SEPTA’s service planners collaborated with developers of a new retail center to ensure that public transportation was incorporated into the site’s plans. The planners also worked with the public to add a bus route that provides safer access to a playground.
Living and working close to public transportation is not only convenient, but for those without a car it’s essential.
While a new concept for some, transit-oriented developments (TODs) have always been a way of life for urban dwellers living where public transit is the primary means of transportation. Developers of supermarkets and shopping centers must design their new businesses with transportation in mind. Ideally, during the planning stages each new business center will seek input from representatives of the local public transportation agency. TOD planners know it is absolutely necessary to reevaluate train schedules and bus routes to provide customers with a high level of service to retail outlets and attractions while maintaining efficiencies in operating.
Thus the challenge that is service planning.
Ridership — current and anticipated — is one of the most important factors transit service planners take into consideration when deciding how, and if, timetables and routes need to be adjusted or extended. A key to successfully meeting the scheduling challenge is having a good relationship with community groups, developers and local government representatives.
Service planning for Baker’s Centre, a new retail center (shown), included making sure roadways could support buses and the addition of an "island" that provides dedicated space for passengers to safely debark and board buses.
In Philadelphia, a retail center recently opened on the site of the former Tastykake baking factory. Vacant since the bakery relocated to Philadelphia’s Navy Yard three years ago, the new “Baker’s Centre” includes a supermarket, clothing stores, restaurants and beauty salons, revitalizing a neighborhood by providing much-needed jobs and shopping destinations. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) collaborated with developers throughout the project to ensure that public transportation was incorporated into the site’s plans. This work included making sure roadways could support buses and the addition of an "island" that provides dedicated space for passengers to safely disembark and board buses. After Baker’s Centre opened, two bus routes were modified to accommodate employees and customers.
According to Charles Webb, SEPTA's chief officer, service planning, this is a model for how transportation companies can work with developers to ensure employees and customers have public transit access to shopping destinations.
"The key with Bakers Centre was getting in on the ground floor," said Webb. "We've been able to work with the developers to make sure we're able to provide the right kind of service for our customers."
In addition to helping customers reach employment and shopping destinations, transit service expansions can also help community members participate in healthy lifestyle activities. For example, this summer, SEPTA extended its Route 3 bus on weekends just five minutes from the end of its line to Smith Memorial Playground in Fairmount Park.
A community landmark for 114 years, Smith Memorial Playground is a six-and-a-half acre facility with more than 50 pieces of equipment for children. The playground provides opportunities for children to engage in creative play and the extension of the Route 3 Bus to the facility is aimed at attracting more families to visit Smith for play and exercise.
“The Route 3 operates from Frankford Transportation Center in Northeast Philadelphia to the Strawberry Mansion section of the city,” said Frances Jones, SEPTA’ s assistant GM, government relations. “The length of the route makes getting to the playground a wonderful option for many families across Philadelphia and will allow for new families to discover the facility, getting there safely on our buses.”
Without the extension to the playground, visitors and employees have to take a walking route. In some places, there is no sidewalk and pedestrians must walk in the street. SEPTA’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) was instrumental in helping the Route 3 extension become a reality, submitting a written service planning recommendation and submitting testimony at SEPTA’s Service Planning public hearing earlier this year. The extension will be reviewed by SEPTA most likely after next summer and if ridership warrants, the route extension will be provided year round.
For SEPTA’s service planners, putting together the schedules for 119 bus and eight trolley routes and one high-speed rail, two subway/elevated and 13 regional rail lines is like completing a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle. But by soliciting community input and collaborating with elected officials and business leaders, the puzzle pieces can be put together a little easier.
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Seeing a canine passenger on mass transit is not uncommon, but the reasons why a dog might catch the train or hop a bus are varied (remember Eclipse, the Seattle Lab mix that uses the bus, often on her own, to get to the dog park?). Most public transit pooches are working —as K-9 officers or service animals. In the Philadelphia region, other animals — in approved carriers only—are permitted to ride the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s buses, trains and trolleys. However, a new pilot program underway by SEPTA allows registered therapy dogs volunteering at two Philadelphia hospitals to use two designated bus routes to travel to their sites.
To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.
The Uber website proudly states that, “Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 200 cities today, Uber's rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.” Such hype is common on corporate websites, but when the braggadocio is backed up by an article in the Wall Street Journal that discloses a valuation of $41 billion their ambitious words take on relevance.
As the world changes with the rapid advancement of connected devices and technologies, so must the transportation industry. In a business area where change is sluggish, DOTs across the country must adapt quickly to the evolving technologies that are going to impact their operations and budget. There are at least three technologies that will have immense impact over the next two decades on how we travel and how state transportation departments react to provide mobility — connectedness, big data and automation.
Around the world, artwork of all forms adorns transportation centers, stations and bus shelters. While many of these statues, paintings, mosaics and sculptures are permanently installed as part of a station’s architecture, transportation organizations can use their spaces for art exhibitions that not only make transit hubs more aesthetically pleasing for commuters, but also inspire budding artists. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) recently partnered with two organizations to showcase the artistic talent of youth from the Greater Philadelphia region and around the world.