Changing Skyline: Ten steps to improving SEPTA's bus experience

A SEPTA bus is driven along Market St. west of city hall, in Philadelphia on Tuesday, August 27, 2013. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )

1. Stop every other block. Philadelphia is America's only big city in which buses stop at every corner. That increases travel times considerably. Reducing stops would enable SEPTA to put an extra bus on every route, dramatically increasing frequency.

2. Give buses the green light. The Nutter administration just secured a $30 million federal grant to install wireless devices to hold the green traffic light for buses, reducing delays. Stopping at fewer red lights means buses can travel faster, restarting the route sooner.

3. Far-side stops. Same concept. Instead of stopping before a traffic light, buses pick up on the far side of the intersection. It won't work everywhere, but fewer stops means the bus completes the route sooner.

4. Eliminate parking on bottleneck blocks. One reason buses get bunched together is that they get stuck in traffic on narrow residential streets. Eliminating parking on one or both sides would create more space to maneuver. Politically, this will be tricky, as residents will object to losing parking. But the easier it is to take transit, the more willingly people will give up their cars.

5. Add more L-shaped routes. One reason the 17 and 12 are so popular is that they carry people both north-south and east-west, without a transfer. But no L-shaped route exists that ends up in University City, where hundreds of new jobs are being created.

6. Add express buses on Roosevelt Boulevard. More than 25,000 riders a day traverse the boulevard to get to Temple University and Center City. It's a long, slow slog. SEPTA recently began experimenting with "limiteds" that skip some stops. Express buses would be even faster.

7. Divide long routes into two parts. Some SEPTA routes seem to have descended from Native American trails. The 23, which goes from deep in South Philadelphia to Chestnut Hill, is one. The longer the route, the less likely it will be able to stick to the schedule.

8. Move on back. Crowding isn't the only reason for pass-ups. Frequently drivers assume buses are full because riders are clustered near the front door. A recording that tells riders to move back would remind people to make room.

9. More weekend and night service. It's no longer a 9-to-5 world. Evidence suggests that off-peak ridership is growing.

10. Real-time data. While you can download apps that provide the exact location of buses, the data runs 3 to 5 minutes behind. Reduce lag to one minute. And how about posting schedules at bus stops for people without smartphones?

- Inga Saffron