Philadelphia Leaps to Number 3 In Transit Ridership, 8 Ways To Leap Higher

A logo revamp I created that takes a 70's shield version of SEPTA's logo and updates it with a new accompanying font face.

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Philadelphia can now count itself number 3 in public transit rail ridership in the United States. Yesterday the American Public Transit Association announced that overall ridership nationwide hit its highest levels since 1956, before suburbanization and car culture nearly eviscerated Philly's vibrancy. Full report here.

Philadelphia Planeto dug into the numbers a bit more, but overall there were gains of 3.19 and 3.49 percent for Commuter Rail and Light Rail respectively. Transit ridership has already been trending upwards as more and more millennials are foregoing auto ownership and the cost of owning a car continues to rise. For Philadelphia this represents a clear trend that can continue with several key amenities coming to the transit landscape in the months ahead. 2014 has already proven fruitful for transit in our city. Pennsylvania seems to have turned a corner in the infrastructure crisis it created by underfunding and undermaintaining all modes of transportation. With the state legislature and the governor agreeing on new funding, 2.3 billion in new funds will funnel into all transportation modes across the state, yes even bike and pedestrian projects!

Two other key developments will brighten Philadelphia's transit future: one directly, one indirectly.

Finally, FINALLY... we'll get a state of the art transit payment system: one that does not involve tokens (though I will actually miss them a little) or exact payment, or surly SEPTA workers behind bullet-proof glass.

But we'll also get Philly Bike Share. This affects SEPTA in one key way that Michael Noda has alluded to on this site but bears repeating. Bike Share has the potential to shorten the connection and the hassle for people wanting to take transit but taking a car instead for convenience. Since Philly is one of the later adopters of Bike Share compared to her DC and NY peers, we'll get more share stations in more areas rich and poor on initial launch than most other cities. Why? Well connectivity, availability and accessibility are all key to making Bike Share a success. The more share stations we get, the more trips and usability comes from the system. We should also expect people to form routes and pick ups and drop offs that make sense for them and where they live, work and play. Bike Share stations near public transit should feed more people into the transit system.

Philly's transit future can continue to brighten but some additional changes would help that along. One is the expansion of service like what Conrad Benner of Streets Dept wrote about here. More frequent service means service more people can rely on all hours of the day, not just during peak. While Inga Saffron has advocated for her own series of changes to SEPTA bus service, and Michael Noda has here on This Old City some SEPTA-wide and more bus enhancements are in order.

1) More bike racks for "private" bikes at rail transit hubs. This ties into my Bike Share commentary above but It's not always practical to bike the entire distance of a journey. Shortening the distance to a subway stop by providing better facilities to bicycles will help.

2) Rebalance SEPTA leadership to include more urban voices. Philadelphia represents more than a supermajority of SEPTA ridership and fare collection, giving each county connected to Philly the same weight on the board is maddeningly unfair. These suburban counties have a robust transit agency because of the dense urban core it primarily serves. 

3) Create new revenue to fund Philly-specific transit projects. Seattle did it with a small consumption tax increase. We could do the same and dogear those funds for SEPTA projects in Philadelphia proper.

4) Rewrite the rail map to include major bus routes. Kudos to Philadelphia Planeto on this suggestion. During Planning Camp a few months back Jon and I heard a couple different times throughout the day that SEPTA maps are confusing and need streamlining.

Boston's rail map recently updated with major bus lines.

5) Create Bus Route maps for regions that are displayed with color routes AND frequency of the bus via thickness of line. People want simple, visual aides for making decisions. Mental imagining of a route should not be necessary. Check out this great map from beautiful Vancouver.

Check out the reduction of frequency from the far right of the map versus the dense urban core on the left.

6) End the use of all yellow school buses for transporting middle school children. Take the wasted money and space we provide for a redundant fleet of yellow buses and use our primary transit agency to bus middle schoolers. We already provide transit assistance to high school aged children who need it, expand it to middle school.

7) Create Circulator buses in high impact locations available during peak times. DC has seen success with thisDC actually saw a 3.45% increase in its bus ridership while Philly's declined slightly by 1.54%.

DC's Circulator buses with sleeker design / graphics

8) Consider an entire rebranding of the agency, the hodgepodge of colors, materials, weird blue lighting on the buses... it's awful. As fleets are replaced a greater attention to design would be welcomed and yes shed a shabby image of SEPTA. My proposed logo would play nicely with PATCO colors too.

Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 March 2014 @ 23.48
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geoff's picture Geoff Kees Thompson Founder + Urban Planner Website: About the Author:

Other than time away from Philly studying his masters in Urban Planning in the Netherlands, Geoff has lived here since 2005. He founded This Old City to advocate for better public space as a means to economic development, improved public health, lower crime and a more environmentally sustainable future. He currently sits on the Executive Board of SOSNA and is the head volunteer gardener for Saint Mark's Church at 1625 Locust Street.


He is also Chair of The 5th Square PAC, an organization committed to voter education and the funding of progressive urbanist candidates for Philadelphia's future. 


Follow This Old City on Twitter @thisoldcity and Facebook or Geoff individually @geoffkees

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