5 minute read

On May 31 and June 1 SEPTA buses are used to transport police to protests. Transit service is suspended at 6pm on Sunday May 31.

On June 3rd, 2020 the Philly Transit Riders Union called on SEPTA GM Leslie Richards to stop using our public transit vehicles to transport police to protests.

On June 4th, SEPTA GM Leslie Richards and SEPTA Board Chair Pat Deon release a statement that says in part “We cannot be neutral. We cannot look away and move on without change.”

On June 10, after not receiving a response for 7 days a TRU member writes to SEPTA GM Leslie Richards directly:

Hi Ms. Richards, hope you’re doing well

Seven days ago the TRU asked that SEPTA stop transporting police, release a protest detour plan to be used instead of cancelling service when protests arise, and to release how much has been spent on transporting police.

We haven’t heard back and I’m reaching out directly to ask for your commitment not to transport police, to release a protest detour plan, and to release how much transporting police costs SEPTA. The MBTA has already stopped transporting police.

You said in your own statement “We cannot be neutral. We cannot look away and move on without change.” You have an opportunity today to be that change.

On June 11th, transit riders groups across the country call out their agencies for their misuse of public transit. Transit agencies in Boston and Seattle have stopped transporting police to protests.

We estimate that in Philly in the beginning of June, 20 buses were pulled out of service to transport police. Many riders are left stranded in a mix of sudden transit cuts, curfews, and service suspensions.

On June 23rd, SEPTA GM Leslie Richards responds after 13 days. On this same day SEPTA buses are again used to transport police:

Thank you for your letter. This is an issue we at SEPTA have given a lot of thought and discussion to. As an organization, we have been weighing the role we play and considering all possibilities.

As an agency that serves a five-county area, we have had a relationship with Emergency Management Organizations in each, and we partner with on a variety of large-scale emergencies and disasters.

Those partnerships include using our vehicles to transport emergency workers to assist with fire emergencies and emergency shelter for firefighters and the displaced in extreme weather. Our partnership has also meant we have used our vehicles to transport for police for very positive major events like Made in America, conventions, the Phillies’ and Eagles’ Parades, and the visit by the Pope.

As of now we anticipate that that our partnership with the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management will continue. We will, however, continue to evaluate our position and make a change as may be appropriate. SEPTA is committed to playing a role in the supporting the needs of our riders, our employees, our citizens and the communities we serve.

As for the detours, the road closures were dictated by the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Unfortunately, the extent and breadth of the closures that ran river to river across Center City left little opportunity for alternate routes. The closures also were not the same from day to day, which made determining consistent detour routes difficult. We certainly recognize that not having a detour plan available to our riders presented a challenge. Fortunately, we were able to work with OEM on subsequent closures to allow buses to travel across Center City on detoured routes. In the event of a future “Center City Box” shutdown, we now know what impact that will have on SEPTA and can release a detour plan if and when the shutdown is announced. W e have also been working with the City over the past year to standardize street closures for major events so we can anticipate detours and communicate them more clearly with our customers, including providing maps.

In response to your question about cost, the fuel and labor did not exceed what SEPTA would have ordinarily incurred in operating our service without the protests.

These are difficult issues and responsibilities to balance, and I assure you SEPTA takes them seriously. I appreciate you reaching out to discuss them.

This is an unacceptable response. SEPTA GM Leslie Richards continues the practice of using public transit to transport police, using money intended for public transit riders in the Delaware Valley.

On June 25 TRU members testify to the SEPTA Board about this inappropriate use of public transit vehicles. “Bussing cops to protests shows which side of the struggle for a more just world you stand on.”

June 2020 board meeting testimony transcript

On July 1 new fare tariffs take effect. These include charter rates. The rate for a 40 ft bus is $910/hr for the first 4 hours, $255/hr every hour after. Rate for a 60 ft bus is $1,100/hr for the first four hours, $280/hr every hour after. Are police paying these rates? Or are SEPTA riders paying on their behalf?

On October 26 after the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr., SEPTA vehicles are used to transport police to protests in West Philly.

On October 27 SEPTA vehicles are apparently used as roadblocks and to transport police to protests in West Philly.