In September 2021, SEPTA launched a complete overhaul of their wayfinding system for trolley lines, the subway, and the El: “SEPTA Metro”. This Metro rebranding marks the first time Philadelphia has a single term to refer to its complex urban rail network. It marks a noticeable improvement from the cryptic signage and confusing navigation that currently plagues the system. The decreased reliance on text will make the system more accessible to new immigrants and riders with disabilities. We are glad that SEPTA has incorporated input from its riders, and members of the Philly Transit Riders Union; life-long and disabled users of our transit system.
While the importance of clear, accessible way-finding shouldn’t be understated, we are concerned about priorities. The wayfinding project is happening alongside a cost-neutral “Bus Revolution” that won’t increase the overall service in the Philly region. Even prior to the delays exacerbated by the operator shortage, many routes near Center City operated at 30 minute frequencies, while buses further out in the region show up only every 60-90 minutes. With $40 million to be spent on wayfinding and rebranding, SEPTA has neglected to make similar levels of investments into improving transit service.
We are also slightly concerned about SEPTA surveys and the public engagement process. SEPTA’s wayfinding survey received 1500+ responses, which is 0.8% of the average weekday ridership of the El. A small survey sample size is acceptable as long as it is a representative sample of actual SEPTA riders. Otherwise, an online survey is little more than a social media popularity contest, which should not drive public policy.
The TRU would like to know how the proposed $40 million will be spent and what percentage of it is going to physical infrastructure compared to consultants. We ask that SEPTA publish a detailed, line-item budget for the Metro rebranding project. All raw survey data collected by SEPTA should be made public.
Most importantly, SEPTA should be asking local, state, and federal governments for more money to increase service and reverse years of service cuts. New signage won’t attract more riders if the sign leads you to public transit that doesn’t show up.
If you believe in organizing for a well-funded public transit system that serves the public good, join the Philly Transit Riders Union.