Spotlight On: Leslie Richards, CEO & General Manager, SEPTA

Spotlight On: Leslie Richards, CEO & General Manager, SEPTA

2022-07-25T15:07:58-04:00July 25th, 2022|Philadelphia, Spotlight On, Transportation|

2 min read July 2022Leslie Richards, CEO and general manager of SEPTA, discussed the organization’s recent achievements as well as its impact on the environment and overall economy of Philadelphia. Richards explained how a budget increase is allowing SEPTA to begin new projects that once were not possible. “We just introduced our largest capital budget ever, to the tune of $1.1 billion,” said Richards.

What have been the most prominent highlights for SEPTA over the last year?

We have had very large challenges over the last year, but we are moving forward in a big way as well. Our system has functioned every single day. We never shut down during the pandemic, and we have been slowly and steadily growing our ridership back. We just introduced our largest capital budget ever, to the tune of $1.1 billion. Just to give an idea, before this budget we were in the $600 million range. Our colleagues around the country like the Chicagos, the Bostons, the D.C.s, their capital budgets are well over $2 billion per year. So, we have really been functioning the way we are funded. We have been underfunded for so long, so this is a very big deal. 

We have also moved forward on several major initiatives that are going to change the future of SEPTA for the better. We are looking at our entire bus network right now, and half of our ridership is on our bus system. We are doing a comprehensive bus system redesign. This comprehensive redesign for the bus system is a three-year plan called Bus Revolution. We are now into the second year of that process, looking at where the stops are, the reach of our system and the frequency of stops. For the first time ever, our board put in a free transfer at SEPTA, which means you take what used to be a one-seat bus ride and transfer at the same price. Now some of our riders in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods get something they have never had, which is time in their day. A commute that would have taken them 45 minutes will now only take them around 20 minutes. 

What recent developments at SEPTA are you most excited about?

We are very excited about the annual reduction of carbon emissions. To give you some target numbers, we will be seeing a reduction in 18 million vehicle miles traveled. If a single commuter switches from their car to public transit, that could reduce their household’s carbon emissions by 10%. Another data point is that we achieved a regional reduction in automobile emissions by 52,000 to 58,000 tons. It is an overall reduction in annual costs to mitigate damage that’s caused by vehicle emissions, and it is valued at about $1.5 to 1.9 million. 

Another project to highlight from Montgomery County is that PennDOT is doing their I-76 “smart corridor” project where they are looking at speed limits, lane changing and how we can get I-76, which is one of the most congested corridors, moving a little bit better. A part of that is how we connect the Conshohocken train station. We will have variable messaging systems letting people know how long it will take for them to get from Conshohocken to Philadelphia if they stay in their car or if they take the next train coming through. So, if you are sitting in traffic on I-76 and you see that the next train is coming in, in five to eight minutes, you will have time to park your car and take the train to Philadelphia instead of waiting in frustration. 

How does SEPTA continue to impact the community of Greater Philadelphia?

What SEPTA is doing right now is work that is integral to the entire Greater Philadelphia region, coming back as strong as ever, especially from the pandemic. As businesses come back, people figure out how to get around. Everything we do helps connect people to opportunities. Our systems even impact the people who don’t use us, because as people use our system it mitigates the congestion. That means freight deliveries, business deliveries, pricing for goods and products are all made simpler and cheaper. We are helping keep prices lower and impacting money that goes to Harrisburg, which is then distributed across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

Every time we increase the economic output in Philadelphia, we are helping the entire Commonwealth. A stronger Southeastern Pennsylvania helps everyone, and a stronger Southeastern Pennsylvania can only happen with a strong SEPTA because of how densely everything is located here. In order to attract the best talent we need this area to be a place where people want to live and businesses want to locate and grow. The only way for that to happen is if this area is a place where people can use transit to go to work, a concert, a good restaurant or a trail and experience what this region has to offer. 

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