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SEPTA’s $1B trolley plan: 5 big changes to know

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Trolley rides could be faster and easier for riders, drivers, and bicyclists

SEPTA is planning a $1.1 billion overhaul of its trolley system.
Conceptual renderings via DVRPC

Last December, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Corporation released a lengthy guide to the future of SEPTA’s trolley system, providing conceptual plans and ideas to make rides faster, more efficient, and more accessible to all.

Although SEPTA said the plans are still very much in the infancy stages, the goal would be to implement the $1.1 billion plan, including replacement of current trolleys with modernized versions, by 2024.

We scoped through the 76-page proposal to find out some of the major changes planned for the overhaul. Head this way to read the full plan.

Current: Majority non-ADA compliant trolleys

Proposed: Automatic ramps, low-floor entrance

Although some 100,000 people take the trolley every day, many people with disabilities struggle to board the flight of three stairs. And only the trolleys that run along Girard Avenue have wheelchair ramps, and even those are time-consuming and driver-operated.

The plan addresses these major issues by proposing to buy modernized trolleys that are low to the floor and have automatic low-floor wheelchair ramps.

Current: Aging, crowded trolleys

Proposed: Bigger, modernized trolleys

That brings us to SEPTA’s plan to upgrade its aging fleet of trolleys and replace many of them with 120 cars that are at least 80-feet-long. The current vehicles are 53-foot long. The modernized trolleys would be ADA-compliant, have two-to-four doors (currently there are just two doors), and provide four more seats than the current 51.

Current: Bus-like service with hundreds of stops

Proposed: Fewer, designated stops

In order to increase efficiency, the proposal calls to reduce the amount of stops that trolleys make along their route. Currently, trolleys function like bus services, in that people can disembark at nearly every block. On average, trolleys stop every 642 feet.

The proposal calls to lengthen the space between trolley stops. The downside to this is that it would require passengers to travel a couple more blocks to board a trolley, but consolidated stops would make rides more efficient and, notably, faster.

Current: Time-consuming on-board payments

Proposed: “Low-friction” fare payment

Currently, most passengers pay for their trolley ride while boarding at the front door. This often results in long boarding times, especially at peak hours. To cut back on this time-sucker, the proposal considers “low-friction” fare payments. This could be in the form of off-board collections or on-board collections at multiple doors. Another option could be installing self-pay kiosks at trolley stations.

Current: One road for cars, trolleys, and bicycles

Proposed: Curb cuts, bike lanes, right of ways

Once trolleys emerge from the Center City tunnel, they have to share the road with cars and bicycles with trolley tracks in the center of the road. This causes some difficult maneuvering between bicyclists and people trying to get on and off the trolley, and among vehicles and trolleys.

The proposal breaks down four different ways to help the trio live and work in harmony. Among them:

  1. Creating curb extension stations that use the parking lane to create more space for passengers to board.
  2. Moving bike lanes behind trolley stations to avoid bicyclists and passenger contact.
  3. Split-lane floating stations, which would place trolley stations in between a traffic lane and bike lane.
  4. Road Diet stations, which would dedicate two lanes of traffic for trolleys. Protected bike lanes would also be included in this proposed station type.