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Citizen Mystery Shopper (Part 9)

SEPTA can sometimes be difficult to navigate for anyone. But how is it for those with disabilities that require a wheelchair?

Several months ago, Citizen editor Larry Platt posed a question we’ve been wondering about ever since: When was the the last time you encountered the city bureaucracy and said to yourself, “Wow, what great customer service?” Since then, we’ve taken a page from private industry and unleashed a team of mystery shoppers to interact with city service providers and report back on their experiences…the good, the bad, and the disfiguring. Stay tuned for more.

Mystery Shopper Test #30: Riding SEPTA while disabled

Method One: The Broad Street Line

Steps Taken: 

  1. Needing to go to a doctor’s appointment on Walnut Street, I take the Broad Street line from the Oregon stop in South Philly. I use the wheelchair accessible elevator to get on the train platform.
  2. At the Walnut- Locust station, the elevator is broken.
  3. I wave down a SEPTA employee for help. She wanders over after a few minutes and says the elevator could take a day to fix.
  4. I call an attendant I hire for daily tasks, and then wait 30 minutes for her to arrive.
  5. The attendant manually carries me and my wheelchair up the steps.
  6. I’m 40 minutes late for my doctor’s appointment.

Time spent: One hour

Result: Not able to complete my trip without outside help—and am late to appointment.

Lightning bolt rating

The Regional Rail

Method Two: The Regional Rail 

Steps Taken: 

  1. To visit a friend in Hatboro, I take SEPTA’s Warminster Line from 30th Street Station. The elevator easily takes me down to the platform.
  2. The train stop in Hatboro has no elevator, so I am forced to ride to the next stop, Warminster.
  3. When the train arrives, the Regional Rail employee needed to put the wheelchair ramp down is nowhere to be seen.
  4. I do a weird jump thing with my wheelchair to bridge the giant gap between platform and train. This time, I’m successful, although sometimes the chair gets stuck.
  5. I take the elevator down to the station, where I meet my friend with an accessible van.

Time spent: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Lightning bolt rating


Overall, taking SEPTA while in a wheelchair requires an intimate knowledge of which stations I can get in and out of—but still does not guarantee I can get where I need to go.

Overall rating

Photo: R. Nial Bradshaw/Flickr

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