Our last SEPTA review was on the 64, a route that runs crosstown along a wide, close-to-the-city road in South Philadelphia and runs more infrequently than it should. The 43 is the northern version of that!
The 50th-Parkside Loop is a really odd one. Located in an area that used to be a ton of rail yards, this bus station now sits in what is pretty much an industrial wasteland. The stop is located across the street from the ParkWest Town Center, a shopping plaza that generates most of the ridership here, even though you have to walk through its huge parking lot to get to it. Despite its surroundings, the loop itself is nice: there are plants and trees to spruce it up, plus a good amount of seating, both sheltered and unsheltered. Not bad for a terminal that only serves the 43, 64, and a few rush hour trips of the 52! There’s no real reason to come here unless you’re going to the ParkWest Town Center, and access to that isn’t the best, but once you actually get here, it’s a pleasant place to wait. 6/10.
The 43’s route begins like the 64’s: with the weird twists and turns through the industrial wasteland surrounding the 50th-Parkside Loop. I don’t understand why buses can’t just directly go onto Parkside Ave without having to go via both 50th and 49th, but alas, this is how it goes. Parkside Ave is so called because it runs alongside Fairmount Park, but we soon turned away from it on Belmont Ave, which too was industrial.
Once we crossed the Paoli/Thorndale Line and the (former) 15 trolley at the same time, Belmont Ave became lined with rowhouses. Soon we made a slight left onto Lancaster Ave, joining the (luckily not former) 10 trolley along the diagonal road, passing more apartments, plus businesses and some vacant buildings and lots. The vacancies came less often the further we travelled, but before things got too gentrified, we turned off onto Spring Garden Street, where we would be spending the majority of our trip.
Spring Garden was lined with ornate rowhouses, as well as a few apartment buildings that blended well into the neighborhood. This southern part of Mantua is definitely feeling gentrifying effects from nearby University City. Speaking of University City, we soon crossed the sprawling rail yards north of 30th Street Station and the Schuylkill River, getting a view of both University City’s skyline and the skyscrapers of Center City to the east.
To get around the Art Museum, we had to make our way around Eakins Oval, getting a view of City Hall down the Ben Franklin Parkway. That led us back onto Spring Garden Street, which was now a wide four-lane road with a median lined with three- and four-story rowhouses. Some more modern buildings showed up eventually, including taller apartment buildings and the Community College of Philadelphia.
The taller buildings continued to Broad Street, where we intersected with the first of two Spring Garden Stations we’d be encountering. A truly impressive mural on the side of a factory-turned-apartment building, as well as the sketchy Flixbus station in a parking lot, led us forward. East of Broad the street takes on an industrial vibe, with lots of old factories (some converted and some not) and a number of garages and vacant lots.
Things started to get hipstery too: trendy cafes, bars, and nightclubs showed up along Spring Garden for a bit before we went under the abandoned Reading Railroad viaduct. We were dealing with rush hour traffic now, so progress was a bit slow. On the other side of the viaduct, it felt pretty industrial again, right down to weird silos showing up right along the road! But hey, at least there was also a random shopping plaza with a Dollar General in it.
We passed through another short stretch of hipsterness before we went under I-95, dropping most of our passengers off at the rainbow-colored entrance to Spring Garden Station on the MFL. Soon after that, we turned onto Delaware Ave, which runs along the river of the same name. This area was ostensibly industrial, but tall new apartment buildings and entertainment spots (including Sugarhouse, er, Rivers Casino) showed signs of a gentrifying neighborhood.
It beats me why the 43 does this, but for some reason eastbound buses have to deviate onto Beach Street to…”serve” Penn Treaty Park, I guess? But why do you have to serve the park? Especially when the deviation takes the bus less than 150 feet away from Delaware Ave, yet it requires it to sit at a light in order to get back! Once we finished that deviation, though, it was back on Delaware, which travelled right alongside the I-95 bridge and passed some pretty desolate industry.
The road took us through a bunch of highway and industrial paraphernalia. The bus is supposed to run on Aramingo Ave, but thanks to a detour, we stayed on Delaware, which soon became Richmond Street as it came along some abandoned waterfront land (blocked from our view by a wall). We took that up to Lehigh Ave, one major street past the route’s usual northeastern edge on Huntingdon Street.
Unlike Huntingdon, Lehigh was a two-way road made all the more wide by its center turning lane and diagonal parking spaces. It was mostly residential along here (thank goodness – I was getting sick of the constant highway wasteland), but a few restaurants and pubs cropped up too. We weren’t on this for too long, though, turning onto Aramingo Ave once we hit it. This road was also wide, with two lanes in each direction, a painted median, and suburban businesses along it.
Heading onto a bridge, the street made its way through an interchange with I-95, dumping us back onto Delaware Ave at the end of it. It took me a bit to realize that we had in fact looped around and I was still on the bus – I have no idea where the detour routing was supposed to end, but I figured now I wouldn’t have to worry about finding my way back from the normal terminus. Instead I just stayed on until we returned to Spring Garden Station!
Route: 43 (Richmond-Cumberland to 50th-Parkside)
Ridership: Even in pre-COVID times, the numbers on this one weren’t very high. The 43 got an average of 3,054 riders per day in 2019, and spread out over its 125 daily trips, that was just about 24 people per 50-odd minute run. It’s always pretty amazing how much my trips manage to fit the average, though – mine got 25 riders! Either way, though, ridership isn’t the best on this one, especially for what should be a major crosstown route.
Pros: SEPTA keeps things simple for the 43 – it’s a mostly logical straight shot across the city, keeping itself on Spring Garden or at least on roads that keep it going in the same general direction. This holds for variants too, with the route running mostly the same pattern throughout the day (buses end slightly earlier on the route at the start and end of service, and the non-summer schedule has a few annoying morning rush short-turns on both ends, but it’s good otherwise).
Cons: It really comes down to frequency for this one: it’s bad. First of all, there’s a heavy school contingency on the route (it goes by several high schools, plus the Community College of Philadelphia), so the summer schedule is pretty drastically reduced, with service every 16-20 minutes at rush hour and every half hour middays. But even the school year schedule is rough: it’s super frequent at peak times, about every 6-15 minutes (morning rush is a lot more frequent than evening), but middays it’s every 21 minutes, just one minute off from being decent! To round it all off, the route runs every half hour on Saturdays (not great) and every 45 minutes on Sundays (NOT GREAT). I don’t think I even have other cons, but for a route on such a major street, this is awful!
Nearby and Noteworthy: There are some pretty “hip” spots on the section of Spring Garden between Broad and I-95, but I want to zero in on some other places on that stretch (both of which are closed to COVID alas). First there’s the Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site, which offers free exploration of the author’s old rowhouse! I’m also intrigued by the Latvian Society of Philadelphia, which appears to have (pre-pandemic, at least) put on shows and events! It’s a culture I know absolutely nothing about, so it would be fascinating to visit if they started putting events on again.
Final Verdict: 4/10
It’s really the frequency that drags this one down. The route itself is competent enough, but I just cannot excuse that schedule! I don’t even know what’s worse: the half-hourly midday schedule in the summer, which is far too infrequent to be useful, or the every-21-minute midday schedule during the other months, which is so frustratingly close to being okay that it makes it even more annoying! The miserable weekend timetables round out this mediocre route.
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
Gosh, it’s been a month, huh? The time slipped away from me…I’ve just been really busy, but I promise the blog isn’t dead! I don’t know how often I’ll be posting, but I’ll make sure it’s not another month until you hear from me again. Also, just as an aside when proofreading this…gosh, I miss Philly!