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February 25, 2022

SEPTA adding 'guides' to promote safety on subways, provide homeless outreach

The new personnel will replace private security guards hired last year in response to complaints of drug use and vandalism

Transportation SEPTA
SEPTA Guides Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

SEPTA is hiring safety guides to help monitor the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines and its Center City concourses.

SEPTA is doing away with private security guards in favor of guides who will be tasked with making the transit system a more welcoming environment.

As many as 88 guides will be assigned to vehicles and stations on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines and in the Center City concourses, SEPTA officials said Thursday.

"The guides will act as additional eyes and ears on SEPTA," said Pasquale T. Deon Sr, president of the SEPTA board, which voted to implement the new program Thursday.

The security guards, hired last year through Allied Universal, had been a temporary measure while SEPTA determined a long-term security plan for the system, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said. 

About 20 security guards have been placed along the Market-Frankford Line in response to complaints about drug use and vandalism, Busch said. The guards captured headlines over violent confrontations with passengers on two occasions last year.

The new guides are expected to begin work next month and will be responsible for a wide array of tasks. 

They will politely remind riders about the system's rules and address common infractions, like smoking and fare evasion, Busch said. 

They also will be responsible for assisting the vulnerable populations that seek refuge on the subways. Eventually, some may open and close transit stations, which will free police to conduct more overnight patrols. 

But the guides are not law enforcement officers. If they witness a crime, the expectation is that they will call the police.

"While the guides will not replace police officers or serve an enforcement role, they will act as a force multiplier and contribute to the overall security of the system," SEPTA Transit Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel III said.

The guides will receive special training to ensure they're properly equipped to assist riders and will move around the SEPTA system. By contrast, the security guards had stationary assignments.

"It is our hope that this new approach will help reduce quality-of-life complaints and make our system more welcoming to riders," CEO Leslie Richards said.

The SEPTA board approved contracts with three security companies – Extrity, Scotlandyard Security Services and the Philadelphia Protection Unit – totaling $21 million, Busch said. The services are guaranteed for one year, but SEPTA has options to extend them another two years. 

The guides are one element of SEPTA's Safety, Cleaning, Ownership, Partnerships and Engagement initiative, which was started last year to address the vulnerable people, including those who are homeless, who take refuge within the transit system.

In September, SEPTA hired 50 social workers to patrol the system and work closely with SEPTA police officers.