SEPTA bus network redesign draws City Council scrutiny

SEPTA bus network redesign
PHOTO: Melissa Mitman

At least one member of City Council is asking SEPTA to scrap its proposed draft bus network redesign and “start from scratch” after hearing from concerned residents.

Curtis Jones Jr., who represents sections of West and Northwest Philadelphia, wrote a letter last week to SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards expressing his dismay with the plan, which was released in October as part of the authority’s years-long Bus Revolution project.

“If I may be very candid, do not put lipstick on a pig,” Jones said in an interview. “Don’t tell me this is about efficiencies when it’s really about budget cuts due to loss of ridership.”

“For every revolution, there’s usually a counter revolution,” he added.

SEPTA has maintained that Bus Revolution is cost-neutral. Under the draft plan, the total number of routes would be decreased from 125 to 99, but an additional 11 routes would be designated as high-frequency – running every 15 minutes or less.

The authority’s planners are taking into account SEPTA’s diminished ridership in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, spokesperson Andrew Busch said.

“If we were to kind of keep the bus network as it is now, that likely wouldn’t be something that is sustainable for the long term,” he told Metro.

Bus trips, which comprise more than half of the authority’s ridership, reached 68% of pre-pandemic levels in October, and SEPTA continues to deal with staff shortages.

Busch said most of the routes recommended for elimination under the plan are duplicative of other routes or have very low ridership.

“It certainly isn’t an effort to cut service,” he said. “But we are shaping Bus Revolution to be responsive of where we’re at now.”

Jones’s letter cited proposed changes to routes 31 and 103 in the Wynnefield and Overbrook neighborhoods, as well as alterations to the 27 and 9 in Roxborough and Manayunk.

Bus Revolution’s recommendation is to shorten the Roxborough routes, ending them at 30th Street Station instead of going into Center City. Jones said older residents used to getting downtown in one trip will be forced to transfer.

SEPTA is planning to address those concerns and unveil revisions to its plan Tuesday during a community meeting scheduled to run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Roxborough Memorial Hospital, Busch said.

“This plan is still very much in draft form,” he added. “There’s time to make changes, and that’s absolutely what we intend to do.”

In addition, City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, chair of the transportation committee, is planning to introduce a resolution this month calling for hearings on Bus Revolution, his communications director, Vincent Thompson, said.

Those hearings will not happen until January at the earliest because Council breaks for the holidays after its Dec. 15 meeting. Busch said SEPTA is happy to participate in the hearings.

A more finalized bus network plan is expected to be released in late February or early March, though even that proposal will be subject to change, Busch said. Route changes will start being implemented in the second half of 2023.