The PATCO High Speed Line that runs between South Jersey and Philadelphia is a workhorse. It’s one of only four 24-hour train lines in the country. In the mornings and evenings, trains come every 5-10 minutes, and every other time there’s about 20 minutes between them. It gets tens of thousands of people to work, school, hospitals, bars, and restaurants in Philadelphia without having to find parking. Over the past 45 years, it’s become a staple of transportation in the region.
Though they’ve been shuttling South Jerseyans to and from Philadelphia for decades, their ability to convey crucial information leaves a lot to be desired. This has manifested itself a lot recently, with things like trains breaking down causing delays. But it’s also engrained in the structure of the agency. Specifically, my problem today is with the maps the agency uses in trains and on platforms.
Let me convey what I mean with a story. One of the most frustrating conversations I ever heard on the train was a little kid enthusiastically asking his mom if they could get to a baseball game from the train. His mom tersely shot back, “No, you can’t get to the stadium from the train”. My brain exploded. I don’t know if she didn’t like the idea of transferring to the subway, or if she really didn’t think you can get there, but this is one of the most basic (and economically stimulating) transfers on the entire PATCO line. To be clear, you can take the line to 12-13th & Locust, get on the Broad Street Subway southbound, and get to Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, or the Wells Fargo Center in less time and for far less money than it takes to drive to any of them and park.
This kind of thing is what motivated me to come up with a fix for the fact that PATCO itself makes it difficult to understand how the line fits in to the larger Greater Philadelphia transit network. Basically, the maps at stations and in trains are horrible. They barely show any connections to the rest of Philadelphia’s transit network. For a well-used system that takes people into the heart of the fifth largest American city, this is a problem. Daily commuters might know what they’re going, but for people who don’t use the system frequently or who have never used it at all, it can be hard to figure out how to get around. For example, currently it might be unclear for the infrequent rider to know how to get to Fishtown from Haddonfield, or West Philadelphia from Lindenwold. These connections aren’t hard to make, but the map that PATCO provides barely give you any of this information.
Since the biggest problem I see with the current maps is the lack of information about transfers, I tried to make those as clear as possible in my map. For example, with this map you can pretty easily tell that you can get on PATCO in Westmont, change to the El at 8th & Market, and get off at Girard if you wanted to get to the Piazza in Northern Liberties. It’s not a new idea, it’s not revolutionary, but it’s a basic thing that transit maps really need to get right, and which the current PATCO maps certainly do not. And considering that transit use has been increasing in the region for the past decade, we need better maps that show us how our transportation options all fit together. We’re lucky in this area to have a fairly good transportation network, with PATCO, SEPTA, and NJTransit as options. But we need to build better maps to improve our transit literacy so no one thinks you can’t make one of the most highly-taken transfers in the entire system.