If you’re one of the few people who really know me, you already know I crack off jokes about SEPTA on occasion, from nothing says “Good Morning, Philly” like equipment problems to the real motto of SEPTA isn’t “We’re Getting There” it’s “We’re Getting There [Eventually]”. But despite the equipment problems, insanely crowded trains on a game day, interesting…. people, non-24/7 service, wonderful smells, and still using tokens to pay fares, damn it all, I miss SEPTA. Let’s face it, driving in a city doesn’t just suck, driving period sucks. America truly has a pathetic infrastructure when it comes to transportation.
On my commute to work, I get to drive on a wonderful little project called the Highstown Bypass. Sure, it does indeed bypass the Turnpike traffic and wot not, but it’s a project that’s been under construction for years and still isn’t finished. The best part is that NJDOT insists on doing work on it in the middle of morning rush hour traffic. As a result, you seriously never know what the drive will be like on any given day. SEPTA, on the other hand, does have it’s fair share of less than welcome surprises, but for the most part, it is moderately reliable. SEPTA is fantastic when it comes to getting alerts out about service disruptions. They’re on both Twitter and ReadyPA. Both take maybe five minutes at most to set up and have up-to-the-second service alerts. As for driving, well, you know when you get stuck in the traffic.
While SEPTA will indeed take more time than driving to get to some parts, most of the time, it will get you where you want to go – it just might take an extra hour with all the stops. Save for perhaps the bus system, SEPTA has a remarkably easy to figure out system. Going West to East/NE in Philly? Hop on the MFL (Market-Frankford Line). North to South? That’s the BSL (Broad Street Line). Unlike some other systems *cough*MTA*cough*, SEPTA does actually post route maps and guides both in stations and on vehicles. Learning the basics of the system will take about a week, if that.
While it may not be a five-minute wait between trains, nor will it automatically dispatch an extra train for extra crowded stations, the timetables are also relatively easy to figure out. For example, the MFL is roughly 8-10 minutes between trains, with the waits shorter during peak hours and longer during the weekends due to the smaller ridership. SEPTA is also nice enough to serve up several express trains and special busses. Going to a game? Screw the parking lot lines, just take the Sports Express.
As for the people, well, that can really depend. But I’d gladly take SEPTA over some of the drivers we have here in NJ. Just remember, SEPTA is a public mass transit system. It’s not your private driver. Don’t be an idiot and keep your electronics stored and off and you should be OK. Be aware of your surroundings. Listing to your $300 iPod on SEPTA is a really stupid idea. If you’re a student at Penn or Drexel and you’re not sure if someone is following you out of the station, use the escort system. Our tuition goes towards it for a reason. Yes, I have used it. In broad daylight too. Why? Because while I did have it in my bag, I did just come back from the iPad 2 launch event. I’d much rather look like a pansy than have four hours of waiting and $500 go down the drain in a split second.
Bottom line, sure, SEPTA is far from perfect and you do have to be careful, but it sure does making getting around Philly quite easy. While like any public transit system, it does break down, but SEPTA has plenty of resources to keep you informed about it. I may regularly nail SEPTA about Getting There [Eventually], but they actually are. In just nine months, I saw SEPTA do some insanely smart upgrades to the system, such as talking trolleys. While the busses have talked for a while, the TRL system just started to get talking trolleys late last year. SEPTA is also working on finally killing off tokens through a project known as NPT, or New Payment Technologies. Soon[ish], SEPTA fares will be paid for via a pre-paid card with NFC, your NFC-enabled cell phone, an NFC credit card, or a university ID. Personally, I can’t wait to see NPT go live. I just hope that [Eventually] is before 2015.