💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
Tina Fey went on “The Tonight Show” Thursday and uttered a profound message of support for Philadelphia public transit.
“I’m a SEPTA bitch,” she declared to host Jimmy Fallon.
A native of Upper Darby, Fey was explaining that she purchased her first car ever in quarantine — a white Subaru Forester, btw. (Jump to the 50-second mark here to watch.) How’d she get around before that? By riding SEPTA, evidently. Fey named buses, subways and trolleys as her primary mode of transit up to this point.
Fey’s blunt endorsement of Philly’s public transportation system struck a note, garnering approval from the very top.
“Not sure our comms team will approve ‘I’m a SEPTA bitch’ as our new tagline,” SEPTA general manager Leslie Richards tweeted about the clip, “but loved hearing her talk.”
Richards, who took the helm of the transit authority in January, becoming the second woman to lead the agency, expounded on her appreciation in an email to Billy Penn.
“Even though she bought her first car during the pandemic, we know she is a transit rider at heart,” Richards said. “Tina, next time you’re in town, give us a shout — we’ll help you buy a Key Card so you can get back on the subways, buses and trolleys!”
The late-night TV shoutout was a bright spot in a rough year for the agency.
Even with a $644 million CARES Act infusion in June, SEPTA is facing a dire financial crunch. Ridership is hovering at just 30% of pre-COVID levels, and the state has threatened to yank funding. Richards has warned of substantial service cuts over the next decade if the agency can’t make up its losses.
Perhaps that’s why Richards broached the idea of a rebrand. And if Fey’s line got the green light, it might not be the worst slogan SEPTA has had.
From the 1980s to the late ’90s, the system tagline was the oft-chastised “We’re getting there.”
When it was first introduced in the ’80s, SEPTA officials were making lots of improvements to the system. There were regular ribbon cuttings, new cleanup efforts and improved service across the board. “They used to call SEPTA ‘inepta,’” then-comms manager Rick Wooten explained to the Inquirer. “I think we were confident enough that we were really getting there.”
For many Philadelphians, however, the slogan became an easy joke. Rather than showing signs of progress, it sounded more like the transit network admitting it couldn’t keep to a schedule. Whenever a bus was late, or a screen had a display error, riders could just use SEPTA’s own slogan to illustrate its inadequacy. It still happens to this day.
The tagline was iconic enough that a song was written in its honor.
SEPTA dropped “We’re getting there” in the mid-90s. Then it adopted a new one, “Serious About Change,” for another decade or so.
The agency hasn’t gotten a new slogan since — although it has run short-term campaigns, like “Dude it’s rude,” and its COVID recovery plan is branded “Move Better Together.” On social media it deploys several pandemic-related hashtags like #InItTogether, #WeRideOn and #MaskUpSEPTA.
None seem as catchy as Fey’s suggestion.