The future? SEPTA is getting there

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Several SEPTA train cars have been converted into rolling ads for Tropicana juice, labeledthe "Sunshine Express," and covered with an orange-colored wrap.

So according to today's Inquirer, SEPTA is pioneering new sources of revenue, extending the "ad-wrapped bus" concept to regional-rail trains.

If this is the future, well, it's not bad. The Prohibition-themed car looks pretty cool, actually, though I wonder how much sunshine the "Sunshine Express" is really bringing into its passengers' mornings ... vs. how much cringing. I also wonder why Colt .45 for buses was nixed, while Bailey's Irish Cream on train cars is fine. And ads for cars on a train? Isn't that kind of self-defeating?

All that is probably moot, though, as I almost never take the train: I'm a bus rider.

And this talk of drawing lines of appropriateness and of the tradeoff between rider convenience (wraps, though translucent, do interfere with window views) and the need for funding, and especially the push into the future, makes me wonder one thing: When is SEPTA going to put some of these increased funds into electronics?

For years I waited for a bus at 15th and JFK and watched as at least a quarter of the various routes' buses arrived with malfunctioning light-up route signs on the front (helpfully informing us that the bus was "SEPTA"), requiring drivers to yell out the route number upon opening the door. I was about to remark that this problem must have improved in the past year when I realized it just could be that since our company moved I don't wait at that stop anymore.

So maybe a couple dollars could be thrown in that direction. Even more "futuritically," SEPTA, along with most major urban transportation networks these days, has a neat tool on its web site that lets you check where along the route your bus is. But that information is only as good as the units on the buses that are transmitting it -- and in the six months or so I've been checking for my bus, it's all too often been the case that there's no transmission. Some physical buses seem to go for consecutive days without showing up on the screen.

(Case in point: Tonight after writing this post I pulled up the map for my bus home, which should show 2 buses. It shows the route on a Philly map - with zero buses.)

Look, I get that a transportation company needs tires, sheet metal, paint, labor, the same stuff they've always needed. But if SEPTA is pushing forward on the ad-wrap frontier in order to scare up revenues, the organization might do well to use some of that to bring SEPTA fully into the 21st century.

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