Software Development
COVID-19 / Data / Transportation

What SEPTA’s operating data says about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic

Ardmore-based software engineer and Is SEPTA Fucked? creator Doug Muth has been tracking trains throughout the health crisis.

A SEPTA train chugs away from Overbrook Station. (Video by YouTube user Jarrett Stewart, used under a Creative Commons license)

Like every other aspect of daily life, transit has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But things are cautiously returning to a version of normal unseen over the past two months.

On Sunday, May 17, SEPTA, which had suspended service for its rail lines, buses, subways and trolleys down to “essential” and then “lifeline” service schedules, resumed mostly normal schedules for most bus and trolley routes as well as subway lines. Regional Rail is still operating at lower than normal levels.

Bringing back a more regular schedule for the essential workers still commuting to their workplaces was important, SETPA said in a statement. But General Manager Leslie Richards urged folks who don’t absolutely need to take public transit to continue to practice social distancing.

“If you do not need to get to work or access life-sustaining services, please do your part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by staying off the system,” Richards said.

So what has SEPTA data looked like during this time? Ardmore-based Doug Muth, the creator of the Is SEPTA Fucked? blog, has been monitoring how transit has been running the last two months.

And like many of us, he’s never seen anything like it.

Muth has been tracking SEPTA data for a few years now, including the number of trains running and how late they are.

On March 17 — the start of the week when COVID-19 started to seriously impact life in Philadelphia — the number of Regional Rail trains went from running an average of 500 a day to about 362 under reduced service orders, Muth found. This was the case until Sunday, March 29, when SEPTA announced it would switch to Sunday service for an average of 144 trains a day. On April 9, service levels were reduced even further to what SEPTA called “lifeline service” running about 85 trains per day.

Six lines were completely suspended, leaving only seven lines running.

“That’s an average of 12 trains per DAY on each line, or trains over an hour and a half apart,” Muth wrote. “For commute lines, this is unheard of.”

Number of SEPTA trains running per day. (Image courtesy of Doug Muth)

The software engineer wrote about this data in a blog post, wondering how reduced data would affect timelines of the trains — essentially wanting to know, in quarantine, is SEPTA still fucked?

Generally, trains weren’t any later than the rest of the year, and the week of March 16 was actually the best in terms of timelines, so far in 2020. But farther into April, timelines shot up.

That’s probably due to reduced staff and a strain on resources, Muth told via Twitter DM. In late April, KYW Newsradio reported that more than 200 SEPTA employees had tested positive for the virus. By May 1, seven employees had died, WHYY reported.

“I think this just goes to show how dangerous COVID-19 is, and the risk that SEPTA [personnel] are putting themselves in every day they go to work,” Muth wrote. “Please, if your job function isn’t essential, stay home. If you won’t do it for me, then do it for SEPTA.”

Companies: SEPTA
Series: Coronavirus

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