There’s More to the Story: Where Philadelphia Fits on WalletHub’s 2019 Cities with the Best & Worst Public Transportation

“There’s More to the Story” is a Select Greater Philadelphia series that takes a deeper dive into recent news articles and reports that rank our region on various metrics. We provide a deeper regional analysis while also adding broader context to the breadth of research available on specific topics.

WalletHub recently ranked 100 U.S. cities for best and worst public transportation across three dimensions: 1) Accessibility & Convenience, 2) Safety & Reliability, and 3) Public Transit Resources. Those three dimensions were evaluated using 17 different metrics ranging from “Average Commute Time for Transit Users” to “Average Age of Public Transit Fleet.” Below we review the findings for Philadelphia and break out the underlying metrics with data provided to Select Greater Philadelphia exclusively from WalletHub’s data team. We preface this analysis by stressing that this study is far from perfect and is just one of many sources of information on public transit and should not be viewed in isolation. As you’ll see in our conclusion, there are various other resources available that represent our region more accurately.

Overall, Philadelphia ranks 89th out of 100 cities for public transportation, weighed down by its relatively poor overall scores on Safety & Reliability and Public Transit Resources. The bright spots include: Philadelphia tied for the top spot in the Airport Accessibility by Public Transit category, and ranks 9th out of 100 cities for Accessibility & Convenience and Safety and Reliability.

Accessibility and Convenience

A closer examination of the data under the Accessibility & Convenience category shows that Philadelphia ranks in the top 10 across five categories: Share of Commuters Who Use Public Transit (#8), Average Car Commute Time as a Share of Average Public Transport Commute Time (#6), Transit Connectivity Index (#1), Share of Commuters Who Prefer Public Transport (#9), and Airport Accessibility by Public Transit (tie for #1). It bears repeating that Philadelphia ranks 1st in the nation in the Transit Connectivity Index—a measure of how connected the average household member is to the availability of a transit ride. The only two measures of Accessibility & Convenience where Philadelphia didn’t breach the top 50 were Peak Hours Spent in Congestion (#53) and Annual Public Transport Cost as a Share of Median Annual Household Income (#92)—the latter is both a factor of Philadelphia’s relatively lower median household income and higher public transportation costs.

Safety and Reliability

When it comes to Safety and Reliability, Philadelphia’s public transportation system has much room for improvement. Philadelphia ranks 97th out of 100 cities for Public Transit Fatalities per Passenger Miles Traveled. This ranking comes amidst various improvements currently being implemented into SEPTA’s safety and securities measures, which are now playing “catch-up” to higher safety standard in others cities. Philadelphia similarly lags behind in public transportation injuries and security events per miles traveled.

Public Transit Resources

Regarding Public Transit Resources, Philadelphia has an overall rank of 86, which is weighed down significantly by its aging fleet. To this point, Philadelphia ranks 96th for Average Age of Public Transit Fleet and 93rd for Average Lifetime Miles per Active Fleet Vehicles—the total miles accumulated on all active vehicles divided by the number of active vehicles. These two poor rankings more than offset the positive rankings for Philadelphia with regard to the number of transit vehicles available for the city and the miles they travel for the city population. Our own analysis of the underlying data provided by WalletHub’s data team concludes that if Philadelphia only addressed its aging transit fleet, Philadelphia could make the top 10 cities for best public transportation.

The Bottom Line

WalletHub’s ranking of our region’s public transportation system is but one source on public transit, which happens to be heavily influenced by its index model and the weights assigned to each variable. We believe there are other sources that offer better representations of our region’s transit capabilities. Take, for example, the transit rankings by AllTransitTM, the largest source of transit connectivity, access, and frequency data in the U.S. The AllTransitTM Performance Score, which ranks cities on connectivity, access to jobs, and frequency of service ranks Philadelphia 7th best out of 77 of the largest metros in the nation. Lending to its high rank, Philadelphia performs especially well on connectivity and transit trips per ½ mile, and has almost 400,000 jobs accessible with a commute of less than 30 minutes, placing it 11th out of 77 large metros on this measure.

We encourage our readers to also consider a more holistic approach to transit by considering sources like the Urban Mobility Scorecard produced by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, which provides a comprehensive analysis of traffic conditions in 494 urban areas across the U.S. According to the latest data, out of the 15 largest urban areas in the nation with over 3 million people, the Philadelphia metro area is tied for 2nd best in yearly delay per auto commuter (or, 2nd lowest yearly delay per auto commuter), tied for 4th best in excess fuel per auto commuter (or, 4th lowest excess fuel per auto commuter), and is 4th best for Travel Time Index[1].

 If you have questions or want to learn more about this summary, please contact James Medaglio of the Chamber’s Research Services team at [email protected].

[1] The ratio of travel time in the peak period to the travel time at free-flow conditions.