Fifty years ago on Tuesday, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) held its first organizational meeting, forming the beginnings of today’s transit system.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, according to SEPTA officials, public transportation in the Philadelphia region was failing. A number of factors, including the growing popularity of the car, families and jobs moving to the suburbs, and too many private transit providers competing for the same riders, resulted in a steady decline in the use of mass transit.
With profits falling, nearly bankrupt transit and rail companies were looking to exit the passenger business altogether. The need for government intervention and the establishment of a permanent body to run urban transit and coordinate regional service was apparent.
The problem was solved when SEPTA was charged with the planning, development, and coordination of a regional transportation system for Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties.
Starting with the absorption of the Philadelphia Transit Company (PTC) in September 1968, SEPTA evolved to become the nation's sixth largest public transportation system and one of only two agencies that operate bus, subway, trolley bus, and commuter rail all under one umbrella, serving nearly 340 million riders each year.
SEPTA is planning a year-long campaign with stories from the past to celebrate 50 years of service to the region. A list of upcoming events and programs includes:
- An advertising campaign that will feature the SEPTA logos used during the past 50 years.
- Encouraging riders to share their "first ride on SEPTA stories" through the ISEPTAPHILLY campaign. With ads now running in local media featuring a tagline about this historical milestone that says: "We're celebrating the future of SEPTA with great stories from the past. SEPTA is the vehicle, but the journey is yours."
- Special contests with prizes will also be hosted throughout the year on ISEPTAPHILLY.com.
- Hosting "Throwback Thursdays" and "Flashback Fridays" on the SEPTA Website, and on social media, featuring SEPTA retirees, and classic stories about the agency's development and past.
- Establishing a "storyteller station" at the Transit Museum Store for the public to share their stories about SEPTA, donate photos, and other memorabilia.
Central to all of these programs is the establishment of an official SEPTA archive.
"We often receive calls from the public and media about a place to access photos and information about the authority's history, but we never hosted a formal place for this. With this anniversary, we look forward to building and enriching an archive with the help of our riders, friends, and neighbors," said SEPTA GM Joseph M. Casey. "In addition to their contributions, we're asking the public and the press to keep an ear out for additional celebrations and festivities as the year moves forward."