SEPTA, hobbled by ridership losses, still hiring

SEPTA is recruiting, but its financial future remains in jeopardy.
PHOTO: Metro File

SEPTA is hiring, even as it loses about $1 million a day due to a coronavirus-fueled ridership drop.

The authority will be hosting virtual job fairs for the first time from noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Interested applicants will have an opportunity to discuss a variety of positions with hiring managers.

It might seem odd for SEPTA to be searching for workers at a time when the authority’s top brass have publicly admitted that financial woes could lead to layoffs and service cuts.

SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said the authority has to continue to develop a pool of candidates to replace retirees who work in critical areas.

“We want to make sure that we have a good pipeline of individuals to fill these jobs as they become open,” he told Metro.

In addition, he said, SEPTA doesn’t want to be caught understaffed if ridership begins to pick up again, with a COVID-19 vaccine seemingly around the corner.

“We do have to be prepared for the possibility that, maybe it’s not back pre-COVID levels, we’ll be in a situation where ridership is more than 30% of pre-COVID levels and hopefully it’s growing,” Busch said.

PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

SEPTA is expected to end the fiscal year, which runs through June 30, with a $350 million shortfall, officials said.

The $643 million it received from the federal CARES Act helps, Busch said, but the authority is relying on another stimulus package. Otherwise, provided ridership doesn’t pick up early in 2021, more drastic cuts will be on the table.

No one has been laid off or furloughed yet, and no buyouts have been offered to current employees, Busch said.

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Those decisions will likely be made in the coming months, as SEPTA analyzes its budget and begins drawing up next year’s spending plan.

Next week, as a cost-saving measure, the authority is closing ticket offices at 14 stations along five Regional Rail lines through February.

If SEPTA has to reduce its workforce or slash services, they won’t be moving to fill new positions, Busch said.

In the meantime, the authority’s job fairs are recruiting plumbers, HVAC maintainers, bus and rail mechanics, welders, building electricians and masons.

Applicants need not have a college degree, though most of the jobs require prior experience or skills training.

At a time when jobs are scarce — Philadelphia’s unemployment rate is still in double-digits — the SEPTA positions are fairly well-paid with good benefits.

Starting pay ranges from about $18 to $31 an hour, depending on the position, with increases, or “steps,” coming at a steady clip. Just about all will be covered by a union.

Busch said SEPTA does not have a set number of positions that need to be filled. He encouraged people to attend if they have any interest.

“If they’re thinking about (working at SEPTA), the virtual job fair is a good first step,” he added.

To register for one of the job fairs (both sessions are the same), go to https://autohire.careershop.com/septajobs/JobSearch/JobCenterViewCndt.asp?JobAd_Id=965623. The site also includes a job description for each position.

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