SEPTA Overnight Trains a Hit: Ridership Up 40 to 59 Percent in First Full Weekend

The only hitch: Riders unused to late-night boarding procedure are slowing things down.

Photo | Ben Schumin.

Photo | Ben Schumin, Wikimedia Commons.

Apparently, all those people who signed petitions asking SEPTA to run the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines all night really did prefer taking the train rather than the bus home after a night on the town.

According to SEPTA spokesperson Manny Smith, figures for the first full weekend of overnight rapid transit service show ridership jumps of 40 to 59 percent compared to baseline ridership for the Night Owl buses.

On Friday night (Saturday morning), total ridership on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford Night Owl trains was 7,407, compared to a baseline figure for Night Owl bus service of 5,274, a 40 percent increase. (The baseline figure represents an average of bus boardings over the year.) On Saturday night (Sunday morning), the figures were 6,846 and 4,301, respectively, a 59 percent jump.

Some details:

Ridership is higher on the Market-Frankford Line than on the Broad Street Line, with boardings on the former topping 1,000 per hour between midnight and 1 a.m. on Saturday; Broad Street Line ridership never crossed the 1,000 mark in any one-hour period.

Based on ridership trends both by hour and by station, it appears that the people using the trains most are late-night revelers in the city’s entertainment districts. Ridership by hour is highest from midnight to 1 a.m., falls slightly from 1 to 2 and again from 2 to 3, then drops sharply after 3 a.m. The most boardings, in descending order per line:

Market Frankford Line:

  1. 15th Street
  2. Frankford Transportation Center
  3. 69th Street Terminal
  4. 30th Street
  5. Girard

Broad Street Line:

  1. Olney
  2. Walnut-Locust
  3. Lombard-South
  4. North Philadelphia
  5. Snyder

According to Smith, safety hasn’t been a problem on the trains, either, thanks no doubt to the stepped-up police presence during the pilot.

Also in connection with the pilot, two Broad Street Line stations that are currently exit-only after 9 p.m. — Fairmount and Logan northbound — will be open for entry from midnight to 5 a.m. for the duration of the program.

So far, Smith said, there’s been only one hitch with the service: Passengers waiting at scattered locations on the platform slows down boarding. “We think riders will get better with it as the pilot goes on, but people still are not waiting at the front of the platform.”

So here’s a tip for late-night riders: Wait by the signs in each station indicating the designated waiting area for late-night trains. At most stations, fares are paid to the operator at the front of the train, and waiting there gets everyone home faster.

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  • Taxi driver

    Any hijackings, YET?

  • Remi Vadis

    Is your city really so unsafe that it’s accurate to say “safety hasn’t been a problem on the trains . . . thanks no doubt to the stepped-up police presence during the pilot.”

    • ohnonononono

      It’s not nearly as unsafe anymore, but in the 70s and 80s, many people would have been wary of using the subway and el at 3am. The idea was that “nothing good happens at that hour” and “if you’re out that late you deserve what’s coming for you.” It’s a perception that still lingers.

      But really, one of the biggest reasons people take cabs instead of transit during overnight hours in many cities is the perception of safety. This is true even in NYC today with its historically low crime rate.

  • Boo-urns

    Patco runs all night long, on a more infrequent schedule. How in the world does Septa not run the suburban rail trains 24/7?

    • eaglesfan85

      Outside of NYC, how many other suburban rail systems run 24/7 in the United States? Give SEPTA a break, we just got 24 hr subway service on the weekend.

  • Passenger

    Use the audio/visual systems at the unstaffed stations to inform passengers to wait at the front of the train and pay their fare to the train operator.


    Seriously, why didn’t this exist when I was enrolled at Drexel? There has always been a high demand for this service. No one wants to drive drunk or be DD.

    Why are government organizations so out of tune with the demands of consumers? Any private organization would have jumped on the opportunity years ago.

    • /* “Any private organization would have jumped on the opportunity years ago.” */

      Not necessarily … ever read about PTC, the private company whose mismanagement and collapse are why SEPTA was created? I’ll be the first to say SEPTA’s far from perfect (as expressed in my screen handle) but private operation had a more-than-generous share of faults as well.

      • Sure you’re not confusing the PTC with its predecessor, the PRT?

        My impression was that PTC simply fell victim to the same forces that were bringing private transit companies to their knees in the 1950s across the country – though I will note that Red Arrow Lines continued to operate in the black just about up until its acquisition by SEPTA in 1968.

        PRT, on the other hand, had crappy management for a good chunk of its history – Thomas Mitten was the exception to the rule. Then again, I may be wrong in drawing a sharp distinction, for I don’t think that the bankruptcy reorganization of the PRT into the PTC changed its management all that much.

        • You’re correct that PRT -> PTC in 1940 didn’t change all that much. My transit-riding days go back to the late 1950s so I had an, uh, “opportunity” to see the last years of the PTC’s operations. It’s true they were caught in the same downward spiral that claimed so many transit operators, but they responded by trying to cut their way to profitability by reducing service and deferring maintenance – in short, the very things that made its operations less attractive to the fare-paying ridership. Many vehicles were old and dirty with regular breakdowns. Strikes were long and bitter (remember Mike Quill?), with those in 1963 and 1965 helping the push towards municipal ownership.

          Unfortunately many of the ills that were supposed to be solved by creating a regional system simply transferred from the PTC to SEPTA in the same way that you describe the PRT to PTC transition.

  • Nathanael

    What a bizarrely obsolete payment system.