Codifying Public Transit Routes: Colors, Letters, Numbers, Destinations

I have a love/hate relationship with public transit. I think of it as a dysfunctional marriage. As a whole, I’m unhappy with most aspects of it, but on a day-to-day basis, the alternative seems considerably less desirable.

Plus, in the digital age, figuring out how to get from point A to a new far-away point B is a lot easier than I imagine it must’ve been in the ancient times of the 20th century.

In all seriousness though, I truly believe in the power of public transit. It’s just that very few cities (e.g. NYC) have pulled it off effectively, and it seems that they are usually severely underfunded. If you were looking for the silver lining of $4 per gallon gas, it’s that maybe public transit will get a little more attention.

One or two years ago, the Philadelphia public transit authority SEPTA has changed the codifying (I like this word, so I’ll use it) of its regional rail lines from colors and numbers to the names of the destination stops. So, the line that went from Thorndale to Doylestown used to be called R5 (and was colored blue), but now is two lines called Thorndale and Doylestown respectively, both colored black like the vapid nihilistic nature of the reasoning behind the change. Why? According to SEPTA, tourists would get confused about the fact that R5 (and the other lines) went two ways. Apparently most tourists that come to Philadelphia expect their trains to run one way, much like the Soul Asylum’s Runaway Train:

I wrote this quick post to put my two (cynical) cents out there. I believe that saying and remembering colors and numbers is much easier than terminal stop names at least for people like me that don’t ride the regional rail more than once a month.

0 thoughts on “Codifying Public Transit Routes: Colors, Letters, Numbers, Destinations

  1. Seth Liebert

    Thank you for posting this article. I recently started using Septa again on a regular basis and I noticed that they lost the old R# designation. What aggravated me about this was that if you were going from, say, Temple University to Lansdowne, you couldn’t hop on the R3 like I used to and ride it all the way. You now have to hop on one of the local trains to 30th Street, hope they happen to designate it for the Media/Elwyn line, and if not, hop off and wait for that train to come – up to an hour. And of course on the off chance you wanted to go from Langhorne to Media, you couldn’t just sit on the R3 and ride it all the way. Again with the changing. I’ve wondered why they decided to made an already inefficient system even worse, and now I know. They made it more inconvenient for their 4.5 million daily riders in favor of a few tourists.

    Anyway, these expansion plans in the picture you posted, are they really expected to come to fruition? Because I’ve spent a lot of time imagining a better rail configuration for Septa, but I guess this will do. Are these plans actually in the works or is Septa going to decide it doesn’t even have 1/10 of the funds needed to even start moving on this?

    1. Lex Post author

      Septa has a lot of interesting ideas, plans, and projects it announced, but like you, I have many doubts whether they will be taken to completion. As long as gas prices are high, I can remain optimistic though, since high gas prices mean more interest from the public.

    1. Lex Post author

      I don’t remember where I found it, sorry. It was from a site that discussed a proposed expansion of the Septa rail system. Google around, it was one of the top hits.


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