Philly Transit Riders Union

COVID-19 Service Recommendations, April 2020


The Philly Transit Riders Union (TRU) is a group of public transportation riders and transit employees who care deeply about public transit. We believe that public transportation should be safe, affordable, and accessible to everyone.

We are concerned about the negative effects of SEPTA’s reduced “Lifeline Service” on both transit riders and employees. The service recommendations in this report come from both transit riders and workers who have been personally affected by these service reductions.


Service decreases pose a dual public health risk for transit riders and operators. Riders may end up on crowded vehicles or, in the event a vehicle has to pass them up due to overcrowding, they may end up walking dangerous streets to get to work. Transit operators, with less runs available may end up waiting in crowded depots.

All surface transit division routes (bus, trolley and trackless trolley) should operate at a frequency of every 20-30 minutes. Service should operate at this bare minimum using the current SEPTA service standards. This will alleviate overcrowding both on vehicles and in depots. Certain high ridership lines such as Routes 16, 18, 113 & R for example would have shorter headways as well. SEPTA Operators and Supervision should be permitted to operate “overflow” vehicles for overcrowded routes at their discretion.

All essential service routes should operate on a temporary 24 hour schedule. During the base, vehicles should be every 20 minutes. During the early morning and evening periods, service could run every 30 minutes. During the late evening and Nite Owl period, service could be every 30-60 minutes depending on the route. This will also offer more runs to operators to choose from during this crisis and will quell some seniority complaints we’ve heard from operators.

Operate all vehicles with the emergency hatch open. COVID-19 can spread through air droplets and the natural airflow in transit vehicles can put operators directly at risk. Under some circumstances, all air from the interior of the vehicle exits the vehicle near the operator. We suggest that all transit vehicles operate with the emergency hatch open until further notice. This will allow all cabin air to pass through the emergency hatch.

We believe that communication is vital during this time. Many operators and riders feel that their voices are not being heard. The TRU suggests that SEPTA should conduct an internal survey of employees who are on the front lines of this pandemic to ensure their needs are being met. The results of this survey should be made public.

We also strongly encourage SEPTA GM Leslie Richards and members of the SEPTA staff to provide weekly updates at a regular time on service and policy changes. We suggest using bulletin board and vehicle card car posts to keep riders informed since many Philadelphians do not have internet access.


Transit riders and transit employees are not served well by the current SEPTA “Lifeline Service”.

For riders, “Lifeline Service” means that many transit routes are truncated. This leaves many essential workers doing a 10+ hour shift and having to walk several miles to public transportation before and after work. Riders also need locations where they can wait safely and transfer easily because of the reduced service.

For employees, operators need safe places to use the restroom and to recover, especially with numerous businesses closed. After each trip, operators need a place where they can wash their hands with soap and hot water. Proper hand-washing is one of the most important ways that we can stop the spread of COVID-19.

Vehicles need to be in specific locations so they can be sanitized between trips. This is best done by having staff in one centralized location instead of scattered across the system at various transit turnaround facilities.

For these reasons, we suggest that “Lifeline Service” should be expanded. Our conversations with transit employees and riders have convinced us that the following routes are essential:

3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 13-18, 20-26, 29, 32, 33, 34, 36, 37, 40, 42, 46, 47, 49, 52-61, 64-70, 75, 79, 84, 90, 93, 94, 96, 97, 99, 100, 101, 102, 104, 106, 108-110, 113, 114, 115, 117, 124, 129, 130, 132, G, H, XH, J, K, L, R

One area particularly hard hit by these service reductions is North Philadelphia, west of Broad between Girard and Allegheny. Below is a map of current “Lifeline Service”:

SEPTA “Lifeline Service”

This roughly twelve square block area is home to many essential workers and has been left with next to no transit service since SEPTA “Lifeline Service” began on Thursday April 9th.

In contrast, the Philly Transit Riders Union proposes service expansions for the same area:

Philly TRU Proposed “Lifeline Service”

We find it confusing that SEPTA’s Route 33 isn’t currently considered “essential”. It is one of the highest ridership routes, part of the Nite Owl network, and we’ve heard from many essential workers affected by its elimination. All routes that are part of the Nite Owl network should be considered essential.


In order to give riders safe and easy transfer locations, operators proper hand washing and sanitation facilities, and for efficient cleaning of vehicles, we suggest the following route extensions and modifications.


Route 15: Service extended from 63rd & Girard to 63rd & Malvern so that vehicles can be sanitized and operators provided a proper restroom location

Routes 59 & 75: Service extended from Arrott Transportation Center to Frankford Transportation Center (Route 66 boarding location). This will allow for better transfers and better vehicle sanitation facilities.


Route 3: Service extended from 33rd & Cecil B. Moore to 33rd & Dauphin to provide a safer transfer location, so that buses could be sanitized and so that operators have a proper restroom location

Route 16: Service extended from 15th & Market to Broad & Pattison to provide additional service along Broad St to supplement the BSL

Route 21: Service to operate via Market Street in both directions from 69th Street TC as far east as 15th & Market to supplement the MFL

Route 32: Service extension from Ridge & Lyceum to Ridge & Cathedral to provide residents with more access to food and provisions at Andorra SC

Route 40: Service extended from Conshohocken & Monument to Wissahickon TC so passengers have better transfer opportunities, operators have a proper restroom location and so vehicles can be sanitized

Route 49: Northbound service restructured to operate via 33rd and Dickinson Loop so that operators have a proper restroom location and so that vehicles can be sanitized

Route 52: Service extension from 54th & City to Wissahickon TC for a safer transfer location, so that buses could be sanitized and so that operators have a proper restroom location

Route 54: Service extended from Richmond & Cambria to the temporary layover for Madison Loop so that buses can be sanitized and that operators have a proper restroom location

Route 60: Service extended from 35th & Allegheny to 33rd & Dauphin so that buses can be sanitized and that operators have a proper restroom location

Route 61: Service extended from Container Loop to Ridge & Cathedral to provide residents with access to food and provisions at Andorra Shopping Center

Route 79: Service extended from 29th & Snyder to 33rd & Dickinson so that buses can be sanitized and operators have a proper restroom location.

Route 115: Service temporarily discontinued to Delaware County Community College and temporarily restored to Ardmore Regional Rail Station to provide operators with adequate restroom locations and for increased transfer opportunities

Route G: Niteowl Trips extended from 59th & Columbia to 63rd & Malvern so that operators will have a proper restroom location

Route K: Service extended from Ridge & Midvale westbound to Wissahickon TC. Eastbound service extended from Arrott TC to Frankford TC (Route 19 boarding location) so that operators have a proper restroom location, better transfer opportunities and so that vehicles can be sanitized


We submit these recommendations as suggestions from Philadelphia area transit riders and operators. We understand that SEPTA is in a financially difficult position since the agency’s funding heavily relies on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and fare box revenue. Our final recommendation is that SEPTA should request additional emergency federal funding to maintain a high level of cleanliness and safety for Philadelphia’s emergency workers.

You can reach us any time at or 267-313-6060.

Compiled by the Philly Transit Riders Union Research Committee on April 20, 2020.

Download a PDF of this report here