Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority partners with Uber and expands hybrid bus fleet

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Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the transit agency that covers the Philadelphia metropolitan area, has announced two measures that will improve access to its network and further its aim of having one of the cleanest bus fleets in the USA.

SEPTA has announced a partnership with ride-sharing service Uber that is aimed at increasing access to the transit system throughout the region. The partnership will launch as a summer pilot program, running from May 30 through September 5.

Under the partnership, Uber rides will be discounted by 40% to and from 11 suburban rail stations, which are among SEPTA’s busiest, with high ridership and limited availability of parking spaces. Several are key points for airport travel and others are at locations where parking is temporarily restricted due to construction.

The pilot program is part of an ongoing study that SEPTA is conducting on how the growing popularity of ride-sharing services could impact services. A recent study by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found that ride-sharing complements public transportation, with more than 20% of riders already using it to connect to services.

SEPTA’s general manager, Jeffrey D Knueppel, said the Authority also wants to explore the potential for ride-sharing to bridge the ‘first mile-last mile’ gap – between a traveler’s home and a rail station. “Our partnership with Uber creates exciting options in our efforts to provide residents with an efficient and comprehensive transportation network,” Knueppel said. “We expect this to be a valuable service for our existing customers, and also hopefully a tool to bring new riders into the SEPTA system.”

Jon Feldman, general manager for Uber Pennsylvania, commented, “Uber coupled with SEPTA’s rail network becomes a powerful tool for Pennsylvanians to quickly and efficiently travel around the region, reducing reliance on automobiles and cutting carbon emissions. Our technology platform has made it easier to move away from personal car ownership and embrace mass transit systems like SEPTA, invigorating transit throughout the region.”

As part of its ongoing efforts to improve the environmental credentials of its bus fleet, SEPTA has approved the purchase of 525 diesel-electric hybrid buses. The SEPTA Board has agreed a US$411.8m, five-year contract with New Flyer of America Inc. for the 40ft (12.2m) long, low-floor buses, with the option to purchase up to 25 additional buses.

The new vehicles will allow SEPTA to continue the regular retirement and replacement of the oldest vehicles in its fleet with new, energy-efficient hybrids. The buses will be delivered to SEPTA over the course of the five-year contract with New Flyer.

More than half of the agency’s current bus fleet is made up of diesel-electric hybrids, and by the conclusion of the new contract, hybrids will comprise approximately 95% of the total fleet. Funding for the new projects has been possible due to Pennsylvania Act 89, which was passed in November 2013 to provide a stable source of funding for transportation improvements statewide, such as infrastructure repairs and replacement of aging vehicles. With Act 89 in place, SEPTA has recently launched dozens of long-needed capital improvement projects throughout the transit system and across all modes of travel.

“Public transportation has long been the most environmentally friendly way to get around, and it’s only getting greener with more hybrid buses on the road,” said Knueppel. “We are proud to be an industry leader in providing cleaner, more fuel efficient modes of travel by bringing more hybrids into our fleet.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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