Local advocacy group calls for end to gender-specific transit passes
For some in Robin Markle’s organization, purchasing and using a SEPTA fare card is nothing short of a nightmare.
“For the people in our community, it can be terrible,” Markle, of West Philadelphia, said. “You have to deal with the emotional impact and the monetary impact that comes along with it.”
Markle was speaking for Philly Riders Against Gender Exclusion (RAGE), a grassroots “transgender and gender non-conforming” organization that wants SEPTA to do away with the male and female designations on transit passes in the city and its suburbs.
Markel and a small group of protestors showed up at SEPTA headquarters on Thursday to present General Manager Joe Casey with an application to join their movement. Members of RAGE say they have gathered 1,500 signatures — they are shooting for 3,000 — to have the designations removed.
“A lot of transgender and gender non-conforming people are harassed when they are taking SEPTA,” Markle said. “They might buy a pass that says they are one gender and they are in the process of taking hormones or having surgery. It’s not just like you wake up in the morning one day and look like the other gender. Some of the people will look ambiguous during the time when they are transforming.”
RAGE‘s position is that the gender stickers bring about discrimination to its members. They also contend that they face a threat to their safety — because of the stickers. The organization has pledged to report incidents of gender-based harassment; step in whenever they see gender-based harassment; to be a visible ally to SEPTA riders of all genders; and do everything in their power to end the gender sticker policy, which they maintain only exists in Philadelphia. Public transit agencies in New York, New Jersey, Washington and Los Angeles do not issue gender-specific passes.
While Casey did not come down to discuss the issue with the protestors, SEPTA representatives Kim Scott Heinle, assistant general manager of customer service and advocacy, and Richard Maloney, director of public affairs and marketing, met very amicably with the group.
SEPTA has maintained its policy of placing a gender designation on fare cards since 1981. However, they made it clear that this policy will soon be ending — they just couldn’t say specifically when.
“Our position has been pretty consistent since the issue was first brought up by these folks,” Heinle said. “It is a complicated issue, but it is one that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive and legal fashion. It’s a fare-related issue, so we have a very public process. The logical time for us to deal with this across the board is when the new payment technology brings us to the point where we need to go in and make some new fare adjustments. When the stickers are eliminated there is going to be some impact to revenue. That revenue impact has to be calculated by our finance people, and built into the new structure.”
SEPTA initiated placing gender identifiers on fare cards to prevent the illegal use of the card by multiple people of the same sex. In some European cities the card purchasers photo is electronically attached to the card. It is unknown if SEPTA will consider this, but it was not ruled out.
Said Maloney, “Our passes are priced and intended for personal use, not to be shared — and at a cheap discount. When we hear reports that individuals buy passes and swap it around a household, the gender sticker is just one mechanism to limit that. We can move away from it, but it won’t be until we recognize the impact it will have on revenue the next time we adjust fares.”
SEPTA has a hotline for sexual harassment complaints. Both Heinle and Malone said they have had few complaints regarding transgender and gender non-conforming riders.
“Now, I will see emails next week from across the country saying that this policy is ridiculous,” Heinle said. “It has happened before.”