SEPTA, advocacy group offer different explanations for removing gender stickers from TransPasses (UPDATED)

SEPTA TransPasses have been marked with "M" or "F" stickers since the 1980s.
RIKARD LARMA/METRO

It’s been a long time coming, but SEPTA has finally agreed to remove gender stickers from its monthly transit passes, volunteer advocacy group Riders Against Gender Exclusion announced. The exact reason for doing so remains the topic of some dispute.

“Because of our collective efforts, SEPTA has agreed to overturn this
discriminatory policy,” RAGE founding member Max Ray said in a release. “This decision by SEPTA is so important to
transgender riders who daily faced discrimination and risked their own
safety just to ride the bus to where they need to go.”

SEPTA general manager Joe Casey agreed in a recent meeting with the group to submit a proposal to the agency’s board of directors asking for the stickers to be eliminated the soonest date the policy can be changed, which is the second half of 2013, according to RAGE. The agency must first go through a process that includes public hearings, planned for the spring of 2013.

SEPTA reportedly agreed to remove the stickers about two years ago under its planned computerized “smart card” fare system, but that has been continually pushed back by federal funding and other delays, while the stickers have remained.

Casey agreed last week to remove the stickers before the completion of
the new payment technology, which is currently slated for 2014, according to a letter published by PhillyMag.com.

But today SEPTA’s director of public affairs Richard Maloney said that
the change is, in fact, a long-planned part of the new chip-based fare
system in which riders will load TransPasses with funds via cash, credit card or smartphone rather than buy them for a period of unlimited use. He said the fare changes will begin to be implemented in early 2013, not 2014.

“The new system is
not coming in all in one day. It’s going in by
different systems – buses at one time, subways and then eventually
regional rail,” he said. “As the new system is implemented piece by
piece,
we’re simply replacing one payment system with another. It’s not a
matter of removing the stickers.”

“I know the RAGE people put out a press release this week, but this is
something that’s been in the works as we’ve been planning a complete
overhaul of our fare collection system,” Maloney continued. “The current weekly and monthly passes, once you have a
pass, it’s unlimited use. … The new passes, when they
go into effect in the beginning of next year, will be like an E-ZPass.
The value is added so when you buy the pass, there will be value to it,
making necessity of differentiation between male and female or anyone
else moot.”

RAGE has been fighting a grassroots campaign since 2009 to remove the
stickers, gathering thousands of petition signatures, organizing
membership drives and staging highly visible public protests.

The cause gained a high-profile advocate in Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who pledged to work with the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club on the issue in 2011 and passed a resolution in City Council late last month urging SEPTA to remove the stickers.

“At the end of the process and debate, we want Philadelphians of all
cultures, walks of life and backgrounds to get through each day without
feeling discriminated against – without someone dimming their shine,” Reynolds Brown said when the legislation was introduced. “We
hope this resolution will move the needle further toward our goal.”

Right now, passes are demarcated with “M” or “F” stickers based on the gender shown on a rider’s state-issued identification. “To minimize people passing the passes around
among families or pizza delivery shops or whatever, when the passes went
into effect in the early 80s, we used the stickers as an effort to minimize [the activity],” Maloney said, though many have argued that the policy isn’t a particularly effective safeguard against fraud.

But the rule has had the unintended side effect of making it more difficult for transgender riders or those who do not present themselves as distinctly male or female to take public transit. Riders have been harassed, subject to embarrassing public lines of questioning by transit drivers, “outed” to other riders and had their passes confiscated, according to RAGE.

“We hope that this victory can be a symbol for other trans people that we don’t have to wait for other people to change systems for us,” RAGE founding member Nico Amador said. “We have the power to organize and create the changes ourselves.”


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