Alex Blaze

Philadelphia Keeps Genders Separate on Bus Passes

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 23, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: bus, buses, gender, pennsylvania, philadelphia, public transport, septa, transgender

When you buy a monthly public transport pass in Philadelphia, you have to choose if you want a boy-pass or a girl-pass if you're buying online. In person, the agent at the counter will judge for herself whether you should be using a boy-pass or a girl-pass.

monthly-pass-septa.pngI'm not exagerrating. Check out the SEPTA site yourself (screenshot right); they make you tick off the month you want to use the pass and which gender you are, that's it.

The idea seems to be in place to prevent card-sharing, since apparently the gender marker completely prevents that. Two men or two women would never share a bus pass because that's gay.

I read about this a few years ago and it seemed so ridiculous (what does gender have to do with one's ability to ride the bus? if the passes bestow the same rights on the bearer, why are there two different ones?) and activists were taking a solid stand so I thought they'd have won by now. But apparently not:

"SEPTA told us in October 2009 that a new system would be in place within the year," Ray said. "So we don't have a lot of faith in their timelines."

Besides, he said, the sticker system is not technology-based, so it is unrelated to the use of smart cards.

Still, the SEPTA board is adamant.

"The board voted to continue with it [the stickers] until a full change takes place. No more talk at the board level is planned," Williams said. "The decision has been made."

The policy has resulted in transgender people being questioned about their gender in front of the entire bus as well as drivers charging them for the cost of a ride even though they already have a monthly pass. It's not a lot of money, but I'd imagine it's needlessly humiliating process.

More importantly, I can't see why there's a need for separate passes based on one's gender. I remember in elementary school we had to walk down the hall in two lines - one for boys and one for girls. It was silly and I'm glad that the schools I worked in last year just divided the kids in half to walk in line instead of imposing on children the idea that the most thing about their identity is what's between their legs.

This is 2011. Separate bus passes for men and women? Seriously? My pass here has a picture on it since it's a reusable card. Other cities I've been to use disposable cards with no identifying information on them and card-sharing doesn't seem like a big problem there because it's terribly inconvenient for a number of reasons. And, really, gender markers prevent card-sharing only as much as gender markers on the doors of bathrooms prevent perverts from assaulting someone in a public restroom. It's a little sticker, not magic. has a petition about this.

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I'm Intersexed...AND Transgender.
Which sticker do I get stuck with?
I'm glad I don't have to ride in that system. I've lived with enough bullshit in this life as it is.
Whats next?
Ride in the back of the bus?

The Metra trains in Chicago also uses the same system. Just guessing at your gender for your monthly passes.

Brandigirl | March 23, 2011 5:47 PM

I heard about this several years ago and thought it was dumb then that one needed a gender on a bus pass. I thought the local equality org was working with the metro system to remove this requirement guess not... Well this policy is still just as dumb now as it was then. To begin with most people don't ride buses and would rather drive their own cars also so their customer base is limited so to alienate them is very bad for business. I don't think we need the pass police checking peoples bus pass it's almost like the Nazi Gestapo asking for papers !

I live in Philadelphia (center city) and only use tokens for the subway but am thinking of buying a pass. My drivers license has 'F' but testosterone damage to my face might make someone think I am a male. I wonder what pass they would give me and what I would have to experience.

I just don't understand WHY!? The explanation given makes no damn sense.

Kathy Padilla | March 24, 2011 10:55 AM

Well - SEPTA doesn't serve just Philadelphia - but a five county area. Even though the majority of the service & passengers reside in Philly - the board only has two City of Philadelphia appointees out of 12 (I think 12).

The others are appointed by the surrounding counties, the Gov & the House & Senate majority & minority leaders. The majority of board memebers aren't chosen from community advocates but from those owed favors & the majority are now R's.

The short answer is - they just don't give a damn and don't see addressing this as having any political utility for them.

Has anyone else noticed the irony of this being called a "TransPass"?

Same with monthly passes for the Long Island Railroad and Metro North, both run by New York's MTA. For the LIRR the conductor punches M or F on your ticket at the beginning of the month; for Metro North you select M or F when you buy it and it's printed prominently on the ticket. In all of these cases it's seriously bad news for anyone whose gender is ever perceived inconsistently or incorrectly, and accomplishes almost nothing in terms of preventing ticket sharing.