Report: SEPTA Should Redesign Bus Network, Ditch Transfer Fee

Philly’s bus system can get more people more places sooner by rethinking routes and skipping blocks between stops, says a transit consultant.

Photo: SEPTA.

Faced with dwindling ridership caused in large part by the emergence (and convenience) of competitors like Uber and Lyft, SEPTA hired Oregon-based transportation consultant Jarrett Walker + Associates to examine the network design of its bus service and provide recommendations for the possible future overhaul of the entire system — the most widely used mode of public transit in the city.

After six months of studying the pattern of bus routes, scheduling, and other metrics, SEPTA and Jarrett Walker jointly released the findings of the firm’s comprehensive report on Thursday afternoon. According to the evaluation, SEPTA has an opportunity to improve efficiency by redesigning the bus network so that more people can get to more places sooner.

“The study considers important questions to ask and initiates a public conversation,” Walker said at a news conference. “For example, walking further to a bus stop might not be agreeable to all, but could make the system faster overall. The process has to be figured out, and it will involve tradeoffs.”

“Changing the network means changing things that some people are used to,” the report cautions. The good thing, however, is that a majority of SEPTA’s bus service would likely go unchanged in any major redesign because it already follows a logical pattern. Walker believes that SEPTA would be smart to eliminate some of the system’s overlap (the report says 10 percent of the bus service is duplicative) and increase frequency during daytime hours to cut down wait times.

Photo: Jarret Walker + Associates/SEPTA

Other recommendations contained in the report:

  • Permit all-door boarding.
  • Ditch transfer fees.
  • Alter the spacing of stops in Center City from every intersection to every other block.
  • Remove excess peak-only service.
  • Focus more on providing rides to and from transportation centers/Regional Rail.
  • Convert the Girard trolley (#15) to a high-frequency bus route.

Jarrett Walker did not make any specific recommendations in terms of changing any of SEPTA’s current bus routes. Instead, the firm has proposed that the transit authority move ahead with a revamp of the entire bus system to make it more “useful.”

“We’ve only analyzed specific routes in the past, but this is the first time we put the entire system under the microscope to look at the entire network,” SEPTA’s deputy general manager Rich Burnfield told reporters. “We are looking forward to having a conversation about this process with our riders, as well as our stakeholders and overall community.”

The Inquirer reports that SEPTA is expected to put out a request for bids on the redesign in July.