New SEPTA app allows discreet text reports to police

SEPTA introduced a new app Wednesday to provide a discreet, private way to report suspicious activity on its system.

SEPTA Transit Watch allows travelers to text Transit Police information about activity on vehicles and at stations. They also can send pictures and can communicate anonymously, officials said.

“A lot of people don’t want to necessarily pick up the phone and get involved, but they will send a text,” said Sgt. Michael Wright of the Transit Police.

Through the free app, users can communicate with a dispatcher, who may seek more information about the incident being reported, officials said. The app also allows SEPTA to send alerts and notifications to people who have downloaded it.

Neil McDevitt, executive director of the Deaf-Hearing Communication Center, said the app would make it much easier for people with trouble hearing to communicate with police.

“It really fills a big gap in access to emergency services for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons,” he said.

Riders without a smart phone can text tips to SEPTA at 215-234-1911.

Wright emphasized that the information received through these messages would not likely be used as evidence in a prosecution, but rather treated as a tip.

The app, built by Elerts at a cost of $254,000 over three years, is part of a push on the part of the transit agency to upgrade its technology profile. That has included introducing its new fare card, SEPTA Key, and adding more accurate real time information to its app. For the time being SEPTA Transit Watch is a separate app from SEPTA’s main app. That won’t always be the case, though, said Jeff Knueppel, SEPTA’s general manager. Eventually the Transit Watch functions will be incorporated into SEPTA’s app, he said.