Neighbors avoid Olney transit hub after mass shooting: ‘I wouldn’t catch it there’

After gunmen injured eight victims Wednesday afternoon, North Philly commuters feel traumatized. “We’re just trying to make it out of our own neighborhood,” one person said.

A photo of Olney Transportation Center Wednesday morning showed few commuters in the falling snow. (Facebook/Jeff Byrd)

A photo of Olney Transportation Center Wednesday morning showed few commuters in the falling snow. (Facebook/Jeff Byrd)

The morning after a mass shooting rocked North Broad Street outside the Olney Transportation Center, the usually busy area was dusted with snow — and potentially missing some of its regular 15,000 daily passengers.

Neighbors who live nearby say people were afraid to commute through the transit hub, where Broad Street Line meets nine bus routes.

“It [looked] like a ghost town compared to how it is every morning,” said Kermit Bradley, who lives about a mile away from Broad and Olney, and whose friend sent him a photo of the emptier-than-usual station. “The people who usually go there every day found other means of transportation today.”

Eight people ranging in age from 17 to 71 were injured outside the SEPTA station when men reportedly got out of a car just before 3 p.m. and started firing bullets. One victim was left in critical condition, according to police, who have so far apprehended two suspects.

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Community organizer Abu Edwards lives at 5th and Olney, about nine blocks away. After the gunmen opened fire, he started receiving nervous texts.

“Knowing my neighbors for years, I know who goes to Broad and Olney. All that stuff was running through my mind,” said the 32-year-old community organizer, one of many nearby residents who relies on the hub. In non-pandemic times, it sees around 40,000 riders each day.

“Olney Transportation Center is that center that coordinates our own little world,” Edwards explained.

Now he feels uncomfortable about riding his usual bus routes — the 8, the 18, the 28 — and knows friends feel the same. “People who are working every single day and are tired now feel like they have to find different locations to get home,” Edwards said.

The transit authority didn’t notice drastically lower ridership numbers at Olney Transportation Center on Thursday, according to spokesperson Andrew Busch. Any drop they did observe would be attributed to the snow, he said. He encouraged Philadelphians to keep using public transit in the neighborhood.

“SEPTA understands the concerns that some riders have raised,” Busch said. “Thousands of riders safely travel through the Olney Transportation Center every day, and incidents like this are extremely rare.”

Bradley, the neighbor who lives a mile away, debriefed with others in the community Wednesday night, discussing the shooting and its impact. People told him they would catch their usual morning routes at different stops, rather than risk it so soon after the violence at the Olney hub.

“If I had to catch the 18, I wouldn’t catch it there any longer,” Bradley said. “I would catch it a few blocks away. Your life is worth it.”

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Studies show that even the perception of crime on relatively safe public transit networks can sway residents to find other ways to travel.

That makes sense to Francisco Ortiz, a retired SEPTA cashier who worked at Olney Transportation Center for six years. In general he felt safe there — but whenever there was a highly publicized criminal act, he noticed riders would temporarily change their routines.

“I could really see it,” said Ortiz, who retired in 2016 due to a disability. “Whenever there’s a negative reputation associated with a station, people tend to stay away. They’ll even walk from other stations.”

Across the SEPTA system, crime steadily declined over the past decade, dropping from about 540 annual incidents in 2012 to 390 just three years later. During the pandemic, rates of some crimes, like robbery and theft, have spiked, while others have mostly leveled off.

Many Olney residents felt defeated on Thursday morning — sad, but not surprised. Edwards has worried for years about his friends and family members becoming the next victims.

For the shooting to hit the neighborhood transit hub in broad daylight is especially scary, he said.

“To have something like this happen at a public transportation system is completely traumatizing,” Edwards said. “We’re just trying to make it out of our own neighborhood. It makes no sense.”

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