Testimony for SEPTA's FY2022 Capital Budget

5th Square members and volunteers came to SEPTA's Capital Budget hearings today to advocate for

  • Trolley Modernization
  • Subway Station Accessibility
  • Expansion of Trolleybuses
  • Bicycle Amenities at stations

Here is the spoken testimony delivered at the virtual public meeting today by 5th Square members and volunteers.

This is in addition to a letter delivered by the Transit Forward Philadelphia to SEPTA with comments on the proposed operating and capital budgets.

Yasha Zarrinkelk from Transit Forward Philly Coalition Organizer:

We are glad that SEPTA has committed to making 100% of Market-Frankford and Broad Street Line stations accessible in the capital plan. However, as budget line items have been reprioritized, station improvements are being delayed to later and later years, with the last stations now pushed back until 2035. Disability advocates and TFP have repeatedly stressed the need to make all stations ADA accessible as soon as possible, and this is why the City has also called for SEPTA to move up the 2035 goal five years to 2030 as mentioned in its City’s Transit Plan.

Most crucially, SEPTA needs to reconsider putting City Hall BSL modernization off until 2025-2026. We constituents with disabilities continue to appreciate all the work and money SEPTA has put forth thus far, but it looks as if ADA modernization for certain stops like City Hall constantly get pushed back. City Hall station is part of the busiest station complex for Philadelphia and the entire five-county region, and for the disability community to still not have access here is shameful. The same can be said about BSL’s Erie station. Two elevators to the street would be more efficient than the one currently planned for Erie. The BSL at Broad and Erie is the 3rd most used station in Philadelphia, and as a local transit hub for North Philadelphia, it clearly shows why two elevators are needed. 

Lastly, SEPTA needs to greatly quicken its schedule for accessibility at Regional Rail stations that include full-length high platforms. The agency actually has some of the lowest costs among peers for installing high platforms and over/underpasses, but planning and construction is bogged down by additional scope of parking, circulation, and station building. Instead of pursuing improvements station by station, SEPTA needs to pursue bulk construction of multiple stations at once by solely focusing on ADA accessibility first, which would get the most needed improvements to riders at a much faster rate.

Cameron Adamez, 5th Square Transit Committee Member

Good morning. My name is Cameron Adamez, I’m a transit committee member of 5th Square.

I’d like to emphasize that the bus, trolley, rail lines should be considered as a cohesive whole network as laid out in both the city plan and in septa’s own plan, moving away from traditional commuters and into a travel method for every occasion and rider. I will be pleased to see money from parking garage construction being shifted into bus network amenities and improved bicycle facilities.

This, along with trolley and rail improvements, will be both an aid to essential workers and have the power to attract new riders as part of the lifestyle initiative. The increased ridership will be worth the initial investment. The city is in a critical juncture in terms of public health and a looming climate crisis. Why not use this as an opportunity to create a transit network to serve as an example of success that ripples through communities with a positive impact? Philadelphia is a first class city that deserves a first class transit system.

Will Tung, 5th Square Transit Committee Member

Good morning. My name is Will Tung, and I am a volunteer for 5th Square.

5th Square is thrilled that SEPTA has prioritized critical transit riders by increasing the budget for Trolley Modernization to $203 million from FY2022 onward. We would love to see SEPTA continue to seek and provide more funding for Trolleys as this is only a drop in the bucket for a $1.8 billion project. We want to see SEPTA work harder to truly prioritize this absolutely essential capital project.

Personally, I live in the Kingsessing Neighborhood of Southwest Philadelphia with my wife and kid and I rely on the 13 trolley to get to my job as a firefighter in Chinatown and when we travel as a family to Center City.

It’s time to work with us and my neighbors in Southwest Philadelphia to make trolley modernization a reality. My neighbors and I deserve fast, reliable, and modern trolley service.

Our trolleys currently aren’t accessible and even as an able-bodied individual, are tough to navigate with a small child and simple items like a stroller and diaper bag.

The trolleys that serve my line date from the Reagan Administration and have surpassed their usable life by a decade. Breakdowns, when they do occur, can incapacitate the entire system and elongate my journey 2 to 3 times. My fear is that as these trolleys age, breakdowns and bus substitutions will only happen more often.

SEPTA needs to show that it cares about its current riders, and the thousands of essential workers that take the trolley in Southwest philly. SEPTA needs to prioritize the trolley modernization project and take immediate steps to get this project underway. Thank you very much for your time.

John Schaeffer, Cedar Park Neighbors RCO Member

Good afternoon. My name is John, and I am a resident of the Cedar Park neighborhood and member of the Cedar Park Neighbors RCO.

I’d like to start by applauding SEPTA for considering Trolley Modernization a project of significance. As a resident who relies on trolleys for transit, particularly the 34, I see every day the challenges riders face, with frequent delays, vehicle overcrowding, and inaccessible boarding leaving riders with a system that often does not meet their needs. Many times when I take transit I’m left wondering when, if ever, a trolley will come, with delays at their worst making trolley trips as slow as walking. But I also see the promise of the trolleys, both as an economic driver and source of regional pride. Trolleys are a vital part of life in West and Southwest Philadelphia, and our neighborhoods deserve a modern, equitable, accessible trolley system that is built to serve everyone. It is my hope and the hope of Cedar Park Neighbors that SEPTA prioritizes trolley modernization and develops a system that we can all be proud of.

Alex Davis, 5th Square Transit Committee Member

Good morning! My name's Alex Davis, and I'm a SEPTA rider and member of 5th Square. I'd like to start off by saying that I applaud SEPTA for making a final push to retire the last of the diesel mechanical transmission buses purchased in 2005. And after reading the capital budget, I was glad to see that SEPTA will be drafting a Zero Emission Bus Master plan to explore expanding the fleet of battery electric buses. However, I strongly believe that investing only in battery electric buses is a mistake, and if we want to set bus electrification up for success in the long term, then now is the time to begin the process of converting SEPTA's busiest routes to trackless trolleys. Trolley buses are generally pretty affordable as buses go, have a long lifespan and most importantly, they don't have batteries, which limit range, require down-time for charging and waste sometimes 20% of the power when charging, and that percentage gets worse pretty quickly with age. Better batteries do exist, but those are Cobalt electrolyte. Not a very sustainable resource, and not cheap for you either. All these added costs mean that if SEPTA were to shell out around 18 million to electrify the 23 or a similar route, it would be cheaper, more sustainable and more reliable in the long term. More reliable service of means increasing ridership, the most important part of sustainability even on diesel buses, since empty buses are never energy efficient. Wires on the most frequent routes will free up battery buses to go operate on small routes, which is a much more efficient system. Trolley buses need to be front and center in the bus revolution, and if we follow the lead of cities like Dayton, Ohio and invest in our trolley buses, then climate action is going to be a smooth clean ride, and we will not run out of power halfway through. Thank you.