Philadelphia: A First Step toward a Better Bus Network

Our work on the bus network design for Philadelphia has finally produced a report!  The transit agency, SEPTA, hired us a year ago to study the city’s bus network (separate from suburban services) and identify what issues a network design might address.

Jason Laughlin at the Philadelphia Inquirer has a good story here.  Plan Philly, a project of NPR station WHYY, has a story here.

Our report makes no recommendations.  We studied the network in great detail, and then made statements that all implicitly start with if.  We present options, show their consequences, and invite the community to think about the trade-offs these options imply.

If you wanted a network that increased where people can go in a given amount of time, and thus made transit useful for more purposes, you would consider these possibilities:

  • Be open to changing the network to some degree, even though this would change the travel patterns that existing riders are used to. Are the benefits worth the need for some riders to adjust to new travel patterns?
  • Widen stop spacing from about 500 ft (150m) to at least 1000 feet. European stop spacing is often well above 1500 ft (450m). Philadelphia’s bus stops are unusually close together even by US standards.  This means slower service.
  • Be willing to ask some people to change buses who now have a direct ride, often in cases where their total trip would be faster because they would wait less.(Does that sound wrong?  It did to me at first.  It’s explained here.)

The next step that we recommend is to encourage some public conversation about these and other choices, before a recommended network is designed.  Our work has ended on this project, but we certainly hope to be involved in the future.  Meanwhile, read the report!