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City and SEPTA find itís not so easy to speed up a South Philly bus route

Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) and SEPTA have completed a six-month pilot of skip-stop service on the Route 47 bus between South Philadelphia and Center City. They were hoping to speed buses up by having them stop for passengers every other block, instead of stopping at every block. However, supporters did not see the time savings they were hoping for, and in fact found some buses ran more slowly. As a result, they have re-established the bus stops that were taken away. 

Six months ago, the city and SEPTA were dreaming about allowing the Route 47 bus to run seven or more minutes faster, which would enable a bus to make an extra run. Fast forward to the pilot, and the reality was a bus that ran almost two minutes quicker at the most, according to Ariel Ben-Amos, a planner in the MOTU. This was on the northbound side, which saw more time savings than the southbound side. Unexpectedly, southbound service was 1 minute, 12 seconds slower during the afternoon rush hour with the skip-stop service, says Ben-Amos. At other times of the day, the removal of stops only sped the southbound bus up by about a minute.

The Office of Transportation and Utilities has a few explanations for why the service alteration didn't work as well as expected. The Route 47 traverses a "very dense neighborhood with lots of blocks we have to stop at because of stop signs," recognizes Ben-Amos. The planner also blames seemingly omnipresent utility work, which delayed the route by forcing buses to detour. Ben-Amos elaborates by saying there was a detour along the route at some time about every other day.

Another factor to the reversal on the Route 47 pilot was changing rider and community group reactions. Ben-Amos says that some riders noticed a faster trip on their bus, but others did not. This dampened rider support for the pilot. At the beginning of the pilot, there was weighty support from community groups along the bus route. However, at least one civic association expressed skepticism about the removal of a few stops later during the pilot.

Stop consolidation was a major part of the city and SEPTA’s test, but it wasn’'t the only change in service. They also decided to depart buses every six minutes from their terminus at Oregon Ave.'s Whitman Plaza, regardless of what time it was. This change is also being done away with. However, other elements of the pilot are being retained, such as the change in trash collection times to avoid delaying buses during rush hour, backdoor loading at 8th and Market Sts. during the afternoon rush period, and the moving of the 8th and Walnut Sts. stop to the far side of the intersection. 

Another component that will be retained is the newfound cooperation between the city and SEPTA. For decades, it looked like city transportation officials and SEPTA couldn’t get on the same page. Ben-Amos says he’s especially happy that this has changed. This cooperation will again be on display as the city and the Authority work on traffic signal priority for select bus and trolley routes.

Source: Ariel Ben-Amos, Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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