With pope prep clogging roads, some commuters turn to SEPTA

SEPTA Regional Rail Platform

SEPTA Regional Rail Platform (Ashley Hahn/PlanPhilly)

While the pope’s upcoming visit has brought considerable excitement to the region, it’s also created quite a few headaches for commuters who usually drive. With roads closed and street parking suspended throughout most of the city, some dedicated drivers have decided to give SEPTA a try.

SEPTA officials say that ridership appears to be up on some regional rail lines, despite the fact that plenty of people stayed home this week because of Yom Kippur and pope-related office and school closures.

Germantown resident Danny Bauer normally takes Kelly Drive to his Center City office. But thanks to papal preparations shutting down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, that usually scenic route turned into a horrific mess on Monday. Instead, Bauer decided to take the Manayunk Line into Center City and then walk a few blocks to his office.

“I could use the exercise,” Bauer said with a laugh.

While the drive, train, walk combo takes a bit longer than a straight drive, Bauer said its has its benefits: “Whatever time it adds to my commute is made up for in exercise and the opportunity to read.”

Bauer isn’t the only person relishing the chance to read instead of drive in the morning.

“I really like this,” said Kristen Peters. “I can kind of read a book or just listen to music and relax.”

Peters, who works at the Navy Yard, recently moved to East Falls from Chicago. Despite taking Chicago’s El “everywhere,” she was intimidated at first by SEPTA. But thanks to the road closures and detours caused by the buildup for the Bishop of Rome, she “decided to figure out the train system.”

“It’s been really good; it’s pretty simple,” she said, noting that she found her train and Navy Yard Shuttle commute more relaxing than driving.

She’s probably not alone. A recent McGill study showed that drivers have the most stressful commutes, mainly due to “unexpected delays”.

As CityLab’s Eric Jaffe wrote: “Drivers in the study budgeted an extra 21 minutes in travel time, on average, to deal with traffic congestion. They agreed more strongly than walkers or transit riders with the statement that ‘the only good thing about traveling is arriving at my destination’—suggesting they derive less enjoyment from the trip itself (perhaps they’d prefer to teleport?). Drivers also expressed stronger desires to commute more by walking or transit than either of those modes did about driving.”

Those unexpected delays are what drove Chris Bushong towards SEPTA.

“Roads are closed, blocked off, and detoured and there is very little information on what’s closed,” said the Roxborough resident, who usually carpools into Center City.

“So we decided to just take the train because it’s reliable.”

All of the new train commuters said they would at least consider making the switch permanent. And even if they don’t, they said they would take the train more often. They’ll be joining plenty of relatively new regular passengers: SEPTA’s regional rail ridership has continuously increased over the last few years.

As Peters said, “I’ll probably keep it up, maybe switch off. But I really like this.”

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