Improve Transit Stops

Philadelphia's transit system is one of the city's greatest assets and is admired by cities throughout the country that don't have such a comprehensive system. Yet its buses and trolleys are underutilized by neighborhood residents. People say they worry about their safety. Stops are not near commercial/retail areas or housing developments but instead are sometimes located in front of abandoned lots. Residents are also unsure about how to use the system, since signs often faded are posted on random poles, which makes them hard to find and see. Additional shelters in neighborhoods will improve quality of life and help increase ridership.

Beverly Coleman
Program Director, NeighborhoodsNow
(formerly Philadelphia Neighborhood Development Collaborative)

Make bus and trolley stops clean and safe.

Poorly maintained stops harm communities and reduce ridership. Safety is the number one quality Americans look for in a transit stop1. Residents and workers are much more likely to ride buses and trolleys if transit stops appear to be safe. Further, research on crime confirms what these riders instinctively
knowā€¯that fewer crimes occur at clean, well-lit, well-maintained stops2. Signage and transit schedules at stops also make riders feel safer because they know where they are and when the next bus or trolley will arrive3.

Philadelphia can ensure that bus and trolley stops have clean and safe shelters without spending a penny. Like many cities across the country, Philadelphia contracts with a private company to maintain its bus and trolley shelters. The city, not SEPTA, is responsible for maintaining its 12,000 transit stops4. Philadelphia's Department of Public Property contracts with a national outdoor-advertising firm that sells shelter advertising space to cover maintenance costs and generate revenue.

The city's contracts with advertising firms have not served the city well to date. The majority of stops are poorly lit and inadequately maintained. Consequently, many Philadelphia residents view neighborhood transit stops as unsafe and will only take transit during daytime hours. Some residents have decided to avoid riding buses and trolleys altogether out of concerns for safety. All neighborhood stops deserve clean, well-lit, safe waiting areas for residents and workers.

Philadelphia needs to contract with a company that will upgrade stops and provide regular maintenance, as well as to hold the contractor accountable for performance. Over the past decade, Philadelphia has contracted with a number of different national advertising firms to place new shelters and clean and maintain its 270 existing shelters in return for exclusive advertising rights. In its current contract, the company commits to cleaning shelters twice a week and to fixing broken shelters within 24 hours5.

This form of shelter contract is commonplace for American cities because it gives city governments a cost-free way to ensure that shelters are safe and clean. In fact, most cities, including Philadelphia, actually generate revenue through shelter maintenance contracts. Under the current contract, the city is guaranteed a minimum of $260,000 per year from shelter advertising.

Yet Philadelphia does not have any formal method of checking the company's performance, nor does it impose an obligation on the company to add shelters in a fair and equitable manner. Because advertising companies want to place shelters in neighborhoods where they believe they can generate the most
advertising revenue, low- to moderate-income neighborhoods are underserved in terms of bus shelters, even where ridership is high. This may be good for the company's profit margin, but it is the wrong way to determine where bus shelters are most needed by the citizens of Philadelphia.

The city should negotiate and enforce more effective shelter contracts to ensure that every neighborhood has access to clean and safe bus and trolley shelters. Boston and New York have recently demanded and received a far better agreement with their outdoor-advertising firm. By raising its expectations and shopping around, New York City signed a contract that will provide the city with $1 billion in exchange for the right to sell advertising space for the next 20 years. The deal includes placing more than 3,000 new bus shelters, 330 newsstands, and 20 public toilets. And local manufacturers will be used to build these new neighborhood assets, creating over 100 new jobs7. Boston has signed a ten-year contract that will provide shelters at 80% of its stops - putting an end to waiting outside in the wind and rain for many.

Philadelphia's current contract is due to end in June 2007 but may be extended to the end of the year. With over 600,000 bus and trolley rides taken by children and adults each day8, Philadelphia owes its transit riders (as well as thousands of potential new riders) a better shelter contract that will distribute new shelters fairly and ensure that existing shelters are well maintained, display up-to-date route maps and schedules, and are safe at all hours.

Philadelphia should also create an Adopt-a-Stop Program for stops without shelters. Across the country, community groups, corporations, and others are forming partnerships to keep stops well cared for through Adopt-a-Stop programs. The individuals or organizations are typically rewarded not only with clean, safe stops in their neighborhoods, but also with free transit passes or tickets9. Those who adopt a stop take responsibility for picking up litter, reporting repair needs, and emptying trash cans. When residents, businesses, or community organizations have adopted stops in other cities, litter is reduced by up to 80%10.

Philadelphia offers extraordinary public-transit access, connecting every neighborhood to the rest of the city and region. Transit in any neighborhood is only an asset, however, if the place where riders enter and leave the train is well maintained and safe. Through a smart contract with an advertising firm and an Adopt-a-Stop program, Philadelphians can wait for and board transit in comfort and safety.