SEPTA’s Updated “Bus Revolution” Misses the Mark

SEPTA’s consultants have released a new version of the Bus Revolution. After reviewing it, the big question is, who wanted the Revolution?

From Page 26 of SEPTA’s “Bus Revolution” hearing presentation, “The proposed network balances public input with the project’s goals and will result in a more useful and reliable bus network.”

If the project’s goal was to serve the public, why must the public input be balanced with the “goal of the project”?

From the beginning of the process, SEPTA and its consultants, Nelson\Nygaard, who are not Philadelphia-based and don’t have an office in our region, decided what was best for SEPTA riders, regardless of what SEPTA riders wanted. The first proposal tried to force people onto the subway, make people transfer, and eliminate heavily used routes. It was rejected by SEPTA riders and elected officials who fund SEPTA.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, the Chair of Philadelphia City City Council’s transportation committee, held a hearing on the first proposed changes. At that hearing, SEPTA’s General Manager acknowledged that SEPTA’s consultants failed to do adequate outreach. Hundreds of people opposed the recommended changes at a community meeting in Roxbourgh, organized by Ward Leader Lou Agre and Councilmember Curtis Jones.

The Consultants’ report says riders told them there had not been enough public engagement, that riders did not want to be forced to make transfers, that the system wasn’t safe enough, and that riders did not want their bus route eliminated.

The consultants say The most frequent complaints about SEPTA’s bus service are that it is slow and unreliable. Only one-quarter of SEPTA bus routes meet the agency’s 80% on-time performance standard. The consultants identified five reasons as to why that is so.

  1. SEPTA buses operate in one of the most difficult operating environments in the United States, with narrow streets that are difficult to navigate and often blocked. §
  2. Many streets have four-way stops or a traffic signal at nearly every intersection. This forces buses to stop very often, regardless of whether anyone is getting on or off.
  3. Southeastern Pennsylvania has lagged behind other regions in implementing transit priority measures such as bus lanes, queue jump lanes, and transit signal priority.
  4. SEPTA often does not have enough drivers to meet its daily service schedule. The lack of drivers reflects a shortage of qualified drivers nationally
  5. Bus stops that are too close together require buses to stop almost every block.

The “Bus Revolution” only addresses 20% of the problem and not even the most critical issue. “Transit priority, when implemented well, is the best way to make service faster and more reliable, especially when the technology is used to prioritize person throughput rather than vehicles.” According to SEPTA’s consultants’ report, the “Bus Revolution” will not solve SEPTA’s most significant problems of declining ridership, safety, slow service, and loss of funding.

So what will SEPTA’s “Bus Revolution” do, other than get several people paid with riders’ dollars? It will allow the consultants to design the system they want, regardless of what the riders want. SEPTA’s consultants reference all the input they have received but have failed to make the public responses public. If the best way to increase bus speed is to have “transit priority,” why not focus on that instead of making riders walk further to get on a bus?

The consultants plan to eliminate 33 bus routes but have yet to tell the people who use those routes that they will be eliminated. Nor have the consultants listed how many riders use each route they want to eliminate and compared that ridership to other bus routes. More troubling, in looking through all the documents about the routes the consultants want to eliminate, there is nothing that would help a rider know what route they would be able to use if the consultants successfully eliminate the route they currently use.

SEPTA’s consultants say they can make “routes more direct if their plan is adopted. But that ignores the obvious question: Is more direct better for riders?

SEPTA plans to hold hearings on these changes but has not disclosed who will represent the riders. Will riders be able to get questions answered? Cross-examine witnesses? Have access to all the data SEPTA’s consultants have?

What will be the basis of any decision? SEPTA’s consultants have already stated that their proposal will not solve most of the problems. Will SEPTA’s out-of-town consultants be forced to prove that their recommendations are what riders want? Will they have to explain why they are eliminating so many routes that go through Olney and adding routes elsewhere?

Hearings without a clear explanation of who has the “burden of proof” and what has to be proven are only window dressing. Don’t SEPTA riders deserve more?

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