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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