SEPTA temporarily shuts down stop in Kensington over safety concerns

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- SEPTA will temporarily shut down one stop on the Market-Frankford Line Sunday, March 21 citing safety issues there.

The Somerset Station at the intersection of Kensington Avenue, East Somerset Street, and D Street will be closed for cleaning and elevator repairs that could take weeks.

"Honestly I would never take a child on this stop," said Rickeem McNeil, who said he rides the line every day.

Vulnerable populations often congregate at the entrance to the station and riders have to contend with used needles littering the steps up to the platform.

"I need the train. I need the train. I don't have a car. I have a bus pass," said Tamika Bell, who starts her commute at Somerset.

"They can't shut this down. How are we supposed to get work? I use this to get to work every day," she said.

SEPTA says how long the shutdown will last depends on how quickly the station can be cleaned. The elevators are broken because of human waste and needles. Fixing that could take months.

"Our employees don't feel safe as well as customers and so we need to close the station," said Leslie Richards, the general manager of SEPTA.

SEPTA says drug use around this stop has gotten worse in the new year. Eight people have fallen on the tracks since January, compared to 13 all of last year. In 2019, before ridership was slashed because of the pandemic, there were 10 falls.

Philadelphia police say they've responded to 36 calls in the last 30 days for drug sales and people in need of medical assistance.

SEPTA police say interactions with unconscious people are skyrocketing. In January of 2021 there were 2,357 incidents, compared to 546 in January 2020.

"You see a lot of drug abuse, you see a lot of forgotten and lost people, people that society forgot. They all kind of collected in this one place," said Derick Ford, a SEPTA rider.

As drug-related calls are increasing, ridership is also down significantly. Eight hundred people are served at the Somerset station every day, compared to 2,000 pre-pandemic.

"People that go to work ride the El as well. We need to ride the El, or it's sending us into other danger zones where we have to walk or now find different commutes to work and we might not be able to do it," said Khyle Williams, a Kensington resident.

SEPTA says working with the city, mental health experts, and community partners to figure out how to better help the homeless who congregate there. It's also working with engineers to find an alternate route for Somerset commuters.
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