Friday, June 19, 2009

SEPTA: Pull down your pants and show me your bus pass...

One of my biggest pet peeves is bad policy. Bad policy is one that while the intention may be good, the overall policy is just downright the wrong way to address a situation. A recent story in the Philadelphia Weekly made aware of a great example of such bad policy.

Apparently, the South East Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) has a huge problem on their hands. The problem, people sharing their monthly passes with other people. Now, we are not talking about a situation where a 35 year old person who does not have disabilities is trying to ride the bus with a reduced fare disabled pass. We are talking about full fare customers sharing a pass.

To combat the problem, SEPTA had a brainstorm idea. Why not print the gender of the customer on the pass? That way, it reduces the chances that the pass would be shared because now 50% of the population can not use that pass. Great policy, right? Well, there is a problem...

What if you don't look like what some would stereotype as what is proper for your gender? In other words, you are a thin build man with some feminine traits who happens to wear brighter clothes? Perhaps you are a lesbian who looks more "butch"? I can definitely tackle about a dozen possibilities for those who are transgender (TS, TG, TV, CD, DQ, whatever...).

The problem with this policy is that it is discriminatory, exclusionary and turns every bus driver and train conductor in Philly into a health professional who now not just responsible for the safe operation of their vehicle but now has to analyze every boarding passenger to make a determination what their gender is.

What makes it worse that according to the information that I have read, that since 9/11 it is next to impossible for a pre-op to get their license changed to show their identified gender in PA. Therefore, let's say a pre-op MTF boards a bus with a female pass, the driver may have some doubts (in other words, the MTF may not be far enough along or is otherwise readable) and the driver asks for ID. The only ID the MTF is able to get has a "male" gender marker on it. Therefore, a scene could be caused putting the passenger in a very uncomfortable situation. In the case of an MTF, a "male" pass (that would match the driver's license) would again raise questions, especially if she is very passable and would pretty much "out" the passenger. Let's also not forget an overall prejudice by the SEPTA employee, especially those who may have intolerance or lack of education of the GLBT community.

With my involvement in both the public transportation and the transgender communities, a story like this hits me from two directions. So let's look at this from the public transit perspective. Other than specialty and entitlement passes (such as reduced fare, employer program, agency employee, etc.), do transit properties across the country experience this type of "pass sharing" problem that SEPTA seems to be facing? I personally don't see an issue with letting a friend borrow my bus pass. The pass only allows one person to board at one time. Who cares if it's me or someone else? I can see if it's an issue if we do the old trick of the passenger boards the bus, they sit down and then give their pass to a friend outside the window. Well, most buses don't have windows you can open (that a pass can be easily passed through) and many agency fareboxes can detect this (yes, even Phoenix).

Apparently, this is also a problem in Brighton, England where their multi-day passes have a gender marker.

Also as a side note, SEPTA's own Equal Empolyment Opportunity Policy states that they will not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity for their own employees. Why can't they extend these same protections to their passengers?

Myself, I think that both Brighton and SEPTA should abandon this concept. I don't think that pass sharing is such a huge problem that it has to be done at the expense of the civil rights of a considerable group of individuals who brush the gender lines in some way or another.

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