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SEPTA considering bus network redesign with faster routes

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A report outlined the ways SEPTA could boost bus ridership

Facing rapidly declining ridership on its buses, SEPTA officials published a report Thursday outlining a way to overhaul the bus system and bring the riders back.

The list includes ideas like allowing all-door boarding, spacing out stops, and cutting back on excess rush hour buses.

The report is the result of a years worth of work by private firm, Jarrett Walker and Associates, which has helped other cities improve their transportation systems. SEPTA brought in the firm last year after noticing their bus ridership has declined by 17 percent in the last five years.

“Recent declines in ridership in the context of a growing and densifying city strongly suggest that the network is not meeting the needs of today’s city,” the firm wrote in the report.

Over the course of the past six months, Jarrett Walker and Associates examined each route in the system, speaking with riders about the bus network’s biggest drawbacks. While they concluded that it’s difficult to point to one culprit specifically, the firm wrote that lower gas prices and the increase of ride share programs likely play a part in the ridership decline.

However, part of the problem falls on SEPTA’s shoulders, too. In their study, the firm identified ways the bus network has been less than efficient in terms of bus frequency.

“Most of the city is covered by a grid pattern of lines. Increasing all of these lines to run more frequently all day would make it easy to go from anywhere to anywhere in this area with a simple L-shaped trip,” the firm said, as just one idea to improve ridership.

They also examined ways SEPTA could speed up its existing buses, like getting rid of duplicative routes—the study said that 10 percent of bus lines travel the same route as another bus—and cutting back on the number of buses that run during rush hour.

Even some of the bus stops pose a problem, the report found. Many bus stops are 500 feet away from each other, meaning that one bus could be stopping almost every block along their route. Increasing the stops to 1000 to 1,500 feet apart could mean a two percent speed increase, the report said.

Other ideas detailed in the report wouldn’t affect the way buses travel, but could still make the system more accessible to riders, like getting rid of the bus transfer fee, making the system maps more legible, and allowing boarding on all of the bus doors.

Along with suggestions for SEPTA, the group also urged the city to form policies that could cut down on congestion and improve the transit system, stressing that the burden is not SEPTA’s alone.

A representative from SEPTA was not immediately available Thursday afternoon to discuss how the transportation authority plans to use the report.

  • Executive summary [SEPTA]
  • To boost ridership, SEPTA considers dropping $1 transfer fee [Curbed Philly]