New “Green” SEPTA Buses Are a Lie

Everything is coming up roses for SEPTA. Just a few weeks after Philadelphia’s own transit system was named the best in all of North America, the American Public Transit Association awarded SEPTA Gold Level Recognition for Sustainability, citing, among other things, our recent influx of hybrid buses.

But as Hidden City contributor Mike Szilagyi points out, the situation isn’t as rosy as it seems; while the hybrid buses have made their way to the forefront, a quieter, cleaner mode of transportation has taken a seat in the back.

SEPTA has been highly praised for the addition of 160 new hybrid-diesel buses, which, compared to the all diesel buses, are a general improvement.  What the PR releases do not mention is the “greener” alternative transportation these buses are edging out: the electric streetcar.

These “trackless trollies,” which are currently serving about three routes locally, look just like any other bus with the addition of rooftop connections to overhead copper wires that power the vehicle. The trollies run exclusively on electricity, unlike the hybrids, which use engines that run on diesel fuel and an electric battery.

The city turned down federal grant money to be put toward expanding the electric trolley system, mainly because regular buses are more convenient for SEPTA to handle.

Other cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver (the latter two are also recipients of the Gold Level Recognition) have hundreds of these trollies running through their streets daily. Toronto, yet another city looking to make its transportation system greener, has recently parted ways with the hybrid buses, which they found to be unreliable.

Still, the combination of the hybrid vehicle phenomenon and an in-your-face PR campaign for these hybrids is winning out against the little electric engines, as the city has since stopped running some electric lines and simply replaced them with buses that aren’t even hybrids.

SEPTA definitely does deserve some credit for their efforts, just maybe not as much as they’re getting.

For further reading, check out the Hidden City article.

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TJ Creedon

A senior at Temple University, TJ Creedon spends most of his days studying journalism, working with student organizations, and folding sweatshirts for money at the campus bookstore. TJ can be reached at and on twitter, @teejcreed.

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