Testimony for SEPTA FY2022 Capital Budget Amendments

5th Square members and volunteers came to SEPTA's FY2022 Capital Budget Amendment hearings today to advocate for

  • Bus Revolution
  • Trolley Modernization
  • Subway Station Accessibility
  • Reimagining Regional Rail

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

Daniel Trubman, 5th Square Transit Committee Member:

Hello, my name is Daniel Trubman, and as a member of 5th Square, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank SEPTA’s management and Board for prioritizing capital budget projects in this series of budget amendments that will both increase the usefulness of SEPTA’s transit service and make the system for accessible.

The series of projects SEPTA is funding with the newly available infrastructure bill funding reveals a focus on the fundamentals. Over and over again riders and potential riders have told SEPTA that frequency, speed, and reliability are the key factors that influence their decision on whether to ride transit, and these projects will help grow transit ridership in the coming years and decades.

Many of you may recall that in previous budget hearings in prior years I have criticized this board for slow rolling the critical trolley modernization project. But this additional $30 million for the project in the current year demonstrates true commitment.

Relatedly, securing federal funding for the 19th and 37th Street Trolley Station Improvements was a major victory for the agency, confirming that SEPTA not only intends to maintain the current trolley system, but improve upon it.

SEPTA's commitment of $25 million for bus infrastructure projects in the original FY2022 capital budget was a huge step forward towards improving the usefulness of transit in the Philadelphia region and advancing equity. The additional $2 million of bus infrastructure funding included in this amendment is further evidence that the bus system, which provided half of all SEPTA trips before COVID is finally beginning to receive the respect it deserves as decades of deprioritization.

I was frankly disappointed that SEPTA’s original FY22 capital budget did not meet the request of the City Philadelphia to achieve full accessibility on the system’s Broad Street Lines and Market Frankford Lines by 2030, so it is a real positive step SEPTA is budgeting engineering work at several BSL stations, as well as other stations throughout the system. I hope this means we can anticipate additional funding for construction in the upcoming FY23 capital budget, and a renewed commitment to prioritizing capital accessibility.

Once again I want to thank SEPTA’s management and Board for making smart decisions focused on growing ridership with these newly available funds.

These types of investments that improve the quality of transit service, not vanity projects, will help SEPTA recover in the upcoming post-COVID years.

Thank you.

Yasha Zarrinkelk, Transit Forward Philly Coalition Organizer:

SEPTA's commitment of $25 million for bus infrastructure projects in the original FY2022 capital budget was a huge step forward towards improving the usefulness of transit in the Philadelphia region and advancing equity.

Rides on buses makeup half of all trips on SEPTA

In Philadelphia, it's clear that residents in outer neighborhoods living far from the subway and who can't afford Regional Rail often take the bus to get to where they need to go. These underserved residents see longer-than-average commute times and are also low-income residents and residents of color. Considering the bus accounts for the majority of SEPTA ridership, the Comprehensive Bus Network Redesign is central to advancing transit equity in ensuring all neighborhoods in the city have a fast, reliable option to get around.

We just want to remind the board and have on official record Transit Forward Philadelphia’s Better Buses campaign which has the following benchmarks for SEPTA’s Bus Revolution and Comprehensive Bus Network Redesign:

  • Engage at least 20,000 riders and residents during the public participation process of the redesign.
  • Provide 85% of bus riders with service every 10-minutes or better throughout the entire day.
  • Ensure buses travel on average a minimum of 13-14mph during a typical weekday by expanding bus lanes and bus priority treatments.
  • Make every bus stop and its sidewalks ADA accessible.
  • Provide shelters and real-time information at bus stops serving more than 500 riders after the redesign is complete.
  • Plan routes for future electrification of buses where possible.

To achieve these goals, 5th Square and Transit Forward Philadelphia supports a stronger grid of bus routes with frequent service, wider stop spacing, all-door boarding, off-board fare payment, improved off-peak service, transit-priority streets, and better links with Subway and Regional Rail.

Chris Aho, 5th Square Transit Committee Member:

Good morning, my name is Chris Aho and I am a resident of West Philadelphia.  I appreciate everyone from the board for taking time to hear comments from the public.  I am here specifically to talk about trolley modernization, a project which is immensely important to me, as well as many of my neighbors who rely on the trolley network everyday.

Many trolley riders have heard for years about the promise of trolley modernization, a major project which will bring greater capacity, speed, frequency, and accessibility to an ageing fleet of trolleys.  Trolley mod has sounded like a far-off goal for quite some time but it appears that SEPTA is taking action towards fulfilling that promise today.  That is a commendable move and one which gives me hope that our outdated subway-surface system will be brought into the 21st Century within the decade.  Level boarding will transform the trolleys into a mode which will be accessible to all - elderly, disabled, parents with strollers, and even people like myself who sometimes carry just a few too many bags of groceries on my way home.

SEPTA has already committed to making the 19th and 37th street stations accessible by funding projects which will bring elevators to these stations which are only accessible via steep stairs today.  I hope to see that progress continue.

Just 2 weeks ago, I was waiting for a trolley at 37th Street station and I was impressed by the frequency with which the trolley came and went.  I clocked 3 west-bound trolleys in just under 6 minutes which is quite good!  However, all the trolley were all FULL and none stopped to let on more passengers.  I ended up just walking home that day because the weather was nice and while I admittedly had some frustrations about the delay, I took comfort in knowing that there is more demand for trolleys than most people probably realize.  The capacity, speed, and frequency improvements that trolley mod will bring will allow a lot more people to rely on the trolleys for everyday travel.  In doing so those new riders will help to reduce the number of cars on the road, which will keep the air cleaner, make our streets safer for pedestrians, and make the region more sustainable as we work towards preventing further climate change.  I hope to see a continued commitment to making trolley mod a reality and I thank you all for listening.

Cameron Adamez, 5th Square Transit Committee Member:

Almost everyone will experience some form of impairment or disability in their lifetime. Maybe you use a wheelchair daily, sprained your ankle, or had your eyes dilated. Even something as simple as a shopping trip can make it tricky to carry things around. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act, SEPTA has made incremental steps to make its system 100% accessible for everyone.

I am pleased to see reengineering of the BSL on the budget this year. However, this effort is overdue. Improvements have been increasingly delayed and pushed back due to changing budget priorities. We believe SEPTA should display a strong commitment to equity by budgeting to finish ADA renovations at all remaining subway and trolley stations by 2026. Construction work for the BSL needs to be in the 2023 capital budget.

In addition, SEPTA should draft an All Stations Accessibility Program, as seen with Chicago’s transit agency, to detail how stations are systematically improved for the disability community.

These changes will cement the agency’s repositioning as a “lifestyle network” that supports our daily activities to the fullest extent.

Will Tung, 5th Square Transit Committee Member:

Good morning, my name is Will Tung, and I am speaking as a transit rider who lives in Southwest Philly and as a volunteer for 5th Square.

We applaud SEPTA’s new effort to reimagine its regional rail system and see the amendments to its capital budget to prioritize high-level platforms and ADA accessibility at Bristol, Malvern and Marcus Hook stations as a positive step for the agency. We are thrilled to see this expedited improvement for all of its riders, and a shift away from building parking at stations for only those who have a vehicle.

High-level platforms will not only improve accessibility, but will also improve boarding times and make service more efficient and reliable.

We call on the agency to keep the construction of high-level platforms as a priority for its regional rail service, and to keep examining ways to make our regional rail system run more like transit service – such as boosting frequency, and lowering fares within Philadelphia to match the bus, subway, and trolley.

We would also like to see the agency prioritize buildout of high-level platforms on lines where these reforms can be implemented first. The current amendments have the construction of these platforms scattered at different lines across the system, and we would like to see a guided effort to implement these improvements on a line-by-line basis, and on stations within Philadelphia to speed these reforms. We would also like SEPTA to look into ways to speed up the construction and lower the costs of providing high-level platforms absent a whole-station overhaul.

My station, 49th Street on the Media/Elwyn Line, does not have high-level platforms, despite the station being entirely below-grade. It’s baffling why riders must descend multiple flights of stairs into the station, only to have to step up into the train.

High-level platforms, coupled with increasing frequency, and fare parity with transit would be absolutely transformative for my neighborhood.

Thank you for your time.