SEPTA Says It’s Getting Tough on Panhandling

Following an uptick in complaints, the transportation agency announced a new crackdown involving plainclothes officers.

Expect crowded conditions on the Broad Street Line around this time every day during the convention. | Photo: Ben Schumin

Photo | Ben Schumin

SEPTA officials have introduced measures that they hope will put a stop to panhandling on subways.

Transit Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel said on Twitter that the new policies follow an uptick in complaints from passengers who say some people have been overly aggressive when asking for food and/or money on the Broad Street and Market Frankford subway lines. 

Nestel said that on the first offense, SEPTA officials – including some plainclothes officers – will issue warnings and direct offenders to social service agencies. If a second incident occurs, transit police could potentially arrest and charge offenders.

Panhandling is not a crime in the city – in fact, it’s a constitutionally-protected right. But Philadelphia police regularly cite panhandlers – usually those who stand on or near streets and ask people in vehicles for money – with obstructing the highway.

SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said that because subway carts are a confined space, transit police could arrest and charge panhandlers with trespassing if they pose a threat to commuters, though officers “don’t expect that to happen much,” he said.

“It’s a safety issue to make our riders feel safer,” Busch said.

As of this weekend, Nestel said five offenders had been warned. The transit police chief addressed a number of concerns – including doubts that arrests would eliminate panhandling – via Twitter.

Follow @ClaireSasko on Twitter.