When I have moved to Philadelphia region, I have had a bit of tough time to get set with the public transit quickly. Just like many individuals who are new to US I wasn’t readily having a Car, So i have had only one option but to make use of SEPTA to the maximum extent i can. So I am sharing my experience here as detailed as I can hoping that it will be useful for many new folks just like me. Feel free to post your comments/views/questions about this topic.
SEPTA stands for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. The transport authority who provides public transport services in and around Philadelphia city.
Modes Of Transport
SEPTA provides mainly 4 types public transport:
The the most important train service which connects surrounding regions of Philadelphia with the Center City (the heart of Philadelphia). There are about 13 regional rail routes and they all connect with the Philadelphia Center City to the surrounding regions from various directions including Philadelphia International Airport. Most regional rails run at the intervals of 1 hour.
There are three subway lines (underground trains) which serves mainly for the Philadelphia inter-city transportation. For example Broad Street(Orange) Line runs between North and South ends of the city and Market-Frankford(Blue) Line runs between East and West ends of the city. These subway trains run at the intervals of 10-15 minutes.
Buses takes care of inter-city transportation as well as covers most sub-urban areas. The City buses run at the interval of about 30 minutes where as for most suburban areas the interval will be about 1 hour. There are nearly 150 bus routes runs in and around Philadelphia city.
Trolley Lines are similar to buses they run on the ground and about the size of buses, but they travel on the tracks. Trolley lines serves mainly the city area.
The detailed bus schedules of various routes can be referred from here: http://www.septa.org/schedules/bus/index.html
The minimum fare (for a one way ride) for buses, trolley lines and subways are $2. For regional rail the minimum fare is $4. You can opt for the transfer service in bus for an additional $1. This is like switching to a different bus route (like a connecting service) from one bus route. The buses will accept cash/coins or passes. The fare machines at the bus will accept only $1 bills or coins. So make sure you have correct change before on-boarding you can’t get any change back from the machine or driver. You will have to insert 1 bill at time (don’t try inserting multiple bills into the machine, even though it sounds silly i have seen new people does this mistake during the first time), and there will be a separate slot for loading coins.
If you want to stop the bus pull the yellow wire at the corner of the seats and the driver will stop the bus at the nearest bus stop. At the suburban areas the bus stops usually indicated by sign-boards (with route numbers) installed at the electric poles.
But in most city areas there will be proper covered bus stops. All SEPTA buses are accessible.
The trolley lines fare and usage is very similar to the buses. For regional rails you can buy the tickets after on-boarding on the train or at the selective train stations before on-boarding. You can save some small amount (about $0.25 cents for a one way ride) if you buy the ticket at such train stations instead of buying the ticket after on-boarding the train. You can get the change from the ticket checker however. Unlike many other Metro transit services like Newyork and Washington, you will not find the automated ticketing machines for SEPTA. You will have to manually interact with the SEPTA officials at the ticket counter to buy tickets and passes. However SEPTA is in the process of transforming it’s existing model to the cutting edge technology within next few years.
Passes are great money saver options for frequent/daily travelers on SEPTA, but at the beginning it will be tricky to understand which pass will work best for you.
Before getting into the details of each pass type it is important to understand about SEPTA zones. The areas surrounding the Philadelphia city (suburbans) divided into 6 zones depending on their distance from the Philadelphia center city. So the pass fare will be lowest if you are closest to the Philadelphia city and will gradually increase up to the maximum fare when zone count increases.
Because of the close match many will wonder what is the difference between a Trailpass and Transpass. Please read the details below to better understand the differences.
The trailpass can be used in any mode of SEPTA transportation (bus, trolley, subway or regional rail) unlimited during any weekdays or weekends. The trail passes are the most expensive passes of all available options, so they are recommended only if you are a heavy user of all mode of SEPTA transport. A weekly trail pass will cost you $53 and monthly trail pass will cost $191 if you want to make use of all Zones. The individual zone pass prices determined based on the distance from the Philadelphia city, for example, If you living near Philadelphia let’s say in Zone 2 then the Zone 2 Trail pass can be utilized to travel unlimited (in any mode of transportation) between Philadelphia and any locations under Zone 2 (these Zones are like suburban areas). However any type of Trailpass (even individual zone pass) carries “Anywhere” status during the weekends (and major holidays). That means one can make use of these passes to travel in any type of SEPTA transit anywhere without zone restrictions.
A transpass is good for unlimited usage with buses, subways and trolleys during weekdays and weekends. But a transpass cannot be used on the regional rail during weekdays. However a transpass can be used on the regional rail during weekends (many people not aware about this). A transpass always sold a flat price independent of zones. A weekly transpass will cost $22 and monthly transpass will cost $83.
These passes are good only for Regional Rail and to travel unlimited between two specific zones (e.g. between Zone 4 and Zone 5). It costs $75 a month. But this will not carry “Anywhere” status during weekends. It’s cheap for regional rail users only.
There are few special passes which are worthy to know. Having a good knowledge about these passes will save good amount of your money.
One day convenience pass
This pass is valid for 1 day and allows up to 8 rides in any SEPTA transit except Regional Rail. This pass will cost you $7.
One day Independence pass This pass will be very useful especially for tourists and visitors of Philadelphia city. This pass will cost $11 and good for unlimited rides in any SEPTA transit for one day.
One day family Independence pass
This pass will allow a family of up to 5 members to ride unlimited in any SEPTA transit for one day. This pass will cost $28 To learn more about passes or to buy online this SEPTA’s shopping site is a good source (however it will test your patience!): https://shop.septa.org When you buy the special passes they will not carry any specific date of usage rather they will be having the dates/months/years listed. When you use them the first SEPTA official you come across will punch them as per the appropriate date to indicate that the pass is valid only for that particular day.
Where to buy the SEPTA passes?
The Trail passes and special passes usually available at major train stations. However transpass will be available only at limited locations. A transpass can be bought from major train stations at Philadelphia or SEPTA transportation center locations (these locations are kind of junction points for buses and subways (refer few example locations at: http://www.septa.org/schedules/transit/index.html) Alternatively if you have sufficient time you can order these passes from https://shop.septa.org as well. The people at the ticket counters of smaller train stations will not be having transpass (and they will not able to answer your questions about transpass as well!)
Planning your trip
SEPTA’s official website has a tool to help you for planning your trip effectively. However google transit application as always will be a great aid to learn about different options of SEPTA travel.
Watch the video below for some SEPTA transit pictures:
[Update 9/22] Effective July 1st 2013, there are some minor fare increase across all transit modes. The minimum fare for buses increased to $2.25 from $2.00. Most pass rates increased by +$1 to their existing rates.
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