Guest Commentator:  Mike Parker, Americas Infrastructure Leader, Ernst & Young Transaction Adivsory Services @EYnews

How will increased Market-Frankford Line capacity accommodate continued ridership growth and support new development adjacent to the line?

I’m fortunate to lead Ernst & Young LLP’s infrastructure practice for our Americas Region— a passionate and skilled team that is helping clients develop, finance and transform some of the largest and most complex projects in the world — including the new Moynihan Station in Manhattan, a fiber optic network along the entire Pennsylvania Turnpike and a new university campus in California.

The end of summer brought a new infrastructure experience for me: my son kicked off high school, and we rode the Green Line together on his first day. (Trust that he didn’t look back once we got off at 22nd and Market Street and he spotted his friends!) He’s now a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) regular, and we’re starting to see firsthand benefits of recent SEPTA investments — particularly in the Market-Frankford Line, although there’s still much more to do!

SEPTA was formed in 1965 from two predecessor agencies. It has since become the sixth-largest transit system in the US by ridership, with 1.1 million trips daily on a fleet of trains, buses, trolleys and paratransit vehicles. Among its riders are our EY employees and partners who live in or are visiting the region. There are more than 1,300 of us based here on Market Street (in Commerce Square) and over 20,000 in total across the Northeast.

Unlike those clients of my practice who are building transit infrastructure for the first time, Philly has “good bones.”  Despite underinvestment in recent decades, we’re still benefiting from the major upfront investments made by earlier generations in an extensive network.

Southeastern Pennsylvania is the keystone to the Commonwealth’s economic engine. The region generates 41% of all economic activity within the state with just 32% of the population and on only 5% of the total landmass. The region also accounted for all of the state’s population growth between 2010 and 2016. A third of that population growth alone occurred along the Market-Frankford and Broad Street subway lines.

New investment in transit often means service to new locations — and there are certainly underserved communities and business centers across the region. But right now, among the biggest bangs for the buck may be smaller projects that increase the effectiveness of the existing SEPTA network — making rides across the system faster, more frequent and more reliable for the greatest number of people.

SEPTA has begun to deliver a series of these incremental investments for the Market-Frankford Line: purchasing 80 new rail cars, expanding the 69th Street, and extending platforms to accommodate 8-car trains.

Incremental projects can also entail less complexity and risk, with the proviso that their benefits may be interdependent; to get the most benefit from any one project, an entire slate needs to be delivered. Globally, transit agencies, utilities, and other infrastructure owners are deploying next-generation approaches to asset management, using better data gathering and analytics to further tune and prioritize maintenance and renewal to yield savings and better performance.

While there won’t always be a big ribbon to cut or groundbreaking to celebrate, maximizing the value and efficiency — ultimately the productivity — of the network we already have is a huge opportunity. Thoughtful development at well-served SEPTA hubs like 30th Street Station will further multiply the impact, with enhanced connectivity bringing benefits of economic development to more of the region’s residents.

Through these recent steps, SEPTA is building the foundation of an even stronger system, which will boost the region’s economic competitiveness and improve its quality of life, including our own commutes to work — and to school.

Ernst & Young LLP is a member company of the Chamber’s CEO Council for Growth (CEO Council), a devoted group of business, higher education, and civic leaders who commit their time and efforts to enhance economic growth and prosperity in the 11-county region influencing regional and national policy through advocacy.

This blog post is one in a series of submissions bringing exposure to project areas listed in the CEO Council’s Connecting the Region: A Transportation Strategy for Greater Philadelphia.