SEPTA ups safety reminders, considers training changes in response to crashes

SEPTA Bus Revolution
SEPTA’s board is set to vote on the Bus Revolution plan at their meeting Dec. 21.
Melissa Mitman

SEPTA is increasing training for employees and considering changes to its safety curriculum following a series of recent crashes involving buses and trolleys.

The five collisions, all of which occurred within the span of a week, left dozens injured, and a woman died July 21 after a bus rear-ended another bus on Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philadelphia.

Soon after the fatal incident, SEPTA implemented an unscheduled “safety stand-down,” sending officers to bus depots to conduct brief trainings with drivers, mechanics and other staff, authority spokesperson Andrew Busch said. The stand-downs are usually held twice a year.

“We are working on adding some things to our training,” he added. “That’s being developed.”

Investigations into the cause of each collision are not yet complete, with the National Transportation Safety Board probing last Thursday’s incident, where a trolley struck an SUV and careened into a historic building.

But Busch told Metro that SEPTA has not so far found a commonality that connects the crashes.

“While these incidents might be unique – it’s most likely a coincidence that they happened so closely together – we’re not taking anything for granted,” he said.

SEPTA’s board, in a statement Friday, called on the authority to conduct thorough, swift and transparent investigations. “We know that incidents like these shake the public’s confidence in SEPTA,” the board added.

A rundown of the crashes:

  • July 21: A SEPTA bus ran into the back of another bus on the 7400 block of Roosevelt Boulevard in Rhawnhurst, killing 72-year-old Siu Nam Mak. Both buses were occupied, and police said at the time that 14 people were injured.
  • July 23: Multiple people were injured after a bus struck a utility pole at Frankford and Girard avenues in Fishtown.
  • July 24: Several people were reportedly injured after one trolley rear-ended another in Delaware County.
  • July 25: No passengers were on board, but a driver was injured when a bus crashed into a storefront at 15th and Market streets in Center City.
  • July 27: A trolley at SEPTA’s Elmwood yard rolled onto the street, striking an SUV and causing significant damage to the Blue Bell Inn at Woodland and Island avenues in Southwest Philadelphia. A mechanic was on board and sustained minor injuries.

Through June, there have been 884 crashes involving SEPTA vehicles, including fender benders and other minor incidents. That’s down 42% compared to this time last year and also significantly fewer than in 2021, according to data provided by SEPTA.

For major collisions, which are reported to the Federal Transit Administration, SEPTA recorded 63 through the first quarter of 2023, ending in March, compared to 69 last year during the same time period.