SEPTA’s regional train is not what it was before the pandemic. And it won’t be returning to the same level of service anytime soon.
As commuters slow down their return to downtown offices this summer, the transit agency is trying to get creative, find a new way to work, and try to connect the rails to buses and commuters. city trams.
Regional Rail ridership fell to non-existent during the deadliest months of the coronavirus in 2020, and is now at around 20% of pre-pandemic levels.
When SEPTA last week approved its new budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, the agency said Regional Rail trains would return, after Labor Day later this summer, to 60% of the service that was running. before March 2020. The system is currently functioning. on a modified Saturday schedule, and this for a few months.
Trains can potentially get up to 80% of the service before the pandemic, but that is not a given.
“It’s certainly not going to come back like it was before the pandemic,” SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said on Monday. “We still need to do a lot of follow-up with people coming back to office buildings, talking to employers looking to bring people back, to see what that demand will look like.”
SEPTA’s 14 regional rail lines connect downtown Philadelphia, where thousands of people work, and suburban southeastern Pennsylvania, where many of those workers live.
It was the hardest hit of the transit agency’s modes. The City Transit division, for example, which includes SEPTA’s buses, trolleys and subways, has already returned to around 80% of ridership levels before the pandemic. It will have 96% of its service restored by September, Busch said.
Regional Rail has long been a companion to Philadelphia’s transit system when it should have been associated with the system from the start, according to Tony DeSantis of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, which is a group representing the interests of passengers.
“If the regional rail system is to deliver on its promise, it really needs to be fully integrated in terms of tariffs,” DeSantis said. “It’s always been like two systems. There was Regional Rail and there was the rest of the system. It really has to stop.”
Here are some ways in which SEPTA gives users more options on regional rail lines, and how the integration of its Key tariff technology finally plays a role in the combination of the whole system.
Three-day regional rail passes
SEPTA now offers Three-day flexible passes for $ 36 that passengers can purchase and load on a key card. The pass can be used on consecutive or non-consecutive days. It was introduced in October and aligns with commuters who will no longer need to commute downtown five days a week for work.
The price is cheaper than the weekly transpass, especially for users coming from the more remote suburbs. The three-day pass also allows passengers to use buses and subways once in Philadelphia.
“There may be more immediate requests from people telecommuting now,” said Busch, a spokesperson for SEPTA. “It’s a discount from what they would get with a weekly pass.”
Loading single journeys on the SEPTA key
Before the pandemic, the occasional SEPTA user had no reason to obtain the key card, the fare technology that allows tap-on, tap-off use of the public transport system. Previously, the card could only be loaded with weekly or monthly passes for Regional Rail users.
Now every Regional Rail passenger is encouraged to get a key card and load money into it, because electronic key readers have been installed in the 155 stations of the system and the card can be loaded online with cash which is deducted every time you ride.
With electronic readers at each station, a passenger taps when they board the train and taps when they arrive at their destination. The key automatically deducts the rate.
Train service adapted to a post-pandemic world
SEPTA will use the rest of 2021 and early 2022 to collect data on when and how often runners use the system, Busch said.
This will allow the transport agency to understand if Regional Rail train schedules were to be adjusted in a way different from the pre-COVID world, focused on rush hour.
DeSantis, of DVRP, said the pandemic has accelerated what has been going on for some time now: a change in the way people work and its effect on commuting.
“This is something that people have been predicting for a long time and it has sped up the process,” he said.