Get to Know SEPTA Metro

SEPTA METRO Overview

Overview

We’re unifying the Market-Frankford Line, Broad Street Line, Norristown High Speed Line, and the routes 10, 11, 13, 15, 34, 36, and 101 and 102 into a single, easy-to-use network with new maps, signage, and communication: SEPTA Metro. Our goal is to make these vital lines accessible and easy-to-use no matter who you are, what language you speak, or how well you know SEPTA.

Responding to Riders

Over the years, we’ve received a lot of feedback about our signage and communication needing improvement. Led by SEPTA’s Citizen’s Advisory Council (CAC) and Youth Advisory Committee (YAC), we spent three years researching the problem. We talked with thousands of riders, employees, and advocates about what challenges they faced and what could be better.

The result? A new, accessible vocabulary – colors, letters, numbers, and pictograms – that can be understood no matter who you are, or what language you speak. These will be used in new maps, new signage, and new digital tools that are easier to use, read, and understand. 

Vision and Goals

Got questions? Below are a few answers to the questions we often hear. If you have more, email us at customerservice@septa.org.

“Metro” is descriptive and functional. “Metro” means frequent, affordable, around-the-clock rail service that enables all sorts of trips, matching the flexibility our riders need.

“Metro” simplifies the way we can all get directions and navigate the frequent transit network. Just like we know “Regional Rail,” we now have a simple way to understand the frequent rail transit network.  

“Metro” is a globally recognized term and translates well across languages, including Spanish and Chinese, the second and third most spoken languages in our region.  

Updated colors, letters, and maps will begin to appear on our website and app throughout 2024. New signage and wayfinding systems will begin to appear in stations later in the year. We’re phasing things in gradually and intentionally to make sure it’s as smooth as possible.

While the El, subway, trolleys, and Norristown High Speed Line all look very different, they provide the same type of service. Frequent, affordable, and around-the-clock transit service that you can use to get anywhere – not just Center City at rush hour. Millions of people in and around Philly rely on this network every day, and it’s our job to make sure it’s accessible to everyone – no matter what language they speak, their abilities, or how well they know SEPTA already.

No. SEPTA Metro is solely the name for the network that will include our subway, elevated, and trolley lines. It doesn’t replace “SEPTA” any more than using the term “Regional Rail” does. 

SEPTA is constantly at work making our system better, more efficient, and easier to navigate for all who ride. Replacing long, inconsistent names with simple letters and colors eliminates language barriers, streamlines the entire system, and creates consistency that supports easy navigation.   

To learn more about the history of this project, visit our Planning site

It depends on who “me” is! We’ve carefully designed the new wayfinding to benefit all riders, no matter their familiarity with SEPTA, native language, or level of literacy. If you’ve been riding SEPTA forever, this will help you easily find new routes beyond your “everyday” ride. If you’re a new rider, it will help you navigate the network with confidence. If you’re a SEPTA employee, you can proudly share that SEPTA is making big moves to upgrade the wayfinding system to better serve our riders.  

Wayfinding is crucial for safety: if you don’t know where you are, or how to get out, it’s not only stressful and uncomfortable, but it is also unsafe.  

Better wayfinding makes people safer.The new and improved wayfinding signs give clear and consistent directions at each station, providing a safer, more efficient, and more pleasant experience navigating the SEPTA system.  

Exit signage will appear consistently throughout each station, with all exit-related information appearing in white text on a red field. Additional information identifying intersections and streets will also help to reduce confusion as riders exit the system. New regulatory and safety signage will be consistent and help maintain a safe environment for our riders and employees. 

New symbols will ensure that emergency telephones, rules, regulations, and warnings are consistent, clearly visible, and can be understood by anyone traveling the system. 

Previously, SEPTA Metro lines were referred to by formal terms (“Market-Frankford Line”) or with numbering, like a bus route (the “Route 11 Trolley”). To help standardize communications network-wide, we have developed a unified lettering system that can be applied consistently for all lines. This is essential not just for wayfinding, but for making sure riders understand the full extent of the system.  

Through our research and engagement process, we consistently found that riders would prefer a system that is built from the current names and colors, rather than starting from scratch. So, we didn’t want to use “1, 2, 3” or “A, B, C.” Instead, we picked letters that corresponded to something real. We also heard that color is a very effective wayfinding tool, but we can’t rely on it alone for wayfinding because a sizeable portion of people are color-blind. 

This one is easy: B stands for Broad Street Line, and the color orange is already used successfully on signs and maps. A lot of people even call it the “orange line”, including speakers of other languages. We know that terms like “Broad Street Line” or “Broad Street Subway” aren’t going away, so we want to make sure the abbreviation “B” is as clear as possible. 

This probably comes as no surprise, but the most common name for the “Market-Frankford Line” is the “El.” This nickname has been around for generations, and it shows no sign of going away – with over 75% of riders using this term exclusively, rather than “Market-Frankford Line” or “MFL.”

One of our early goals was to build off what works already, and this term works. The only problem is that it doesn’t exist on signs or maps. While it may be somewhat surprising to see the line referred to as the “L”, it’s really just us formalizing what people are saying and doing already – even if we forgot the “e.” 

These five trolley lines share an important distinction – they all use the traffic-bypassing tunnel under Market Street. A lot of the time, you may be able to take 2 or 3 or maybe any of these routes to get where you’re going, but that’s not immediately clear from our current designations.  

Already sometimes known as the “green line,” we are retaining the widely-recognized color. “T” for trolley, tranvía, or tunnel is easy to remember. 

While the five “tunnel trolleys” share a tunnel and many stations, the Route 15 is different. It operates primarily on Girard Avenue and only crosses the Route 10 at Lancaster. Otherwise, it does not interact with the rest of the trolleys at all. In the new wayfinding system, this means it gets its own color and letter: a golden G for our OG vintage trolleys on Girard. 

These lines were the hardest to pick letters for. While the unofficial term “El” is very successful, the official terms “Norristown High Speed Line” and “Media-Sharon Hill Lines” are not. In fact, only a very small share of people we spoke to could identify these line names at all. Many still use terms that haven’t been in official use for decades – Route 100, P&W, Red Arrow, or sometimes just the “Trolley.” This isn’t just because Philadelphians don’t like change – it’s also because the official names are long, misleading, difficult to say, and frequently confused with the Norristown Line and Media/Wawa Line on Regional Rail.

At the same time, we tried to avoid using line names that were correlated with terminal stations and directions. This can lead to confusion, especially among non-English speaking users. For example, the “Market-Frankford Line” name can mistakenly give someone the impression that one direction is towards “Frankford” and the other is toward “Market”, which is not correct. The Norristown High Speed Line might end in Norristown, but trains only go there almost half of the time; the other half of the time, the trains go to 69th Street. Or begin/end at Bryn Mawr.

The “M” and “D” were chosen because they correlate to some of the geographic areas they serve – not just “Montgomery County” and “Delaware County,” but also “Upper Merion,” “Lower Merion,” “Drexel Hill,” “Drexelbrook,” and “Drexeline.” As a mnemonic device, this can help riders learn the new designations. 

Consistency is critical to effective wayfinding. We’ve given a letter and color to every line. Our trolley system is effectively three separate lines that don’t share any infrastructure, stops, or stations with each other.  

Using a single color for all the trolleys (a single mode – light rail, or light metro) would be akin to using the same color for the Market-Frankford Line and Broad Street Line because they are also the same “mode” (heavy rail rapid transit, or metro).

In our research and engagement process, we found that there was confusion about which trolleys went where, and the use of green for all of them was a contributor.   

No! The more we rely on a set vocabulary of letters, numbers, colors, symbols, and pictograms, the less translation needs to be done.    

Yes, it will take some getting used to, but we believe that the new system will allow both new and longstanding riders to take full advantage of our amazing trolley network. During our research, we heard a lot of confusion about the differences between our many trolley lines, both in the city and suburbs. By grouping these routes together, we can be clearer about which trolleys run into Center City via the Market Street Subway tunnel, and which trolleys do not.   

The current numbers are leftovers from the old citywide streetcar system (along with many of our bus numbers) and they correspond to a network that no longer exists – that’s why the numbers may seem random today. SEPTA is currently redesigning its bus network through the Bus Revolution project, and Trolley Modernization is going to make our trolleys look and run less like bus service, and more like train service. There’s never been a better time to think big. 

15th Street Station and City Hall Station are actually just one station with different platform areas. Calling them different names is useful for SEPTA employees when we want to be very specific, but from a rider’s perspective, it can be confusing. You may remember this article which outlines the problem well.  

Learn More About SEPTA Metro:

What’s the Latest?

Building a Lifestyle Transit Network

As part of our 12-year capital investment program, we’re making stations accessible, acquiring new vehicles, investing in communications, and upgrading services for our buses, Metro, and rail to deliver on our vision of easy to use, frequent, and integrated transit.

Learn More

Research & Engagement

Want to know more about how we got here? Visit our project planning site to learn about our research, engagement, recommendations, and more.