SEPTA express bus service a flop in alleviating regional rail crowding

People aboard West Trenton line from Jenkintown station found standing
room only

People aboard West Trenton line from Jenkintown station found standing room only

An express bus service that SEPTA had hoped would relieve overcrowding on regional rail trains has barely been used.SEPTA Deputy General Manager Rich Burnfield admits that the express service from five regional rail stations that started Tuesday has been a flop.  Packed regional trains continue to be the norm.  From all those stations, only a few dozen people took the bus each day this week.

“In the morning the ridership has averaged in the high 40’s and the evening ridership has been quite low, averaging 13 to 15 riders and that is on 23 trips in the morning and 23 trips in the evening,” Burnfield said.He attributes the low ridership to habit.”[Commuters] like to ride regional rail into the city and to their destination,” he said.

The service tried to lure train commuters by offering a cheaper option from some stations closer to Center City.  From places such as Jenkintown, Swarthmore, and Chestnut Hill, riders are bussed to the nearest Broad Stree or Market Frankford line station where they get a free transfer.  Riders can use their usual monthly passes to pay for it or could just buy a token, a significant discount over a regional rail ticket. Burnfield says SEPTA will continue the service for another week before deciding whether to scrap it. 

On the bright side, he says by Monday SEPTA hopes to have 20 repaired Silverliner V cars back in service.  After cracked and broken stabilizer bars were found on the newest regional rail trains in July, 120 trains, one third of the fleet has been out of service.  SEPTA has had to offer a bare-bones schedule, often just one train per hour because it has so few trains.

It has supplemented the fleet by renting trains from Amtrak, NJ Transit and MARC (a transit agency in Maryland).  But knowing that ridership would rise again after Labor Day when college students return to trains and fewer daily commuters are on vacation, SEPTA sought to augment with the bus service.


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