Barry Johnson, Communications Director
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Majority Leader Katherine Gilmore Richardson Releases Statement Outlining Timeline of SEPTA Bus Revolution Advocacy
Majority Leader Gilmore Richardson sets the record straight on her continued support on behalf of Philadelphia’s public transportation-reliant communities
PHILADELPHIA – Today, Philadelphia City Council Majority Leader Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large) released the following statement outlining her advocacy to ensure SEPTA’s Bus Revolution plan is equitable for all Philadelphians regardless of their zip code:
“I want to thank SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards, and Acting Board Chair Ken Lawrence, for their partnership and collaboration. As SEPTA’s leadership understands, but many who have engaged recently have missed, this is not about me. It is about ensuring that SEPTA is the most efficient and effective system and that it serves people in the ways they need. The most important part of my job is communicating residents’ voices as part of crucial decision-making processes. Those who find these voices offensive, obstructionist, or ill-informed tend to be the same people who are always advocating to meet people where they are and understand their lived experience. So, let me share my lived experience.
“I was born to teenage parents in South Philadelphia and adopted from birth by my loving parents who raised me in Wynnefield – the same community where I am raising my children today. The first time I took the bus by myself I was eight years old, and my sister and I caught the 44 from our home in Wynnefield to meet my parents at Pennsylvania Hospital at 8th and Spruce. In high school, I took the Broad Street Line to Girls High and the 61 from the Gallery to my family’s church in North Philly. Today, you can still catch me and my family on the 44 and the 52, buses that are crucial connectors in Wynnefield.
“I have been riding SEPTA for forty years, and I did not just wake up last week and decide I did not like the Bus Revolution plan. Contrary to popular belief, I have been in contact with SEPTA over the past two years working to ensure that Bus Revolution works for all residents. It’s time to set the record straight.
“On November 29, 2022, I sent a letter to General Manager Leslie Richards sharing concerns from community members about the potential elimination of Routes 40, 44, 1, and G. Later that evening, I attended a community meeting at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Overbrook where I heard similar concerns. Additionally, the meeting was not set up to accommodate the community members who showed up – predominately seniors. There were no chairs and the engagement activity required walking around a room and looking at poster boards. This structure made it difficult for many (including those using canes and walkers) to participate.
“On December 8, 2022, now Council President Johnson and I introduced a resolution calling for hearings on the Bus Revolution plan. The hearing was held on January 23, 2023. During that hearing, I communicated my significant disappointment about the cultural competency of those running the meetings, and I specifically asked that SEPTA ensure they prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in their engagement process to allow all residents to fully participate. Additionally, I stated that community members were pointing out islands where the draft bus revolution plan would leave residents without service. I specifically asked SEPTA to provide City Council with a map, so my district Council colleagues could work with SEPTA on identifying areas of concern before the second version of the plan was released. We did not receive that map or specific materials by Council District until the Council briefing earlier this month.
“On April 25, 2023, I attended SEPTA’s City Council budget hearing where I once again reiterated my concerns about the engagement plan and requested that SEPTA provide additional information to City Council. On May 1, 2023, I attended a Wynnefield community meeting for Bus Revolution held at St. Joe’s. The last time SEPTA briefed City Council on the Bus Revolution plan was in February 2023, and with the exception of email blasts which we shared with the community, we did not receive any specific briefing materials or updates from SEPTA about the Bus Revolution timeline after the budget hearings in April.
“In December 2023, I learned through an email blast from Transit Forward Philadelphia that the Board was preparing to vote on the plan. I was caught by surprise because there had been no updates provided to City Councilmembers or our staffs to walk us through any changes based on the community engagement process or to give us time to review the changes with the project team. On December 12, 2023, I sent a letter to SEPTA’s Board stating that I did not feel that Council’s concerns had been adequately addressed, and that in order to have the best system possible, we needed to work together. While I appreciated the response I received from SEPTA at the time, a board meeting with a final vote on the plan was once again scheduled in January without any direct communication about the meeting to me or any of my City Council colleagues.
“I have been providing feedback to SEPTA throughout this entire process. To imply that I was not doing my due diligence demonstrates how little some folks know about me and my team. We have read the presentation materials and engagement reports, which noted community concerns about safety and accessibility, and the “lessons learned” about the limits of virtual meetings when trying to engage with seniors, low-income communities, and non-English speakers. We are looking at materials provided by SEPTA which demonstrate a lack of engagement in the four Council districts where members are requesting additional conversations. Not only do I represent the entire City of Philadelphia, but I also represent my Council colleagues.
“Members of these communities are not boxes to be checked off. Their voices deserve the same respect as those from communities who were clearly favored in this process thus far. In order to make SEPTA better – which is a goal we all share and will continue to work towards – it has to work for every community, but we do not find out what those communities need by sending in outside experts who are unwilling to hear that their engagement strategy was not completely equitable. If you have 200 meetings in only the neighborhoods that you know of in Philadelphia which are not a representative sample of our entire City, then there are more meetings to be held.
“I am committed to working with SEPTA to see this project through to the finish line and to advocating for increased funding to make our transit system the best that it can be. I am thankful for the additional funding that Governor Josh Shapiro has included in his budget proposal, and I will do all that is necessary to help revitalize the system because I know how important it is to ensuring all of Philadelphia thrives.”
Majority Leader Katherine Gilmore Richardson is the youngest person to be elected majority leader and the youngest Black woman ever elected to Philadelphia City Council. As an at-large councilmember, she has championed issues such as advancing workforce development opportunities, protecting Philadelphia’s fiscal stability, uplifting working parents, addressing quality of life issues, and ensure environmental justice and climate resiliency. Stay updated at PHLCouncil.com, on Facebook & Instagram @CouncilmemberKGR and on Twitter @CouncilwomanKGR.