MAP: This Is What Philly Would Look Like With Full 24-Hour SEPTA Service

Owl Service Map

We gave SEPTA some suggestions for all-night bus routes. They showed us what that might look like.

If you read my first commentary on all-night SEPTA subway service — in which I asked if SEPTA might better spend its money providing 24-hour bus service to all corners of the city — you may be surprised to hear that I was quite pleased when the agency decided to make its experiment with all-night rapid transit on weekends permanent.

And it’s not just because it means I can now take a train rather than a bus home on those occasional weekend nights that I stay out way late. Rather, it’s because it shows the agency responded to its riders. A bunch of them recommended this change, SEPTA tried it, and the riders responded enthusiastically.

And the agency is providing this service, which is carrying anywhere from 66 to 100 percent more riders than took the Nite Owl buses, for a mere $34,000 more per weekend than it spent on the buses.

That’s $1.768 million for a year’s worth of overnight subway-elevated service on the weekends.


There’s still this nagging feeling in the back of my head that this $1.8 million or so would still be better spent providing overnight service to parts of the city that don’t have any — or are too far from the nearest — 24-hour bus line.

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Commuter Alert: Market-Frankford Line Interrupted for Medical Emergency

[UPDATE] The Daily News reports that the struck worker is in stable condition.

“A veteran SEPTA electrical worker is recovering tonight after a close call on the subway tracks in Center City, according to officials.

The worker, 52, is being held overnight at Hahnemann University Hospital, where he was taken in critical condition earlier today after getting clipped by a Market-Frankford El train, according to a law-enforcement source.”

[UPDATE] CBS3 reports: “Train service has resumed on the westbound portion of the Market-Frankford Line after a SEPTA employee was struck by a train. …  SEPTA officials say the male employee was hit by a train traveling eastbound near 22nd and Market Streets.”

According to SEPTA, service has resumed with trains single-tracking on the westbound side, and passengers traveling between 15th and 30th Street should board from the westbound platform.

Expect residual delays.

[ORIGINAL] SEPTA reports that the Market-Frankford Line is currently shut down due to police activity around a medical emergency, and that shuttle buses are being provided for east- and west-bound travel between 5th and 40th streets.

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SEPTA 50: A Prehistory of our Much Beloved/Maligned Transit Agency

This year marks SEPTA’s golden anniversary, and this month, the agency will formally celebrate a half-century of keeping Philly moving. It’s done a pretty good job of it, too — but it’s done so in a characteristically Philadelphia fashion, which is to say, with barely enough to get by.

I’ve said in this space that we have an amazing mass transit system here. What may be even more amazing, however, is that we have one at all.

Last year, the American Public Transportation Association honored SEPTA as the Outstanding Large Transit System of 2012. When I tell people SEPTA deserved that award, I usually get puzzled looks at best and “There, there” pats on the head at worst. Some of these people, however, understand when I explain that the agency won the award for keeping this sprawling network running using only duct tape and baling wire.

The good news is that with a steady, guaranteed funding stream in hand, SEPTA can finally put away the duct tape and baling wire and break out the hammers, saws and shovels in order to restore the system to good physical health. But SEPTA was actually following ancient Philly practice with the patchwork jobs.

SEPTA, you see, was created to keep metropolitan Philadelphia’s transit systems from completely falling to pieces. Established to bring the subways, commuter railroads, and bus systems back up to snuff, it spent much of the first half of its life scrambling to make sure they ran at all.

Even before its creation, SEPTA’s predecessors were doing the same thing: scrambling to make sure the buses and trains ran while not quite keeping up with the physical plant needs. It’s a Philly tradition that stretches all the way back to…

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VIDEOS: 10 Cool Old British Newsreels of Philadelphia


From 1910 until 1970, the U.K.-based Pathé News produced newsreels and documentaries on events all over the world. Recently, a collection of 85,000 videos was uploaded to YouTube.

This kind of information dump is glorious for history dorks and journalists — and I just happen to be both. There are dozens of videos about Philadelphia! I trawled through the collection to find some notable videos, and I highly suggest you search for yourself as well.

For example, here is a report on a women’s football game played in 1932 between the “Buxom Chicago Bears and Blushing California Roses” at the Baker Bowl, the Phillies stadium. You can even spot the outfield “THE PHILLIES USE LIFEBUOY” sign. It is incredible. “Now we know where the bargain counter hands train for the sales!” It is also awful.

As the description notes, the stands are empty during gameplay. This newsreel used journalistic tricks!

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Willie Brown Is a Changed Man

An observation: The Willie Brown of 2014 is not the Willie Brown of 2009.

Don’t misunderstand: They’re similar enough that it won’t really be a surprise if Brown eventually leads his union, TWU 234, on a strike that ends up shutting down SEPTA and inconveniencing tens of thousands of commuters sometime in the next couple of weeks.

But whereas the Willie Brown of 2009 seemed like he couldn’t strike fast enough — remember, TWU waited only until the World Series was over, then went on strike without any notice to the commuting public — the Willie Brown of 2014 genuinely seems like he’d like to avoid a work stoppage.

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Race and the Roots
of Philly Transit Strikes

In this Aug. 6, 1944 file photo an armed soldier stands guard in the back of a trolley in Philadelphia. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent troops to break up a strike by transit workers who were protesting the hiring and promotion of African-Americans. (AP Photo/John Lindsay, File)

In this Aug. 6, 1944 file photo an armed soldier stands guard in the back of a trolley in Philadelphia. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent troops to break up a strike by transit workers who were protesting the hiring and promotion of African-Americans. (AP Photo/John Lindsay, File)

As this is being typed, the news reports about contract negotiations between SEPTA and Transport Workers Union Local 234 sound increasingly optimistic. One of the main sticking points, pensions, has been resolved, and both the transit agency and TWU Local 234 head Willie Brown have issued statements saying that they hope a strike can be averted.

Yet some issues, including health care and worker surveillance, remain unresolved, and the union still stands ready to take a vote to strike when contracts for two TWU 234 suburban bargaining units expire on April 7th.

You may recall that initial strike threat was announced with incendiary language from Brown. Many, including this writer, found that rhetoric off-putting, or worse. But, as with so much else in this city, if you dig down far enough, you might just hear the ghosts of the past raising their voices through the mouth of Brown.

In this case, the ghosts are those of a racially motivated walkout that brought the TWU onto the local labor scene — and Federal troops onto the city’s streetcars.

The two events are connected: The TWU had just won the right to represent Philadelphia’s transit workers in 1944 — right in the middle of a three-year fight to get the Philadelphia Transportation Company (which ran buses and trolleys in the city) to end discrimination against black workers.

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Union Rejects SEPTA Contract Offer, Wants Binding Arbitration

The last of several union contracts with SEPTA expires on April 6, and the head of the Transit Workers Union told the Daily News Thursday he’s not taking the current offer.

[TWU Local 234 president Willie] Brown told the Daily News yesterday that he won’t accept SEPTA’s initial offer of a five-year contract with no raises during 2014 and 2015, a 6 percent raise spread over the next three years, increased employee contributions to health care and no pension plan for new hires.

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Six Design Ideas SEPTA Should Steal Now


A recent article on The Atlantic Cities website made a point that is at once obvious and rarely made: Good design and strong imagery can attract more riders to mass transit.

Call it “branding” if you must, but the point remains: Easy-to-identify symbols and attractive stations and shelters make transit systems easier to spot and more pleasant to use. And a system that’s easier to spot and more pleasant to use will end up with more people using it.

This was the main point of my recent commentary elsewhere on how design does matter in transit, too. In it, I argued that SEPTA could stand improvement in that department, especially on its subway-elevated system and signage. Some readers agreed strongly with that argument, while others disagreed vehemently.

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As Friday Deadline Looms, SEPTA and Union Are Talking

An employee of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority raises his fist in the air, Friday, Oct. 28, 2005, while entering a SEPTA bus depot in north Philadelphia. | AP Photo, Joseph Kaczmarek

An employee of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority raises his fist in the air, Friday, Oct. 28, 2005, while entering a SEPTA bus depot in north Philadelphia. | AP Photo, Joseph Kaczmarek

Dun dun dun. We are just over a day away from the day when the largest contract that Transport Workers Union Local 234 has with SEPTA expires. The Inquirer‘s Paul Nussbaum writes that no strike seems imminent — the suburban contract doesn’t expire until April — but the deadline still has to leave commuters feeling anxious.

Why? In 2009, the TWU went on strike without warning at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday — which seemed to defeat the purpose of threatening to strike,  eliminating the possibility of an 11th-hour agreement — and inconveniencing everyone in the region in the process.

Perhaps that was a strategy to get better terms this contract: As we now know from precedent SEPTA could strike at any time once their contract is up. Who knows? Although he lost a 2010 union election, Willie Brown returned to the presidency in a vote last year.

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#SEPTAResidency, Or: Writing the Market Frankford Line


I am in the last El car on the way to Upper Darby. I am in the last seat, too, watching the Philadelphia skyline disappear behind me on a clear March day. I’m sitting on the blue fabric upholstery SEPTA’s itching to replace. There are no other amenities. I don’t even have advertisements in front of me. I read West Philly’s Love Letter murals as the train continues. Open your eyes, I see the sunrise; If you were here, I’d be home. I am content.

I am only here for the stunt. As soon as I get to 69th Street, I will board the Norristown High Speed Line to continue my loop through SEPTA rail options. I am here to write: I owe this trip to Jessica Gross, who inspired Amtrak to start a writers’ residency program with a tweet referencing an Alexander Chee interview. Amtrak has now spun her trip into a full-fledged program with a social-media friendly name, #AmtrakResidency.

Her Paris Review article on her Amtrak residency test run, which these first two paragraphs have been a loose parody of, featured a comment from Alan Scally: “You spoiled bras are in sleeper cars on Amtrak. Ride coach overnight or 2 days from Chicago to Portland and you will hate Amtrak…. You writers are pampered little wimps afraid to ride coach.” Looking for a way to put a different spin on a story that’s been written a thousand times already, I figured I’d do Scally better than Amtrak coach: I’d start my own, self-funded #SEPTAResidency.

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