Philly’s Public Transit Is Amazing. Why Don’t More of Us Use It?

Other cities would kill for our mass transit infrastructure. Four ideas for getting more Philadelphians on board.

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Those of us who follow public transportation in Greater Philadelphia assiduously can rattle off all the ways it falls short of our ideal vision, or lacks what can be found in other large cities.

But truth to tell, this city has a public transit infrastructure that puts those of many other large American cities to shame, and the agencies responsible for running it have by and large done a decent job of keeping us moving on it.

Those of us who use it, that is — and for a city this size, that number is surprisingly small.


That point came home to me in a recent policy discussion where it was brought up that in only four U.S. metropolitan areas do more than 10 percent of residents use mass transit to get to and from work, according to Census Bureau data: New York, Chicago, San Francisco-Oakland and Washington, D.C.*

My response to that statistic: Why isn't Philadelphia on this list?

So I decided to put the question to those who do the traveling. And while the answers I got were not legion, one in particular was striking in how it included just about any reason one might think of in response to the question, How could we boost that share?

That response came from Joseph Russell of Collingswood, N.J. Russell already uses mass transit as much as he can. Both he and his wife regularly commute  on PATCO when they come to work in the city, and he uses SEPTA for leisure trips of all kinds. He's also quite the world traveler when it comes to mass transit: He has used it in all of the U.S. cities that rank above us save Boston, and in Amsterdam, London, Lyon, Montreal and Paris to boot. That's enough of a track record to give his observations about mass transit in Philly some weight. Here are just a few of the things he sees around here that could be done better:

Marketing. This is perhaps the easiest improvement of all to implement, and it wouldn't take much for our transit agencies to up their game here. "In New York with the MTA, Boston with the T, or London with the Tube, you get the idea that those networks are treated as a prized brands," he wrote. "There are often slick ad campaigns, user-friendly websites, helpful signage, or other things that make it seem like the agencies care about their outward appearance and helping customers use it as best they can."

Here, he says, not so much. SEPTA's website, for instance, looks amateurish compared to the MBTA's, and both it and PATCO's are much less user-friendly, he said, adding that PATCO's was largely out-of-date. To be fair, SEPTA has done its share of marketing over the years, including several very clever ad campaigns, and it's done a very good job of getting into social media, but its overall marketing effort has been episodic rather than sustained and often lacks key components. For instance, Russell overheard a South Jersey mother on PATCO tell her son flatly that he could not get to a Phillies game on mass transit. Russell also singled out the Airport Regional Rail line as a botched marketing opportunity — frequency, fares and lack of information and services at the airport all combine to make what should be a hit with visitors into a traveler turnoff.

Service frequency, especially on SEPTA Regional Rail. PATCO's rapid-transit-style frequency makes it convenient for South Jerseyites to hop on a train into town when they feel like it. In contrast, he noted, most Regional Rail lines run hourly off-peak, a real turnoff for the casual traveler. Even increasing the frequency to half-hourly would, he contends, produce real gains in ridership.

Fare payment. SEPTA's New Payment Technology will fix this problem, but there remains the issue of coordination with other agencies' systems.

More and better infrastructure, with development that capitalizes on it.  "The truth is that no matter how efficient and friendly SEPTA or PATCO are, people often want to get to places that just don't have great access from point A to point B," he wrote. Like many advocates, he has rail transit in mind when he raises this issue, and our track record on providing it has indeed been less than stellar by a long shot. But when you consider the history of funding mass transit in this region, maybe the more wondrous thing is that we have the infrastructure we have at all. But what we do have could be used more intensively with the right kind of development. There's not enough of that either, he said, and he's right.

What would get you to use our region's mass transit services, or use them more — if indeed anything would? And if nothing would, why do you prefer the means of travel you do use? Send your replies to regional.rail.numbers@gmail.com and I'll share some of the best ones in a followup.

Follow Sandy on Twitter: @MarketStEl.

(*Most data on transportation in American cities focuses on the journey to work, the largest single category of trips taken, and when you break out the city alone, Philadelphia does much better than most U.S. cities: More than 25 percent of all journeys to work within the city itself take place on public transportation, according to the latest Census Bureau figures. That puts us sixth among large U.S. cities, behind New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago, in that order.)

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  • DTurner

    Thanks for highlighting this Sandy.

    Marketing is absolutely critical, SEPTA has done a fantastic job over the past year, but it can always do better. One idea I would love them to steal from what should be our primary sister city, Montreal (someone at City Hall needs to get on this), is the partnership with local businesses to support transit. STM, the transit authority in Montreal, provides door decals for small businesses to place on their front doors that show their support for transit, I would love to see both SEPTA and PATCO implement programs like this in the city and along major suburban corridors with many transit-accessible small businesses (Main Line, Haddon Ave., etc.).

    PATCO is also in desperate need of an overhaul of their social media, they need a dedicated staff member to keep up their FB and Twitter feeds and use them as tools to reach out to riders and market the system. The line is so small that they could pretty easily energize the community with a robust online presence.

    Mainly, we need to make transit cooler by making it our own, both SEPTA and PATCO need to get out into the community and remind them that they are the public’s transit system, not an entity unto themselves. I would like to see both agencies send employees (or volunteers) to more public events to promote transit usage, answer questions about the system (i.e. where you can take transit to, how much it costs, etc.), and hand out branded items. I’m sure that the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers has plenty of members who would love to volunteer at these events.

    Finally, working with local artists to create cool branded merchandise would also be a good way to promote transit. If you go to the flea market at Eastern Market in DC, you will see plenty of vendors selling Metro-branded t-shirts and bags, it would be great to see a similar movement for SEPTA, and maybe even PATCO (looking at you, Collingswood).

    • DTurner

      Also, tiny plug for the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers (DVARP). If you’re interested in transit advocacy in the Philly area, check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

    • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

      Bringing color codes back to Regional Rail (I’ve been informed by several SEPTA insiders that my crusade to bring back the R-numbers is a lost cause) would make for more attractive T-shirts.

      Part of the problem is that graphically, our rail network doesn’t make for a clear, easily recognizable iconic graphic along the lines of the Washington Metro map or the MBTA rapid transit map before the addition of the Silver Line. Our rapid transit network is too skeletal and our suburban system too dense to make for eye-grabbing graphics.

      But perhaps I complain too much: London’s Tube map, the famous Beck Diagram, is as complex as ours is, yet it makes it onto T-shirts with ease. Perhaps all we do need is more color. Bring back Regional Rail color codes, and not just on the schedules!

  • F

    My problem, being in technology is that the city has taxed most of the jobs out to KoP. The only way I can get there is on a bus that will go on the expressway. If I’m going to be stuck in that traffic I’d rather be stuck in that traffic in my own car.

    I managed to find one of the few interesting tech jobs actually in the city and take the Broad Street Line to work everyday. It’s great and all, but the system is nowhere near as nice as the system in DC which I used everyday for years. Never once was the train or the station in DC not clean. Here in Philly at least once a month I see feces in a station and the smell of urine is almost constant.

    If you’re trying to get more people to use the system take the people out of the token booths (it’s not like they can make change anyway), replace them with token machines at each stop, and hand them all power washers and clean the system up. More people would use the system if it didn’t almost constantly smell of human waste.

    • DTurner

      Hopefully NPT will deal with the token issues, as you will not longer need to purchase tokens (and eventually tickets). The cleanliness issue is still a major problem, especially in the concourse, where ownership and maintenance responsibilities are still confusing. Center City District has tried to remedy this, but they still have a long way to go.

      I wish SEPTA would route buses off of the expressway too, or at least explore using more comfortable commuter buses with Wi-Fi and the like (probably unlikely).

      • F

        I understand the issues in the concourse. However all the cleanliness issues I discussed, I have seen inside fare controlled areas. If those aren’t the responsibility of SEPTA I’d be pretty shocked.

        • DTurner

          Hmm, I would contact SEPTA (@Septasocial on twitter) or Philly 311 if you run into any issues in the stations.

          • F

            Generally no response. Besides, if they actually cared they’d get the employees I *sometimes* see lazily pushing around a dirty mop inside stations a powerwasher, or something that might actually clean the station.

          • DTurner

            I see (and agree with) you’re point, but it always makes sense to report it. SEPTA does need to look into how they can keep their stations a little more clean. It’s better than NYC, but that’s not saying much.

      • quinyus

        Apparently you haven’t heard of the 124/125 KOP center city express!!! Which are FULL-TIME!!!! Or the 123,44,9,27,62 lines. All with 7-day service. Want to know about more of em? Where would you add buses off the expressway from where to where and why? That don’t do what the mentioned lines already do. I-95 won’t work as that duplicates the regional rail big-time.

        • DTurner

          Actually, I do know about the 124/125, but I am primarily referring to the buses services NW Philly and City Line Ave, which could probably be rerouted to MLK Drive.

          The 124/125 are also highly inefficient compared to a direct rail link from CC to KOP, but the simplest and most effective solution in my opinion would be to turn the Norristown line into a rapid transit line by removing all at-grade crossings, replacing the trains with smaller, more mobile EMUs (a.k.a. S-Bahn trains like what you find Austin or Ottawa) that run at a more rapid regularity and establishing a branch that travels from Norristown to KOP and maybe over to Wayne (or simply connect with the NHSL), it would make much more sense to have a direct connection from Philly to KOP and Radnor instead of requiring a transfer at either 69th Street or Norristown. Going this route would also provide a foundation for a future rapid transit line through a larger portion of the western suburbs than the current NHSL.

          • quinyus

            Well you do realize Radnor has a direct link to Philly called the thorndale line which mind you in every 30 minutes on middays

          • DTurner

            True in regards to Radnor, but I’m thinking that it would allow for a more rapid connection between the two suburban jobs centers.

            In regards to the buses, you still have the problem of I-76 traffic during rush periods, something that you would bypass with a direct rapid transit service from CC.

            Also, what’s with the jerky attitude? Did someone kick your puppy or have we awoken a troll over here?

          • DTurner

            Sorry, just looked at your comment history and answered that question by myself. Thanks for making the internet a more civil place…

          • quinyus

            Means nothing but won’t better norristown rush service fix that I do admit the 99 is horrible.

          • DTurner

            What means nothing?

          • quinyus

            It’s over with my history means nothing people don’t like the truth when it comes to realizing their devices are obsolete. However where will money come to bring rail to KOP? However a spur from norristown would rock it that row not used? That crosses from the cross county to thorndale?

          • DTurner

            There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with others, but being aggressively hostile is not a way to win over other people to your views.

            In regards to the line to KOP, I’m saying that linking the route to the Norristown line would probably make more financial sense than creating the spur off of the NHSL if the objective is to get more professionals from Philly to KOP. Given that the KOP BID is focused on expanding transit access to the area, it probably makes sense to explore all possible options.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

            Extending the Norristown (ex-R6) line sounds good but the “it’s not that simple” part is complex.

            First and foremost it’s a heavy-rail line that shares tracks with freight trains and so comes under FRA jurisdiction for its entire length. Any extension would have to be built to full railroad standards which are far stricter and more expensive than light rail like the P&W.

            Second, the Norristown RRD line is powered from overhead catenary rather than using a third rail; a line into K of P would require the same arrangement. Again, it’s more expensive to build and maintain. Even if a P&W extension were to eventually need overhead on part of its ROW, the N-5 cars are designed for dual power while the RRD Silverliners aren’t. (The N-5′s already have overhead connections built in. They just need to have their pantographs installed.)

            Finally, those same heavy-rail regs prevent running single cars and tend to limit headways which means service would run less often. I’ve sat on some citizen advisory panels and what’s come out is that riders most value more frequent service. Basically, two P&W cars every 15 minutes and carrying 50 people each would trump one train every 30 minutes carrying 100 riders.

          • nobody

            KOP shouldn’t have any say in where transit goes. The fact that they do is exactly the problem.

            They shouldn’t even exist in the first place. KOP is nothing but a leech.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

            Aside from being a favorite tea-pary expression, how is it a leech?

            Like it or not, we have to take what we have now (yes, sprawl, poor zoning, etc.) and try to control it rather than grumbling about what was done wrong 50 years ago.

          • nobody

            Considering the fact that KOP is exactly the kind of place that people in the Tea Party helped establish and point to as being “a great part of America” or whatever other nonsense, I’d say maybe you should stop trying to paint with such a broad brush. A leech is a term that has existed since far before the Tea Party and has always meant the same thing. KOP leeches off of other parts of the metro. That’s the only reason it exists.

            We don’t HAVE to do anything, and nobody’s grumbling, so really enough of the framing what people say.

          • DTurner

            To be fair, KOP is actually the product of NE urban democrat policies of taxation and anemic job growth. Philly democrats created suburban job centers like KOP, Cherry Hill, Radnor, etc. by maintaining archaic taxation policies that proved to be hugely unattractive to newer employers. Nothing will change until this region’s urban politicians get their act together and change how they interact with businesses. You are absolutely right that these jobs centers are anomalies, but they are very much the product of Philadelphia’s job creation failures.

          • PAPlan

            I would like to dispute that assertion. Sprawling jobs center like KOP and Cherry Hill exist throughout the country, and are far worse in places that have been ruled by Republican regimes. Federal policies of highway investment and city neglect are far more important to the development of places like that.

          • DTurner

            I think all of these factors have played a role, but if you compare Philadelphia to other NE cities, the concentration of wealth and jobs in the suburbs is pretty striking. That is not the result of federal government policies alone.

          • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

            Our poverty rate in the city is higher than our Northeast Corridor peers (Baltimore possibly excepted), but what’s Tysons Corner? Route 128? Long Island’s North Shore?

            I will, however, grant that our city core’s share of the total jobs in the metro is lower than that of other cities our size.

          • DTurner

            That’s really what I am referring to. The center of Philadelphia’s economic geography is not in Center City, but in the western suburbs.

            When I decided to move up from DC recently, I had a reasonably tough time finding office jobs in the city, as most positions appear to be in the western suburbs or Cherry Hill.

          • PAPlan

            Actually, city share of regional jobs according to Center City District’s newest jobs report:

            NYC: 44.5%
            Phila: 22.9%
            Boston: 22.5%
            DC: 21.5%

            So we’re similar to Boston and DC. NYC has us beat of course. I think the biggest difference, if you dig into the CCD report, is that Phila used to have a much higher share of city employment. The numbers from 1970:

            NYC: 53.1%
            Phila: 43.3%
            Boston: 31.1%
            DC: 41.3%

            So DC and Phila have seen similar declines in share of city employment, but Phila still started from a slightly higher point. Boston, it appears, hasn’t had as big a share of metro employment–going back to at least 1970. The numbers for Boston include all of Suffolk County, but not Cambridge–which could be skewing the data a little. But the point is still the same.

          • DTurner

            Unfortunately, KOP isn’t going anywhere at this point. I can certainly understand your disappointment with KOP, but ignoring a major jobs & commercial center for this region is not going to help anything. If KOP wants to develop in a more responsible manner, then we should welcome that.

          • nobody

            It’s only a major jobs and commercial center because it’s allowed to be. KOP is not important, at all.

            No, we should welcome KOP going the way of the dinosaur or staying exactly how it is.

          • quinyus

            I-76 traffic is due to inadequate services beyond KOP along 476&422&76 lesser extent

          • DTurner

            Well, you have pretty significant jams closer in as well, but the 422 mess is something that probably could be eased via an extension of the Norristown line.

          • quinyus

            Well you just need to use the 124/125 more they combined are both frequent and faster than the train try again.

          • quinyus

            tell me about Martin Luther King Dr which buses are you actually referring to

          • DTurner

            Primarily the 44, which would be able to link back into its normal route on City Line.

          • quinyus

            The 44 is an express. However isn’t service to Penn valley not frequent enough?

          • DTurner

            The 44 gets too gummed up on I-76 though, I think the frequency is good, but it could be improved. If MontCo and the City are serious about turning City Line into a walkable urban corridor, they’ll need to make some route adjustments for the 44. Taking the 44 around rush periods is a hellish experience (particularly when it’s standing room only) that would turn people off transit.

          • quinyus

            Won’t people just take trains at rush? To the 65. If SRO add artics. I-76 however can benefit from a bus lane HOV to speed up the buses.

          • DTurner

            I would love to see a bus/HOV lane on I-76, I’m just not sure if there is the room to do that.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

            The Expressway is carrying far more traffic than it was ever designed to handle. About 10 years ago a study group looked at expanding it and the only options were to build some kind of overhang on the river side, or double-deck it. Neither would be financially or structurally practical.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

            As noted below, the Norristown RRD line also carries freight. That pretty much kiboshes any possibility of EMUs.

          • DTurner

            Interesting, which section of the regional rail line utilizes freight tracks? I must admit that I have only been so far as Manayunk on the line.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

            Freight trains use the segment from Norristown to just before Conshohocken where they veer off on a separate spur. Correct, you wouldn’t see any at Manayunk.

          • kclo3

            Then don’t convert a viable railroad into rapid transit standards, and just wait two years for the FRA to allow Stadler EMUs on the entire regional rail network en masse. No use expensively converting just one line whereas the overall network will inevitably get improved over time.

          • DTurner

            Probably a much better idea, I still think a branch line from Norristown to KOP makes more sense than an expansion of the NHSL, but maybe that’s just me.

    • Brandon

      Though the perception is that the city has much higher taxes than the burbs, and at one time that was true, in reality they are both now similar when it comes to overall tax burden. Also, several studies have shown that businesses hardly ever consider tax burden as a priority when relocating.

      The fact that jobs have dispersed to he suburbs is part of a greater trend that has taken place all over the country. Now it seems that trend may be reversing. If so, we should see our transit system improve in regards to being able to get people to places they want to go.

    • Joe Clark

      I agree that the cashier’s booths need to be done away with. When the subway system opened up in Philadelphia it was a necasary job, but in 2013 it is nothing less than a patronage job. It is my understanding that several Western European have thier subways (metros) operated by robots that is something that should happen in Philly. Another thing would be to go to the homeless shelters and social service agencies and have the homeless etc. do custodial work.

    • nobody

      It’s really easy to be so clean when you’re federally subsidized by the rest of the country.

      Other than that, I agree with everything said,

  • Niel McDowell

    Good points, Sandy. I heartily agree w/ esp. the first two. I’ve long thought that SEPTA views *itself* in only 2 ways: a commuter service and the option of last resort for those who can’t afford something better (e.g. a car). There have been plenty of articles recently about millennials’ interest in urban living (of which we have ample evidence in Philly) and their increasing disinterest in car ownership – why is SEPTA not jumping on these trends? Transit could be – dare I say it? – cool, or hip, or whatever unfortunate adjective you choose to associate with the prized young demographic.

    As far as that actual service goes, too many of us rely on bus lines that keep us waiting 20 or 30 minutes and then creep along, stopping every 100 feet or so, and we think to ourselves “you know, I could have walked there by now.” If we could step out to our local transit stop & hop on a fast, modern vehicle that will sweep us to our destination in no time flat, cars would suddenly look a whole lot less convenient.

    • MystiKasT

      Probably because all the white college kids are being victimized by the local roving gangs of black thugs.

      • DTurner

        Any empirical evidence of that? We like evidence in these parts.

      • Brandon

        You are an idiot. I would bet you haven’t step foot in the city in years.

        • nobody

          Not even just Philadelphia. He’s a regular delcotimes contributor who is clearly from one of the more suburban parts of the county.

      • Niel McDowell

        Brandon beat me to it. I was going to say, “Spoken like someone who watches too much Fox News & hasn’t set foot in Philadelphia for at least two decades.”

      • nobody

        Go back to delcotimes.

    • quinyus

      The routes must be direct and fast too. The problem with SEPTA is horrible coordination between routes.

      • Niel McDowell

        Well, yes and no. The network is actually quite good, and particularly for those of us who travel into Center City the L-shaped routes (17, 33, 48) are quite handy. It would be difficult to coordinate all the routes that cross each other (so that you can just hop from one vehicle to another w/out a long wait), but reducing the wait times on all lines would have a similar effect.

        • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

          Those “L-shaped routes” point to perhaps the second most obvious gap in our rapid transit network (No. 1 being lack of a Northeast rapid transit line): the absence of rapid transit to the northwest of Center City. The Parkway-29th Street-Ridge Avenue subway-elevated envisioned in 1913 would have provided it.

          As for route coordination, my experience with several bus routes of late suggests to me that SEPTA has been working on this. The vagaries of traffic on Philly’s mostly narrow streets are such, however, that minor items can throw coordination off on surface routes.

          • http://sictransitphiladelphia.org/ Sic Transit Philly

            A busway on the City Branch running northwest from Center City would do a lot to improve service without spending billions.

            The easiest way to do route co-ordination is to increase frequencies to the point where even unco-ordinated transfers have a very short wait time.

    • Kiptodd

      I look at other major cities – NYC, LA, Paris, London, Moscow, Tokyo, etc – that have systems (and I’m primarily talking about subways/Metros) that cover most of their cities thoroughly and efficiently, and they are constantly expanding existing subway lines and building new lines. The more these lines serve the city, the more people will use them. The other flaw that I see with SEPTA, is what Niel McDowell mentioned – timing. If you have to wait 10, 15, 30 minutes at each connection, transit is no long a viable option for people that have a choice to ride it.

      • Niel McDowell

        In a perfect world SEPTA would have all the funding it needed and could invest in one or two new subway lines. The narrowness of the city’s old street grid means there’s no (or very little) room on the surface for dedicated rights-of-way for transit (see: the competing plans for the City Branch cut), so the way to go would be underground. I have long fantasized about a “diagonal” line that would connect Roxborough/Manayunk, Strawberry Mansion, Fairmount, Center City, and Queen Village/Pennsport. But of course this is totally self-serving on my part. And there’s no money for projects of this type.

      • nobody

        LA? You’re kidding, right? They’ve built the majority of their system in what, the past 20 years? That’s the only reason LA is continuously expanding.

        • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

          LA _had_ a fantastic rail system but lost it back in the 1950s to the predations of National City Lines, aided and abetted by the public’s postwar fascination with cars. The new lines replace only a small part of what was once there.

          • nobody

            I know that. My point still stands. Also, their rail system really wasn’t anywhere near being on par with East Coast cities. People really overrate just how “large” and “urban” LA’s core was back then.

    • Niel McDowell
  • Dick_Wolf

    It’s quite simple. Using D.C. as an example, their Metro can get you throughout Maryland and Virginia without entering D.C. because there are multiple “out of city” hubs. With SEPTA all regional rail means going into city to get back out. I live 200 yards from the Swarthmore station and work next to the Paoli Station. I would spend almost 2 hours on trains to cover 16 driving miles.

    • DTurner

      While I agree about the difficulty of traveling through the suburbs here (the Norristown Line could be upgraded to remedy this), Metro is really no better (try getting from Silver Spring to Friendship Heights or Rockville). In fact, Philly is one of the few cities in this country that has a suburb to suburb rapid transit line.

      • nobody

        It’s not suburb to suburb. It’s from the Delaware County hub at the end of the El to the Montgomery County hub and county seat.

        • DTurner

          That’s pretty much suburb to suburb though, since the NHSL is not running through the urban core at any point; that’s pretty unique and potentially a huge asset for DelCo & MontCo if the line was better utilized (TOD zoning & a KOP branch would be a huge help).

          • nobody

            No, it’s not “suburb to suburb”. You may want to call it that, but it’s not. Not everywhere outside of a city is a suburb. This isn’t DC. It might not go through Philadelphia’s core but it goes through Upper Darby’s and into Norristown. Neither place is a suburb, no matter what you want to try to redefine them into being. Would you call Camden a suburb? If so then maybe you should stop throwing around terms like that so easily.

            A KOP branch would kill Norristown. Not sure how that helps anybody but KOP and the people trying to get there easier.

    • Brandon

      All metro lines go through the district. It’s a spoke system just like SEPTA.

      • Dick_Wolf

        No one questioned whether they went through the district. The difference is one can switch regional rails at regional hubs without going to a central location downtown and coming back out. That is what SEPTA is lacking. I would need to enter Philadelphia’s 30th street or Suburban Station to bounce back out on another line. THAT is why the suburbs only use SEPTA to get in and out of city.

        • DTurner

          Which hubs are you referring to in the DC area? I lived in the district (and suburbs) for years and I am not aware of any of these hubs that are not just bus terminals (which do exist in the Philly area).

        • Brandon

          Well, there are a couple suburban locations on different lines that you can get between without going into central DC, but it’s still not that convenient for most suburban to suburban locations. For example, you could get from Greenbelt to Glenmont by switching in Fort Totten. You still have to go into the district, and it’s not a one seat ride, but you’re correct that you don’t have to go through downtown.

          But the vast majority of suburban to suburban trips make you travel through Metro Center or L’Enfant Plaza.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

            The difference in DC is that Metrorail operates more like a subway with much closer headways. Except at very odd hours the longest wait I’ve had for a connection in DC has been around 15 minutes. Outside of peak hours an interchange on the RRD can sometimes leave you sitting for 45-60 minutes.

          • Brandon

            That is a very valid point.

          • eldondre

            and worse, often times the trains don’t line up. my chestnut hill west gets to 30th st three minutes too late to catch the next westbound paoli local. either you have more frequency or time the connections better

          • nobody

            I’d say both really.

        • Brandon

          I would also like to point out that your exact words were:

          “Using D.C. as an example, their Metro can get you throughout Maryland and Virginia without entering D.C.”

          That just isn’t true. Six out of nine transfer points are in the district. The other three aren’t nearly as useful and are all in VA. There are no transfer points in MD.

          • Dick_Wolf

            You are right, I misspoke as I meant to say within the downtown area. It is possible to move around the fringes of D.C. without going all the way into downtown and back out.

          • Brandon

            That’s fair. I think moving more people and jobs closer to downtown should be a higher priority than suburban to suburban connections though.

        • kclo3

          Yours is a particular suburb-suburb pairing that works better with other modes of transit. Keep in mind that SEPTA is actually the only commuter rail system in the US where there’s through-running service like the S-Bahn in Germany or the RER in France. Even with this however, 95% of the trips that start in the suburbs end in Center City and not to another suburb. Cross county travel is better done through buses.

          • nobody

            Have you ever actually taken a bus cross-county?

    • http://sictransitphiladelphia.org/ Sic Transit Philly

      The 118 used to run north beyond Newtown Square to Paoli Station and King of Prussia. When I lived in Swarthmore, I took it a few times from Media, but it’s easier for a daily commuter to pick it up at Wallingford station. It was cut back down to Newtown Sq because of extremely low ridership; I was often the only passenger riding the north end.

    • JoeC

      I’m in the same situation. I’d happily walk to my nearest regional rail stations to get to work, but it’s simply an issue of time—the regional rails don’t run as frequently as needed to make this efficient for me either. And I want to echo the comment mentioned in the article that the Regional Rail line’s anorexic evening schedule makes it inconvenient (at best) to get home from anything after 8…

  • MystiKasT

    Because of all the black on white crime that has taken place in Philadelphia I am often fearful to be in an enclosed space with blacks.

    • Brandon

      What a troll. The vast majority of crimes are committed against people of the same race as the perpetrator.

    • nobody

      In your imagination maybe.

  • PicklePaul

    I recently had a question about septa’s plans for an android smartphone app to complement the one now available for iPhone. I thought I’d get a slow, fuzzy, and generally useless response. Instead, I got a prompt, courteous, and very helpful and specific response.

    I’ve traveled all over the world and can tell you that Philadelphia has many excellent qualities, but like many places there is often more energy devoted to complaints than to donating time and resources with a positive attitude. Folks, if you see something that you don’t like, then do what you can to help, report things in a positive and supportive manner, or if you just want to complain then get out of the way of the doers!

    • DTurner

      Thanks PicklePaul, having recently moved back from DC, I can attest to the fact that some transit agencies do not really care about their riders. While SEPTA has certainly had a problem in the past, they have really turned a page (would like to see PATCO do the same thing).

    • TartanSixNine

      IMHO the “Septa Instant” app on the Google Play store is a keeper

  • hkpsufan

    I grew up in Delco, riding the “train” to 69th St to go to the Tower or shops around there back in the mid 70′s-early 80′s. Often we would take the “El” to Center City to see my father’s office. He took the trains everyday to work. They were reasonably clean, fairly safe during the day and cheap. Can that still be said?
    I have now lived in Asia for the past 20 years. While crowded at times, every major city in Asia has a rapid hi speed line from the center of town to the airport. They all offer discounts for families and usually kids ride free. The MTR, as we call it, is immaculately clean, incredibly safe and super cheap. It is not uncommon to see small children travelling by themselves with no fear of problems. They offer special fares between the most popular stations, so that you pay once at the beginning of the month and then all rides are covered. We also hardly ever use cash. Everyone has an electronic card with a stored cash value on it. You simply wave it at a scanner and go thru. When the value gets low you can recharge it.
    While some of these ideas could not be done in Philly the airport one should be. A train that can take people from 30th St to PHL in 10 min should be a no brainer. The cleanliness of the stations also is a no brainer. NYC can get away with that because people think that’s typical NY, but in Filthydelphia ( the city that never sweeps) we can not. Sorry if you disagree but remove the homeless from the stations and the cars. Have an effective Transit police that can rapidly deal with trouble on a train. If the people do not feel safe, they will not ride. Also how about a rapid line from Center City to KOP? No stops or maybe just 1 stop. Get to there in 15 minutes. That is something people want.

    • Brandon

      It shows you haven’t been to Philly in 20 years. The trains could be improved but they are cleaner now than they were in the 80s. There is virtually zero crime on SEPTA and the transit police are very effective. There is a line to the airport that will get you to Center City quickly, though it only runs every half hour which could be improved. Cleanliness of stations could be improved and the rapid line to KOP would be very helpful (it is currently being planned, but we need the state government to start giving a damn about Philly so we can fund it).

      Overall, the biggest problem with crime/cleanliness is about perception more than reality. I often try to convince suburbanites that SEPTA is safe. Even though I ride it everyday and they haven’t ridden it in at least 10 years they still think they know best because they grew up in Philly (not really, but they think Delco is Philly) and I did not.

      • DTurner

        Agreed Brandon, I think Sandy is right in noting that marketing is key to changing perceptions of transit in this area.

        • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

          “Philadelphia is underrated, and nobody underrates it more than the natives.” -Me

          Way too many longtime residents seem to have an image of the city frozen in (a) the 1950s, when Everything Was Hunky-Dory Because None Of THOSE Folks (check my picture) Were Around, Or Something Like That, or (b) the 1970s, when things were deteriorating rapidly in some parts of the city (that Frank Rizzo didn’t care much about).

          I have a good friend who lives in the Far Northeast whose parents have expressed worry about his venturing into the area around Temple, where he is a student. While hardly Valhalla, that part of town is not the free-fire zone many seem to imagine.

          To make matters worse, when there are crime sprees in the city center, people like MystiKasT engage in projection and blow the danger out of proportion to the problem.

          • nobody

            That guy really isn’t worth paying attention to at all. He spends the majority of his time making racist comments and badmouthing places outside of his suburban paradise.

      • nobody

        Yeah, and you all from Montco, South Jersey, Bucks etc claim Philly. I agree with you but the fact is you don’t know Delco. The people outside of the more suburban parts of the county claim where we’re from. Period. We don’t claim Philly and never have. We’re from places with their own identity and their own history.

    • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

      “A train that can take people from 30th St to PHL in 10 min should be a no brainer.”

      Airport Regional Rail Line trains arrive at the Terminal A platform 15 minutes after they leave 30th Street.

      Close enough? You’d need to do some very expensive ROW acquisition and construction to trim those five minutes off the schedule.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

        Spot on. The ROI on that incremental gain can’t be justified.

        But as I noted above, SEPTA would do a lot for not just its image but the city’s as well if Airport passengers weren’t prime fodder for that odious on-board fare surcharge. I asked Joe Casey directly why there isn’t a ticket machine or some other place to get tickets and his only answer was that SEPTA wanted to encourage people to buy in advance. When I said that was impossible for incoming passengers I never got a response.

        • nobody

          That’s exactly why SEPTA can’t be trusted.

      • eldondre

        I don’t think so sandy, you’d just need to improve the existing track and signals which are excessively slow.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

    We can hope, maybe, that things will improve with the new fare system but speaking as someone who’s used public transit in over a dozen cities on 3 continents, SEPTA’s current policies are by a long shot the most intimidating and “gotcha”-filled of any.

    It’s mind-boggling that a surcharge is imposed on Regional Rail passengers who haven’t bought tickets in advance even when there’s no ticket office available. Nearly every time I’ve used the Airport Line I’ve heard confrontations between passengers and conductors over the fact that SEPTA can’t be bothered to put even ONE SINGLE vending machine at the terminal, and only accepts cash payments to boot. Even if SEPTA gets an extra $1.50 or $2.00 out of all those captive riders, is fleecing them really worth the hit to the region’s image? To quote one disgusted tourist, “Is this how Philadelphia welcomes visitors?”

    Ditto for transit riders, especially in the suburbs. No token? Cough up an extra half buck (almost) each way. And where ARE bus tokens sold? Not at bus stops, but at train stations!

    Even once NPT in place it may not be much better because it appears SEPTA’s fixation with surcharges will just find a new home. Admittedly it’s not final yet but some proposals include imposing a surcharge if you don’t have either a SEPTA-supplied farecard, which itself costs extra, or a so-called “chip and PIN” credit card which, like those phantom ticket offices, is almost unavailable in the US.

    No wonder some riders feel like SEPTA’s intentionally gaming the system against them.

    • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

      You and I could probably go on for days about fare policy, which does seem at times geared to vacuum more money out of the riders’ pockets.

      One change SEPTA should consider if it’s so worried about riders with all-you-can-ride calendar-timed passes gaming the system under NPT would be to change the discount from calendar-timed to either a set number of trips or a dollar value bonus – and forget linking the discount to a calendar period. If you take 100 trips in a week, you buy another 100 once you’ve run through them; if you take 100 in a year, that 100-trip block remains yours to use until you take that 100th trip.

      And that reply you got from Joe Casey about Airport Line fare vending machines is a real head-scratcher. I thought he wasn’t from here; he sure exhibited the “nobody not from here comes here” mentality there.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

        DVARP has been trying for years to get SEPTA to restore TVM’s at the Airport even if they don’t put them anywhere else, but they’ve refused to make even that concession to fare equity. And yes, I was really surprised by Joe Casey’s response because he’s always been open and honest, far better than some (many?) of his predecessors.

        I was actually told, off the record, by someone who worked at 1234 Market that it’s no coincidence SEPTA’s fare policies seem designed to maximize revenue from individual passengers, even if it comes at the cost of driving away (pun intended) potential new patrons. I’ve certainly seen enough cases over the years to think there’s a lot of truth to the assertion. NPT will help but it still has enough designed-in “gotchas” that a lot of riders will continue to pay more than necessary.

        • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

          Did your source have anything in the way of an explanation why this is the case? Is it fear of the old “we lose money on every rider and we can’t make it up in volume” bugbear?

          • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

            I don’t think the rationale is quite so nuanced. The SEPTA employee and didn’t talk very long but my impression was that it’s more of a group-think mindset born of years of underfunding. The certainty of a current, in-hand fare is seen as so critical to the agency’s operations that collecting as much as possible trumps taking a bit less now in the hope of gaining more income at some future time. Given SEPTA’s funding woes it’s (almost) understandable: if you’re hungry enough, the present value of your seed corn can easily outweigh the fact that it should be saved for next Spring.

  • Mark

    The regional rail rail line doesn’t save much time on commuting. I’d love to take it more, though after 5:45 the rail line by me runs hourly. So if I have to stay past 5:25, I’m not getting home until 7:30! This too is another issue with the rail lines – I live 27 miles from Center City and it takes me an hour to get there on an Express Train, which is about how long it takes me to drive through rush hour traffic. People taking NJ Transit from Trenton to NYC travel approximately 60 miles and the Express Train takes an hour.

  • Katrina Santiago

    The City Hall station is dingy & confusing. What’s categorized as Marketing is what I’d put my money on.

  • barrygster

    It’s very simple. Philly has a smaller percentage of job share in the central business district compared to other cities. Bring more jobs back to center city, ridership goes up, and everything else improves from there. Btw septas website and app are way above average for public transit agencies.

  • kclo3

    You think frequency can be just increased like that? Increasing frequency means upgrading EVERYTHING on Regional Rail: more equipment, so more yard space, so more maintenance and operation personnel, and especially more infrastructure improvements, the biggest hurdle in SEPTA’s current network.
    Why don’t you complain first how SEPTA has one third the operating budget of the MBTA, and a mere fraction that of New York’s? That the state has been screwing us over for too long?

    • http://sictransitphiladelphia.org/ Sic Transit PHL

      Off-peak Regional Rail can run more often with the same equipment; it just requires using the trains that sit in the yard during middays. That takes people, yes. (It would take fewer people if SEPTA were to accept the inevitable and switch to proof-of-payment on Regional Rail, but that’s a few years and an NPT debacle away.) But the only signal upgrade you need is if you want to run really intensive service, like 15 minute headways on the Manayunk/Norristown Line. (I’ve argued that that’s about what’s needed there.) Even then, the critical issue is less the headways than the terminal capacity.

    • nobody

      It’s not either or. SEPTA is poorly run AND the state continues to underfund it.

  • kclo3

    Perhaps it’s not as imminent or important, but I would like SEPTA’s signage and graphics design to be greatly improved and standardized. The DC Metro, LACMTA, and CTA namely have done a great job implementing clear, concise, and standard signs, displays, and schedules across their stations.

    SEPTA meanwhile is stuck with a mixture of signage from various moments in their history. As a Regional Rail rider, some stations still have R# labels, and some don’t indicate which platforms are inbound and outbound. Some don’t have places to put system info notices. Bus transfer signage is hit or miss. Stations like Jenkintown still desperately need a real-time Trainview display. And never mind that the 13 colors used for the Regional Rail schedules are completely meaningless.

    Perhaps it’s due to the historical mix of former transit companies, but it’s very unprofessional to say the least. Time to hire a professional graphics agency.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

      Confusing station names don’t help, either. For example, when AT&T bought naming rights to the BSS Pattison Avenue station, why were they allowed to completely eliminate the street’s name? What would be wrong with AT&T-Pattison? Fortunately there’s only one such station now, but what happens when/if they sell more rights? Will a trip eventually become “take the Burger King train to the Ford stop, then transfer to the Men’s Wearhouse platform and catch the Acme bus”?

      And in the western ‘burbs there’s a double handful of stations with identical names but on different lines: two Radnors, two DeKalb Streets, two Haverfords, two Bryn Mawrs, and so on. When I commuted to Center City I’d see a few people every week who got on the wrong train because they didn’t realize there were parallel universes. Given how many trains run each day I have to assume that the total number of people getting lost isn’t insignificant.

      • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

        SEPTA did better than the NY MTA at extracting money from the sponsor for the naming rights to Pattison station, but the New York deal at least renamed the station for a facility located atop it and kept the street name intact.

        The MTA recently issued a policy concerning naming rights one of whose key principles is that the new name continue to serve as a navigational aid both for the system and for what’s going on around the station. SEPTA would do well to lift this policy wholesale.

  • Thomas Taggart

    I think the three reasons more people don’t use SEPTA are:

    1. The frequencies of departure are not high enough.

    2. Cleanliness and safety. The lines aren’t clean enough, and are sometimes unsafe. Pretty rarely unsafe, but unsafe enough to cause problems in adoption.

    3. The more well off people in Philly don’t want to be associated with the less well off people in Philly.

    I have experienced each of these situations plenty of times.

  • mikey

    How about running past 2am? It’d very likely cut down on intoxicated driving to boot.

  • nobody

    SEPTA is the reason more people don’t ride it. They continue to run the system into the ground and forego intelligent, urban projects for stupidity like a completely unnecessary extension to KOP.

    Our transit system is a disgrace for the 5th largest city in the country. SEPTA is yet another local company who only does the bare minimum because for them that’s “good enough for Philly”. As for their marketing, the reason it doesn’t work is because the only thing they do is try to boast about what they are personally doing, trying to sell everybody on SEPTA is doing this, SEPTA is doing that…. not on the actual system itself, because in reality all they have is spin. Really it seems they spend more time trying to spin things than actually doing any real work, until they finally have no choice but to do it. Those other metros are ahead of ours because their transit is more thorough, connects more, and runs better and more frequently. On top of that, you can ride the subway in NY for one flat rate all the way through in a MUCH larger area than you can for SEPTA. There is no way anywhere in the city should cost more than a subway fare to get to. I don’t care how far away it is.

    SEPTA needs to get rid of zones until they build a system where you’re actually traveling somewhere far enough to warrant it, like Reading, Allentown, West Chester, or even Harrisburg or Lancaster. For the 5th largest city and by far the largest in the state, Philadelphia has very little reach…. and that’s because of the numbskulls who run things. It shouldn’t cost 45-60 dollars to get to Harrisburg by rail, and it should at least be possible to get to West Chester, Allentown, and Reading by rail. SEPTA is the reason it isn’t possible. They’ve been doing nothing but dismantling the system for almost their entire short history.

    In short, they can kick rocks.

    • kclo3

      Right, because money just comes off trees and SEPTA has billions to spend on tens of miles of extensions that gain only a few thousand more riders at best. It’s not like SEPTA has a $4.7 billion backlog of deteriorating infrastructure dating back to 1895 that they’ve only now gotten a shot at tackling in only 10 years. It’s not like SEPTA can only get paltry federal funding for a few projects a year because they have to compete against the interests of everyone else in the country (and also Harrisburg).

      KOP extension or any other will never happen before most or all of the state of good repair projects are finished. We have run our infrastructure to the ground, it was inevitable ever since the burden was thrown onto SEPTA in the 70s-80s. Don’t give that BS on how SEPTA puts off work on the actual system. With the stimulus money they received in 2009, they finished all 32 of their projects on time and under budget (http://www.septa.org/stimulus/).

      SEPTA, the oldest municipal transit agency, might not be the most professional, but we are not suffering either. What with huge maintenance issues in Washington, financial problems in Boston, we should be glad our infrastructure has stayed together this long at all. Don’t forget SEPTA still offers one of the best weekend services on Regional Rail that other systems would dream to have. You want someone to blame for all the severed lines, blame Conrail for running much of Northeast passenger rail to the ground. Blame DVRPC for abandoning transit and focusing on rail trails and highway widening. SEPTA, running under 1/3 the budget of comparable systems, shouldn’t have been able to hold as much of the system together as they miraculously did. Railfan dreamers like you can’t seem to grasp the multitude of ways SEPTA has been kept down for the past 30 years.