A guide to using the SEPTA train system
The first time I had gone into Philadelphia from Swarthmore College was for my First-Year Seminar, Everyday Life with Professor Charlton. She split up the class into groups, gave us Independence Passes, and sent us into the City of Brotherly Love with a mission: people-watching. Everyday Life is a sociology class that looks at the mundane aspects of Americans’ lives, then analyzes those mundane activities to see how they can be impactful.
When Professor Charlton gave the class the project, everyone had the same question:
“Swarthmore is right next to Philly and you gave us these train tickets and all, but how do we get there??!!??”
Luckily for us Swarthmore students, there is a train station right on the edge of campus. Philadelphia and the greater Philadelphia area has a pretty convenient public transportation system known as SEPTA, or the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. I use SEPTA everyday now that I live a couple stops away off-campus and have to commute to school. And I will be honest, the first time you use SEPTA can be intimidating—especially if you’ve never used public transportation before. So, without further ado, here are some helpful tips:
1. Check the train schedule ahead of time.
I suggest downloading the SEPTA app on your phone so that you can see the train schedule and be aware if your train is late. Take advantage of that information. Typically, I pop into Hobbs or Dunkin across the street from Swarthmore Station and get a coffee for the train ride with my Swat Points.
2. A one-way fare from Swarthmore Station to Center City is $7.
If you plan on coming back to campus that same day and/or you plan to use SEPTA later on that day, I suggest you get an Independence Pass. Independence Passes are $13 and you can use them on any SEPTA train, trolley, bus, and the subway. You might be able to snag an unused Independence Pass from somewhere on campus, or you can pay your fare with cash on the train.
3. Use navigation apps.
Ever since I got to campus, my phone’s navigation app has been in “transit mode” instead of “driving mode.” This helps me see how many stops are ahead and when my stop is next so that I do not have to stare at the “Next Station” screen or be really attentive to the announcer.
4. Go with a buddy
There are so many Swatties trying to go to Center City everyday! I suggest (at least for the first time) that you take a buddy with you. Not only is it safer, but it’s always great to have someone to talk to on that 30-minute train ride. Not to mention that you’ll probably bump into a couple Swatties when you’re in the city.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
If you are ever confused about anything (i.e. what direction the train is headed, how much a fare is), you should ask a SEPTA worker. They are really friendly and they probably know the answer to your question.
Last, and most importantly, the three stops that are known as “Center City” are 30th Street Station, Suburban Station, and Jefferson Station. At 30th Street, you can continue to take the train and use Amtrak or you can take a bus to New York, Baltimore, or D.C. At Suburban, you can hop off the train and be in Love Park, Dilworth Park, Philadelphia City Hall, or in my case the Wawa on Arch Street. Take a seat in Love Park and you can see the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Finally, Jefferson Station is right next to the famous Reading Terminal Market and right off of Chinatown. If you walk a couple blocks west, you end up at Independence Hall where you can learn about the founding of the United States. You can also end up swinging in one of the colorful hammocks at Penn’s Landing.
My first time in Philly, my sociology partner and I people-watched at Penn’s Landing. As a treat, we stopped at Federal Donuts on South Street for some Strawberry Lavender donuts. Then for a cherry on top, we went to Magic Gardens (using our Swarthmore IDs to get a sweet student discount). Magic Gardens is also home to the artwork of the former Swattie Tasha Lewis ‘12, so of course we had to check it out.
Using SEPTA is a quite a breeze once you get the hang of it. So c’mon! Let’s go to Philly!