On February 12, 2012, SEPTA eliminated route C in favor of routes 4 and 16. While many people protested this change, saying that the C bus has always been the C, this actually raises the following question: why? Why was the C bus ever route C? Why are there some SEPTA routes that are letters, and some that are numbers? What made SEPTA routes be letters in the first place? This article is here to answer your questions.
In the Beginning…
In 1902, when Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, or PRTC, came to exist, all lines were either rail lines. That means not a single diesel bus operated on the streets of Philadelphia.
And Then The Buses Came…
It wasn’t until the 1920s, where buses began to come into operations, but at first, these buses were all powered by electricity. See, in 1923, PRTC began operating what is now known as “trackless trolleys” on a route numbered 80, which operated along Oregon Avenue. Around this same time, traditional buses started to join the ranks on new routes that operated where a trolley could not (due to being proven by the trackless trolleys, that it’s more convenient to move service without also having to move tracks). These new bus routes would receive letters, to make it clear that these routes would not use electric vehicles.
On Came The Double-Letters
Over time, so many new bus routes were created, that all letters A through X ended up being used, so PRTC would begin making route X1, XA-XO. The X simply meant that it continued from X but was still was its own route, not “express” as people would eventually believe as route XH runs a quicker route than the regular route H, despite ending and starting at the same locations.
The PTC Era – Buses Become Numbers
In 1940, Philadelphia Transit Company would begin operating transportation in the city of Philadelphia while taking over operations from PRTC as well as a few private operations. One of the first things PTC would do with the new leadership was to replace aging vehicles with new modern vehicles, which included buying new PCC cars. Ironically, shortly after this, most trolley routes were converted to bus routes. This trend became increasingly common, to the point that by 1960, PTC went from operating all routes 2 through 66 as a trolley or trackless trolley routes (although a few of these would be discontinued on their own right), to only having routes 6, 10, 11, 13, 15, 23, 29, 34, 36, 47, 50, 53, 56, 59, 60 and 66 as electric routes, while the remaining lines operated with traditional diesel buses. From this point forward, all new diesel bus routes would receive numbers instead of letters.
The SEPTA Era: Letters replaced by Numbers
By the time SEPTA took over operations of the Philadelphia transit service in 1968, there was already a mix of lettered and numbered bus routes. At this point, most old routes would retain their former designators in the city with a few changes here and there in the early 70s. It wasn’t until the 1980s that SEPTA would begin massively changing route designators. The goal was to have all letter routes as numbers by the 90s, however around 1993 SEPTA was under new management, and a lot of that particular plan was put on the back burner in favor of new technology (aka talking buses, and the then-new M4 cars). In 1995, SEPTA would drop a few more letters in favor of numbers, including route X which became route 77, and route E which became route 65. However, it wouldn’t be until 2012 that SEPTA would again replace a letter route with a number. This is when the C would be split into routes 4 and 16. There’s no clear future on the letter routes, but as it stands now the letters are simply a relic of times past.
If you read this, congratulations, you have been educated. Below is a list of SEPTA’s letter routes and what numbers they became. This chart also lists the year each letter would last be used.
|Letter||What ended up happening to it||Year Last Used|
|A||Operated between Broad-South to Andorra and Manayunk as both a local and express route. Route A Express became routes 9 and 27, and Route A local became route 32. Both changes came to be in 1985||1985|
|B||Operated along northern Roosevelt Boulevard and US Route 1 between Frankford TC and Trenton. Service was eventually cut back to Oxford Valley Mall, and Route B became route 14 in 1985||1985|
|C||Operated along Broad Street, with one route operating from Fern Rock TC to South Philadelphia, diverting over to 9th Street North of Erie Avenue. This route became route 4 in 2012. The other route operated between Cheltenham-Ogontz Loop (formerly Ogontz City Line Loop) and City Hall, operating the entire length of North Broad Street. This branch became route 16 in 2012.||2012|
|D||Operated via Chestnut and Walnut Streets, between Center City and West Philadelphia. Became route 21 in the late 80s||1985(?)|
|E||Operated from Broad and Erie to 69th Street Terminal via Wayne Avenue, Manayunk, and City Avenue. Became route 65 in the early 90s||1990(?)|
|F||Orignal route F was discontinued in 1971, with no replacement. Operated along 63rd and 62nd Streets. New route F operated via Belmont Hills between Manayunk and Bala and became route 69 which was discontinued in 1990.||1971|
|G||Operates between South Philadelphia and Overbrook via Oregon Avenue and West Philadelphia.||Active|
|H||Operates between Broad-Erie and Cheltenham-Ogontz via Lincoln Drive and Mt. Pleasant, serving Cedarbrook Plaza||Active|
|J||Operates between Bridesburg and Germantown via Margeret/Orthodox, Logan/Lindley, and Chelten Avenue.||Active|
|K||Operates between East Falls and Arrott Transportation Center, via Chelten Avenue, 66th Avenue, and Adams Avenue||Active|
|L||Operates between Olney Transportation Center and Chestnut Hill via Stenton Avenue, with alternating trips between serving Erdenheim and Plymouth Meeting Mall||Active|
|M||Operated between Broad-Oregon and PNC Operations Center. Became route 303 in 1997, later renumbered to 68.||1997|
|N||Operated between Pratt Street Terminal and Hollywood. Became route 24.||1988|
|O||Became part of route Y||1971|
|P||Merged into route 89||1971|
|Q||Service between Richmond-Cumberland and Pier 70 via Delaware Avenue. Became routes 25 and 43.||1997|
|R||Operates the southern end of Roosevelt Boulevard, between Frankford Transportation Center to Henry-Midvale, with alternating service to Wissahickon Transportation Center||Active|
|S||Operated between Cedarbrook Plaza and Fox Chase. Became route 18 in 1985||1985|
|T||Northeast Philadelphia Crosstown routes. Operating between Torresdale Avenue and Fox Chase. Replaced by routes 28 (Rhawn Street) and 41 (Welsh Road). Route 41 merged into route 88 the next year.||1982|
|U||Southwest Philadelphia bus service, merged with route 108||1993|
|V||Service between Angorra and Parkside. Renumbered to route 49, then merged with route 64||1964|
|W||Service in Northeast Philadelphia, operating between Bridge Street Terminal and Red Lion Road, and Grant Avenue. Split into routes 19 and 67 in 1985||1985|
|X||Operated between Erdenheim and Cheltenham-Ogontz. Rerouted and renumbered to route 77 in 1995||1995|
|Y||Cottman Avenue crosstown, became route 70||1988|
|Z||Became route 35||1967|
|XA||Service between Fox Chase and Fern Rock Transportation Center. Merged into route 28 in 1988||1988|
|XB||Operated in Fairmount Park and City Avenue. Merged with route 38||1960|
|XH||Operates between Broad-Erie to Cheltenham-Ogontz Loop via Washington Lane||Active|
|XO||Operated between Fern Rock and Rising Sun Avenue. Merged with route 57||1982|