Long before the limited-stop Boulevard Direct, which offered frequent service, specially branded 60-foot buses, and upgraded stops was created, there was the 8. Running between two of the biggest transportation centers on SEPTA with limited stops in between, this route offers infrequent weekday-only service, normal 40-foot buses, and mostly unsheltered stops. Okay, not the best start, but maybe it can recover…

Oooh, “EXPRESS”!

We already had a decent ridership showing from Frankford, with the vast majority of riders being students. Running down Pratt Street, it was mostly rowhouses, aside from a few businesses and a church at the intersection with Oxford Ave. We soon turned onto Roosevelt Boulevard, having made a total of three stops, including Frankford – not bad at all!

It’s carmageddon on Roosevelt Boulevard.

The stops during the route’s trafficky portion on Roosevelt Boulevard were even further apart, with just three of them along the 1.6 mile stretch. Two were at the streets where the bus turns on and off the road, while the middle one was at the only non-residential area on the segment, serving Northeast Tower Center and Friends Hospital. Once we turned onto C Street, we were on a much narrower road (well, Roosevelt sets a low bar) that turned and became Fisher Street when it crossed the retail thoroughfare of Rising Sun Ave.

The sun was actually setting when I rode the route, but we’ll let it slide.

Going through a neighborhood of semi-detached houses, we used Front Street to get onto Tabor Road. Despite the fact that the 8 is limited-stop, it’s actually the only service that runs on this part of Tabor. It does stop a little more frequently along here, about every two blocks…otherwise known as the frequency at which every SEPTA route should stop! “Express”? More like “normal stop spacing.”

A nice residential side street.

It didn’t seem like Tabor Road generated much demand on its own – sure, it had dense rowhouses, but most of the side streets were cut off by the Fox Chase Line to the south, while the road ran in a diagonal getting closer and closer to Olney Ave. Other points of interest included the Fox Chase Line’s Olney Station and a few businesses on and around 5th Street. The road got industrial as it went under the SEPTA Main Line, although some of that would-be wasteland was occupied by a church.

Electrical stuff and then, in the background…church! That’s really cool!

Tabor Road was a block away from Olney Ave at this point, and instead of taking advantage of the parallel service to make more limited stops, they only got closer together. We passed an apartment building and then the huge Einstein Medical Center complex, with all of its associated parking spilling out over multiple blocks. Finally, we turned onto a weird busway next to Broad Street that was exclusively for the 8, ending our trip at Olney Transportation Center.

Lots of students heading back toward Frankford!

Route: 8 (Olney Transportation Center to Frankford Transportation Center)

Ridership: Given its infrequent schedule, it’s not a huge surprise that the 8’s total ridership is low, at about 2,650 riders per weekday. That being said, it’s a short route with not a ton of trips, and that ends up making for great productivity. I mean, the route ranks 70th for ridership, but 35th for fare recovery ratio, and that’s with most of the riders being students whose fares are subsidized by their schools! Speaking of which, this route seems to cater extremely heavily to students, which is most apparent when you compare its summer schedule to its school day schedule. A few passengers actually rode from beginning to end, which is rare for a SEPTA route.

Pros: L-I-M-I-T-E-D S-T-O-P-S!!!! And while they’re only truly limited on the eastern half of the route, even the western half’s stops are placed at a normal distance apart. That makes this route part of a very exclusive SEPTA club where I actually praise the stop spacing instead of criticize it. It’s also a fairly logical routing, creating a one-seat ride between two of SEPTA’s busiest stations. The 8 is insanely frequent at rush hour, at least when school is in session, running every 5-6 minutes in the morning and every 10-15 in the evening.

Cons: The rest of the schedule is lacking. If midday service is only going to be every half hour, with no night or weekend service, is it even worth running the route then? And summer service only runs every 20 minutes during the rush! It absolutely has its place during school times, but I wonder if the resources at other times would be better spent pumping up service onto the R (which would ideally be “limited stops” too). It would still form a crosstown, just requiring a transfer to the Broad Street Line to get up to Olney. Daily reminder that SEPTA needs free transfers, by the way!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Most of the businesses served by the 8 are local convenience stores that serve the neighborhood around them. The most interesting spot seems to be 5th Street, which has a great library and a highly-rated Portuguese restaurant nearby.

Final Verdict: 6/10
The 8 is essentially a school bus, and in that sense, it accomplishes what it’s trying to do. I can’t praise its limited stops enough, even if the western half is just regular bus stop spacing. However, although I don’t know the ridership on a trip-by-trip basis, I would wager a guess that midday service is a lot less used, given the lower frequency. If the route were run only at rush hour, the midday resources could be used to increase the R’s frequency, which is a much busier route during those times. (EDIT: I totally forgot about SEPTA’s load profiles when writing this – the one for the 8 basically confirms that ridership is super high at school times and only decent outside of that.)

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates