2/16/24: Bus Revolution Faces Further Delays, While Riders Need Urgent Help

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A December Board vote, a January Board vote, and a February special session - all canceled. After 3-5 years of process (depending on how you're counting), Bus Revolution has been postponed again, this time without a clear timeline for what's next, aside from a promise of more "community meetings" to come.

At the January SEPTA Board meeting, Philadelphia Councilmember Katherine Gilmore-Richardson - who has been as engaged as any councilmember in the project - testified (thanks to our newsletter!) to express concerns about communications from SEPTA and route alignments, requesting more time to engage with bus riders. With this delay, likely the soonest Bus Revolution could be implemented is 2025.

How did we get here, and what do we need to make our buses work?

Color image of a SEPTA bus traveling on top of a red-painted bus-only lane

Transit Forward & Better Buses

After gestating through late 2019, Transit Forward Philadelphia launched just before the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. And with that launch came our Better Buses campaign, calling for an overhaul to our decades-old bus network and in favor of better service, faster bus speeds, and more reliable service. 

Throughout 2021, we ran our Rider-Driven Bus Network survey, meeting riders where they are to understand what a useful service looks like to them. In late 2022 we published our results, with 79% of riders finding "poor bus service" as their greatest concern when riding, topping even fare costs. Additionally, a majority of riders (across self-selected racial identities and age groups) "reported a willingness to walk further to a bus stop and make transfers, if it means getting to their destination 10-15 minutes faster."

Since 2012, SEPTA's bus speeds, on-time reliability, and ridership have been in decline, well before the major dip nationwide at the onset of the pandemic. When Bus Revolution was introduced by name in 2021, it came with the intention of more frequent routes, along straighter routes, to provide more reliable service. But the proposal has always been cost-neutral: some have to lose, for others to gain.

Bus Revolution Public Process

Surveying for Bus Revolution began in 2021, with SEPTA sharing its first draft of the new network in Fall 2022 alongside an array of open houses and pop-ups across the region. A backlash to the proposal from some neighborhoods led to a City Council hearing in early 2023, and a supplemental draft network and set of community hearings throughout the Spring. 

We put out an Op-Ed urging forward progress on this redesign before concerns about funding for the system became acute, and for City Council to play its role in making buses better.

The process moved forward with September hearings throughout the region, in advance of an anticipated Board vote in December and implementation beginning in Summer, 2024.

Color image of people standing behind a folding table at a SEPTA bus stop in a parking lot, in front of a blue sky

Our Comments

Since the start of Bus Revolution, Transit Forward Philadelphia has been focused on meaningful public outreach, data-driven solutions, and substantive progress. To that end, we have communicated regularly with 48 community-based organizations, touching thousands of riders throughout the region. And we attended dozens of community meetings in all five counties served by SEPTA to learn about local needs and provide testimony where appropriate.

With our region's transit funding crisis looming, now more than ever we need our riders and elected officials to have confidence in our trains, buses, and trolleys. The current system is broken for the people using it, let alone those who have given up on riding regularly. 

To continue to let the system run as-is is to accept decline.

SEPTA has happily integrated feedback to initial proposals to the 9, 12, 27, 49, 67, and connections in West Oak Lane formerly provided by the K. But as we have advocated in public and in meetings with SEPTA, concerns remain about proposals for the 16 and other routes along Broad Street because of the BSL's continued inaccessibility at many stations. Residents of Strawberry Mansion and surrounding neighborhoods oppose proposals around 32 service severing easy access to Center City and the Parkway. More recently we have heard concerns from riders in Wynnefield about proposed changes to the 52. 

Across the network, the current Bus Revolution proposal will put 1million more people in walking distance of frequent bus service. But a cost-neutral redesign will always have negative externalities, which must not be thrust on historically-disinvested communities and those with high needs on the Disability Characteristics Map.

SEPTA's web materials must be accessible across language and ability, and by staff's own admission its PDFs, maps, and Google Translate do not work well with technical language nor screen readers. 

These things can and must change, but they must arrive through leadership alongside local government. 

Color image of a special SEPTA bus covered in a Bus Revolution with text reading "Join the Revolution" above the phrase "Fueled by Your Feedback" an QR code.

A Better Bus Now More Than Ever

As we wrote back in 2023, Philadelphia's city government holds the keys to numerous tools to make our buses faster, more reliable, and more accessible. 

Council can expand camera-assisted bus lane and bus stop enforcement citywide. It can vastly expand signal priority and bus-only lanes into neighborhoods with high transit usage. And it can provide dedicated funding for improved bus shelters across the city. Philadelphia and the collar counties can improve our abysmal local funding for public transportation.

Delaying and over-studying proposed changes can hurt a community just as much as making inequitable changes. We need action, and a commitment to continual adjustment to our buses over time; Bus Revolution is not a be-all, end-all, especially when it is cost-neutral, as currently proposed.

We are committed to working with city council to ensure hyperlocal rider voices are heard in transit decision-making, with priority to disinvested and high-disability communities disproportionately dependent on SEPTA. But we can't keep taking more time as our system continues to be unreliable to communities.

SEPTA and the Philadelphia City Council must work together to make urgent change for a transit system that has been calcified for far too long.

Only when we are all rowing the same way do we get what we deserve: fully funded, reliable, and accessible buses for southeastern Pennsylvania.