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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a bus network redesign?

A bus network redesign is a thorough design process that looks at a public transit service area in its entirety. The redesigned bus network is drawn from scratch. It derives the new bus network from today's needs only. Usually the new network ends up 70-90% like the existing network, but lines are retained because they arise from this analysis, not because they're existing.

The bus network design process is one component of the Comprehensive Bus Network Redesign project. This stage is informed by data gathering, as well as goal setting reached through public and stakeholder outreach. Once bus network designs are created, there is extensive public and stakeholder outreach before the bus network design is finalized and implemented. This is a multi-year effort and will be undertaken in the next phase of this project.

2. What's up with the new transit maps?

The transit maps show our transit network as it is now. SEPTA has a massive bus network of more than 100 routes. Over the next few years we're going to work with our customers to imagine how our bus network can be better - and we believe that starts with understanding our current network. By using new colors for frequency of service, it is easier than ever to distinguish between the many different types of bus routes within the network. Some come as often as a subway, some a scheduled at certain times of the day for specific purposes, and some are in between.

3. How does this relate to the Bus Network Redesign?

SEPTA will be undertaking a multi-year, comprehensive bus network redesign. These new transit maps will be used during the process as a way to help SEPTA, transit partners, and our customers understand our current network - and imagine what it could look like in the future. After all, how can you imagine a new bus network if you can't see what we have now? With these new tools, it is easier than ever to point out what is right about the network, and what could be better. Once we work together to create a new bus network, the maps will be updated to easily communicate the new changes.

4. Why is frequency so important?

Whether we realize it or not, how frequently a bus or train comes informs how we use the service. If something comes frequently, you don't have to plan around it. Instead, you can just show up at the bus stop or train station and one will be there shortly. Frequent routes often form the "core" of the transit network, and run on busy corridors where there's a lot of demand. Routes that run less frequently may serve specific purposes - for example, providing access to a certain neighborhood, shopping center, or jobs centers. These routes are just as important, but it's best to check a schedule before you catch one.

5. Why did SEPTA ask for this report?

SEPTA asked Jarrett Walker + Associates to assess the existing bus system in the City of Philadelphia to see if redesigning the network, like Houston, Baltimore and other cities have done, would be valuable and help address the decline in ridership on transit.

6. Who created this report?

Jarrett Walker + Associates developed this report with input and collaboration from SEPTA staff (Service Planning, Operations, Strategic Planning & Analysis departments) and City of Philadelphia staff (Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems and Philadelphia City Planning Commission).

7. What is this report looking at?

The main focus of the report is the pattern of routes and schedules, and the way this pattern creates opportunities for citizens to access jobs, shops, and all the other opportunities that the city has to offer. This topic is called network design and changing the design of the network is how other cities have increased access and liberty for many residents.

In developing the report, the consultant and the study team (SEPTA and City staff) asked:

  • How many riders are using this route, and how does this compare to what the route costs to operate?

  • How frequently do buses come on this route, and is that enough?

  • How early or late do buses run, and is that enough?

  • How reliable is the route? Do people often have to wait longer than the schedule says?

  • Is this route duplicating other routes? In other words, is this route doing something that other routes do as well?

And the report studied how all the routes fit together into a network. So the consultant and the team asked:

  • How easy is it to transfer from one route to another?

  • How well do the bus routes connect to rail, including both the rapid transit lines (Market Frankford & Broad Street Lines) and the Regional Rail lines?

  • Are there different ways to lay out the network that would produce more freedom and access?

  • What other barriers is transit facing in Philadelphia, and what are the next steps to remove those barriers?

8. What are the main conclusions of the report?

  • A majority of the service would be relatively unchanged by any network design because it already follows logical patterns.

  • The network could be redesigned so that more people could get to more places, sooner, which would likely increase ridership compared to making no changes or improvements to the system.

  • Changing the network means changing things that some people are used to. As a result, network redesigns always generate some opposition. For that reason, it requires a clear explanation of the benefits, and an open conversation with the public before any changes are made.

  • Beyond network design, several other things can be done to improve the transit system with little or no increase in annual operating costs: shifting to all-door boarding, implementing more transit priority investments like bus lanes and transit signal priority, and widening stop spacing.

9. Is there much duplication or excess in SEPTA's service?

The consultant's analysis of the existing SEPTA bus system shows that the vast majority of service is designed to get the most ridership per dollar spent. About 70% of service is focused on this Ridership Goal.

What one person might call duplicative or excessive service that gets few riders, others might call essential lifeline service for a specific neighborhood that wouldn't otherwise have any service. About 15% of service is in places that you would expect to get low ridership compared to the cost, but that service is meeting a different goal, like providing lifeline service to lower density parts of the city.

About 10% of service is duplication, meaning that a route is running along the same segment of a street as another route without providing more useful service.

The consultant has identified about 5% of today's service as excessive peak service, meaning that more service is being provided at the AM or PM peak than is justified by the productivity of that service.

Figure 7

10. What next steps does the report recommend?

The report does not make specific recommendations for changes to current routes. It recommends that SEPTA move forward with a comprehensive bus network redesign process that would use extensive public outreach and input from major stakeholders like elected officials, community organizations, and transit riders to guide possible changes to routes and the network.

The report does identify key strategies that would guide a redesign of routes to potentially achieve more freedom and access without additional operating cost. Each of these strategies have benefits and downsides and would need to be carefully considered through a public outreach process. Some of these strategies include

  • Reallocating duplicative service toward increasing frequency on the primary but network grid of the city.

  • Remove excess peak-only service and reallocate to create more useful service elsewhere in the city.

  • Space routes more consistently so there is less overlap in the areas served by each route.

  • Widen stop spacing so buses can move faster, which would free resources to provide more useful service.

  • Remove the fare penalty for transfers to encourage more rides to connect, which allows riders to get more value from the frequent grid of routes in the system.

  • Focus service on transportation centers, particularly where connecting between city and suburban areas, like at 69th Street Transportation Center.

  • Strengthen the frequent grid which is the more efficient network form in a dense city.

  • Provide more links to Regional Rail which would improve connections between the city and suburban counties.

Figure 12

11. Why did this report look only at the City of Philadelphia?

This report is part of a collaboration between SEPTA and the City of Philadelphia to assess the bus network in the city. Nearly half of all transit riders in the entire SEPTA network are riding buses in the City of Philadelphia. Therefore a bus network study of the SEPTA system would benefit from starting with the part of the network that affects the most riders.

The next steps of the Comprehensive Bus Network Redesign will encompass the entire SEPTA bus system including all of the counties that SEPTA serves.

12. Were City staff or officials involved in this study?

Yes, staff from the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems and Philadelphia City Planning Commission participated in the process of developing this report, reviewed it, and provided input and comments incorporated in to the Choices document.

The involvement and leadership of the City of Philadelphia is essential to the success of transit. The City controls the success of the transit system as much as SEPTA does, because it has two enormous powers:

  • As a land use authority, the City decides whether more people and jobs will locate in places where it is easy for transit to serve them, or in more remote places where access will depend more on cars.

  • The City controls most of the streets on which buses operate. Most speed and reliability problems are related to delays caused by traffic. Many cities are addressing this problem through various kinds of transit priority, including signalization improvements and bus lanes.

13. Does this report recommend getting rid of the fare penalty for transferring?

Yes. Some of the duplicative service in the system is a result of SEPTA trying to provide a one-seat ride on a single route where a two-seat ride (in other words accepting a transfer or connection) via more frequent service would be as fast or faster. This duplication is often requested by specific neighborhoods or groups to avoid having to transfer and paying the transfer fee to change buses.

For people to be able to reach most of the city they must transfer. A network designed with simple and easy connections is a more efficient network to operate, which means it is a network that lets SEPTA provide more liberty for the same cost. And it is a network that carries higher ridership. Charging extra for transfers is to discourage exactly the behavior that SEPTA needs to encourage.

Figure 78

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14. Does this report recommend getting rid of the Girard Avenue trolley (Route 15)?

No. The report notes that surface running trolleys (or streetcars) have a lot of downsides, particularly the inability to get around obstacles in the road. For most trolley routes operating in Philadelphia this disadvantage is outweighed by the advantages of the trolley tunnel that connects West Philadelphia underground to Center City

The Girard Avenue trolley does not have this advantage, and it is further limited because its western end is just short of the 69th Street Transportation Center. So, it narrowly misses a major connection opportunity. The report notes that solving this connection problem could be done by extending the trolley or converting the route to a bus.

15. What is SEPTA doing with this report?

SEPTA will be hiring consultants to take the findings of the Choices report and undertake a system redesign process, assist with significant public outreach around possible redesign concepts, undertake a full system redesign including the surrounding counties, and carry the project through to implementation.

A Request for Proposals (RFP) has been issued to select a consultant team to undertake the Comprehensive Bus Network Redesign.