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October 09, 2017

Will SEPTA ever start refunding you for your late train? Maybe, eventually, sort of

Everyone who has ever ridden SEPTA’s Regional Rail, even on a sporadic basis, has probably found themselves standing near the train platform as the track remains hopelessly vacant and the train – running 20, 25, 30, even 40 minutes late – is nowhere to be found.

When the train finally graces you with an arrival, the crowd has doubled as the people planning to catch the next train have swarmed to the platform. It’s added insult to injury when the fare collection starts onboard.

SEPTA being late is not exclusive to the Regional Rail, of course. Buses, trolleys and subway lines all fall victim to the vast complications that go into one of the country’s oldest public transit systems.

Before this year, SEPTA had in place a service guarantee program, which meant riders could request a fare refund if their trains arrived more than 15 minutes late to their final destinations.

With 2016’s summer of delays as the system went through lengthy maintenance updates, refunding every late train effectively could have meant refunds for everyone, constantly. That's when SEPTA put a hiatus on the program.

When the worst of the worst of the delays came to an end, however, SEPTA did not restart the refund program . Though the refund was applicable to the Norristown High-Speed Line, the Market-Frankford Line, and the Broad Street Line, it was mostly needed for Regional Rail riders.

Of course, getting a refund took its own set of loops, working only for weekday trains and for complaints filed within five days of the late train in question. Delays blamed on bad weather and Amtrak were not reimbursed.

According to NewsWorks, SEPTA does not want to restart the reimbursement program until after SEPTA Key is working on all trains, subways, buses, and trolleys. That could be at least a year away.

Kim Scott Heinle, an assistant general manager for customer service and advocacy at SEPTA, told NewsWorks that he hopes to replace the service guarantee program with something more beneficial for customers. With the old system, at least half of refund requests were rejected because they didn’t meet guidelines.

A possible customer loyalty plan would potentially offer travel benefits like discounts or rewards, which would be open to riders of any SEPTA line.

Heinle noted, however, such benefits are a bit far in the future for SEPTA riders. He estimated that the proposed rewards program would be fully planned by the end of 2018, with the program not officially implemented until 2019.