Monday, July 14, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

The brighter side of the SEPTA fiasco

The brighter side of the SEPTA fiasco

OK, the Supertrain it was not.

There are estimates that as many as 2 million people attended the Phillies' victory parade today -- we'll never know exactly but I think that it's a fair guesstimate that the number of people coming into Center City was about twice a typical weekday, maybe more. How could Philadelphia handle such an influx? Well...it didn't, and at the same time it did.

It didn't because SEPTA and its sister rail line PATCO didn't have nearly enough trains to handle all the people trying to come by mass transit. Thousands of people who waited 25 years to see a championship parade may have to wait another quarter-century now -- because the train was too crowded to get on:

Many inbound trains were so packed that they simply sped by stations. Some frustrated passengers took outbound trains to the end of the lines in order to find a seat on an inbound train.

At the Clifton-Aldan Septa station in Delaware County, regular commuters on the R3 line this morning had to compete with Phillies fans stacked four-deep on the platform. Workers who thought they were catching the 7:50 a.m. train watched in frustration at 9:26 a.m. as the fifth train in 96 minutes passed without stopping, too full to take passengers.

Maloney said SEPTA was trying to run the trains on a printed schedule. "But once you get past an hour late, it doesn't really matter any more."

I'm working the night desk here at the Daily News, and we have a heart-wrenching story for tomorrow's paper about lifelong fans who were thwarted from seeing the big parade because of the mass overload on SEPTA and on PATCO.  So what could be the good news here?

Well, for one thing, so many hundreds of thousands of people took mass transit today because public officials like Mayor Nutter asked them to. Which shows that Americans will ride the train if they're asked by the right people in the right way: Imagine if our leaders tried harder to woo riders to mass transit on a regular basis, instead of once every 25 years or so.

More importantly, with 2 million people coming into Philadelphia, what people had expected -- a car traffic fiasco -- never really materialized. There was slow going when you came up against the parade route, but getting in and out of the city wasn't too different from a normal day. The significance of that -- when you think about it -- is huge. It means that Center City Philadelphia could handle a lot more jobs and more residents without a crippling increase in car traffic, which would an enormous savings in fuel and pollution....

IF....

Philadelphia actually had enough rail capacity, including more trains more often, and passenger cars with greater capacity (like the double deckers used frequently on New Jersey Transit), to handle such a huge increase in commuters on a daily basis. The fact that you can bring so many extra people into Philadelphia on a Friday without total car gridlock should be a teachable moment for the region's public officials, a chance to see what a real mass transit might be able to do if the infrastructure were in place.

Wouldn't it be awesome if the city had all the rail and subway and asphalt it needed to easily accommodate 2 million people by 2013, the year of the Phillies' sixth consecutive championship parade?

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Will Bunch
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