F*cked Philly: The 15 Bus-olly


I hate the 15 for many reasons.

SEPTA’s Route 15 has to be one of the most frustrating and annoying bus routes in the entire city.   There’s a multitude of reasons.

The people

Ok, let’s get this one out of the way quickly.   The 15 connects to a couple of methadone clinics lining the route including one of the city’s largest at 8th and Girard.  Because a lot of opioid addicts bouncing in and out of rehab use this line that means the 15 on an average day–especially after 10AM–is going to be trashed up with garbage strewn about the vehicle.   This is just how it goes with opioid abuse.  Seeking out a trash can to put refuse inside of it is a skill that is far too demanding for junkies.  No one knows why. It just is.

Also, for that same reason you should expect at least 5 seats on the bus/trolly to be in some state of “moist” that you won’t want to sit.   If the bus is packed you’re going to stand.   If you were unlucky and got the trolley the aircon is not going to keep up.  Sorry.

The routing

So there are kinda 3 separate versions of the Route 15 line.  They are:

  1. The original end-to-end Route 15.    This is a secret that SEPTA doesn’t want you to know. This is a mysterious bus which travels the original route 15 except for the Richmond Street detour which uses Aramingo Avenue now.   I’ve been on it a few times, remembered that I wasn’t on the “rail shuttle”, and forgot to get off the bus at Frankford Avenue and was shocked and pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have to sit at Sugarhouse Casino.
  2. The “enhanced” Route 15, which is going to take you to Sugarhouse Casino whether you want to go there or not.   This is the unfortunate outcome for most people.
  3. The rail shuttle — this is an on-again, off-again affair with SEPTA.   It services Port Richmond and connects those residents to the Market-Frankford Line since they lost access to the trolley. You may be lulled into a false sense of hope that you can take the 15 without having to waste some sharp turns to stare at a casino you don’t want to go to, and as soon as you get used to the idea of the rail shuttle as a commuting choice it then promptly disappears for a few weeks.

The Sugarhouse Loop

What?  You don’t want to go to Sugarhouse Casino at 8 in the morning on a Tuesday when you have an 8:35AM meeting downtown?   Too bad.  If you don’t get off the bus blocks away from the EL you’re going to be treated to SUGARHOUSE CASINO, where EVERYONE IS A WINNER!    Except you.   Because your bus driver ate a breakfast taco that didn’t sit well with her and she’s going to need to use all of her flag time at the lavatory at the SUGARHOUSE LOOP while you sit there and contemplate escaping the vehicle and walking to the EL.

That Sugarhouse trolley loop–also used by the buses–looks to be more and more permanent with each passing year.   Both SEPTA and PennDOT told us this would be a temporary thing but we know better.   There was a fleeting moment when we believed the lies we were told that the rerouting of the trolley was a temporary situation but a couple of things make it clear that it’s permanent.   The biggest one is that the tracks on Richmond Street have been completely paved over from Ann to the original trolley loop at the Port Richmond Wawa.   And the catenary wire has now been removed along the same stretch of road, too.

There is some contradictory evidence though.   The new refurbished portions of Richmond Street (between Girard Avenue and Ann Street) have brand new catenary poles up.   So maybe the trolley might come back.  Someday.  Perhaps when North Korea launches that ICBM to destroy Sugarhouse.

After all–don’t you want to go to Sugarhouse?    SEPTA really likes Sugarhouse and they think you do too.   After all… everyone’s a winner!

Even when the trolley was running, it was crawling, not running

Girard Ave Bridge track work (Facebook)

And if you think the Girard Avenue track work is ever going to end–it isn’t!   Sections of the street are always open and in some sections the tracks have been replaced or realigned more than one time.

Part of me feels that SEPTA does not treat either the Spring Garden or Girard Avenue transit routes as serious commuter lines because they don’t bring commuters into Center City, but simply dump passengers into the EL or the subway.   Routes that head to the core get more priority from SEPTA than crosstown routes do.   But when there are major failures of some of those core routes like the subway or the EL, these crosstown routes are the alternates.   But there’s fewer vehicles, SEPTA doesn’t “unbunch” their vehicles (here’s one day where I tried to take the 43 on Spring Garden and ALL the buses servicing this line were right behind each other… all 5 of them).

I guess it made sense when SEPTA got the money to put museum-piece PTC cars to screw up a crosstown line we need as an alternate when the EL is messed up–is that it doesn’t give two shits about that and the Route 15 would be a perfect fit.   After all, it does go to the zoo.  And who doesn’t want to get on a neat-o no-aircon trolley with garbage strewn everywhere to look at rhesus monkeys at the zoo?  I took a 15 trolley for that very reason, once, and my sneakers stuck to the floor thanks to a super-syrupy soda that was spilled on it that was so bad I had to use Goo Gone™ on them when I got home.  This was after a 20 minute break around 19th and Girard because the trolley couldn’t move anywhere because the tracks were blocked and the catenary pole popped off the line a couple times.

It would be nice if SEPTA could unfuck their crosstown routes, but we all know that’s never happening.  C’est la vie.