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10-07-21-septa-regional-rail-roger-ge
Penn Medicine Station, one of the SEPTA Regional Rail stops, on Oct. 7. Credit: Roger Ge

In light of the increasing prices of ridesharing services, I would like to pitch public transportation as an alternative way to travel. 

For context, I am a West Coast suburbanite who drove everywhere before college. During my first two years at Penn, I frequently took taxis or Ubers, especially traveling from the airport to campus. Because of my fear of the unknown, I was hesitant to take public transit. “Is it safe?” I thought. “Will I get lost?”

First, SEPTA is a safe and reliable way to ride around Philly by trolley, bus, or subway. In my experience, trains and trolleys usually arrive on time. I have been less lucky with SEPTA buses arriving on time, yet I have little experience with their buses.

I have not felt very unsafe on a SEPTA ride before. However, I recognize I am saying this as a straight white male who does not have to deal with the unfair challenges that women have to deal with on public transit. I have encountered talkative people on the subway who may want to ask for money or for my opinion on something, yet I would say this only occurs occasionally. Usually, riders mind their own business. As a plus, taking public transit relinquishes the social awkwardness of whether or not to make small talk with a driver.

What about COVID-19? Both SEPTA and Amtrak are taking the pandemic seriously, including frequently cleaning their travel cabins and following the CDC’s mask mandate.

Additionally, if you care about the environment and climate, then choosing public transportation is a sustainable option compared to cars and planes. SEPTA is investing in solar power and electric buses. As of October 2021, Amtrak is 46% more energy efficient than driving a car.

I learned to appreciate public transit just under two years ago. In spring 2019, I took my first Amtrak ride from Philly’s 30th Street Station to New York City’s Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station, which I found both convenient (1 hour and 10 minutes on an Acela train) and cost-effective. Amtrak regional rail in the Northeast has so many train routes that can take you to bustling cities (Washington D.C. & Boston) or the scenic countryside.

I started to build my confidence to use public transport during a 2019 adventure: Penn’s summer abroad program in London. My faculty advisor advised me to download a very helpful app called Citymapper to navigate many cities’ bus and subway lines.

This past year, I’ve made more of an effort to ride SEPTA, which now has SEPTA Key Cards that you can load cash onto like a debit card. You can link your Key Card to the SEPTA app to know how much money is on your card without going to a ticket kiosk. 

You can easily purchase a SEPTA Key at the Penn Bookstore or at any SEPTA kiosk. It’s the easiest way to pay for your rides, and for Penn students who commute to campus, you may want to consider SEPTA’s University Pass for College Students. Further, PennRides offers students free rides home on the weekdays, which operate both on routes and on-demand services.

A couple quick tips: First, at City Hall, there is a free interchange between the Market-Frankford Line (East to West) and the Broad Street Line (North to South). 

Second, I highly recommend taking the regional rail line between Penn Medicine Station and Philadelphia International Airport, which currently costs $6.75 with a SEPTA Key Card (or $8 cash) and arrives twice an hour. This pricing is compared to my personal experience of $20 — $40 to get from Penn to the airport on a ridesharing app/taxi and $5 for the great bus deal that the Undergraduate Assembly usually organizes for school break travels. The one plus of taking the train that you don’t get with a car/bus is that you can avoid holiday highway congestion near the airport.

This year, I intend on using public transport whenever I can to travel with peace of mind, both for my pocketbook and for the planet. I hope you’ll join me for the ride. 

JADEN CLOOBECK is a College senior from Laguna Beach, Calif. studying psychology. His email address is jaden@sas.upenn.edu.

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