As Election Day approaches, worries are rising about the halt in widely accessible public transportation due to the SEPTA strike. On the night of Monday, October 31st, the contracts for SEPTA workers across the city expired. In order to obtain higher wages, more secure pensions, and better working conditions, the workers of the Transportation Workers Union (TWU) Local 234 went on strike. SEPTA is crucial to Philadelphia’s daily operations, and its absence has thrown the whole city off its rhythm. SEPTA reports that approximately 900,000 people rely on SEPTA buses, subways, and trolleys every day to get to school and work, as well as to travel in and around the city for various operations. Regional Rail, whose workers are not part of the same union as the other SEPTA workers, remains open during the strike, but is so overloaded with commuters that trains are running up to two hours behind schedule. Additionally, the sheer volume of cars on Philadelphia streets is so large that during rush hour, the city goes into complete gridlock. The lack of transportation options is causing people to have to stay home from school and work, or to walk miles to get from their homes to their jobs.
If the SEPTA strike continues until Election Day, many people may not be able to make it to their polling places and vote. The issue is not that people will have trouble getting to the polls from home; most voters live within a few blocks of their polling places. Rather, it is the people who work far from home and have alternate forms of transportation that will have difficulty reaching their polling place for a number of reasons. Heavy traffic forces workers to leave home early to arrive at their workplaces on time, and it also causes them to arrive home later than usual, leaving little time to vote and discouraging potential voters from making the effort to walk or bike to the polls. Additionally, people who work hourly waged jobs will find it more difficult to make time to vote. The increased travel time and decreased mobility that the SEPTA strike has inflicted upon the city allows little time and flexibility for people who cannot afford to take time off from work to vote.
Low voter turnout in Philadelphia has the potential to swing Pennsylvania one way or the other on Tuesday, November 8. In a very Democratic city, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has the most to gain from low voter turnout, especially because it is the largest and most Democratic city in Pennsylvania. Because every registered voter should have the opportunity to exercise their rights without hindrances such as the SEPTA strike, the TWU and SEPTA negotiators are currently working to reach an agreement and end the strike. In a statement from Tuesday, November 1, the first day of the strike, SEPTA asked the union to suspend the strike just for Election Day in order to allow voters enough time to cast their votes.
Whether or not SEPTA and TWU negotiators have reached an agreement by Election Day, all potential voters should remember that the polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Voters can find polling places here:
Lena Popkin (277), Jana Pugsley (277)