The business corridor now is characterized by numerous take-out restaurants, a check-cashing business, a stop-and-go that sells alcohol and several vacant storefronts. Recently, Councilwomen Cindy Bass and Marian Tasco, along with state Rep. Stephen Kinsey, pledged commitment to improving the business district.
Saxton said the crime and loitering around the hub hasn't made him stop using it — it's his only option — but it has changed how he views the place where he once spent time dining and shopping.
"The only thing it would change is your frame of mind, because if you have something to do and that's the way to go, you're going to go," he said.
A stop for 85 years
Olney Transportation Center was built as the northern end of the Broad Street Line in 1928, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said. It served as the subway's terminus until 1956, when Fern Rock was opened near 10th Street and Nedro Avenue.
The transit stop was renovated in the early 1990s, but Saxton said the improvements didn't mean much to people using the stop for legitimate reasons.
"It was improved," he said, "but we have another situation where we have a better-looking building, but the clientele is still the same."
Transportation hubs tend to be high-crime areas for a number of reasons, according to Jerry Ratcliffe, chairman of Temple University's criminal-justice department who has been studying crime patterns at Frankford Transportation Center.
The high volume of people passing through increases the opportunity for anonymity, Ratcliffe said. Also, he said, the hubs are "places where you can effectively legitimately hang out to some degree, because when the police question you, you can say you're waiting for a bus or a train. It increases the capacity for people to loiter with criminal intent but not necessarily draw attention to themselves."
SEPTA police say loitering is one of the main problems at the stop. Last week, an officer at the hub pointed out a handful of men who he said spend day and night hanging there but claim they're waiting to catch a bus when police stop them.
Nestel said his officers are cracking down on loiterers at Olney and elsewhere.
On a recent afternoon, the chief spotted one of his officers stopping a loiterer outside the transit center: "We're making a net," Nestel said, referring to an arrest, as he crossed the street toward a cop cuffing a man wearing a "Ghostbusters" shirt.
"He's been hanging around and bouncing around too long," another officer said, adding that the man declined to identify himself to officers when he was stopped.
"If he provided his identity, he'd get a citation, then be on his way," Nestel said. "But he's refusing to cooperate, so he'll be tied up for the next four to six hours and go to the district to get fingerprinted."
Nestel said targeting people for seemingly minor infractions like loitering and fare-evading often winds up leading to arrests for more-serious crimes.
In the past year, SEPTA police twice have caught fare-evaders illegally carrying guns. Others nabbed trying to hop a train or bus without paying have had outstanding arrest warrants.
"It's amazing," Nestel said. "They would've never been caught if they paid."
A violent district
The Olney transit center also happens to be in the heart of one of the more-violent sections of the city, according to police statistics. The 35th Police District, which surrounds the center, had at least 29 homicides last year.
Philadelphia police soon will join SEPTA in turning up the heat at Broad and Olney. Capt. Joe Fredericksdorf, who commands the 35th District, said new officers will hit the street near the transit center this month to help curb drug dealing, hack cabs and other common crimes.
"A little enforcement goes a long way," Fredericksdorf said. "Offenders disturb the quality of life by intimidating citizens, soliciting goods or money, engaging in thefts or robberies [and] making this corner their hangout."
The hours when students flood the transit center, Nestel said, can be some of the busiest for his officers. Fistfights between students at rival schools have been an issue at the hub and on surrounding blocks in past years, but police say they haven't yet had to break one up this school year.
"This is like Club Olney — and we're making the last call," Nestel joked.