A cure for the ailing Broad-Ridge Spur

The easiest and most straightforward fix for SEPTA’S black sheep line is making it free to transfer between the Spur and the Market Frankford Line.

Broad Street Line

The Broad-Ridge Spur at 8th and Market streets. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

SEPTA hopes Fashion District Philadelphia will bring new riders to the Broad-Ridge Spur — and for good reason.  Always a stepchild to the Broad Street Line, the eight-stop mini-line experienced a 25% decline after the closing of the old Gallery Mall. 

The new stores can absolutely help reverse the decline. But we need to think bigger: SEPTA should consider other changes in order to make the line more useful to riders and help it achieve its full potential. 

The easiest and most straightforward of these changes would be to make it free to transfer between the Spur and the Market Frankford Line.

Despite the suggested “pedestrian” connection on SEPTA’s transit map, you can’t use a $1 transfer to get from the subway to the MFL under SEPTA’s current plan for the station — you gotta pay!

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This came as a surprise to young me when in an attempt to find a way to get some shopping done on the way home, I stopped at the Gallery Mall (RIP) before trying to board the El to get home. 

My student tokens came with a free transfer, but I couldn’t use that. If I didn’t have a couple of dollars left over from my shopping trip to buy a fresh token, I would have had to walk more than two hours home to Frankford. 

SEPTA is already considering doing away with transfer fees. A recent Pew study showed they disproportionately hit the wallets of low-income commuters.  

It isn’t clear how SEPTA benefits from the current policy of charging people an extra fare to transfer from the Spur. What I know is that SEPTA and riders could benefit from revising it. 

Relieve subway congestion

Allowing free transfers at 8th Street would help relieve the congestion at the City Hall station.  The free transfer offered between the BSL and the MFL — SEPTA’s two most heavily used services — means that the underground hub is often jam-packed, especially during the rush hours when students and commuters are hustling to their destinations. 

Allowing for free transfers at 8th Street would relieve this pressure, putting southbound and eastbound subway riders on the much emptier Broad-Ridge Spur cars and helping El riders avoid the heavily congested 15th, 13th, and 11th St Stations. 

Increase accessibility

Eliminating the fare to transfer from the Spur would have accessibility benefits too.

Let’s admit it: City Hall is treacherous. Staircases leading to the subway are steep, narrow and crowded. While I have seen SEPTA passengers using strollers or wheelchairs to transfer, it is a difficult and dangerous undertaking, especially for those in wheelchairs. By not supplying ramps or functional elevators, SEPTA has effectively closed off the most convenient way to get across the city for anyone who has accessibility needs and isn’t willing to take their life into their own hands to make the switch. 

By contrast, both 8th Street stations are marked as accessible on SEPTA’s transit maps, meaning that those who need it can make the change without having to scale steps. 

Get riders on the Broad-Ridge Spur

Eliminating the transfer fee between the El and the Spur helps maximize the potential of an under-utilized line. 

Considering the prohibitive cost of building new subway lines in the United States: to lose an already constructed section of rail would be a tragedy. Yet, according to SEPTA, the Spur’s low ridership figures make a tempting target for budget cuts. 

Even under current ridership figures, this would be a mistake. Despite its reduced state, the Spur stations still see more ridership than many suburban regional rail stations and they don’t have a comparable impact on commute times for other Broad Street Line passengers. Closing the Spur might save money in the short term, but such a move would signal decline. Once closed, reopening would be more expensive than decades of savings from ending service. 

Allowing for free transfers would pull traffic onto the Broad-Ridge Spur from both lines and help make the case for maintenance in the future.

Eliminating a transfer fee is a win-win solution for SEPTA and its passengers. The agency can enable accessibility for its most efficient route across the city, support the public spending that went into the new Fashion District Philadelphia, ease congestion at City Hall station and buttress the case for keeping the Broad-Ridge Spur at future budget crunches. 

Daniel Pearson is a civically engaged lifelong Philadelphian and graduate of Central High School and Temple University who has spent 16 of the last 18 years getting around almost primarily through SEPTA. In the past, Daniel has worked for the City Commissioner’s Office as a data and outreach coordinator and for Center City District as a research assistant. He lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and daughter.

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