It’s easy to miss the spot: tucked on the shoulder of the pavement, in front of a guardrail, with traffic whizzing by in a 45-mph zone.
A familiar red, black, and white SEPTA sign designates the broom-closet-size space on the eastbound side of Hollow Road in Lower Merion Township as a place where people can catch the Route 44 and Route 52 buses.
If they dare.
It is officially one of the four “sorriest bus stops” in North America, at least in the judgment of readers of Streetsblog USA, a daily news site devoted to making it safer and more convenient to walk, bike, and take public transit.
“To me, quality transit is an equity issue, and I felt the bus stop was a microcosm of the struggle in the country,” said Ethan Diamond, 18, who lives nearby and who, along with his sister, Ruth, nominated the stop for the Streetsblog tournament.
“I’d drive by it every day and think, ‘How can anyone use that?’” he said.
» READ MORE: What’s the Philly region’s worst bus stop? Tell us.
The stop appears to be little used. One Route 44 customer boards and exits at the location on an average weekday, SEPTA ridership figures show. The authority is not responsible for upkeep and improvements at bus stops, which are handled by the government owner of the right-of-way, the municipality, or PennDot.
In the end, the Lower Merion entry lost in a landslide to a forlorn Québec City bus stop flanked by a sooty snowbank and a four-lane commercial strip. The pièce de résistance may have been a waving inflatable tube man, an attention-getter beloved of car dealers, sandwich shops, and other retail businesses.
From the start, the Canadian provincial capital’s inclusion in the Streetblog contest drew media attention, including from Le Journal de Québec, the local outlet Majeur, a French Canadian page in the BuzzFeed empire, and on social media.
“Québec City really took off,” said Kea Wilson, senior editor of Streetsblog USA. “There was a deluge of votes that wound up scrambling our poll, pardon the French word.” More than 3,000 people boosted the city’s arrêt de bus into the second round of eight, by far the most votes of any entry at any stage of the contest so far.
She said there is a robust debate about transit in Québec City, where the mayor is pushing a $3.3 billion project to build a light-rail tramway, seven decades after the town’s original trolley network was dismantled.
“Riders have been very anxious to share their bad experiences with buses there,” Wilson said.
Québec City got 1,644 votes to 476 for Lower Merion and made it to the finals against a bus stop in Staten Island, N.Y. The Canadian champ was leading in early voting Wednesday.
The Lower Merion bus stop is near the intersection of Hollow Road and Conshohocken State Road, in a wooded area, and is often overgrown with brush. A drainage ditch runs between the guardrail and the woods.
“It’s dangerous and undignified,” said Ruth Diamond, 23, a recent history graduate of Columbia University. “People should not be left behind” in one of the wealthier municipalities in the region, she said — even if few use the stop on a regular basis.
Ethan Diamond is a senior at the Haverford School and plans to attend New York University to major in metropolitan studies. “We’re both really into transit,” Ruth said.
Before the pandemic, the Route 52 bus had an average weekday total ridership of 14,628, one of the system’s most-used bus routes, SEPTA says. Route 44 had an average weekday total ridership of 3,556. Overall, buses are carrying about 65% of their pre-pandemic passenger loads.
SEPTA is undertaking a comprehensive bus network redesign, scheduled to finish in 2024 and encompassing changes to bus routing, the spacing of stops, frequency of service, and how to better communicate information to riders.
Issues about the suitability of bus stops are likely to come up in the public-outreach process of that review, said Mark Cassel, director of service planning for SEPTA. He and counterparts in the city and counties have written a detailed set of guidelines for bus stop design that can be used during the overhaul.
“There are going to be opportunities for us to talk to passengers, and to all the stakeholders … and we’ll have these tools to share with them and say, ‘These are things you need to look at,’” Cassel said.
Bus stop improvements usually happen when towns, counties, or the state are resurfacing roadways, he said. Increasingly developers are required to incorporate improvements as part of their site approvals.