SEPTA reaches the point of no return

Perhaps the biggest news to come out of this stormy winter may be the birth of what SEPTA could well call its “one-way guarantee.”

It works this way: SEPTA says it will get riders to their destination, but can’t promise a return trip.

The agency’s aim, according to SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney, is to avoid stranding both passengers and vehicles in the midst of a big storm. The policy was implemented during Saturday’s snow storm. Maloney said it worked well: No passengers were stranded, and only a fraction of the usual number of buses had to be towed.

The policy appears to be a case of one step forward and two back.

Riders rely on SEPTA especially during extreme weather conditions. The region’s sprawling rail network, in particular, is nothing short of a transit lifeline. (The agency does plan to keep the Broad Street Subway and Market-Frankford El running throughout storms.)

The new policy is jarring, given the regional rail lines, trolleys and buses have plowed through snow, sleet and rain for decades. Now riders must cope with a huge uncertainty. Essentially providing one-way service is impractical and unreliable.

That’s not to say SEPTA must run regardless of the conditions. The recent storms have made travel extremely dangerous. But that is not the norm.

Going forward, it is unclear what weather conditions would call for the shutdown of the rails. How would SEPTA get the word out?

The current storm will provide more information on how this policy will work, or won’t work. (By 5 p.m. today, bus lines are to be taken out of service and there are advisories up for a number of rail lines.) But it’s clear the policy may need to be tweaked, or even scrapped.

At the very least, perhaps it would be better if SEPTA designated key regional rail lines as “lifeline” routes that would only be shutdown under the most dire circumstances. The agency may have other ideas on how to improve this policy from a customer-service standpoint.

One thing’s clear: A one-way ride is useless.