For those who care about how Philly gets around, it’s been a wild year. Uber went full-throttle and Lyft launched. Indego is here, and yes, SEPTA still swears the Key is coming at some point.
The crash of Amtrak 188 meant a renewed interest in rail safety, and the city announced that, after long last, it’ll be getting its *first* protected bike lane. It’s been a big year for transportation in Philadelphia.
Here’s a look back at some of the biggest stories of the year:
UberX thrives in its first year in Philly…
It’s now been more than a year since the PPA and Philadelphia Police gathered on horseback and fined UberX drivers after busting them in a “sting operation” for taking part in a practice that remains not quite legal here in Philadelphia. Despite its temporary legality in the rest of the state, UberX and Lyft are not technically legal or regulated here. That could change as state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, a Republican from western PA, is pushing a bill that would establish a framework for regulations. The bill outlines insurance and background check requirements for drivers, and also requires Uber pay a 0.5 percent fee to the PPA.
In October, Uber released numbers for its first year of operating UberX in Philly, reporting that more than 700,000 residents and visitors had taken rides with UberX drivers in Philly. And the 12,000 drivers who taxied those people around brought in upwards of $30 million in revenues.
…but not everyone is happy about it
With UberX drivers bringing in beaucoup bucks, you can bet that money is coming out of somewhere. Taxi drivers, limousine drivers and UberBlack operators aren’t at all happy that their potential profits are being made by unregulated UberX drivers who aren’t paying to the city to operate here. UberBlack is the ride-sharing company’s luxury service that costs a bit more, utilizes licensed limousine drivers and has been operating legally in Philadelphia for years.
Last week, cabbies and UberBlack drivers protested UberX and attempted to get the rest of the city on their side by parking their cars in the middle of the road in Center City, getting out and leaving them there, bringing traffic on the city’s busiest streets to a standstill. Once the PPA showed up with tow trucks to get the parked cabs out of the middle of the street, the drivers largely scattered from City Hall, got back in their vehicles and drove in circles while honking their horns for about an hour.
Indego bike share launches
It was back in April when Philadelphia’s long-awaited bike share program launched, and it was titled Indego, named after sponsor Independence Blue Cross. In its first weekend alone, some 3,500 trips had been taken on 600 bikes at nearly 60 stations across the city. At the time, 1,200 people had signed up for monthly memberships to utilized the new service. By June, Indego was already being touted as a service that was outpacing other cities in usage. And just this week, PlanPhilly reported that Indego is mostly popular among people taking short rides in between Center City and University City, as well as people taking long joyrides around Philadelphia.
Next for Indego? The ride-sharing company has said since the beginning that it hopes to offer additional services and opportunities for transportation in and around low-income neighborhoods. Expansion is scheduled to take place next spring.
Just like SEPTA, the Key is… getting there
We’ve been talking about paying for SEPTA with a credit card for awhile now. So has SEPTA. The Key, the transportation authority’s yet-to-come digital payment system, has lagged for years. Despite indications that the Key would be fully installed by the end of 2015, that didn’t happen and top officials are now saying the Key will be fully rolled out by April.
What is the SEPTA Key, exactly? It’s those new orange boxes that you see on some of the turnstiles on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines, and many buses and trolleys have also been outfitted with new validators. Once they’re fully installed (someday), the Key will allow SEPTA riders to load money onto a card and then tap the card on a turnstile to initiate payment. So by spring, you should be able to say goodbye to tokens… hopefully… maybe… we’ll see…
Amtrak 188 renews efforts in train safety
Amtrak 188 was traveling along the Northeast Corridor in May on its way from Washington, D.C., through Philly and then on its way north to New York. But after speeding around a corner in Philly called the Frankford Junction, 188 derailed — eight people were killed and dozens were injured. A full investigation into the crash still hasn’t been completed, but officials have said the train was barreling around the corner at more than 100 mph.
The engineer of the train was not charged. But Amtrak faces hundreds of millions of dollars in liability to the people who were injured in the crash and to the families who lost their loved ones. In addition, the crash renewed calls for better train safety as that stretch of Amtrak was not equipped with Positive Train Control, a technology that would have prevented the train from speeding around a curve in Philly. Just this week it was reported that the Philly to New York line is finally getting PTC.
Philly’s first protected bike lanes are coming
More than 10 miles of new bike lanes are expected to be added in Philadelphia over the course of the next year, and of that, protected bike lanes will pop up on Frankford and Ryan avenues, both in Northeast Philadelphia, according to now-former Streets Department Commissioner Dave Perri who spoke to Philly Mag about the developments. The lanes will be placed in between the sidewalk and a lane of parked cars so that cyclists will be protected from traveling cars. Part of the street will also be partially raised as to keep parked cars out of the bikes lanes.
The really good news for bike advocates? Perri said he predicts protected bike lanes will be installed throughout the city in the coming years.
Joe Casey leaves SEPTA (and so do a bunch of others)
SEPTA general manger Joe Casey retired this year after serving with the transportation authority for 34 years and was replaced by new GM Jeffrey Kneuppel. Under Casey, SEPTA saw massive growth, improved communications efforts and is heading toward one of its most transformational periods. In this Q&A with us, Casey talked about how he’s moved SEPTA forward, his 34 years there, and how he’s laid the tracks for the transit authority to keep changing.
But Casey wasn’t the only one to go. Changes to SEPTA’s benefits structure this year prompted a large exodus from the company by some 85 managers, including SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams, who left to work on a crime novel about “corruption, fraud and greed.”
Trails re-open and new plans are in the works
The almost half-mile-long Manayunk Bridge has connected Philadelphia to Montgomery County since the early 1900s, but it was closed in the 1980s and neglected for decades. But this fall, the historic bridge was re-opened for public use because a number of agencies — including PennDOT, DCNR, Lower Merion Township and the city — came together to fund the $4.2 million project. It now serves as a walking and biking trail to connect Philly with Montco.
In addition, City Council earlier this month officially authorized the city to acquire property to construct trails for walking and biking along the Delaware River — and it’s resorting to eminent domain to do so.