SEPTA Forward: Bus Revolution - Connect The Dots Insights
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SEPTA Forward: Bus Revolution


Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)

Executive Summary:

SEPTA’s Bus Revolution project is a comprehensive bus network redesign, revisioning the system to reflect the changing needs of riders and potential riders in the region of 6 million people. Over the course of the four-year project, Connect the Dots has led Engagement Strategy and executed pop ups, in-person and virtual public meetings, a project bus tour, online and offline surveys, and online engagement and outreach.

Each engagement phase layered a mix of tactics raise to awareness while supporting the incorporation of the voiced priorities of riders, focusing particularly on the inclusion of historically underrepresented groups. This effort pioneered new forms of engagement for SEPTA, reaching over 70,000 participants so far to ensure that the needs of public are being incorporated into the bus redesign, a transformative project with enduring impacts on the entire region.

Purpose and Scope:

SEPTA Forward: Bus Revolution aims to make riding the bus an easier, faster, and more reliable option for more people in the Philadelphia region. Launched in 2021, it is SEPTA’s first ever comprehensive redesign of its bus network. This effort builds on the direction and momentum established by its strategic plan, “SEPTA Forward: A Vision for a Stronger Future.”

While the City of Philadelphia and the surrounding region have changed, bus service has largely remained the same. The Bus Revolution aimed to redesign the bus network to better match the way people travel and to improve the lives of people with low incomes and people of color who rely the most on public transportation to meet their needs.

We led the development of tailored engagement and outreach strategies for each part of this multi-phase, multi-year project and supported the execution of both outreach and engagement tactics throughout. We particularly aimed to prioritize communities that have been historically underrepresented in planning processes.

Service Performed:

Phase 1:

  • Public Engagement: Pop Ups, virtual Transit Talks, & Surveys

Phase 2

  • Bus-Revolution Branded Project Bus
  • Online Virtual Community Conversations

Phase 3

  • Open House Public Events
  • Extensive Outreach Strategy
  • Connecting SEPTA Leaders with Community Leaders

Working with multiple partner firms, we led the development of a multi-pronged outreach and engagement strategy to include a vast array of stakeholder and public voices across all phases of the project.

Phase 1: The first phase of engagement developed a vision for the network. The team worked to provide the public with the opportunity to share their priorities for the network and comment on trade offs related to the achievement of network goals.

  • Over 330 indviduals were reached in-person through pop-ups at key transit centers.
  • Over 7,000 people responded to an online survey that asked about trade offs and priorities for a redesigned bus network.
  • Over 130 participants attended virtual Transit Talks.

Phase 2: Phase 2 of engagement focused on two potential scenarios informed by public opinions on tradeoffs from the previous phase.

  • Thousands were reached by SEPTA’s branded project bus, which attended dozens of events throughout the region. Staff spoke with hundreds of people about the project at these events, which were particularly selected to reach identified areas of historically underrepresented populations of high ridership.
  • Online virtual Community Conversations were held in all communities throughout the service area, reaching several hundred people with detailed information about the two proposed network options.
  • An online ArcGIS StoryMap was created for the public to interact with information about the proposed network and provide feedback about the two proposed networks.

Phase 3: The release of the first draft of the new bus network was a pivotal milestone and most recent phase:

  • Hundreds attended in-person Open Houses to view the draft network and ask SEPTA staff questions. CtD reimagined these public meetings as fall-themed Open Houses that also functioned as enjoyable community gatherings with fall decorations, local food providers, family-friendly games, a local DJ, and raffles.
  • Extensive outreach was conducted for each event from attending community events, flyering on the street, building relationships with community groups, and more. Each event brought together an average of 60 community members, with the largest events reaching over 300.
  • We also convened roundtables between SEPTA leadership and leaders in identified communities who expressed distrust towards SEPTA’s past engagement efforts and would also experience a high level of impact through the proposed bus network changes. We were successful in taking important first steps to rebuilding trust in three key communities.

Project Outcomes:

Over 70,000 individuals participated in the first three phases of public input, which will return in Spring 2023 with an updated draft bus network, additional public processes, and a timeline for implementation. Bus Revolution is the first comprehensive redesign in SEPTA’s history, and Connect Dots has played a critical role in ensuring that the perspectives and needs of riders from across the region are being incorporated into the future network. The final plan will be released in late 2023.