One of the platforms of SEPTA's Ambler Station, which is located on the transit system’s Lansdale/Doylestown Regional (commuter) Rail line, just outside of Philadelphia in Montgomery County, Pa.
Across the country, public transit is experiencing record ridership growth. The increase in commuters is not only good for transit organizations’ revenue; proximity to train stations and transportation centers can boost property values for surrounding communities and spur new construction of transit-oriented developments (TODs), shopping centers and other businesses.
But what happens to communities when the “T” in the TODs is no longer there?
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA’s) funding issues have been well-documented: a $300 million capital budget with a current $5 billion state-of-good-repair backlog that is estimated to grow to $6.5 billion by 2023 without additional state capital funding.
Without this money, which is necessary for critical infrastructure repairs and aging vehicle replacement, SEPTA could be forced to implement a service realignment plan that suspends nine of 13 Regional Rail (commuter) lines and truncates two others over the next 10 years, as well as convert trolleys to bus and reduce subway service levels. The plan would be put into effect beginning next year short of an immediate infusion of additional capital funding to defer the cuts.
Lack of financial support for public transportation not only inconveniences millions of riders who rely on buses, trains and trolleys to get to and from work, school and shopping, but cuts in services can have a devastating impact on a community’s property values, too, potentially affecting even non-transit users.
“The Impacts of SEPTA Regional Rail Service on Suburban House Prices,” a recent study of the four suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia (Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery) serviced by SEPTA — specifically its commuter rail system — examines data on recent housing transactions in conjunction with the transit system’s Regional Rail lines to determine the incremental value of being located near a station. The study found that that the average property value premium for the 754,000 single-family homes located in those four counties is $7,900 (approximately $6 billion a total property value). In communities with higher levels of Regional Rail service and parking capacity, the property value premium averages between $31,000 and $37,000 per house.
Another platform at the Ambler Station. The short train ride to and from Philadelphia from this station has made the town desirable for businesses, restaurants and real estate.
The study, commissioned by SEPTA and conducted independently by Econsult Solutions Inc., a Philadelphia-based economic consulting firm specializing in areas such as transportation, public infrastructure and real estate, looked at single-family house transactions from 2005 to 2012 in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties and examined the property value premium that results from being located close to a Regional Rail station. The report, available at www.econsultsolutions.com, states that the property value premiums could vanish if SEPTA is forced to implement the realignment plan.
“You can really learn a lot about how much people value things by looking at the housing market,” said Richard P. Voith, president, Econsult Solutions. “It is absolutely clear that access to SEPTA rail service adds to property values.”
This bleak scenario in the Greater Philadelphia region is one that could possibly be repeated in cities across the country. For example, in the October 8, 2013 Boston Globe, columnist Paul McMorrow writes that inadequate funding for the MBTA could “stunt Boston’s growth”, as well as that of its surrounding communities.
As Voith said, “Whether you use the system or not, it is in your best interests for [SEPTA] to continue to have a robust level of rail service. [SEPTA] contributes a lot to the overall attractiveness of the region.”
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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.
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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.