SEPTA wants a better Regional Rail, it’s asking for rider feedback on what’s important - Billy Penn

More than 130,000 people a day rode SEPTA’s Regional Rail before the pandemic hit. The impact of the expansive network is huge for the Philly area — the 13 lines and 155 stations stretch into suburban counties and New Jersey, and proximity to them adds an average 7.4% value to homes.

But outstanding issues with the network have driven riders away. Its infrequent schedule favors 9-to-5 commuters — a system that collapsed under the mass move to remote work. Only about half the stations are accessible, and fares are at least double the price of buses, subways or trolleys.

Have thoughts on all that? The transit authority on Tuesday launched a survey looking for riders to share feedback.


It’s part of a year-long effort to finally make some changes to the antiquated network. The Regional Rail revamp is part of a strategic plan called SEPTA Forward, which aims to create a new vision for the transit system’s future, announced earlier this year.


Led by SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards, the initiative has already touched multiple modes of Philly transit. Earlier this month, SEPTA shared a tentative rebranding of the subways, trolleys, and light rail network to “the Metro,” along with a refresh of wayfinding signage. In the spring, officials announced a $25 million redesign of the bus network.


From now until summer 2022, SEPTA says it’ll survey people who currently ride Regional Rail, people who used to ride and people who have never ridden — plus operators, staff and other transit stakeholders.


The new Regional Rail survey is basically meant to gather info and help SEPTA plan to make a plan. Once officials figure out what people like and dislike about the current model, they say they’ll be poised to implement some big changes.

Some options on the table: adjusting the frequency of trains, modifying route lengths, changing fares, and adding better connections to other modes of transit.


“In this phase, we’re listening to the public to understand how they may or may not be using Regional Rail right now,” Jody Holton, SEPTA’s assistant general manager of planning, told Billy Penn. “We’ll come back in the spring with a couple alternatives, and some operating policies that would have to change to get there.”


Offered in English and Spanish, the online survey asks questions about how often you ride Regional Rail, what kinds of trips you use it for and whether you’d recommend the system to friends. Riders can also share their thoughts at an Oct. 12 virtual meeting, open to the public.


In general, SEPTA has been shown to have a huge economic impact in Pennsylvania — estimated around $3 billion a year. Holton said officials haven’t agreed on how much money they’re willing to spend to revamp Regional Rail. That will come after the surveying process.

“Then we have to put together a funding plan to achieve that,” Holton said. “And then it becomes a question of whether we can raise those funds.”


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