The 79 is a pretty good route to begin with: it’s a short, generally frequent, well-used crosstown straight across South Philadelphia on Snyder Ave. Sure, it used trackless trolleys until 2003, and it’s a real bummer that it doesn’t use them anymore, but 16 years later, SEPTA decided to give the route an almost-equivalent replacement:
Yes, SEPTA recently put electric battery Proterra buses on the 29 and 79, both South Philly crosstowns that used to use trackless trolleys! Granted, this happened about two years later than it was supposed to, but better late than never, I suppose. The insides of the buses are beautiful and near-spotless, although I can’t say I agree with SEPTA’s decision to put ads over the rear window. I would rather it be on the rear than on the side (since you have to make an effort to look out the rear window, while on the side, your eyes are drawn by default), but it ruins that cool backside view!
The 79’s layover point on Columbus Boulevard is hard to find if you don’t know where you’re going. It’s the only route at that stop, and also the only one that doesn’t deviate into any of the surrounding plazas. From that obscure stop, we turned immediately onto Snyder Ave, running by some lesser suburban shopping plazas. Right after we went under I-95, though, we entered a real neighborhood with dense rowhouses and plenty of retail.
There wasn’t a ton of diversity in the scenery, so we just headed down Snyder Ave in our cool electric bus, generally picking someone up every block. Because the route stops so frequently, you unfortunately never get to hear the electric engine roar, but it still sounds good for what it is. Nearly everyone got off at the huge retail hub of Broad and Snyder, many probably heading for the Broad Street Line. A new smattering of people got on here, too, heading west on the route.
We weaved through the intersection with the diagonal Passyunk Ave (it’s a bit weird) and continued past more apartments and businesses. 24th Street had some greenery and a path in its median, while 25th Street had the falling-apart freight rail viaduct leaving it in shadow. There was some industry past there, as well as an apartment development and some more rowhouses (that now had front lawns). We turned onto 29th Street and the driver kicked me off at Vare Ave, after which the bus would loop back around onto Snyder to return to the malls.
Route: 79 (Columbus Commons to 29th-Snyder)
Ridership: It only gets an average of 5,367 people per weekday, but this route is short at just 3 miles. Because of that, it ends up with the seventh-best farebox recovery ratio on SEPTA: 45%. Every 79 trip I’ve done has gotten a healthy amount of people with not too many at one time. Every trip, that is, except at rush hour, when this route genuinely gets crowded – it’s one of the few SEPTA routes that’s more productive at rush hour than it is middays.
Pros: First and foremost, its length. The route never takes longer than 25 minutes to go from end to end, and it’s often closer to 20. This translates to being able to provide better service with fewer buses, as well as better on-time performance, which was apparently just 82% in 2018, but it was 90% in 2017. Most of the time, the 79 is really frequent, running every 8-10 minutes at rush hour, every 12 minutes during the day, and every 15 minutes on Saturdays. It also has hourly owl service throughout the night, which makes for a good lifeline service for workers with odd hours in South Philly. Oh, and Proterras! It uses Proterras! I love that!
Cons: Oh come on, every half hour on Sundays? That’s terrible! Also, SEPTA considers this a “15-15-5” route on its maps
, but it’s not ! It becomes every half hour at around 7:20 on weekdays, way before 9 PM! Granted, that’s only one of many, many errors on SEPTA’s stupid frequency map, but that’s something for another day. (EDIT: Gary in the comments pointed out that I was looking at Saturdays and not weekdays. The frequency map still has a ton of errors, though.) Honestly, the frequency issue is the only problem I can really think of here, and it’s a big one. I mean, how can you go from 15-minute service on Saturdays to half-hourly service on Sundays? That’s a huge drop.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Snyder Ave is a huge retail corridor with lots of different restaurants and bars along its length. You’ve also got the South Philly malls, if you’re into Walmart and IKEA and whatever…
Final Verdict: 7/10
It would be a 6 if it wasn’t for the Proterras bumping it up a point. Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t be so vehicle-biased, but they really are great little buses to ride. I genuinely do like the 79, too – I just wish its evening and Sunday service wasn’t so awful. If you added one bus, you could make it every 20 minutes, which would be a lot better!
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates