Jennifer Dougherty manages long-range planning at SEPTA. She recognizes the need for change. “Making those connections, especially, key connections, to Regional Rail routes that particularly provide opportunities for access to jobs is going to be a big part of the bus network redesign.”
She said the infrequency of Regional Rail service represents a major hurdle given that track space is restricted and SEPTA has to find available railways for the several trains running on lines that converge in Center City. The agency also has to consider Amtrak and freight schedules. As for the buses that many people who live in areas outside Greater Center City depend on, roadway unpredictability such as detours or traffic congestion could lead to missed trains for riders looking to connect.
“It ends up being a complex process when you start adding additional modes in,” said Dougherty. “That also constrains the frequency of service we can provide, just from a physical infrastructure standpoint.”
But conquering such an obstacle could mean a massive boost in accessibility for the sixth-largest transportation agency in the country, as it works to bring riders back and the region eventually transitions to a post-pandemic world.
“In many ways, the Philadelphia metro is the best positioned city in America to have a really great Regional Rail system,” said Daniel Trubman, a member of 5th Square, a transit advocacy group. The group is calling on the authority to accept transpasses on Zone 1 Regional Rail stops and eventually reduce single ride fares to that of transit.
“We’ll never really achieve everything that system can as long as it is operated as a commuter rail system and not fully integrated into the full transit system,” Trubman said.
The SEPTA Regional Rail Fare Equity and Restructure Analysis approved by the DVRPC board Thursday will move forward in July contingent on available funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation. President Joe Biden recently nominated Pete Buttigieg and Polly Trottenberg to lead that agency. Each nominee has positioned themselves as champions of more robust transit.
Buttigieg recently told NPR’s Ailsa Chang, “It’s hard to think of a better bang for your buck than investing in robust transit and transportation infrastructure.”
WHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.