1/30/23: Bus Revolution - Where It Stands, and Where We Go

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Bus Revolution - Where It Stands, and Where We Go

Last week, Philadelphia’s city council offered its Committee on Transportation & Public Utilities to shine a spotlight on SEPTA’s proposed Bus Revolution, and SEPTA followed with its own Transit Talk, both serving to update the public on what’s ahead for the top-to-bottom bus network redesign.

View the Committee on Transportation & Public Utilities hearing.
View the SEPTA Bus Revolution Engagement Update Transit Talk.

Since our formation in 2020, Transit Forward Philadelphia (TFP) has pushed for a redesigned, reliable, and affordable bus system, and our rider survey affirmed the need for change.

The Fall reveal of SEPTA’s draft bus network brought a slate of virtual and in-person meetings, and clear gaps emerged in both initial designs and strategies for community engagement. Council’s hearing, initiated by councilmembers Curtis Jones and Kenyatta Johnson, purported to grow understanding of SEPTA’s first-ever bus system update and how it has arrived at proposed changes. It sought reassurances and course-corrections for a public concerned both by a current system that doesn’t work, and a cost-neutral redesign which has tradeoffs in service built-in.

At the outset of the hearing and again at the evening Transit Talk, SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards and Bus Revolution Project Manager Dan Nemiroff revealed an adjusted timeline for implementation. While Spring still offers a revised second draft of the bus network, expanded community engagement was promised now that numerous new citizens and media sources have tapped into the Bus Revolution.

Hearings to approve the recommended network will now begin in Fall, with full implementation of the Bus Revolution now projected by Fall 2024.

SEPTA requested support from Philadelphia’s city council in ensuring this new season brought renewed dedication to public feedback. And presentations underscored pre-pandemic declines in ridership, speed, and timeliness of buses, illustrating the dire state of the system in advance of funding shortfalls beginning as soon as 2025.

As we’ve described, the revised network proposes straighter routes, more frequent service, and enhanced off-peak service. But residents of Strawberry Mansion and Roxborough-Manayunk, Fishtown and Kensington, and Southwest Philadelphia each spoke to shortcomings in the current draft along essential routes to hospitals, job hubs, and Center City generally. SEPTA itself revealed a lack of engagement with the School District of Philadelphia and other schools, which rely entirely on the region’s buses for students to get to schools.

Particular critique came from Councilmember Katherine Gilmore-Richardson, who noted the lack of culturally-competent staff and consultants present at the Open Houses she attended. She and residents of Strawberry Mansion spoke to existent community wisdom which has not been utilized in determining the needs and impacts of bus network redesigns.

Nick Zuwiala-Rogers from TFP’s steering committee and Clean Air Council provided testimony alongside coalition members Cameron Adamez from 5th Square and Mason Carter from the SEPTA Community Advisory Council, articulating the need for Philadelphia’s city government to do its part support a functional, reliable, and affordable bus system.

While SEPTA runs the buses and designs the network, they drive on roads cleared and maintained by Philadelphia, with shelters built by the city, and use funds appropriated by council – 75% less per-capita than that of comparable regions.

Citizens gathered by state representative Tarik Khan (NW Philly), as well as numerous other public comments, spoke similarly to slow buses impeded by illegally parked cars, nonexistent shelters, and other infrastructural challenges compromising a redesign effort which has yet to tap into community-based expertise.

The evening’s Transit Talk presentation then summarized these same “lessons learned” back to the public: while no definitive updates have yet arrived, it summarized to the over 500 citizens present what to anticipate from community engagement going forward, a few weeks away from an updated draft bus network.

Taken together, the city council hearing and SEPTA presentation articulated the need for a major course-correct in public outreach accompanied by specific changes in network route design. But we stand alongside advocates and riders in a deep understanding that a new bus network is still essential, and the current paradigm is untenable.

To produce a functional bus network SEPTA needs community representation. And city government needs to own its role in supporting the infrastructure on which that system can thrive – with bus lanes, parking enforcement, daylighting, and accessible shelters.

We are eager to hold SEPTA and city council to the paths to success laid out in their respective public meetings, where each showcased their gaps in committing to the change that will produce the bus network Philadelphians deserve.