Philadelphia is home to an extensive and convenient public transportation system called SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority). This public transit system is budget-friendly and relatively easy to navigate. This system runs throughout the city and offers many options for getting around, including busses, regional trains, underground subway trains and (in some parts of the city), above-ground trolleys. These options will get you to most places you need to go to in the city—and some suburbs as well.
When visiting Philadelphia, if you are planning to remain in Center City during your trip, it’s easier to take public transportation than renting a car. After all, the main section of the city only spans 25 blocks between the two rivers to the east and west.
Also, depending on where you need to go outside of Philly, the train or bus may be easier driving and dealing with traffic. Your personal plans will dictate if you need to decide in advance or purchase tickets ahead of time. For example, if you are heading to New York City, it’s better to take public transportation, but if you want to spend a few days at the Jersey shore, you will want to rent a car. Ideally, it’s best to familiarize yourself with at least the basics of Philadelphia’s public transportation system before your visit, as it will save you time and money.
How to ride the SEPTA city bus
In Philadelphia, SEPTA buses offer the most extensive options for getting around the city. There are many frequent buses that run across the city, which makes this option very convenient for travelers.
- There are bus stops throughout the entire city
- Bus fare is $2 per ride. Transfers are $1 if you have the SEPTA key card (see more info about "fares" below).
- NOTE: Drivers do not make change.
How to ride the trolley
Think of the trolly as the same as riding the bus. The SEPTA transportation system also features trolley cars, which run on tracks in certain neighborhoods. As far as fares go, they operate the same as buses, although some run underground for several stops in center city Philadelphia.
How to ride the subway
The Broad Street Subway is the main subway line in the city and only runs south along Broad Street, which is the city’s longest street. This means that you can’t get lost on this train, which only runs north and south. You can reach the subway via the many stops along Broad Street – from South Philadelphia to North Philadelphia.
The city’s other SEPTA subway line is the Market-Frankford Line (also called the “EL”). This runs across the city (east and west) and can be reached through many stations across the city.
Fares for SEPTA Transit: Buses, Trolley, and Subway
Recently introduced and easy to use, the new SEPTA Key fare program makes taking public transportation less complicated. The Key fare program is a reloadable chip card for travel on most of Philadelphia’s transit options: (buses, trolleys, subways, the Norristown High Speed Line), and Regional Rail.
Customers can purchase a key card and load a weekly or monthly pass. There are several options, depending on your transportation needs. These include: TransPass; One Day Convenience Pass; and Independence Pass.
The Weekly TransPass on a Key Card:
- Good for travel between 12:01 a.m. Monday and 2:00 a.m. the following Monday
- Valid for travel on all buses, trolleys, the Norristown High-Speed Line, Broad Street line, and Market Frankford lines
- NOTE: This not accepted on the Airport Line for weekday travel.
- Valid for up to 56 rides
- Weekly Price: $25.50
The Independence Pass:
- Unlimited travel on all SEPTA buses, trolleys, subways, and trains,
- One-day individual passes: $13
- A family pass (for up to five people) is $30. At least one family member must be 18 years old.
- Passes can be purchased from the conductor on Regional Rail train, at SEPTA ticket and sales offices, and online.
Note: You can use cash on buses, trolleys and the subway, but it’s $2.50 per rider and travelers must have exact change.
For those staying in town for a longer timeframe, another option is to add money in the “Travel Wallet” and receive the “Token and Transfer” price when traveling. For details about specific pricing and how to purchase the SEPTA Key fare, go to the SEPTA website: https://www.septakey.org/info/fare-products
Taking the Regional Rail
You will need to take the SEPTA regional rail if you are arriving from the Philadelphia Airport – or leaving the city to reach the Pennsylvania suburbs. You can catch these trains at Suburban Station, in center city, Jefferson Station (formerly known as 8th and Market street station), and the main train station (which also has Amtrak trains), which is 30th Street Station.
Note: If you are arriving from the Philadelphia Airport (PHL), there is a train station on site. You don’t need to purchase a ticket. You only need $8 dollars cash from the airport to Philadelphia’s main station. The conductor collects the fare on board and can make change for you, but the largest bill accepted is $20 dollars.
Fares for Regional Rail
Regional Rail customers can purchase a Weekly/Monthly Zone 1, 2, 3, or Anywhere TrailPass” or a “One Day Independence Pass” on a Key Card. More details about the regional rail system and fares, visit the Fares section of www.SEPTA.org for more information and pricing.
SEPTA buses and trolleys are equipped for accessibility, with ramps and elevators to assist passengers. However, be sure to check the website for specific subway and train stations, as some may not have working elevators or be under repair at any given time.
The New Jersey suburbs, on the other side of the city, can be reached via a different train system, called PATCO. However, aside from the Haddonfield and Collingswood stops, which feature walkable towns, you will need to call a taxi or have someone pick you up when you arrive in New Jersey. It’s a quick and comfortable ride, however, and there are four PATCO stations around center city: 16th and Market Streets; 13th and Locust Streets; 10th and Locust Streets and 8th and Market Streets. PATCO connects to SEPTA at 8th & Market Streets as well as the Broad Street subway via the Center City station.
There are electronic ticket machines at each of these stations that are easy to use. Ticket prices are reasonable but vary based on your start and destination stations.
NOTE: Not all PATCO stations in New Jersey are all accessible, although they are n the midst of renovations, so be sure to check in advance.
Taxis are plentiful in Philadelphia and found at many taxi stations around the city. They can also be flagged down on just about any street. Rideshare companies (such as Lyft and Uber) are also solid options in the city and surrounding suburbs.
A car is not required to get around Philadelphia. The city has a lot of traffic, tiny streets, and limited parking. Parking lots are expensive in center city, and there may be no parking options in South Philly, depending on the neighborhood. However, if you want to visit the surrounding New Jersey beaches and other suburban areas, you will need to rent a car.
Tips for Getting Around the City
- The subways run 24 hours from Thursday to Sunday nights.
- Train, bus, and trolley schedules are often different on nights and weekends (but not all routes), so be sure to check them out.
- Several SEPTA “night owl” bus routes run 24-hours a day. Check the website for schedules.
- The "Market-Frankford subway line" is often referred to as the "EL" train.
- The New Jersey PATCO line is often referred to as the "Speedline."
- If you’re in the city during rush hour and only need to travel a few blocks, it might be faster to walk than wait for a bus or take a taxi
- SEPTA is bicycle-friendly on most routes