You’ve probably sat in a SEPTA bus’ blue-lined seat, or clung to a bar as that bus rounded a corner. You’ve likely ridden next to one in your car or on your bike, glancing warily at the behemoth looming beside you. Buses don’t typically inspire the enthusiasm among transit lovers that trains and trolleys do, but the argument can be made that they’re a more critical people-mover than their rail-bound cousins. In Philadelphia, more commuters use buses every day than any other mode of travel.
Despite that, SEPTA buses are gradually losing riders. In July, I wrote about this ridership problem, and the role Uber’s ever-more-efficient service plays in causing it. One of the new findings in the article was that SEPTA had hired a well-known transit consultant to do a review of its bus network, the first step toward what could be a reinvention of the service.
I was surprised at how much of a response the article got. People viewed it 66,000 times on Philly.com and shared it on Facebook more than 3,000 times. That’s a lot. Clearly, Philadelphians have an investment in bus service.
That prompted questions about what, exactly, Philadelphia could do to make bus ridership more appealing. I thought that if people were so interested in what happened to the city’s buses, it might be worthwhile to take the conversation beyond the pages of the paper or our website and give readers like you an opportunity to hear directly from some of the people involved in shaping transit in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Media Network is hosting a panel Oct. 2 at the Free Library to have a conversation about what can be done to improve bus service in Philadelphia. I’ll be joined by experts, including:
- Philadelphia native Marcus McKnight, who has more than six years of transit experience, specializing in the customer service field, in various capacities for SEPTA and other organizations.
- Tabitha Decker, who directs the New York City program at TransitCenter, a philanthropic foundation that supports research, advocacy, and leadership development for transit reform across the United States. She is currently engaged in a coalition-led effort to bring systemwide reform to New York’s notoriously slow and unreliable local buses.
- Erik Johanson, the director of business innovation for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia. Johanson is a native Philadelphian and the former co-chair of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Sustainability Commitment Subcommittee and Sustainability Metrics Working Group.
- Richard Voith, who is the president and principal of Econsult Solutions Inc. He is currently a faculty fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Urban Research. He has served on Pennsylvania’s Transportation Funding and Reform Commission, the board of directors of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, and as vice chairman of SEPTA for three years.
- Christopher Puchalsky, who is the director of policy & strategic initiatives at the city’s Office of Transportation & Infrastructure Systems. Puchalsky has a Ph.D. in Urban Transportation Systems Engineering from University of Pennsylvania and has consulted on transportation issues in the United States and abroad.
The event is free, but please do register ahead so we know how many people to expect. I’ll moderate, and we’ll talk about what options exist to reshape transit in Philadelphia, and what benefits, and problems, could come out of those changes. People who attend can pose questions directly to the panelists, giving everyone a chance to be part of the conversation.
Buses reduce traffic congestion, support job centers, and provide opportunity and access to people who may not have any other way of getting around the city. The shape that bus service takes in the future will play a role in determining what kind of city we have. I hope you’ll join us for the conversation — and if you have questions for our experts, please leave them in the comments.
Does Philadelphia have the bus system it deserves?
Join transportation writer Jason Laughlin for a discussion with riders and experts on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, at the Free Library of Philadelphia. More info and registration: philly.com/rethinkingtransit