PA: City's Night Owls Drawn to 24-hour SEPTA Subway Service

SEPTA's trial run with 24-hour subway service on weekends has been a success so far, with ridership up nearly 50 percent over all-night bus service.

And holiday revelers took to the subways in even greater numbers over the Fourth of July weekend, with ridership up 150 percent over normal weekend bus ridership.

"I think it confirms what [general manager] Joe Casey said about how the city has changed since we last ran subways all night," said SEPTA chief financial officer Richard Burnfield on Tuesday. "We're seeing a lot of activity in Old City, Walnut-Locust, Lombard-South."

SEPTA started the late-night subway experiment on June 15, replacing its Nite Owl bus service between midnight and 5 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The buses had replaced all-night subway service in 1991.

Increasing nightlife, residential and commercial activity in Center City prompted SEPTA to bring back the late-night subway service, at least until Labor Day.

Burnfield said SEPTA will evaluate the test run, examining ridership, costs, revenue and security, before deciding whether to make the change permanent.

"It's a little early to make that call," he said Tuesday.

With a visible police presence on trains and in stations, there have been few complaints about safety, said Ronald Hopkins, assistant general manager of operations.

"The only thing we're seeing is some quality-of-life issues, like open containers, and we're issuing citations to those people and keeping the trains moving," Hopkins said.

Through the first three weekends, only one robbery was reported, and that was a stolen cellphone, Hopkins said. SEPTA police made an arrest in that incident, he added.

"With two officers on each train, we're sending a very strong message," he said.

The early returns show greater ridership gains on the Market-Frankford Line (up 66 percent over buses) than on the Broad Street Line (up 30 percent).

Ridership is highest between midnight and 1 a.m., and then declines until 4 a.m., when it begins to rise again, SEPTA data shows.


pnussbaum@phillynews.com

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