Not many in Nicetown or Tioga can say their neighborhood doesn’t have multiple options when it comes to public transportation from SEPTA. All Regional Rail lines, except the R4, crisscross the neighborhood like a deformed tic-tac-toe board. Buses constantly crawl across various streets in the neighborhood. SEPTA’s CCT Connect for disabled riders is also in heavy use.
While the Roosevelt Expressway cuts across the northern section of Nicetown, SEPTA’s Broad Street subway line forms the neighborhoods’ eastern boundary, providing service to Center City that’s faster than a car if you’re lucky enough to catch the Express.
So the question begs to be asked, why would anyone in Nicetown or Tioga not take SEPTA? Besides the convenience and privacy of cars, what would anyone else dream of taking?
The answer, apparently, is nothing.
“People own vehicles… there are a lot of car owners here, and if not then they catch SEPTA,” manager and promoter Kyle Henry, 26, said.
Sylvia Walker, 32, from Nicetown agreed with Henry that most Nicetown residents drive.
“SEPTA’s okay; it’s convenient,” Walker said. “[Buses] come up and down the street like 100 times a day.”
But Walker hasn’t taken a SEPTA bus in about 15 years. She uses her car instead.
“I used SEPTA for the first time last week in 15 years,” Walker said. “I got lost in the subway, that’s how long it’s been.”
The reason she took SEPTA after all those years?
“Parking is crazy downtown,” Walker said. “Twenty-four dollars to park. I’m like, ‘okay I can get on SEPTA then.’”
Retail manager Tiffany Abney, 27, uses SEPTA buses to get to work because, as she puts it, she has no choice. Subway isn’t in her route, and she doesn’t know how to drive.
“Believe it or not the bus is good in this area, and I don’t have to go too far,” Abney said. She grew up in Nicetown. Even though she likes SEPTA, she wants to learn to drive.
“I’ve given myself until every Christmas for the last five years, and I haven’t gotten [my license] yet,” Abney said. “This is going to be the year. Next year I’m going to be driving by you.”
While many residents of Nicetown and Tioga use SEPTA because they don’t own their own car, Henry said he knows a lot of people who choose to take SEPTA even though they own a car.
“Everybody you see riding the subway, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a car. They just want to use it because it’s cheaper, or they can save money in gas,” Henry said. “I can get from Broad and Erie all the way downtown in like 15 minutes. You can get [there] faster…than you can driving.”
Those fifteen minutes are why Henry calls the orange Broad Street line the bullet.
“It travels at like 200 miles per hour,” Henry said.
That might not be exactly correct – the top speed for the Broad Street express train is only 75 mph – but it is true that taking the orange line is usually quicker than driving. From start to finish, the express takes eight minutes total.
But like the rest of Philly, Nicetown and Tioga residents have their complaints about SEPTA, too.
Grumblings about overcrowding, delays, affordability, hard plastic seats and bus drivers simply driving by customers all make the list.
“Philadelphia is…the fourth or fifth most populated city in the country, so why would you have these little buses for one of the most populated cities in the country?” Henry said.
Angel Perez, 31, who works at the Philadelphia Recovery Community Center on Lehigh Avenue, agreed.
“Philadelphia has the most expensive transportation system,” Perez said.
But high fares may be one area that the residents have it wrong. Philly has the sixth-largest population in the United States. In comparison to the five largest cities, SEPTA’s single-ride fare is less than the average. Only Los Angeles and Phoenix charge a cheaper $1.25 per single-ride on bus or rail within city limits.
Philly residents aren’t known for innovation or creativity when it comes to getting around, just as SEPTA isn’t known for cleanliness. In fact, when it comes to transportation Philly isn’t really known for anything, other than bankruptcy and SEPTA strikes. But there is no doubt that people throughout the city of Philly depend primarily on either SEPTA or their cars. Nicetown and Tioga residents attest to this.
But maybe the reason people ride isn’t always so obvious.
“[Riding] SEPTA is a humbling process for me,” Henry said. “We have to deal with the cards we’re dealt…and you just have to do what you have to do. But at least we have it.”