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August 30, 2007 2:25 PM   Subscribe

Why are the trolleys in Philadelphia so unfathomably slow?

I know that public transportation in Philadelphia is pretty abysmal overall, but it seems that the trolleys are particularly appalling. It's one thing that they never come on schedule, but why do they sometimes stop in the middle of the tunnel for no apparent reason, often for over ten minutes at a time? Why do they so frequently drive at less than 5 miles per hour (I'm assuming this figure, but it's certainly slower than my walking pace)? Why do they shut off so often mid-trip, and what are the drivers fixing when they step out of the trolley with that big metal stick? Why don't the drivers ever explain the reason for delays when these things happen?

I've actually tried to look up this information online, but all I've been able to find is general complaints.

If anybody feels like answering a bonus question, here's something else I've always wondered: why do people sit on the outside seat when the trolley is full, refusing to move over or let anybody into the inner seat?
posted by timory to Travel & Transportation around Philadelphia, PA (23 answers total)
 
Bonus answer: it's not just on trolleys that people sit like this. It's exceedingly rude when it's the really crowded buses...that just bothers me endlessly. I find that the subway passengers are much better about just squeezing together.
posted by monochromaticgirl at 2:39 PM on August 30, 2007


why do they sometimes stop in the middle of the tunnel for no apparent reason

On a single rail, a trolley failure or other reason to stop (reaching a station) will trigger a cascade of stop signals for all trolleys behind it.

Why do they so frequently drive at less than 5 miles per hour

In my experience, in the tunnels they move very quickly, slowing only at the curves under West Philly. Outside, they have stops at every block or other block, as well as traffic to contend with.

what are the drivers fixing when they step out of the trolley with that big metal stick

They are manually moving a rail switch over, so that the trolley goes along the right path. Next time you see this, you'll notice you're at an intersection of merging or diverging trolley lines.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:55 PM on August 30, 2007


If anybody feels like answering a bonus question, here's something else I've always wondered: why do people sit on the outside seat when the trolley is full, refusing to move over or let anybody into the inner seat?

It's not just a trolley thing. I've found this out riding the Regional Rail. I think it's the mentality of defending territory, maybe, or just wanting a little private space. It's annoying, I agree.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:58 PM on August 30, 2007


In my experience, in the tunnels they move very quickly, slowing only at the curves under West Philly. Outside, they have stops at every block or other block, as well as traffic to contend with.

i should have clarified: this happens on roads without any turns, with absolutely no traffic, even when nobody has requested a stop and nobody is waiting at an upcoming corner.
posted by timory at 3:02 PM on August 30, 2007


why do people sit on the outside seat when the trolley is full, refusing to move over or let anybody into the inner seat?

As a woman, I've done this after being groped or cornered/threatened by scary men one too many times. Not in Philadelphia, but Portland, Paris, Washington, DC, and on a long-distance Greyhound bus. That's enough.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:30 PM on August 30, 2007


that's a good explanation, but i'm also a woman, and i don't think i look particularly scary. for the record, i also get really angry when young guys won't give up their seats on a crowded bus/trolley for a woman, especially if she's carrying a lot of things.

sometimes i want to ask people, but it would be too forward.
posted by timory at 3:34 PM on August 30, 2007


sometimes i want to ask people, but it would be too forward.

Nonsense! Just say a polite "excuse me" and 99.9999% of the time they will move. It's a non-issue, except for the most psychotic of the trolley ridership, and you can usually spot them anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:38 PM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Just a bit of fyi, when I got to Philadelphia, the absolutely dizzying rate of speed that the trolleys employ here made it seem more like a roller coaster than a train. Whenever I go back to Boston, I get all weirded out and impatient with the slow Green Line trains there.

also, there's a Philly meet up on Friday...check out metatalk
posted by nursegracer at 4:47 PM on August 30, 2007


Ask the annoying people taking up seats to move. I have, in the past, poked a drunkard with an umbrella so that I could have a seat on a crowded rush-hour bus.

Luckily the drunkard quickly learned that she had missed her stop, and more seats for everyone (she was taking up about three)
posted by that girl at 4:55 PM on August 30, 2007


If you sit on the outside of a two-seat group, it's less likely that someone will sit next to you than if you had sat on the inside. It does work: that's why you are seeing those inside seats as the only ones free.
posted by smackfu at 5:01 PM on August 30, 2007


i understand that those people don't want anybody sitting with them. i meant, why would people refuse to move to the inner seat (or let someone past them to get to the inner seat) even when the car is CRAMMED full of people struggling to keep standing?
posted by timory at 5:03 PM on August 30, 2007


Ask them to move in. Most times they will. Often I sit on the outside seat because I keep my messenger bag on, but then again, I move in when I see the bus getting full, so I'm probably an exception. I'll ask if there's no other available seat - unless they have an actual reason, people don't have a right to take up more seats simply cause they don't feel like sharing.
posted by Meagan at 5:51 PM on August 30, 2007


In and around Philly, lots of cars double-park, which also causes slowdowns. Drivers have to watch for cars pulling out into traffic right in front of them as well.

The problem with people not moving when the trolley is crowded is, the standing folks have to ask to sit. Eye contact won't work, generally. Asking does work. Maybe it is subconsciously submissive to ask for a seat from another passenger. It works though.
posted by chookibing at 6:08 PM on August 30, 2007


One misty morning while walking from my apartment to my job at the Children's Hospital, I happened on a lot of emergency vehicles parked at the corner of South 42nd Street and Spruce Street. Those of you from Philly might know that this is where the trolley line goes down a hill on Spruce and turns onto 42nd Street. A trolley car sat in the middle of the road, where there were no tracks. The gouges in the pavement showed how the trolley car went around the corner too fast and hopped off the rails. Hopped off the rails, onto a curb, through a light post, through a bit of garden, and into the side of a house.

Maybe that's why they slowed down.
posted by Mercaptan at 6:37 PM on August 30, 2007


Nthing just asking to sit. In fact, you can generally just do this nonverbally with a head tilt, a grunt, and perhaps a point if the person is being daft. As Mr. Pileon pointed out, 99% of the time people will move or let you by. If they roll their eyes at you, roll yours right back.

I ride the bus every day. I will push through the entire bus and sit in the one unoccupied seat on the back row. On principle. Fucking move, people.
posted by desuetude at 7:13 PM on August 30, 2007


A lot of people sit on the outside if they anticipate having to get up within a couples stops so they don't have to ask the person who sits on the outside to move if they scoot in.

And I can't say I've ever had a problem with speed; in fact, the 36 and 34 are both pretty good in my experience. Try taking the Girard trolley from Fishtown out to Overbrook, that's got to be about an hour and a half ride.
posted by The Straightener at 7:49 PM on August 30, 2007


People sit on the outside for one reason. They don't want to ask you to move (that would mean talking to you), when they need to get off at their stop.

You have to bother them twice, to get in and to get out.

I don't do this - everytime I've ever gotten on public transit, it's always nearly full.
posted by filmgeek at 8:33 PM on August 30, 2007


Sorry to derail here; philly meetup Friday (tomorrow) the 31st.
posted by filmgeek at 8:40 PM on August 30, 2007


And I can't say I've ever had a problem with speed; in fact, the 36 and 34 are both pretty good in my experience.

I live on the 13's route. I've heard that most of the problems I've mentioned are unique to the 13. If that's true, my questions are even more fervent. Why why why? Why is the 13 so goddamn slow?
posted by timory at 9:47 PM on August 30, 2007


I toured SEPTA headquarters a little while ago... a very interesting and frustrating experience. One of the higher-ups that gave us the "welcome to SEPTA" speech was so depressed about the current situation that he should have been on 24-hour suicide watch. They are ridiculously underfunded, but also (maybe as a result?) brutally incompetent as well.

Its a shame because with well-run integrated regional rail, subway, bus and trolley service Philly would have one of the best transit systems in the country.

I'm not sure about problems specific to the 13, but sometimes they will stop trolleys for scheduling/congestion reasons - especially when going into the center city tunnel. They do this so you don't get five trolleys tacked up followed by a 15 minute gap. If things were operating smoothly, this would rarely happen.
posted by nazca at 7:18 AM on August 31, 2007


that's five trolley's stacked up
posted by nazca at 7:20 AM on August 31, 2007


Though I've complained above about the non-moving people, and I am rarely guilty of being such a person (and I usually give up and feel guilty and move in, in spite of my rationale), since you asked for *reasons* here is mine: if I am on a bus that is getting more crowded, but I am getting off in a few blocks, I will scoot to the aisle seat so that if someone wants to sit, they can, but they will not then have to get up when I get off in a few stops. I really hate being the rude bitch who lets you sit down and then makes you get right back up a block or two later.
posted by monochromaticgirl at 8:30 PM on August 31, 2007


...and what are the drivers fixing when they step out of the trolley with that big metal stick?

Maybe a trolley pole separated from the overhead line (dewirement)? I've seen this happen on a certain trolleybus here in Boston.
posted by healthytext at 7:09 PM on September 4, 2007


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