In June 2009, Chris Dougherty, Steve Ives, Steve Weinik, and I put in a full shift riding SEPTA. The transit agency had recently released its Independence Pass, a bigger, better version of its all-day pass, one that now allowed for unlimited rides on regional rail (with the lone exception being a $5 surcharge to travel into New Jersey, as though anyone would pay $5 extra to travel into New Jersey). Our goal was simple: start and stop at the same place, and in between each man rides for himself, wherever SEPTA carries him, photographing the journey along the way.
Five years later, June 2014, we did it again. Last time, we began and ended our Saturday at Market East Station (Starbucks in the morning, Field House pub in the evening). We represented South Philly, West Philly, G-Ho, and Fishtown, respectively. This time, Friday the 13th with a full moon and SEPTA strike looming, our base was 30th Street Station (Così for morning coffee, Bridgewaters Pub for evening ales), and all of us but Steve Ives were coming from Mt Airy.
Also this time, SEPTA was onboard, so to speak. Where in 2009 we just did it, in 2014, we each carried a letter of permission signed by SEPTA Public Information Manager Heather Redfern, in the event that anyone give us guff. It authorized permission to photograph SEPTA vehicles and stations, but forbade anything “that would interfere with the safe movement of people or operation of vehicles.” It also cautioned the use of common sense and courtesy of others, which only presented a challenge for Ives. None of us had to use the letter.
Additionally, SEPTA’s Sales Director Tom Kelly shared some stats on the Independence Pass with us. The pass comes in two forms: the individual for $12 and the family for $29, providing all-day service for a family of up to five riding together to, say, the Zoo or a Phillies game. The Independence Pass differs from SEPTA’s One-Day Convenience Pass, which costs $8 and allows for up to eight rides on any bus, trolley, or subway/el, but NOT regional rail. It’s more city-oriented than the regional Independence Pass, and as such, it sells better. “We see a lot of use for Convenience Passes in the city where people don’t need the train,” Kelly says. “Plus it’s accepted on specialty routes like the King of Prussia Mall buses, and it’s cheaper than a weekly pass.”
Nevertheless, for only $4 more and unlimited rides (as opposed to just eight) that also include regional rail, the Independence Pass seems far more convenient than the Convenience Pass. It makes me scratch my head a little that, for the current fiscal year, SEPTA has sold 650,000 Convenience Passes to only 185,000 individual Independence Passes. The family Independence Pass has sold 12,000.
Kelly also says that the “Indie Passes,” as they’re dubbed at SEPTA’s 1234 Market headquarters, will be part of the fare structure and incorporated into the New Payment Technology, which will arrive some day.
Friday the 13th of June, 2014.
It was hot—so hot—and humid, and then the sky opened up on us. When Dougherty, Ives, Maule, and Weinik reconvened at 30th Street, we were all dirty and sweaty and just a little busted except Ives. Dougherty fell into Poquessing Creek. Weinik ripped his pants. Maule was so paranoid about poison ivy that he tiptoed through a dirty thicket and bathed his hands and arms in Wissahickon Creek just in case. And Ives? He went home to West Philly for a UPS delivery that never came, but he got to change into clothes so fresh and so clean clean.
In spite of the dirt, sweat, rain, and the rigors of eight consecutive hours riding public transit, we all quite enjoyed ourselves. It was a pleasant experience, the SEPTA weekday schedule accommodated us, and we all got to see things we didn’t see before. And it’s a good thing we got it in when we did, because the regional rail employees went on strike that midnight—to come back a day later, fortunately.
Slowly but surely, SEPTA is doing things. The New Payment Technology is coming—test installs exist at 13th Street Station and some trolleys, and a kiosk stands in the concourse at Walnut-Locust Station. Conrad Benner pretty much single handedly got SEPTA to run the Broad Street and Market-Frankford Lines 24 hours on the weekends, and hopefully soon seven days a week. I wish he could convince them to run the Chestnut Hill West Line out of Center City past, I dunno, 10pm on a Saturday. It’s a real drag to live just eight miles from the heart of the city when my only options home are a 10:05pm departure from Market East, the longest bus ride in the entire world on the 23, or a $40 cab. But one thing at a time. We’re getting there, after all.