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Rider-Driven Bus Survey Reveals a Path Forward
Transit Forward Philadelphia's research makes it clear: riders want faster, more frequent, and more reliable bus service. And to reverse the yearslong decline in bus ridership across SEPTA, we need a rider-driven bus network.
Beginning in August 2021, we conducted a network-wide bus rider survey to better understand Philadelphia's bus riders' needs and preferences, alongside any changes to their travel since the pandemic began. In concert, we inquired about riders' interest in changes to the system itself: the people who must be central to the creation of a useful, dependable bus system.
In total, we surveyed over 2,456 people at 20 different locations, spread throughout the system to include SEPTA's busiest bus stops. 39% of those surveyed identified as African-American or Black, 13% as Hispanic or Latinx, 8% as Asian or Pacific Islander, 2% as Native American, and 7% as two or more races, proudly nearly matching the demographics of Philadelphia. Perhaps most crucially, 63% of those surveyed ride the bus two or more days per week.
The kinds of questions we asked echoed the priorities of our Better Access Better Service Better Buses campaign, focusing on current concerns and desires for change:
What concerns you most about riding the bus?
Thinking about the bus trip you make the most often, how long does it take you from your starting point to your final destination?
In order to get to your destination 10-15 minutes faster, are you willing to walk to a bus stop that is further away from your origin? Are you willing to transfer and take multiple buses to your destination?
In the four years prior to the pandemic, SEPTA bus ridership declined by 9% despite steady growth in population in the city. When buses do not arrive frequently enough, or don't show up when they are scheuled, riders are no longer able to rely on this bedrock public service.
Riders surveyed selected their highest concerns, from options including Safety, Cost, Crowdedness, Cleanliness, Speed, Frequency, Reliability, Wheelchair/Stroller accessible, and Confusing Schedules, choosing as many as were relevant to their experience.
59% of riders reported that buses are "Unreliable" and do not show up when scheduled. Inclusive of those choosing "Infrequent" service and "Slow Speeds" as top concerns in riding, we found that 79% of riders see Poor Bus Service as the most important concern on the bus, true across self-selected racial identities.
With these challenges in mind, a majority of riders reported a willingness to walk further to a bus stop and make transfers, if it means getting to their destination 10-15 minutes faster. Riders across age groups expressed support for this tradeoff, offering one clear path forward for better bus service.
With all this data in mind, Transit Forward Philadelphia offers three key recommendations for a successful redesign of SEPTA's bus network.
Frequent Bus Service
A redesigned network must produce a faster, more frequent bus network with 50% of bus routes operating service every 10 minutes or 15 minutes all day (6AM to 9PM), every day.
A Faster Network with Reliable Buses
The network must increase the average speed of SEPTA’s highest ridership routes to 14 mph (from 11 mph or less), and see at least half of SEPTA’s highest ridership routes reach SEPTA’s on-time performance standard (from less than a quarter).
Affordable & Easy to Understand Bus Network with High-Quality Connections
The new network must provide consistent schedules, free transfers, and intuitive timetables so riders can simply show up and ride.
For the first time in 70 years, SEPTA is looking at wholesale revisions to its bus network, under the guise of Bus Revolution. Now is our opportunity to implement these recommendations, and build a faster, more affordable, and more accessible bus system for Philadelphia.
Transit Forward Philadelphia and our coalition are committed to delivering on this promise, and we need your help to get it done.