The 27-member SEPTA Citizen Advisory Committee has unanimously recommended that the transit agency stop using gender markers in its fare-collection system.
Since the 1970s, SEPTA has placed gender stickers on its weekly and monthly passes to reduce swapping between males and females. SEPTA also issues gender-specific reduced-fare cards for seniors and the disabled.
But LGBT advocates have protested this practice, noting that its implementation requires gender stereotyping on the part of SEPTA personnel, which they contend is against federal law.
Now advocates have the support of SEPTA’s advisory committee, due to the committee’s unanimous vote at its June 30 public meeting.
“SEPTA is unintentionally discriminating on the basis of sex because it’s only singling out the category of gender for fraud reduction,” said committee chair Robert Clearfield. “We believe SEPTA may be violating federal law. And it’s our hope they’ll stop doing so, immediately.”
This week, SEPTA general manager Joseph M. Casey said the agency would need to hold public hearings before discontinuing gender-specific TransPasses and TrailPasses.
He also said a financial-impact study might be needed before making the change.
“Gender stickers are legally part of our fare tariff,” Casey said. “Any change to this policy would require formal public hearings and action by the SEPTA board. This is not an action I am authorized to take unilaterally.”
SEPTA’s tariffs are published transit rates. To change them, SEPTA must hold a public hearing and convey the comments to the SEPTA board before a vote would be taken, he said.
Casey said it’s possible that SEPTA’s reduced-fare cards for seniors and the disabled could become gender-neutral without the need for a public hearing, but he needed to look into the matter.
“I’m not sure about the reduced cards,” Casey said. “But for the passes, I can’t unilaterally do that. I would have to put this out for public hearings, and bring this to my board for a vote.”
If hearings are necessary, so be it, Clearfield said.
“If SEPTA persists in the need for the tariff hearings, they should begin the process as soon as possible, unless they can demonstrate a valid reason not to proceed,” Clearfield said. “SEPTA needs to understand that, as the largest transit agency in the state, they’re setting an example for others. And they’re also being supported by public tax dollars.”
Members of Riders Against Gender Exclusion spoke at the June 30 meeting. They said members of the gender-variant community become vulnerable to harassment and violence when questioned about their gender by SEPTA operators.
“Not only are these incidents embarrassing and degrading for the people who experience them, they also alert other riders to that person’s difference, exposing them to the risk of further harassment or violence,” said Niko J. Amador, a member of RAGE.
Casey said he’s sensitive to those concerns.
Rather than hold public hearings on the gender issue, Casey said he would prefer the practice to stop when the new fare-collection system is implemented.
Although the entire revamped system could take up to five years to phase in, ending the use of gender stickers could occur by 2010, he added.
“At this time, it is our intent that gender identification would not be part of the new electronic fare collection,” Casey said. “That decision, however, must await the final design and approval of the new system, including fare structure and financial ramifications.”
Public hearings, which will cover the entire fare system overhaul, will be held prior to the new system being implemented.
Casey acknowledged that other major transit agencies, including Chicago’s, don’t issue gender-specific passes — though some railroads do, such as the Long Island Railroad and Metro North.
Amador was pleased with the June 30 meeting.
“The citizen advisory committee has given us their support and we appreciate that,” Amador said. “We think the onus is going to be on the community to follow up, and to keep the pressure on SEPTA. We’re happy that this meeting gave this effort a victory to build upon. And we intend to keep up the pressure.”
Stephen A. Glassman, chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, also attended the June 30 meeting. He expressed concern that SEPTA may be delaying the process.
“All of this is a delay, which is unnecessary,” Glassman said. “SEPTA could decide to stop genderizing the system in the short term, while it considers the entire restructuring of its fare process.”
Still, Glassman said he remains hopeful.
“I’m hoping that SEPTA will treat every individual equally and fairly by not discriminating,” he said. “It’s a statewide issue, and SEPTA can set an example for other regional transportation systems across the state.”
Tim Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208.