Five years ago, SEPTA updated its fare options to include the Convenience Pass, good for eight rides on buses, trolleys, the subway and the el (but not regional rail), and the Independence Pass, valid all day for all forms of transit (with the one exception being a $5 surcharge for trips that include New Jersey, namely on the Trenton and West Trenton regional rail lines). The passes added two single-day choices to a menu that already included the regular weekly and monthly passes as well as tokens, and they replaced an earlier SEPTA Day Pass, which was good for unlimited rides on all transit except regional rail, which was allotted one ride.
As an artistic experiment, I gathered fellow photographers and urbanists Chris Dougherty, Steve Ives, and Steve Weinik to let the Independence Pass be our guide and spend a day riding the rails with me. Well, in a manner of speaking. The idea, what with photography relying on individual vision, effectively amounted to a work shift on SEPTA: we punched in and out at the same place (in the 2009 case, Market East Station), and spent the day in the field, each one going his own independent way, photographing trains, places, people, and things, and ultimately presenting our respective essays. You can view the results of the 2009 Independence Pass series on Philly Skyline HERE.
Five years later, as a matter of celebrating a meaningless anniversary, we did it again. While five years isn’t that great a time span, it is a standard figure in the reunion industrial complex, and it provides a solid measure of one’s life. In those same five years, Weinik made a film about Tonybee Tiles that premiered at Sundance and received critical acclaim; he also got married and had a son. Ives has plugged away at his Flickr account Phillytrax and seen his photos published in the Metro, City Paper, and various city blogs. Dougherty’s taken his Necessity for Ruins to Twitter and refined his parkland philosophies. And me, I moved to Oregon a married man and returned to Philly divorced and with a heightened need for scenery and greenery.
Some things change, some things stay the same. SEPTA may be serious about change, but you pretty much know what you’re signing up for when you choose to rely on it—and what that is is generally pretty positive. And SEPTA’s never not in the news—in our 24 hours of riding it we stared down a conductors strike and watched in astonishment as Conrad Benner’s #septa247 campaign actually got results for overnight subway and el service on the weekends. One notable difference between our 2009 and 2014 essays lies in the schedule: in the former, we rode on a Saturday, where this year, Friday meant a better, weekday schedule on which to rely.
As to the passes themselves, the “Indie Passes,” as they’re known around SEPTA’s offices at 1234 Market Street, cost $12 for an individual and $29 for a family of up to five. SEPTA Sales Director Tom Kelly indicated that, as of June 13, SEPTA had sold 185,000 individual and 12,000 family Independence Passes in the current fiscal year, compared with 650,000 Convenience Passes. Despite the misnomer—one could easily view an unlimited pass for only $4 more as more “convenient”—Convenience Passes sell better mostly because they’re cheaper ($8) and that most people who use them don’t need regional rail.
Friday, June 13th. Hot, humid, briefly stormy. Dougherty, Ives, Maule, and Weinik met at 30th Street Station at 10am, departed for points north, east, south, west, northeast, and southwest, and returned there for cold beverages and hot stories at Bridgewater’s Pub. Dougherty visited the site of his grandfather’s old cooperage shop—now SEPTA’s Elmwood trolley car shop. Ives earned a full day’s pay without ever leaving city limits. I found a pleasant surprise in underrated Norristown, which I thought had all the charms of a 19th Century Pennsylvania river town and an excellent transit center—which includes the Schuylkill River bike trail. And Weinik, he traipsed across the Northeast and somehow ended up in the same Olney diner he visited on the same trip five years ago.
Ride along with us. Links to each person’s essay, photos, and maps follow in these previews.
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