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July 23, 2017

As ride sharing spreads in Philly, SEPTA considers changes to bus system

The number of regular SEPTA bus riders has shrunk considerably since 2013, the last full year before ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft made their way to Philadelphia. According to Philly.com, SEPTA saw 161 million ride trips in 2016 -- nearly 14 million less than ridership three years earlier.

A big reason for the shift is the bus’ unpredictable schedules mingled with the at-your-fingertips ease of requesting a ride from your smartphone. Commuters at risk of running late can simply request a ride if they happen to miss their bus, or if the bus seems to be running late.

Though the growth of ride-sharing apps is nothing new, it’s possible that the prominence of the transportation method could lead to change in Philadelphia’s public transit system. Philly.com reported that the ridership led SEPTA to tap analysts that will review the system and “likely feed a two-year plan to reinvent SEPTA’s bus network.”

Details of what that means aren’t confirmed, but could include designing routes or shifting street spacing to make bus travel more efficient.

Also notable is the drop in wait time for Uber in the Philadelphia area from 2014 to 2016. Stretching out to the Main Line, Bucks County, and other areas outside Center City, the average wait time for a ride is typically no more than five minutes.

Last summer when SEPTA delays were a daily experience as the system went under construction to update old trains and roll out new ones, the transit system experimented in partnering with Uber for discounted rates for SEPTA regional rail riders. Though it was just a pilot program, it could foreshadow similar partnerships aiming to improve the public transit experience in Philadelphia.

“What we’re really talking about is the future of cities,” Erik Johanson, SEPTA’s director of innovation, told Philly.com. “Public transit is the lifeblood of cities. It’s the only thing that feeds that density.”