SEPTA was named the best large transit system in North America on Thursday by the American Public Transportation Association.

"SEPTA is indeed the best of the best," said APTA president Michael Melaniphy in announcing the selection at SEPTA's monthly board meeting. "SEPTA's many accomplishments and achievements are models for the rest of the public-transit industry."

He cited SEPTA's consolidated control center, environmentally friendly construction programs, large fleet of hybrid buses, and financial management.

The award came on the day SEPTA announced that its ridership in the just-completed fiscal year, 339.3 million passengers, was the highest since 1989.

SEPTA was selected as best among transit agencies providing more than 20 million trips a year. There are 64 transit agencies of that size in North America, although not all of them applied for the APTA recognition.

SEPTA general manager Joseph Casey said the award was "a testament to the dedication, hard work, and innovative thinking" of SEPTA's 9,000 employees.

Matthew Mitchell, of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, which has frequently criticized SEPTA's shortcomings, said, "There are a lot of ways to measure 'best.'

"It's entirely appropriate for APTA to recognize the tremendous progress that SEPTA has made," Mitchell said.

"There are areas that still need improvement," he said, citing on-time performance of SEPTA trains as an example.

"We still have disagreements with management over a lot of things, but that should not be an obstacle to recognizing the leadership SEPTA is showing. Their financial management has been strong."