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THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIAN’S PLAN FOR A BETTER SEPTA

Identifying Opportunities to Link SEPTA’s Services with the Values of its Young Riders

PROLOGUE
Public transportation is the lifeblood of Greater Philadelphia. Over its four decades of existence, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has kept the lifeblood of our region pumping, moving over 300,000 riders across southeastern Pennsylvania every day. Despite its critical importance, SEPTA’s four decades of existence have also been marked by uncertain financial footing, caused by an unsustainable funding structure that has forced cost-cutting to curtail mounting budget deficits. These measures have suc-

cessfully trimmed expenses while maintaining core services, placing SEPTA among the nation’s most cost efficient transit agencies. However, budget cuts have also stripped the system’s infrastructure and services to the bone, sparing only functions necessary to continue its operations. For this reason, while SEPTA has been praised for operating efficiency, the organization has also been criticized for ineffectiveness at serving the varying needs of transit riders in the Philadelphia region. In June, the Pennsylvania State Legislature fundamentally altered SEPTA’s funding structure, providing the or-

ganization with the promise of sufficient operating funds to escape from chronic fiscal crises. With firm financial footing, SEPTA has been granted the stability necessary to pursue much needed infrastructure and service improvements that will meet the needs of transit riders across the region. Now, it is SEPTA’s responsibility to take hold of this opportunity and develop a system that is not only efficient, but also effective. Doing so will be to the benefit of everyone – transit riders, potential riders, and drivers alike – and make the Philadelphia region a better place to be young and involved.

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INTRODUCTION
Young Philadelphians are SEPTA’s future. Today they are a group with unique mobility needs, but tomorrow many of them will become the system’s loyal commuters. For the region’s youth, SEPTA is a critical link to places of living, learning, working, and playing. Without a reliable, accessible, and attractive transit system young people and SEPTA both suffer: the opportunities for young Philadelphians to experience what the region has to offer are severely limited and SEPTA loses future riders to other modes of transportation. Young Philadelphians are a transient group. They change their home addresses. They sign up for classes across town or in the suburbs. They have a favorite institution for socializing one month and the next it’s someplace new. A young person who goes to a concert once per month may visit venues in several different neighborhoods over the course of a year.

It could be decided that young people’s lifestyles are too transient and their use of transit too infrequent to invest in, but there are several environmental factors supporting their use of transit regardless of SEPTA’s efforts to court them. First, the cost of living in Philadelphia is rising and many young people will decide that owning a car is an unnecessary expense. Second, as downtown and surrounding neighborhoods see increased density and therefore fewer available parking spaces, those who own cars often avoid moving them. Third, our city is comparatively compact and our ability to move across town quickly and spontaneously is one of the reasons Philadelphia is so desirable to us. Fourth, young people are increasingly aware of climate crisis and are considering the environment when they make lifestyle choices. Young Involved Philadelphia, Inc. (YIP)1 set out to focus SEPTA’s future efforts on meeting the unique transit demands of young Philadelphians. This document does not represent yet another plan for SEPTA’s future, nor is it a plea for help – undoubtedly, SEPTA has more than its fair share of each. Rather, The Young Philadelphian’s Plan for a Better SEPTA presents a framework with which the agency can best serve the needs of young Philadelphians.

WHY IS TRANSIT IMPORTANT TO YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS?
⇒ Cost of living. The

cost of living in Philadelphia is rising for everyone, and many young people will decide that owning a car is an unnecessary expense.
⇒ Density. As down-

town and surrounding neighborhoods see increased density and therefore fewer available parking spaces, young people who own cars often avoid moving them.
⇒ Mobility. For young

people, the city is comparatively compact and our ability to move across town quickly and spontaneously is one of the reasons Philadelphia is so desirable to us.
⇒ Social Awareness.

Young people are increasingly aware of climate crisis and are considering the environment when they make lifestyle choices.

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Based on established principles, action items in this paper are presented to facilitate incorporation into already established plans for future system improvements. This is accomplished by predicating each action item on something that SEPTA already does well as an organization. Focusing on SEPTA’s existing assets rather than harping on institutional reforms has the additional benefit of shaping the discussion around future system improvements in a positive light. As much as anything else, SEPTA’s reputation is a critical factor in its ability to become a transportation mode of choice. Developing a positive image is of the utmost importance. While the focus in this particular document is on SEPTA, the Plan is actually based on a much broader ideal. YIP’s efforts are predicated on the notion that Philadelphia needs young people to perpetuate and grow as a city, and that for young people to prosper in the city, essential services must be readily accessible. Mass transit is

a critical link in this symbiotic relationship. As Philadelphia continues to attract younger residents, SEPTA has the chance to engender the trust and loyalty from this impressionable and trend-setting segment of the population, and open the doors of the city and region to a new generation of Philadelphians. For the young and involved, this – above all else – is SEPTA’s opportunity.

WHAT ARE YIPS PRINCIPLES FOR ACTION?
⇒ Reliable. Transit ser-

PRINCIPLES FOR ACTION
Young Philadelphians are a unique constituency of transit riders. While the criteria by which young transit riders evaluate the viability of transit systems are in step with other ridership constituencies, the importance of these core values for young transit riders cannot be overstated. In general, these criteria can be grouped into three principles: reliable, accessible, and attractive. Reliable. Transit service should be frequent, dependable, and consistently on time without considerable service disruptions. Information regarding train times and service changes should be readily available. Accessible. Transit access transcends geographical proximity to bus, train, and trolley routes. True accessibility requires information explaining how to use the entire

vice should be frequent, dependable, and consistently on time without considerable service disruptions. Information regarding train times and service changes should be readily available.
⇒ Accessible. Transit

access transcends geographical proximity to bus, train, and trolley routes. True accessibility requires information explaining how to use the entire system and fare instruments that are within reach and userfriendly.
⇒ Attractive. More than

simply a means to move people, transit is vital to the fabric of urban life. For this reason, its infrastructure should inspire a feeling of desirability and safety.

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system. At the most basic level, transit stops should be well signed and have system maps that clearly illustrate how to access the transit network. Fare instruments should also be within reach and user-friendly. Attractive. More than simply a means to move people, transit is vital to the fabric of urban life. For this reason, its infrastructure should inspire a feeling of desirability and safety. To do this, all stations, buses, trains, and trolleys should be well lit and clean, and be equipped with 21st century emergency safety instrumentation. Above all, transit should not be a mobility option of last resort. Young people want a transit network that can be usable all the time, for going to work or school, for shopping or for a night out on the town. For young riders, transit is not simply about the commute. It is about mobility. Thus, while their core values are similar to those of other ridership constituencies, they affect young riders in a

more profound way. Effective transit service expands possibilities. Young Philadelphians need SEPTA to address these values in its efforts to become a more effective transit agency. In many ways, SEPTA has already begun this process. YIP recognizes and applauds SEPTA for its efforts. In this regard, the purpose of this vision is not to ask SEPTA to change; rather, it is to help SEPTA embrace the many things it already does well. YIP has confidence in SEPTA’s ability to do so. The following action items are simply to focus this effort on ways SEPTA can become more reliable, accessible, attractive, and therefore more amenable to young transit riders.

ACTION ITEM #1: CHANGE PERCEPTIONS SEPTA has an opportunity to promote a new perception of its system and services. To do so, SEPTA must both work to alter: 1) its own organizational view of service provision; and 2) rider and non-rider perceptions of the system.
⇒ SEPTA perception of

itself. SEPTA has an opportunity to view itself as more than simply a commuter system, tailoring its service to off-peak uses more amenable to the young transit rider.
⇒ Rider and non-rider

ACTION ITEMS
Action Item #1: Change Perceptions
Over years of cost cutting and streamlining of services, SEPTA management has developed a narrow view of the system’s reach as a regional transport option and the role transit plays in the overall transportation network. As an organization, SEPTA has been forced to operate handto-mouth, functioning year-toyear with very little forward thinking or future planning. Its functions have been streamlined accordingly, focused on peak services tailored to the

perceptions of SEPTA. SEPTA has an opportunity to develop a perception among riders – and potential riders – that SEPTA is an attractive, affordable, and reliable mode of transportation.

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most steady ridership base. Naturally, Philadelphians have recognized the narrow scope of SEPTA’s services and generally regard the system as commuter-based with limited utility for nontraditional, off-peak functions. Now, given a sufficient and stable cash flow, SEPTA has an opportunity to promote a new perception of its system and services. To do so, SEPTA must alter its own organizational view of service provision while continuing to work at improving rider and non-rider perceptions of the system.

1. Recognize opportunities for intermodal connectivity. Young Philadelphians depend on different kinds of connections between different transportation modes to move about the region. Connectivity increases transport options, a paramount factor in overall mobility. For this reason, it is important that SEPTA views itself as part of a larger transportation network, and just one of many options Philadelphians have to move about the region. By understanding its place among pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile networks, SEPTA has an opportunity to improve mobility in the region and work to improve connections between transportation modes. SEPTA has already begun this process, partnering with PhillyCarShare in offering discounts to members that take SEPTA to reach PhillyCarShare pod locations. SEPTA has the opportunity to build off of its partnership with PhillyCarShare to become a more attractive transportation option for young riders with unique mobility needs. 2. Take leadership in the sustainability movement. Young Philadelphians understand the environmental importance of an effective transit system. It is critical that SEPTA also recognize the pivotal role it can play in Philadelphia becoming more sustainable. After receiving

ACTION ITEM #1: A. ALTERING SEPTA’S SELF PERCEPTION YIP has identified three ways SEPTA can its self perception to the benefit of young transit riders:
⇒ Recognize opportu-

A. Altering SEPTA’s SelfPerception
From an organizational standpoint, SEPTA has an opportunity to view itself as more than simply a commuter system, tailoring its service to off-peak uses more amenable to the young transit rider. As SEPTA looks to the future, YIP has identified three ways the agency can focus its plans to address the needs of young transit rider:

nities for intermodal connectivity. Build on a partnership with PhillyCarShare to become a more attractive transportation option for young riders with unique mobility needs.
⇒ Take leadership in

the sustainability movement. Evaluate how the system can play a leading role in civic sustainability efforts to maximize the social impact of future service improvements.
⇒ Target services to

popular off-peak destinations. Build on services like the ZooLink, searching for opportunities to service popular leisure, entertainment, or nighttime destinations and analyzing how the system can improve access to those locations.
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an advance of additional state-aid this year, SEPTA leadership immediately indicated its intention to use new capital funds to take a role in promoting environmental stewardship and purchase more environmentally friendly vehicles. SEPTA followed through with this promise, purchasing 400 hybridelectric buses to replace its older, diesel fleet. However, more than simply a procurement issue, transit inherently promotes sustainability. An environmentally friendly city is impossible without transit. Impact estimates have shown that one bus removes up to 40 cars from roads. Trains can remove up to 120 cars.2 Philadelphia’s advancement in the sustainable cities movement will be inextricably linked to effective transit service, and SEPTA has the opportunity to evaluate its role in this movement to maximize the social impact of future service improvements. 3. Target services to popular off-peak destinations.

Young Philadelphians’ reliance on transit does not end with the weekday commute. Transit provides access to night and weekend classes, to the mall, to a show, or to dinner and a movie. For these reasons, it is important that SEPTA prioritizes improvements to off-peak service, thereby becoming more reliable as a non-commuter system and expanding access to non-work related, niche destinations. SEPTA has already recognized this need with its new Zoo Link service, a bus that departs every half hour from 30th and JFK Boulevard and arrives at the Philadelphia Zoo in ten minutes.3 SEPTA has the chance to build off of this kind of service, searching for opportunities to service popular leisure, entertainment, or nighttime destinations and analyzing how the system can improve access to those locations.

ACTION ITEM #1: B. ALTERING RIDER AND NON-RIDER PERCEPTIONS YIP has identified three ways SEPTA can alter rider and non-rider perceptions of its services:
⇒ Align Ridership In-

centives. Build on the SEPTA Pass Perks program, which is geared towards regular riders, to create a similar set incentives that encourage use of the system by occasional riders.
⇒ Market Programs

B. Altering Rider and Non-Rider Perceptions of SEPTA services.
While altering intra-agency perceptions is important, a more daunting challenge is how to develop a perception among riders – and potential riders – that SEPTA is an attractive, affordable, and reliable mode of transportation. For young transit riders, SEPTA is often considered as an option, but one not amenable to their specific trans-

and Services. Build on recent aggressive marketing efforts for “SEPTA Pass Perks” and “Sports Express” to promote and inform potential riders of existing programs, services, and ridership benefits.
⇒ Incorporate Use of

Technology. Build on current efforts, such as the Plan My Trip and Train View functions, to make all of SEPTA’s services easier to use, especially for a younger generation of technologically savvy riders.

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port needs. Whether this perception is accurate or not is irrelevant. The perception exists, and SEPTA has an opportunity to convince this potential ridership constituency that its services are viable. YIP has identified three ways to address this issue: 1. Align ridership incentives. Young Philadelphians’ use of transit is inherently more irregular than the weekday commuter. SEPTA’s current fare pass options are geared towards the consistent rider and are therefore are less attractive to young transit riders. To increase the attractiveness of transit for the young rider, it is important that SEPTA evaluate ways to shape incentives to increase fare options for irregular riders. SEPTA has create incentives for ridership by aggressively promoting SEPTA Pass Perks, a program through which SEPTA has partnered with local dining and shopping establishments to offers pass holders discounts. However, this program is selfadmittedly geared at reward-

ing SEPTA’s “most loyal riders”.4 Less loyal riders will require a separate set of ridership incentives. SEPTA has an opportunity to build off its success with Pass Perks to create these incentives and make its system more attractive to young transit riders. 2. Market programs and services. Young Philadelphians make transportation decisions based on information at hand. SEPTA has many convenient and innovative programs that would benefit young transit riders who wish to use the system. Unfortunately, a large number of riders – and potential riders – are unaware of them. In 2006, SEPTA took a step in the right direction with an intensive marketing effort to promote its Pass Perks program. It has also begun to aggressively promote its “Sports Express Service,” which provides additional express service targeted at large events at the sports complex in South Philadelphia. It is important that the organization continue to promote programs like Pass Perks and services like Sports Express that can improve the system’s overall rider utility. 3. Incorporate use of technology. Young Philadelphians are a constituency with technological savvy. For this reason,

it is important that SEPTA modernize its services and prioritize information technology. SEPTA has recognized the need for use of technology and has developed several useful and customer friendly tools on its website. For instance, the Plan My Trip function allows riders to link current location with desired destination to determine the most efficient and effective ways to utilize system services. More recently, SEPTA introduced the Train View function, a website reference tool that allows regional rail riders to check the status of trains. With the advent of PDA’s, transit riders can now garner information about arrival times while standing on the platform. These types of programs make SEPTA’s services more attractive, especially to a younger generation of technologically savvy riders.

Action Item #2: Develop Partnerships
Historically, SEPTA has experienced difficulty developing collaborative relationships with other public and private entities. In recent years, SEPTA has improved this track record, entering into mutually beneficial partnerships with other likeminded organizations. Leveraging symbiotic relationships represents a tremendous opportunity for SEPTA

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to support transit service improvements, especially enhancements geared towards young transit riders. YIP has pinpointed five areas where opportunities may exist for the continuation and extension of such partnerships: 1. Governing entities. Over the past two years, SEPTA has developed a close partnership with the Center City District (CCD) to provide transit-related services that young Philadelphians value. Specifically, in 2006 the CCD began installing route maps on dozens of Center City bus shelters, explicitly aimed to help tourists and college students use SEPTA’s services. In 2007, SEPTA awarded the CCD a contract to clean concourse areas owned by SEPTA between Suburban Station and 8th Street. The strengthening partnership between SEPTA and the CCD represents a significant step forward in SEPTA’s intergovernmental relations and one that should be built upon

with other entities. In particular, the regionally focused Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and the imminent establishment of a new City Office of Transportation represent potential mechanisms for forging new relationships with both city and regional governing entities. Closer intergovernmental collaboration may allow SEPTA to leverage additional funding and other resources for promoting similar enhancements to SEPTA’s infrastructure and services. 2. Transportation agencies. Young Philadelphians employ a series of multimodal transportation options to move throughout the region. SEPTA’s unique partnership with PhillyCarShare addresses the need for linkages across this multimodal network, providing a reimbursement of transit fares when car-share members use SEPTA rail services to access a car-share vehicle. Innovative and forward thinking, the “Free Rail to Car Share” program represents the first initiative in North America to link free transit service with a car sharing membership.5 More than an enhancement to sustainable transportation options and overall mobility, the partnership itself represents a breakthrough for collaborative enterprise among transportation service providers. Moving forward,

ACTION ITEM #2: DEVELOP PARTNERSHIPS YIP has identified five areas where opportunities may exist for the continuation and extension of symbiotic relationships:
⇒ Governing Entities.

Build on a growing relationship with the Center City District to forge stronger ties with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and a new Office of Transportation in City Hall.
⇒ Transportation

Agencies. Build on a partnership with PhillyCarShare and engage other transportation agencies, such as the Port Authority Transit Corporation and its new fare card technology, in similar reciprocal relationships.

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SEPTA has an opportunity to build upon this partnership and engage other transportation agencies in similar reciprocal relationships. In particular, SEPTA will soon commence an effort to modernize fare collection. Coordinating this effort with fare collection modernization initiatives already underway at New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority Transportation Corporation (PATCO) would improve linkages across transportation service providers, facilitating transit usage for the irregular rider and significantly improving overall regional mobility. 3. Colleges, universities, and youth-related organizations. Young Philadelphians are often affiliated with or exposed to academic or youthfocused institutions. SEPTA has an opportunity to leverage these youthful organizations to promote itself as a transport mode tailored to the needs of the region’s young population.

One example of SEPTA’s progress in this regard is the recently instituted ComPass program, a partnership with Drexel University that offers students 10 percent discounts on monthly passes. Working with other universities, CampusPhilly, and other youthfocused organizations to implement such a program on a broader scale would promote SEPTA’s services across a larger base of potential riders and help to cultivate transit use among young Philadelphians. 4. Neighborhood and citizen organizations. Young Philadelphians value neighborhood identity and the community involvement necessary to protect this character. By engaging organizations with a neighborhood and citizen focus, SEPTA has an opportunity to more fully evaluate the roles its services play in the fabric of communities and in the lives of individual Philadelphians. One example where SEPTA has already engaged the community is the SEPTA Advisory Committee (SAC) for Accessible Transportation, an independent, citizen-run, community advisory committee of disabled consumers and disability advocates.6 While limited in its scope, SAC exemplifies how an advisory committee can be used to target a set of influential, necessary system improve-

ACTION ITEM #2: DEVELOP PARTNERSHIPS (CONTINUED)
⇒ Colleges, universi-

ties, and youthrelated organizations. Build off of a partnership with Drexel that provides student discounts on passes to implement such a program on a broader scale.
⇒ Neighborhood and

citizen organizations. Build off of the current SEPTA Advisory Committee for Accessible Transportation to institutionalize a broader network of focused citizen engagement, allowing SEPTA to capture input from a wider range of ridership constituencies that will help the agency prioritize on-going service adjustments.
⇒ Developers. Lever-

age zoning reform as an opportunity to promote the use of existing infrastructure as a focal point for private development, helping to fashion TODs that cultivate a dedicated group of new riders.

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ments. Institutionalizing a broader network of focused advisory committees would allow SEPTA to capture input from a wider range of ridership constituencies and help the agency prioritize on-going service adjustments. At the same time, such groups would give citizen and neighborhood groups a forum for sounding off on potential system improvements. Building relationships with citizen groups will help SEPTA develop a customer-friendly reputation and attain neighborhood-level buy-in on future capital projects. 5. Developers Young Philadelphians care about the great places in their neighborhoods. By partnering with local governments and private developers, SEPTA can play a part in creating and protecting these places. To this end, SEPTA has an opportunity to become actively engaged in the city’s zoning reform efforts and to ensure that the city’s new zoning code promotes private development in close proximity to rail stations. Doing so

will promote the growth of Transit Oriented Developments (TOD), dense mixes of housing and retail built around transit nodes. Across the country, TODs have been shown to increase transit ridership and provide additional revenue streams for transit authorities. In southeastern Pennsylvania, suburban municipalities such as Lower Merion have taken the initiative to develop TODs around SEPTA regional rail lines. In Philadelphia, historical growth patterns dictated the scope of its transit service, resulting in citywide TOD. However, aging developments around transit nodes have also experienced the most rapid decline over time, resulting in transit-oriented blight. SEPTA has an opportunity to reverse this trend and promote the use of its existing infrastructure as a focal point for private development, helping to fashion desirable communities for Philadelphians young and old and creating a dedicated collection of new transit riders.

perceptions and developing partnerships will help position SEPTA to pursue these improvements in a strategic and cost effective way. Clearly, changing perceptions and developing partnerships are nothing more than two means to an end. That being said, they are fundamental to the impact that every other capital improvement will have on the system’s overall level of service. In truth, neither perceptions nor partnerships are specific to the idiosyncrasies of young transit riders. However, the ways in which each action item is addressed will have a profound impact on the ability for SEPTA to become the transit system all Philadelphians, young and old, need it to be.

END NOTES
1. Young Involved Philadelphia, Inc. (YIP) is a non-profit organization that aims to increase civic engagement among young Philadelphians and to facilitate reforms that help create a better Philadelphia. If you have feedback on the report, please feel free to contact YIPAdvocacy@gmail.com. Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, Available at: <www.patransit.org>. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Available at: <www.septa.org>. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, “SEPTA Pass Perks,” Available at: <http:// septapassperks.org/about.php>. Transport Topics Online, Available at: <http://www.ttnews.com/ industryannounce/indfeeds2.asp? feed=1590935XSL_NEWSML_TO_ NEWSML_LINKS.xml>. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Available at: <http://septa.org/service/ accessible_septa/sac.html>.
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SUMMARY
SEPTA’s newfound financial stability will allow for significant improvements to be made to the system’s overall service network. Still, from the standpoint of the young transit rider, some of the most influential improvements are those that can be made at a relatively low cost. Changing

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