A marketing campaign for transit

by Carla Robinson
Posted 4/17/24

The coalition of Northwest Philadelphia civic groups and organizations working to keep SEPTA’s regional train lines open wants to make them "cool" again.

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A marketing campaign for transit


The coalition of Northwest Philadelphia civic groups and institutional organizations working to keep SEPTA’s regional train lines open is now planning a new tactic: a $40,000 “community marketing” campaign to make trains “cool” again. 

“What we’re trying to do is to jump-start a virtuous cycle, in which more people riding can lead to more frequent trains, and more frequent trains then lead to more people riding,” said Ann Dicker, a Mt. Airy leader of the Save the Train coalition. 

“So we’ll be getting out to advocate that people ride the train and the buses more,” she said. “We know that to get revenues back to where they need to be to help close the deficit, ridership needs to go up both in the short and the long term.”

According to Dicker, the number of people who ride the Chestnut Hill West and Chestnut Hill East lines is now down to 1,700 per line, per day. That number used to be 6,000.

And that’s a big reason why SEPTA is facing a $200 million budget shortfall, which threatens significant service cuts across the network, including the Chestnut Hill West and East lines and the 23 bus route. Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed budget includes $282.8 million in new state money for public transit, with $161 million earmarked for SEPTA, but that budget won’t pass without Republican votes.

Campaign volunteers will appear at various community events to ask their friends and neighbors to pledge to ride the bus or take the train at least two or three times each week – a move other cities have found can increase ridership by up to 10 percent. 

“All those great street festivals going on in the spring and summer? We’ll have groups of volunteers help people sign up for the SEPTA app, and get them to take the pledge,” Dicker said. “While other cities have done things like this, we would be the first community group to do it. So we see this as a kind of a pilot project, something that SEPTA might be able to use in the future.”

The group is also planning a Zoom community meeting with SEPTA board chair Ken Lawrence Jr., tentatively scheduled for Thursday, April 18 at 8 p.m. They’re following that with a second trip to Harrisburg on April 30, where they will meet with other public transit advocacy groups from throughout the state. 

The Chestnut Hill Conservancy, which is part of the coalition, is also stepping up to help raise both interest and awareness – with a free self-guided walk of the “Train Stations of Chestnut Hill West,” including Chestnut Hill West, Highland, and St. Martins. The walk is scheduled for Saturday, April 20, from 12:30 to 3:00 p.m., with a rain date of Saturday, April 27.

The walk will delve into the rich history and current stewardship of three stops along the Chestnut Hill West line. Volunteers from the Save the Train coalition will be on hand at each station, and there will also be docents who can speak about the history and significance of each station. 

Each station will feature dedicated volunteers who spearhead preservation efforts and maintain the landscape and gardens at each station, including the St. Martins Station Committee and the Chestnut Hill Train Stations Native Gardens Group. 

The Discovering Chestnut Hill tour and lecture series is sponsored by event sponsor John B. Ward & Co. Arborists and supporting sponsor Cawley Masonry.

For any questions in advance, please email Conservancy Programs and Communications Manager Chrissy Clawson at chrissy@chconservancy.org.