How to Make the El Less Crowded

During rush hour on the Market-Frankford Line, the air is so thick and opaque.

Jockeying for centimeters of space and sandwiched between messenger bags and puffy coats, riders on the El constantly feel squeezed. The crunch rivals the worst of a Midtown Manhattan subway. And it’s bound to get worse: The El gained 15,000 daily riders since 2000 and, as residential developments continue to crop up along the line, those numbers are trending upwards. 

Increasing capacity is a vexing problem, and one potential solution — buying new, longer subway cars — is out of the question right now. For one, the capital cost would be astronomical. When the current fleet of 220 cars was purchased in 1997, they collectively cost more than $400 million in 2016 dollars. Secondly, the length of the subway platforms at many stops can’t support longer trains, even if the money was there to purchase them. Lastly, running additional trains at peak hours — when one train arrives every four minutes as of now — is a dubious idea, given it would likely result in slower speeds and a higher inefficiency of service.

So SEPTA is left with just one choice, really, at least for the time being: It must readjust the seating on the El to generate more room. Read more »

Assessing SEPTA’s Suicide Prevention Pilot Program

13th Street Station|Mariam Dembele

13th Street Station | Mariam Dembele

Since 2011, there have been 66 deaths along SEPTA’s train, trolley and subway lines. Forty of those deaths have been ruled suicides.

After a high of 10 suicides in 2011, SEPTA started looking into ways to prevent more. In September of 2014, SEPTA began working with Montgomery County Emergency Service to install suicide prevention signs within its stations. It started as a pilot program at the Norristown Transportation Center, then was expanded into 290 of SEPTA’s regional rail, subway stations, and trolley stations and along the Norristown High Speed Line. The bold red, black and blue signs display both the national suicide prevention lifeline number and website. At the bottom they urge, “With help comes hope.” Currently, there are approximately 1,000 up. Now almost one year since the last sign was posted, statistics tell a couple of different stories about how effective they’ve been. Read more »

SEPTA Train Strikes Taxi; Service Suspended



[Update 9:20 am] SEPTA says service is restored.

[Original] A SEPTA train has struck a taxi cab in Conshohocken, according to multiple reports. Service on the Manayunk-Norristown line has been suspended.

NBC10 reports the train struck a taxi that was disabled on the tracks. No one was in the cab at the time of the accident. CBS3 adds that 55 people were on board the train at the time of the accident. Fox 29 is reporting one injury at the scene.

More to come.

Act 89 Kept SEPTA Trains in Service. Now Funding Is Falling Short.

Septa regional rail train

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

The state law that has helped SEPTA begin to make progress on its backlog of infrastructure repairs will fall $6 billion short of its funding goal, officials say, but local transit officials downplayed the report.

TribLive reported the shortfall Tuesday morning, the same day PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards was to deliver the news to the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee.  Read more »

SEPTA Bus Collided With a School Bus in Fern Rock This Morning

A Route L SEPTA bus collided with a small school bus at approximately 6:05 a.m. this morning at North Park Avenue and West Olney Avenue in Fern Rock, according to SEPTA spokeswoman Heather Redfern. The bus operator and 13 of its passengers sustained minor, non life-threatening injuries.

Those who suffered injuries warranting medical attention were transported to either Temple University Hospital or Albert Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia Police spokeswoman Christine O’Brien said. Read more »

We Won’t Be Driving on the Shoulders of the Schuylkill Expressway Anytime Soon

The Schuylkill Expressway westbound at the Conshohocken exit. A proposal to allow driving on the shoulder at peak hours may run into a few roadblocks. Photo | Krimpet via Wikimedia Commons, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Schuylkill Expressway westbound at the Conshohocken exit. A proposal to allow driving on the shoulder at peak hours may run into a few roadblocks. Photo | Krimpet. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The news earlier this month that PennDOT is considering opening the shoulders of the Schuylkill Expressway to general traffic at peak hours caused a stir in some circles, including ours.

There are indeed a number of people out there, including planners at PennDOT, who see this as a way to speed up traffic on the perennially clogged artery.

But before anyone can even think of traveling in these temporary third lanes, PennDOT has some engineering and design issues it needs to examine first. And PennDOT’s study doesn’t even attempt to answer the question: Is this wise policy to begin with?

Before getting to that question, though, let’s look at the other issues that need to be resolved first. Read more »

Why SEPTA Transfers Should be Free

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Without a doubt, the most influential transportation project in Philadelphia over the last 40 years has been the Center City Commuter Connection. The tunnel, completed in 1984, made an unparalleled structural impact on travel in the region — unifying our regional rail system, pumping life into Market East, and transforming Suburban Station and Reading Terminal into the bustling hubs they are today. But, according to historian Jacob Kobrick, there was also a less jubilant outcome: “This project, more than anything else, helped to create the perception that Philadelphia’s mass transportation planning was biased strongly in favor of affluent, white suburbanites while paying inadequate attention to the needs of the inner-city poor.”

That’s because the trench was carved through Philadelphia’s downtown largely for suburban commuters — at a cost of $1.2 billion in 2016 dollars — while the poorest sections of the city were being serviced by oft-delayed buses and rickety trolleys. But this perception of inequality in the city’s transit system wasn’t only founded on infrastructure improvements. The price of inner-city traveling was also relatively regressive at the time. In 1987, the Inquirer found that the base fare on SEPTA was higher than the fares on transit systems in New York, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago. Fortunately, Philadelphia’s base fare now stands as the lowest among that same cohort — except for anyone who has to pay an additional $1 transfer. For these riders, the promise of cheap fares remains a mirage.

Once you incorporate the transfer fee into the cost of each city’s public-transit trip, Philly regains the unflattering title of being the most expensive of the bunch. (For the record, that’s $2.80 with a token or $3.25 with cash; a price increase of roughly 56 percent and 44 percent, respectively.) And there’s a simple reason why: None of the other agencies charge more than 25 cents for a transfer. Even better, in cities like New York, Houston and San Francisco, transfers are free.

Over time, critics of SEPTA’s fare structure have called on the agency to make transfers free. (For one quality take on the matter, read Jake Blumgart’s argument in Axis Philly from 2013.) It’s worth revisiting in 2016 for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the rollout of next-gen technology SEPTA Key is set for April (and we really, really hope it’s for real this time), which would make transfers so much easier to use. Plus, this spring also marks SEPTA’s triennial meeting on fare adjustment — where a free-transfer policy would need to be vetted. Read more »

Upper Merion Residents Seek to Derail KofP Train Proposal

NoKOPRail Facebook graphic

While the business interests and developers in King of Prussia are all in on SEPTA’s proposed Norristown High-Speed Line spur, a bunch of Upper Merion Township residents feel they’re being, ahem, railroaded — and they don’t like it one bit.

They’ve taken their case against the extension to the public in the form of a Facebook page and an online petition on

Township resident Dan Cowhey, one of the organizers of the Facebook campaign, gave several reasons for the local opposition to the spur. They fall into four broad categories: Read more »

Here’s What Is and Isn’t Running on SEPTA

SEPTA Media Relations

That jet-engine snow blower has been hard at work clearing tracks today, but its work isn’t done yet: there’s still half the Norristown High-Speed Line to clear. | Photo: SEPTA Media Relations

Here’s the gist of what SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel had to say when he briefed the media at 7 p.m. about the system’s status for Sunday night and Monday morning: If you plan to use SEPTA to get home tonight, key bus and trolley routes are currently running, and both the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines will have overnight service with some minor adjustments.

Broad Street Nite Owl buses will run overnight, but the Market-Frankford Line will run trains instead. Personnel will be stationed at 15th Street/City Hall to facilitate the timed transfers between the two lines.

The West and Southwest Philadelphia trolley lines that operate overnight will run through the tunnel rather than follow the diversion route as they usually do overnight on Sundays. Read more »

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