May the odds be ever in your favor: Philadelphia’s Second Casino

Two nights ago, I went to an open house hosted by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, showcasing the six proposals for the second Philadelphia casino license. That license has been up for grabs since the collapse of the South Philadelphia Foxwoods proposal slated for the Delaware waterfront at Reed Street. Casinos in Pennsylvania, especially in Philadelphia neighborhoods, are a controversial subject, but one I have a personal and professional interest in. But since this is not my personal blog, things like which casino operator would be best for me, or the relative merits of legalized gambling regimes, are far off topic.  Fortunately, this process is providing ample grist for transportation nerds and urbanist advocates as well as professional gamblers.

First, a brief aside about who should care about casino transportation. There are, broadly speaking, three categories of people in a casino: workers, casual visitors, and frequent visitors. Casinos are traditionally designed around catering to the needs of the frequent visitors, and while I can attest to that bias being flattering on occasion, it’s not remotely optimal when it comes to transportation planning. Workers and casual visitors will make up the vast majority of the people who will arrive and leave on any given day, and the more prosocial the casino is designed to be, the more overwhelmingly true this will be. In response to this, the industry norm is to oversupply a casino with parking, and to treat parking as a loss leader. Needless to say, such an approach is potentially disastrous in a dense urban environment like Philadelphia. Context is not merely important; context is everything.
Continue reading May the odds be ever in your favor: Philadelphia’s Second Casino


FY2014 and NPT: The Monthly Pass Break-Evens

One measure of unlimited passes is: at what point do they become cheaper, per ride, than paying for rides individually? This ratio is one that calls for balance from any transit agency. Lower pass prices encourage the prepayment of fares, which is good for the agency financially, and increases discretionary ridership that drives mode shift to transit. But on the flip side the agency may be leaving revenue on the table if riders were willing to pay more, and also may increase cost liability if riders with unlimited passes make heavy use of their privileges. As SEPTA’s famously complicated (but also increasingly oversimplified) fare system comes up for a refresh, it’s worth running through some numbers and seeing where SEPTA is setting — and moving — that line for its riders.

I’m restricting myself to monthly passes in this post, and not running the weekly numbers, because monthly passes are far superior deals, except in the most extraordinary circumstances. And because after having made this batch of calculations, I already want to stab my eyes out.


  • All single rides are calculated at the token/smart media rate (transit) or at the advance purchase one way ticket rate (railroad) except where indicated otherwise.
  • Direction indicated is AM Peak.
  • Bold indicates a change of more than one (1) ride per month.

...............................Rides Pass req'd Rides Pass req'd
Broad/Ellsworth - City Hall... | 54 | Transpass | 52 | Transpass
Drexel Hill Jct - 34th/Market. | 33 | Transpass | 33 | Transpass
19th/Market - 54th/City Line.. | 45 | Zone 1... | 52 | Transpass
Matsonford - Bryn Mawr (NHSL). | 54 | Transpass | 44 | Zone 1
Bridgeport - 69th St.......... | 51 | X-County. | 44 | Zone 1
Gulph Mills - Valley Forge.... | 54 | Transpass | 41 | Zone 2
13th/Market - King of Prussia. | 51 | Zone 3... | 41 | Zone 2
East Falls - 30th Street...... | 23 | Zone 1... | 22 | Zone 1
Suburban Station - Sedgwick... | 21 | Zone 1... | 22 | Zone 1
University City - Airport..... | 14 | Transpass | 16 | Zone 1
Sedgwick - Suburban Station... | 29 | Zone 2... | 29 | Zone 2
Swarthmore - Market East...... | 29 | Zone 3... | 29 | Zone 3
Temple University - Wilmington | 25 | Zone 3... | 26 | Zone 3
Suburban Station - Trenton.... | 18 | Zone 3... | 19 | Zone 3
Neshaminy Falls - Market East. | 29 | Zone 4... | 29 | Zone 3
Wilmington - Temple University | 29 | Zone 4... | 30 | Anywhere
Ridley Park - Claymont........ | 24 | IM-1..... | 32 | X-County
Paoli - Overbrook............. | 28 | X-County. | 32 | X-County
Lansdale - Suburban Station... | 31 | Anywhere. | 30 | Anywhere
Trenton - Suburban Station.... | 22 | Anywhere. | 22 | Anywhere
Wayne Junction - Ardmore...... | 24 | Zone 2... | 16 | Zone 2
Manayunk - Trenton............ | 17 | Zone 3... | 19 | Zone 3
Colmar - Bala................. | 21 | Anywhere. | 22 | Anywhere

I think the first object lesson has to be that, if you don’t transfer and don’t incur a zone charge (or “premium route fare”), the Transpass is a terrible deal compared to tokens. The second is that the changes to Intermediate and Via Center City riders were clearly pulled from a hat in 1234 Market, because clearly no design or thought went into them.

I should acknowledge Ben Kabak’s 30-Day Metrocard Challenge as an inspiration for this post, which is much more one-dimensional than this, probably to his great relief. (I can’t find the relevant post, but after the most recent MTA fare hike on the first of this month, the break-even point on 30 Day Unlimited Metrocards inched back down to 48.)

Another weekend of bustitution on the Manayunk/Norristown Line

As much as I give SEPTA a hard time for its failings, I try to also point out where it does a good job. This goes doubly for the realm of customer service and communications, an area where SEPTA has historically done quite poorly, and where it still falls short on occasion.

In that spirit, let me point to this wonderfully-written and mercifully complete explanation of the medium scale-project, underway over recent weekends, to upgrade and maintain the Manayunk/Norristown Regional Rail Line. It gives a complete overview of what is happening and why, with enough technical detail to satisfy the knowledgeable, but not so much that it overwhelms the ordinary reader. Well done, SEPTA communications!

In brief, this project is adding a crossover between the two tracks near Miquon station, which will allow for partial service when the line is blocked by Schyulkill River flooding, which is a nearly-annual (and, as climate change grows worse, increasing) annoyance to Manayunk/Norristown riders. It will also allow for hourly service on the line during the remainder of this project and all future maintenance projects, much to the delight of riders, who are probably growing tired of these weekend shutdowns.

This weekend’s disruptions, detailed here by SEPTA, run as follows:

  • Train service will run from Center City to Ivy Ridge. Trains will be on normal schedules in both directions at Wissahickon, but inbound trains will leave Ivy Ridge 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
  • Shuttle buses will serve Elm Street, Main Street, Norristown TC, Conshohocken, and Spring Mill stations. Shuttle buses will connect at Wissahickon in both directions. Inbound bustituted service will depart about 32 minutes ahead of scheduled times.
  • Miquon station riders are SOL.
  • Norristown TC passengers will retain the option of taking the NHSL to Gulph Mills for the 124/125, or to 69th Street for the MFSE.
  • Special conditions will apply to the late night Saturday runs.

No word yet from SEPTA as to whether this weekend’s shutdown is the last, or if there is another weekend of pain in store before RIVER interlocking goes online.

The Pennsylvanian lives

Late breaking news tonight, that the Amtrak Pennsylvanian, which serves New York, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and intermediate points, will continue to run past October of this year.  That is when PRIIA ’08 mandates that all Amtrak routes shorter than 750 miles either receive state support, or be removed from the national network.  The only two routes that America’s Railroad had yet to find funding agreements for were the Pennsylvanian and the Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis; all indications out of Indiana are that the state government is implacably hostile to any support of Amtrak, and that the Hoosier State will die.  

The Pennsylvanian is the only Amtrak train that serves the cities of western Pennsylvania between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, including Altoona and Johnstown, along the former main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

No details of the agreement are available, (only a laconic press release from Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman), but given that the state funding formula is fixed., we can only presume that the Governor and his Transportation Secretary have agreed to include a Pennsylvanian line item in the PennDOT budgeting process.  I’ll update here with the details as they become available.

In the first 24 hours, news venues are only saying that the Corbett administration is promising to include $3.8 million of the $5.7 million Amtrak was asking in the next budget, but are giving no details as to how this is adequate for Amtrak. I am going to continue to keep an eye on this, and hopefully further details will emerge.

The End of an Era

At a ceremony this morning at the Hyundai Rotem assembly plant on Weccacoe Avenue in South Philadelphia, officials from SEPTA and Hyundai Rotem celebrated the construction of Silverliner Vs 881 and 882. When this pair of cars completes its testing period and is accepted by SEPTA, it will mark the end of the Silverliner V acquisition process. That period started, depending on how one counts, either on March 3 2010, when Rotem delivered 701 as the first of the 120 Silverliner Vs, or in June 2002, when SEPTA first issued the RFP for the new railcars.

And what a long, strange trip it’s been in the eleven years since those early days. The contract was awarded, sued over, rescinded, then re-awarded to the same bidder. (Oh, and we fought the entirety of the Iraq War.) Construction was delayed, delayed, and delayed again. (The poor sods at MBTA, who ordered bilevel commuter rail cars from Rotem after SEPTA gave them a foothold in the American market, have threatened cancellation over the delays that have cascaded to their order.) SEPTA waffled back and forth over whether they would have full cabs or half-cabs for their engineers, before settling on half-cabs. And when the Silverliner Vs first rolled out, they had to be pulled from service to correct assembly defects that caused cracked shells, and design errors that compromised the climate control performance.

We hope MBTA had a penalty clause in their contract like the one SEPTA rightly insisted on, which levied a penalty on every late Silverliner of $200/car/day. We hope that SEPTA insists on payment in cash, and not in-kind payments of the kind they have negotiated previously with other vendors. And we hope that SEPTA remembers all this when they consider the replacements for the 231 Silverliner IVs, just as the 120 Silverliner Vs replaced 75 Silverliner IIs and IIIs.

After all, the Silverliner IVs turn 40 this year. Even shotwelded stainless steel railcars have a shelf life. The calendar marches forward…

FY2014 and NPT: City and Suburban Transit Divisional tariffs

The transit side of SEPTA’s July 1 fare hike is, mercifully, easier to write about than the railroad side. One almost sees why SEPTA has such a mania for oversimplifying its fare structure. But such is the lot of the (alleged) transit professional: while Your Humble Blogger gets to complain about typing volume, the accountants and lawyers writing up the new tariff drafts are being paid to create the best fare structure for SEPTA and its riders, not their own convenience. But despite the simplicity of the task before it, SEPTA still managed to get some things in its new transit fares profoundly wrong.
Continue reading FY2014 and NPT: City and Suburban Transit Divisional tariffs

FY2014 and NPT: Save the Dates!

SEPTA is required by law to hold public hearings whenever it enacts major fare changes.  SEPTA, at least in its current incarnation, takes these meetings seriously.  To reiterate the point I made Friday night, they are not show trials.  This is not the MTA. While some things are unavoidable (a complaint about a fare increase approximately equal to the rate of inflation is going to be a waste of everyone’s time), major proposed changes in rules or policies are sometimes floated only to be rescinded in the face of major and reasonable public opposition.  So if you want to see the problems with the new FY 2014 operating budget and NPT-related tariff changes fixed, I highly suggest that you engage in the process, and show up to  a hearing.

SEPTA is increasing the number of hearings this year, holding an afternoon and an evening hearing apiece in all five Pennsylvania counties served, as opposed to the traditional one each in the four suburban counties and two in Philadelphia.  Written comments can be e-mailed to Oral statements should be held to a few minutes, and written copies of prepared text should be brought and submitted.

This year’s hearings will be:

Continue reading FY2014 and NPT: Save the Dates!