Ugh…this thing. Okay, time for a history lesson: the regular 47 (sans “M”) used to travel on 9th Street in the northbound direction, running straight through the Italian Market. While it was great to have a direct bus serving that location, the market ultimately served to slow the buses down with its crowded stalls and resulting traffic, so SEPTA rerouted the 47 onto 7th Street. But…we can’t just not serve the market, can we? The closest bus is two whole blocks away – that’s 3 entire minutes of walking! Enter the northbound-only 47M, one of the strangest and arguably most pointless bus routes on SEPTA (and for the record, the “M” is lowercase on the official route list and uppercase on the schedule and on Google Maps, so I dunno…).
After getting dumped off in an industrial wasteland on the 57, I ironically had to walk back to its normal terminus at Whitman Plaza to catch the 47Miserable. I had breakfast at the Oregon Diner before heading to the stop, grabbing the 47Maniacal a few minutes later. The bus pulled out onto Oregon Ave, a street that was wide because of its angled parking and felt wide because all the buildings along it were just two stories high (mostly businesses with residences on top).
Now, when we headed north onto 9th Street, the road was still lined with two-story buildings, but because it was just one lane with parking on both sides, they felt a lot taller than the ones on Oregon had been! Every intersection along here seemed to have some little convenience store or bakery, but besides those it was rowhouse central. Two grand school buildings at Mifflin Street brought a bit of variety to the buildings, since South Philly rowhouses tend to be pretty uniform besides their colors (from beige to maroon) and occasional awnings.
A beautiful church sat at the intersection with Watkins Street, and around when we crossed Tasker and Morris (the streets followed by the 29 bus), businesses started to appear a little more often. More than just corner stores now, there were also more specialized ones like a florist and a party store. Perhaps because we were getting closer toward Center City, a lot of the rowhouses were becoming three stories, too. 9th and Passyunk was home to Pat’s and Geno’s, neither of whose cheesesteaks I have ever tried! (I’ve heard they’re both overrated…)
After “Cheesesteak Corner”, we were starting to enter Italian Market territory. The buildings along the street now had the market’s distinctive red and green awnings, and there was a wide variety of businesses and restaurants along here. It was once we crossed Washington Ave that the market itself started, and that was when things got hairy. Thanks to the stalls spilling out into the street, we had to crawl through…it felt like we were less than a foot away from banging into the awnings.
North of the market, the street got leafier and the rowhouses got a lot more architecturally diverse. A recreation center took up a block shortly before South Street, which was definitely in a less weird phase this far west – there was a Whole Foods at the intersection, after all! A few blocks of rowhouses led us to the beautiful Penn Hospital, the first in the country, although its main building was mostly hidden behind a wall and some trees.
We passed the modern buildings of Thomas Jefferson Hospital next, which is, believe it or not, not the first in the country. We also went by the big building that says “Court House” and “Post Office”, although I honestly can’t tell if it’s still used as either of those things – regardless, the stiff-looking, almost Soviet statues outside of its entrances are fun to look at. Oh, and as we crossed Market: the Disney Hole!
North of Market, 9th Street ran beneath the Fashion District (rightfully still called “The Gallery” on the 47Maleficent’s map) for a block before entering Chinatown. Unfortunately, the mostly austere buildings of 9th Street weren’t conducive to vibrancy – 10th is where most of the action is here. Speaking of vibrancy, though, Race Street had a lot of that to offer, with a huge array of Chinese signs outside of different restaurants. We took a right onto that, going in the opposite direction of that vibrancy.
Parking lots and office buildings were the order of the day along this part of Race. We passed Chinatown Station and the Roundhouse, and outside of Franklin Square, we headed up onto 7th Street, joining the regular 47. The bus had been empty since Chinatown, and as we entered an industrial area past an I-676 overpass, I realized I had no idea how this thing would actually end. The map just shows it ending at Spring Garden Street…would I get kicked off there?
Well, we crossed Spring Garden and I can tell you that I wasn’t kicked off! But now I was curious: when would I be kicked off? Where was this bus even going now? Edgar Allan Poe’s old rowhouse stuck out in the middle of what was otherwise a 20th Century housing development. Taking a left onto Fairmount Ave, we ran along its northern border before travelling along its west side by turning south onto 8th Street. Were we just heading south again? Nope: the bus suddenly pulled up onto the left sidewalk and awkwardly let me out into the middle of the street. Guess that’s the end?
Route: 47malodorous (Whitman Plaza to 7th-Spring Garden via 9th Street)
Ridership: Okay, if these ridership numbers are to be believed, the 47macabre gets a ton of people – 1,645 riders per day isn’t a lot, but that’s spread out over just 24 northbound-only trips! That would mean 69 people per trip, which while being quite “nice” (I had to), doesn’t seem realistic to me, given that a one-way ride is just over 30 minutes. I mean, 25 people boarded my bus, which is much higher than I was expecting, but I just can’t see this thing getting almost 70 people on average over such a short distance. Not to mention that this report calls it the least productive north-south route on the system…and why does SEPTA’s load profile have a mysterious, seemingly packed series of southbound trips? Something’s fishy here.
But one thing that the data can seem to agree on is that very few people are actually using this to get to the Italian Market – that holds true for the network redesign report, the route’s load profile, and my own observations from the trip. Are there riders using it? Yeah, absolutely, but it’s at the expense of two frequent routes that are close by: the 47 runs up 7th every 10 minutes, but you also have the 45 on 11th running on the same headway! Let me stop myself before I spoil everything in the “cons” though…
Pros: Honestly just that people do seem to use it. Having a bus right outside your door is obviously convenient, but it’s at the inconvenience of many more riders who could benefit from a more frequent service. Wait…I’m doing cons again.
Cons: Fantastic, we’re here! Yeah, let me just get the elephant in the room out of the way first: I do not believe that this route needs to exist. All it’s doing is taking service away from the 47, which frankly needs all the service it can get. It’s even more insulting because buses on the 47Malicious don’t even travel in service southbound, meaning the four buses it uses all day are guaranteed to be empty half the time as they make the trip back to Whitman Plaza. How does anyone think that’s an effective use of resources?
It gets worse, though: because the route travels through the Italian Market, its on-time performance is an abysmal 69%. And the schedule is designed around travel to the market (every 20 minutes from 8:30 to 4:30 on weekdays, every 30 minutes from 9:00 to 5:00 on Saturdays, and every 35 minutes from 10:00 to 2:00 on Sundays, when the market runs limited hours), despite the fact that it’s been established that this is not what people are using the route for. So what we have is a bus with awful service spans and mediocre frequencies, and it’s all taking away potential service from a much busier and more frequent route that runs two blocks away. This seems ridiculous to me.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Well, as much as I don’t think it should get a direct bus, the truth of the matter is that you can most certainly take this thing to the wonderful Italian Market. The market offers everything from produce to meat to spices, while some fantastic restaurants line the thoroughfare too. My family makes a point of having dinner at Villa di Roma every time they visit, it’s that good – their marinara sauce is out of this world.
Final Verdict: 1/10
I was considering a 2 because it does get ridership. But if I flat-out want a route to be eliminated, why shouldn’t it get a 1? This is the definition of a coverage route, and in a place as dense and as transit-friendly as South Philadelphia, SEPTA’s big focus should be on ridership. Plus, running the 47moronic has effects that go beyond the neighborhood: using its buses to boost frequency on the regular 47 would affect North Philadelphia too, and for the better.
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