SEPTA's Market-Frankford Line Credit: Screenshot via YouTube

SEPTA workers are on strike. We’ll update this story as more information about alternative transit becomes available.

Public transportation in the city of Philadelphia has come to standstill.

SEPTA workers who are members of Transport Workers Union Local 234 didn’t reach an agreement SEPTA before their contract expired Oct. 31, setting in motion the union’s first strike in seven years. That means 4,700 workers walked off the job and public transportation in the city has essentially shut down.

SEPTA threatened striking two years ago, but an eleventh-hour deal was reached and it didn’t happen. But workers did strike back in 2009 for six days and before that in 2005 for a week. The longest SEPTA strike was in 1998, when workers were on strike for 40 days.

The city’s put together contingency plans, as have the schools, and businesses are being encouraged to alter their work hours or allow for flexibility in working remotely. Here’s how to survive the SEPTA strike of 2016:

What’s not running

  • The Market-Frankford Line
  • The Broad Street Line
  • Buses, trolleys and trackless trolleys

What’s running

  • Norristown High Speed Line
  • Suburban buses
  • CCT (SEPTA’s service for ADA passengers)
  • LUCY (the bus loop through University City)
  • Regional Rail

There’s also this handy map:

What to expect on the Regional Rail

Basically this:

Last time SEPTA went on strike back in 2009, the Regional Rail — which isn’t shut down because its workers are represented by a different union — experienced significant crowding as commuters used it instead of their normal form of transportation. The Inquirer at the time described Suburban Station as “chaotic” and riders were reporting long delays and overcrowding.

Those problems have been exacerbated this time around because Regional Rail is already dealing with overcrowding and delays as it’s still recovering from having to repair its entire fleet of Silverliner V cars. That fleet still hasn’t been fully restored.

Also: Because of too many passengers getting free rides over the summer, SEPTA is alerting customers that at Center City Regional Rail stations from 2:45 p.m. to 7 p.m., customers will be asked to wait in line at the concourse level until their train arrives.

The fares

SEPTA says that weekly and monthly TransPasses, including SEPTA Key Cards with current Pass product, are valid for travel at all times to all Regional Rail stations within the city (Forest Hills and Somerton stations will require a Zone 3 fare – ticket or Pass).

All prepaid fares will be collected prior to boarding, and all passes would be subject to inspection and validation by SEPTA fare collection staff. Customers without a prepaid fare will have to purchase a ticket or pass from a station sales window before they get in line for their trip home.

Traffic and parking

More commuters are driving to and from work. In 2009, congestion in Center City was significant and it took commuters more than an hour to get across the New Jersey bridges.

Here’s what you need to know about parking:

  • The Philadelphia Parking Authority has modified rates for PPA garages and parking enforcement in designated areas for the duration of the SEPTA strike. For more information on PPA’s changes, click here.
  • Parking is prohibited on both sides of Broad Street, from Spring Garden to South Street.
  • Bus Zones may be used by any vehicle to drop-off and pick-up passengers.  Vehicles may not be left unattended.
  • The PPA will offer $10/10-hour parking and $15/24-hour parking at six garages.

Uber, Lyft and Zipcar

The big difference between now and 2009 is the proliferation of ride-sharing, which has alleviated some of the issues with commuting but also contributes to traffic congestion.

Uber representatives said Monday that in response to a strike, Uber has expanded its UberPOOL coverage area to cover all SEPTA rail stations throughout the entire SEPTA system. The UberPOOL feature will be expanded to encourage riders to carpool with Uber in and out of the city instead of further crowding the Regional Rail system.

A Lyft spokeswoman said new passengers can get up to $50 in ride credit ($5 off of your first 10 rides) using the code “EASYRIDE50.” More details from Lyft here.

In addition, Zipcar Philly members can reserve a vehicle for five days for the price of three, they can reserve overnight for only $29 and Zipcar says it’s working on a special hourly rate that will be announced later today. More than 90 percent of Zipcar’s vehicles in Philly are located within walking distance of a train, bus, or trolley stop. Zipcar also announced that during the strike, it’s offering hourly reservations for just $5 on nearly 100 cars located near SEPTA stations.


The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia reported that in 2009 during the SEPTA strike, biking in the city increased by 38 percent.

The city will host additional bike parking on the apron of the Municipal Services Building. In addition, Indego, the city’s bike share, will offer “surplus bike availability” at the following stations on Friday, Nov. 4:

8:00-10:00 AM Unlimited Bike Parking

  • 18th & JFK
  • Municipal Services Building
  • 36th & Sansom

Riders should download the Indego app for real-time station updates as well as bike and dock availability before heading out.

Bicycle Coalition staff and volunteers are expected to set up a table and pop-up tent near the additional bike rack barricades at the Municipal Services Building to greet bicyclists, provide advice on city biking and distribute stickers and materials. First time riding? Check out these tips. Their “Bike the Strike” map shows bike lanes, bike shops, Indego stations and Regional Rail stations:

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City government

The city is still open for business and city employees are still expected to report to work for their standard hours (or use accrued leave time.) Here’s what city workers need to know:

  • A transportation plan for city employees was shared Friday afternoon via email encouraging employees to consider Regional Rail, carpooling, biking or walking to work.
  • The City is providing a free shuttle for City employees along the Broad Street Line and Market-Frankford line with 12 buses. All riders must show proof of city employment.
  • Jurors are also allowed to take the employee shuttle with proper documentation and photo ID, and will receive direction when they call to confirm their reporting times.
  • Employees and Philadelphia residents are encouraged to sign up for ReadyPhiladelphia, the City’s emergency text and email alert system to receive notification if and when SEPTA strikes.


Philadelphia public schools are open during the strike, and yellow buses are expected to run. District superintendent wrote in a letter to students and families that all schools, offices, and support facilities will maintain regular hours.

Students who normally use SEPTA and aren’t able to make it to school because of a lack of transportation will be granted an excused absence with a note from a parent or guardian. Students who don’t get to school on time also won’t be marked late unless it’s determined the student’s tardiness wasn’t due to the SEPTA strike.

District spokesperon Lee Whack said Thursday that school attendance was at 80 percent citywide on Tuesday and 85 percent Wednesday. “Lower attendance numbers are concentrated in our citywide high schools,” he said, “but early data for yesterday showed a 10 percent percent increase in attendance in high schools.”

Going to work

Here’s hoping your employer is, well, flexible. The city is urging companies and local businesses to either 1. Allow employees to work from home if possible or 2. Alter their hours to avoid having workers commuting via car or Regional Rail at peak rush hours.

In 2009, some employers took steps to get their people into the city. Six tourist trolleys from Center City hotels were chartered to instead bus employees into the city from the suburbs. Most major companies are still working out their contingency plans.

Penn, Drexel and University City

Penn, Drexel, the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are providing complimentary transit services to all employees of these institutions, plus affiliated institutions and organizations at Penn.

Here’s the basic information from Penn:

Penn and Drexel buses will pick up passengers during the morning commute from: the PATCO Terminal at 15th and Locust Streets, in front of Fado Irish Pub; and from the 69th Street Terminal, Market Street and Chatham Road in front of the EMG Urgent Care layover.

During the afternoon commute, buses will pick-up passengers at two locations. These pick-up locations are the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter, 3231 Walnut Street; and the corner of 33rd and Ludlow Streets.

This service is free and available to all faculty, staff, and students of both institutions. Riders must present a valid institutional ID card at the time of boarding the bus. 

In addition, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will operate two shuttle service routes available to the Penn Community in both West and South Philadelphia.

See here for full schedules and information.

Temple University

The school is open for business and all classes will be held as scheduled. The school has a shuttle service that’ll work as follows:

In addition to existing intercampus shuttles between Main, Health Sciences Center and Ambler campuses — which will continue to operate — Temple has joined a local consortium to offer free, supplementary shuttle service to students, faculty and staff who present valid OWLcards or Health System IDs when boarding.

Shuttles have been operating daily since Nov. 1 from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Shuttles are expected to pass stops every 20 to 30 minutes. Be sure to look for buses with a window sign that states, “Private shuttle, Temple and hotels.” There will be no pickups between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. or after 10 p.m.

Also note that shuttle passengers traveling east and west will need to transfer to the north-south shuttle at the City Hall stop near the Masonic Temple on Broad Street.

See here for full schedules and information.

Election Day

If this strike lasts seven days, we’ll be looking at a disruption of service on Election Day next Tuesday. Luckily, Philadelphia polling places are almost always within walking distance of where a voter lives.

The SEPTA strike occurred on Election Day in 2009 and the Committee of Seventy only reported a few SEPTA-related complaints. However, it’s worth noting: That wasn’t a presidential election year.

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.