SEPTA’s Proposed Bus Routes: Better For Riders or Consultants?

Now that SEPTA is meeting with riders to explain why they want to cut some routes, make people wait longer for some busses, and change other bus routes to make trips longer, we have to ask why.

A few facts are needed to get to the whys. SEPTA’s Bus Revolution is being designed, according to its out-of-town consultant, to meet the needs of those riders who used SEPTA during the COVID shutdown. As hard as this is to believe, SEPTA says it needs to adjust routes due to post-pandemic travel patterns.

“We also looked at how ridership changed during the COVID period . . . A lot of the people who stayed on the bus during COVID, essential workers, didn’t work a 9 to 5 job,” A SEPTA consultant said at a recent meeting.

If the redesign were to be implemented as currently planned, SEPTA will cut service s to 80% of their riders, including school students, workers, patients, and others who ride during the traditional work week. This is so SEPTA can increase service to the 20% who rode SEPTA off-peak during the COVID shut down. Because SEPTA consultants don’t believe people will get back on SEPTA, the only way they can expand weekend service is to cut weekday service.

SEPTA is treating certain neighborhoods differently.

The sheer number of attendees at a Roxborough/Manayunk meeting to discuss the proposed changes, organized by 21st Ward Leader Lou Agre and Councilmember Curtis Jones, caused SEPTA to agree to a working group to find ways to accommodate riders.

But at a meeting held at 1234 Market Street, which was attended by riders from North, South, and West Philadelphia, there was no presentation. Only posters lined the room, leaving riders unsure of whom would hear their concerns. No working group was offered, and no promises were made to hear the riders’ concerns.

SEPTA’s consultants say the only way to provide more service on weekends is to cut service on weekdays and eliminate and change routes. The consultants don’t project new riders or new rider revenue. The lead consultant says this despite the fact that Philadelphia is enjoying a resurgence in population and development. Philadelphia’s Zoning Commission continues to approve new condos without parking spaces saying people will use public transit. But the consultant disagrees with the zoning board saying ridership will decline, not increase, as new condos are built. Both cannot be true.

SEPTA has 10’s of millions of dollars in a rider stablization fund that it could use to improve and expand service in an effort to increase ridership and rider revenue. Hidden away on page 83 of SEPTA’s operating budget is this:

“The Service Stabilization Fund will be especially important to balance the Operating Budget in forthcoming fiscal years after federal relief funding expires, which is currently projected to occur in Fiscal Year 2024”.

Please note, SEPTA doesn’t say how much is in the fund, but at past hearings, SEPTA acknowledged it was over 200 million. So there is money to expand the weekend routes without cutting the weekday routes, if SEPTA believes it can add more riders by improving service.

That may be the biggest disconnect between the out-of-town consultants and SEPTA itself. SEPTA is spending millions on marketing and projecting increased ridership. SEPTA’s consultants are saying they don’t believe ridership will increase, so there is little point in spending more to increase routes. The consultants’ recommendations are not an attempt to increase ridership or ridership revenue, but as the old saying goes, the recommendations re arrange the chairs on the Titanic. SEPTA has real problems; it must be safer, more dependable, and more accessible. Cutting weekday routes, and making riders wait longer for longer rides will not solve anything. It will only make it worse for 80% of the riders who use the system during the week.

Many riders may have already told SEPTA that, which may be the reason why SEPTA doesn’t publish the results of the surveys and meetings on its bus revolution web page. At this point, we don’t know what the majority of riders are saying and why SEPTA’s consultants will not tell us what the riders’ reaction to the loss of service and service changes has been.

Tune in this Wednesday to watch Hall Monitor as we report on the week’s past meetings, what SEPTA is now saying, and how City Council is getting involved.

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