Thoughts on SEPTA

As I’ve mentioned on here before, I’m not one to go without cracking off a joke or two about SEPTA. There are times when you’re riding with a rather, shall we say “interesting”, crowd, reliability varies, especially in the on-time category, and we still use tokens (although those should be on their way out beginning the end of this year). Yet despite all of that, I don’t think I could go without SEPTA. They serve a damn good chunk of PA and there are plenty of SEPTA connections from Drexel. That being said, SEPTA’s really not all that bad.

While in some ways SEPTA is behind the rest of the world, they do appear to be making a genuine effort to change that. NPT, once it finally gets rolled out, looks like it should be a fantastic replacement for tokens. As a fan of NFC, I personally can’t wait for it to go live (heck, I’ve already volunteered to test it). Stations are very slowly being improved, but they’re still missing decent signage, especially ones telling when the next train will arrive or if there’s a service disruption. However, on the upside, SEPTA does make all of its information (well, almost all) available for free to third-party developers, who are doing a fantastic job with that data (huge hat tip to Embark PHL). They’ve also finally jumped on the Twitter bandwagon and I’ve found their Twitter feeds extremely helpful (did you know every single service has its own?) and their customer service account, @SEPTA_SOCIAL, is especially awesome. So, while SEPTA’s slogan may no longer be “We’re Getting There”, they are finally getting there from the technology standpoint.

As for the SEPTA fleet, simply put, you know when you’re on an old member of the fleet and you know when you’re on a newer member. The one major exception to this is the Broad Street Line, which runs a hell of a lot better and quieter than the Market Frankford Line (no doubt being manufactured by Kawasaki helps, but I’m not going to go there). The trolleys (also Kawasaki) may well be the best way to get into Center City. They might be slower and smaller than the MFL, but they run a lot more often. As for the busses, they’re busses. Most of them are hybrids and are pretty much what you’d expect from a modern city bus. Regional rail is perhaps the most interesting of the fleet. While the older fleet (pre-Silverliner V), which I personally call the Shitliners, do very much suck, no doubt because of their age, the new fleet is nothing short of amazing. The Silverliner V, or Sexyliner as I call it, is a remarkable train for being a commuter rail train. It’s clean, it’s wicked fast (top speed 100, with impressive acceleration), and every stop is automatically announced loud-and-clear by the computer as the TVs display it too (yep, I said TVs). While its development has apparently been controversial and not without delays, Hyundai and SEPTA, well done. I’ve yet to see a better commuter rail fleet in the US (I’m not counting Amtrak, whose Acela still blows the Silverliner V out of the water).

Bottom line, yes I rip on SEPTA plenty of times and their track record is shaky, but I’ve seen genuine improvement over the last three years I’ve lived in Philly. For such a huge system, they do a pretty good job of being reliable. Their usage of technology could still use improvement, but I am an Information Technology major (yay bias!). So SEPTA, while you may not officially be “getting there” any more, you certainly are in my book. Keep it up 😉

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