Why some SEPTA Routes Letters

SEPTA 2019 New Flyer XDE40 on Route K
SEPTA 2019 New Flyer XDE40 on Route K

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 routes that are letters, and some that are numbers? What made SEPTA routes be letters in the first place? Well, hopefully, this article will answer your questions.

PRTC Trackless Trolley operating on route 61, courtesy of septa.org
PRTC Trackless Trolley operating on route 61, courtesy of septa.org

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

SEPTA PTC throwback logo, featured on route 15
SEPTA PTC throwback logo, featured on route 15

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

SEPTA Flxible New Look signed up as route N at SEPTA Roadeo 2011
SEPTA Flxible New Look signed up as route N at SEPTA Roadeo 2011

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.

LetterWhat ended up happening to itYear Last Used
AOperated 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 19851985
BOperated 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 19851985
COperated 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
DOperated via Chestnut and Walnut Streets, between Center City and West Philadelphia. Became route 21 in the late 80s1985(?)
EOperated from Broad and Erie to 69th Street Terminal via Wayne Avenue, Manayunk, and City Avenue. Became route 65 in the early 90s1990(?)
FOrignal route F 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
GOperates between South Philadelphia and Overbrook via Oregon Avenue and West Philadelphia.Active
HOperates between Broad-Erie and Cheltenham-Ogontz via Lincoln Drive and Mt. Pleasant, serving Cedarbrook PlazaActive
INever used
JOperates between Bridesburg and Germantown via Margeret/Orthodox, Logan/Lindley, and Chelten Avenue.Active
KOperates between East Falls and Arrott Transportation Center, via Chelten Avenue, 66th Avenue, and Adams AvenueActive
LOperates between Olney Transportation Center and Chestnut Hill via Stenton Avenue, with alternating trips between serving Erdenheim and Plymouth Meeting MallActive
MOperated between Broad-Oregon and PNC Operations Center. Became route 303 in 1997, later renumbered to 68.1997
NOperated between Pratt Street Terminal and Hollywood. Became route 24.1988
OBecame part of route Y1971
PMerged into route 891971
QService between Richmond-Cumberland and Pier 70 via Delaware Avenue. Became routes 25 and 43.1997
ROperates the southern end of Roosevelt Boulevard, between Frankford Transportation Center to Henry-Midvale, with alternating service to Wissahickon Transportation CenterActive
SOperated between Cedarbrook Plaza and Fox Chase. Became route 18 in 19851985
TNortheast 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
USouthwest Philadelphia bus service, merged with route 1081993
VService between Angorra and Parkside. Renumbered to route 49, then merged with route 641964
WService in Northeast Philadelphia, operating between Bridge Street Terminal and Red Lion Road and Grant Avenue. Split into routes 19 and 67 in 19851985
XOperated between Erdenheim and Cheltenham-Ogontz. Rerouted and renumbered to route 77 in 19951995
YCottman Avenue crosstown, became route 701988
ZBecame route 351967
XAService between Fox Chase and Fern Rock Transportation Center. Merged into route 28 in 19881988
XBOperated in Fairmount Park and City Avenue. Merged with route 381960
XHOperates between Broad-Erie to Cheltenham-Ogontz Loop via Washington LaneActive
XOOperated between Fern Rock and Rising Sun Avenue. Merged with route 571982
Letter routes and what they became eventually.

Sources:
Wikipedia
Billy Penn

About the author: DashTransit

I have been with Virtual Transportation Cente since it's conception as the "Dash Forums" back in 2008. Since then, I have been writing and doing YouTube side by side, focusing both on Transportation and Gaming. Most of my knowledge comes from SEPTA as I lived in Philadelphia for most of my life. As of 2021, I am on YouTube as DashTransit, Dash5155, and TheDashOfficial.

As for the name DashTransit itself, it actually stems from my YouTube channel.

DashTransit was originally called "njt5329" and the channel was just clips of buses. Mostly SEPTA and NJT. A Fujifilm Finepix was used in this era.

Starting in July 2011, the Canon SX130IS camera became the camera of the channel, bringing HD documentary-style videos much like my buddy (trainman1971) did for DVD for many years past. This is when the channel became known as "Transit Action Series"

In May 2012, the original Canon SX130IS retired, and then all videos were recorded off a mobile phone until eventually uploaded proved too difficult due to hardships IRL

Starting in 2017, I used a Canon SX200IS from Bastranz to reboot the channel that otherwise was dead for a whole year prior.

Between April 19th, 2019, and January 21st, 2021, all videos were recorded by a Canon SX710 HS camera. The channel was renamed DashTransit 4/19/19.

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