Travels with Shula: Young and Not-So Savor the Joys of Public Transportation

Photo by Ruthie Rosenberg
An exciting train ride for Grandma Beshie and her four-year-old granddaughter.

“Grandma Beshie, look! The buildings are there again!” My four-year-old granddaughter, Shula, had just spied Center City’s skyline from her window seat on the Chestnut Hill West. The towers would disappear behind houses, warehouses, and graffiti. When the train crossed over a straight street, we could look all the way down it and there they were again far off in the horizon. Then they disappeared, but soon reappeared, even bigger, all the way to 30th Street.

All this magic on what seems to most an ordinary train ride.

Shula lives in Washington, D.C. and shares my love of mass transit, so I gave our free train and trolley travel equal billing to our destinations. Philadelphians over 65 receive free SEPTA cards. (If you are eligible and haven’t claimed yours yet, go to State Rep. Chris Rabb’s Germantown Avenue office to apply.) Children four and under ride free, too.

Train and Trolley Day began at Upsal Station with Shula patiently awaiting the Chestnut Hill West’s arrival. She loved seeing and hearing it coming down the tracks.

At 30th Street we transferred to the 30th Street trolley Station, with Shula using my card to open the turnstile with one hand while clutching a Philly pretzel in the other. She had never been on a trolley before, and here we were, screeching along underground and emerging at 40th Street to transfer to the 34. After getting off at 50th Street, we headed to visit her newborn twin cousins, our actual destination.

After a lovely visit, we did the trip in reverse. Another trolley, an ice cream, and finally the train home. Shula fell asleep on the last leg of our journey. It was a day to remember, without my wrestling with her car seat, traffic, and parking.

Philadelphia boasts a rich mass transit network, far denser than many cities of comparable size. City planners and environmentalists promote multi-modal solutions to overloaded roads clogged with all those single occupancy vehicles endlessly heating up our planet. Riders can combine walking with regional rail, buses, trolleys, the El, subways, Indego bikes, Lyfts, and even scooters.

My SEPTA pass has emboldened me to start adventuring beyond the train, even taking a stab at getting comfortable with Philly’s mysterious buses.

Three factors have helped me in this effort:

  1. I am less time-stressed. Waiting for buses requires patience.
  2. The Google Maps app, which includes mass transit options and detailed info.
  3. Using my smart phone to help pass the time waiting.

Some cities have reliable GPS-enabled buses providing real-time information. Philly’s not quite there yet, but in the year or two I have been traveling more on buses, information has improved. Some people like the SEPTA app; others use NextBus or Moovit.

Note that none of the apps are multimodal. The fastest way to travel from my house to West Philly is actually taking the train and then picking up an Indego bike at 30th Street. (I only just figured that out, despite walking by the rack of cycles dozens of times.) The human brain still outdoes transit apps.

Safe travels!

Betsy Teutsch, a Weavers Way member from Mt. Airy, hates driving!