Ronald Wise, a 17-year SEPTA veteran, holds the morning shift in the token booth at the northbound Cecil B. Moore station. He has put two children through college with this position and he’s sticking to it.
And as dull as the job may seem, Wise does not know boredom.
“You always got to keep your eye on something,” he said. “You’re constantly looking at people.”
Employees typically agree that to be part of the SEPTA family, social skills are a must.
“If you’re not good with people, you’re going to have a problem,” said Bruce Hammond, who drives the northbound C bus on weekday afternoons.
Hammond explained the position takes patience. In situations where most people would get aggravated, he can keep his cool and avoid confrontation.
Robin Haynes takes special pleasure in getting to know her patrons and she considers her personality fit for the position.
“I always wake up in a good mood. My husband doesn’t understand it,” Haynes said with a smile.
She takes over Wise’s job for the night shift. With new freshmen and returning upperclassmen, Haynes welcomes each school year with open arms.
“[I like] knowing that I can make a change,” she said. Haynes enjoys being helpful to the students and is ready to lend a hand “if they get in a jam.”
Tariq Fowler, also an afternoon bus driver, passes most of his time by conversing with his passengers.
“They get on and they just open up,” he said.
Some come with talk of their daily business, and others with problems at home. Hammond also agrees that the public can bring enjoyment to his job.
“Yeah, I like people – when they’re being nice,” Hammond said. Unfortunately, the patrons that use SEPTA lines are not as easy to get along with as the employees. Hammond explained that many times, people take their bad days out on the driver or token vendor.
Fowler came into conflict with a woman attempting to get on the bus without fare. After he tried to stop her, she threatened him.
“She was about to beat me with an extension cord,” he said.
Fowler admitted, though, that not many passengers put up a fight. But it is hard to deny that many are peculiar – and as expected, the night shift at a subway station can differ drastically from the daytime.
Haynes described a woman who comes down during the evenings and often undresses while she is waiting for the train. She then, Haynes said, proceeds to put her clothes back on and does her make-up.
Wise has even caught embarrassing glimpses of Temple students coming home after an eventful evening or a football game.
“When they come back drunk, they are the funniest,” he said. Wise recalled one memorable event when a tipsy couple stumbled off the train, engaged in an argument.
“She just pulled her pants down, bent over and told him to kiss her butt,” Wise said, visibly still in disbelief.
In general, however, SEPTA workers agree that college students are nothing compared to the trouble caused by grade school and high school children.
Hammond told of a 10-year-old who threw a gallon of paint through his windshield for no apparent reason. Haynes admitted she worries about the kids that come through late on a school night.
“I wonder, ‘where are their parents?'” she said. Most people don’t realize how many extra responsibilities the workers take on in their positions.
“I’m also part-time security,” Wise said. He mentioned, though, that the provisions Temple has implemented have been very good.
“Security has improved tremendously,” he said. When problems do arise, all of the SEPTA employees are trained to handle the situation.
“Use common sense,” Fowler said. “Don’t put yourself in danger and get the passengers out.”
Haynes said although she is not permitted to leave the booth, in the case of harassment she is ready to invite anyone inside to protect them.
“I know it sounds corny,” Haynes said. “But we’re here for the public.”
Sarah Sanders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.