For Visitors, The Phlash Trolley Is Vastly Superior to SEPTA


The distinctive, purple Phlash trolley, as passengers disembark at what is probably the Philadelphia Museum of Art, judging from the Greek Revival pillars in the background. Note - since this photo was taken, the Phlash fare is now $2, not the $1 you see on the purple trolley. To see the full size photo, just click directly on it.

View Phlash Trolley - Philadelphia in a larger map

How to use this map, above-

Purple markers are used, because the trolleys are purple. The Phlash runs in a perpetually counterclockwise loop, starting at Penn's Landing, going past the Museum of Art to Memorial Hall, then returning to Penn's Landing, via a different set of stops.

Purple markers, with a dot, indicate a stop going westbound (i.e., away from the Delaware River, toward the Museum of Art.)

In contrast, purple markers, without a dot, indicate a stop going eastbound (i.e., toward the Delaware River, away from the Museum of Art).

That's why there are a couple of locations that have both markers, one with a dot, one without. Those stops are for both westbound and eastbound travel, and are usually located on the opposite side of the street, from each other.

The Phlash's route is so large, that the map you see above is only a small part of it. To see more of the route, click the link, just below the map. That will take you to a larger version of the map, at Google Maps. From there, you can pan around the map until you find your destination.

And that's why we're going to recommend the Phlash trolleys, when traveling through downtown Philadelphia. This is absolutely true for travelers to Philadelphia, but can also be true for locals, as well...

This page is still under construction, of course, and we'll have a more detailed analysis as to how you can use the purple trolleys, to get the most out of your visit to Philadelphia. But for right now, here's a summary of the advantages...

Why is the Phlash Better than SEPTA, for Sightseeing?

1) The most important reason, is to avoid becoming lost in a large, and often unfamiliar, city.

Unlike SEPTA, the purple trolleys only travel to worthwhile destinations.

Accordingly, even the newest visitor to Philadelphia can get on the purple trolley, at any of its 27 stops. And regardless of where he embarks, that visitor can be assured that he's not going to end up too far, from his original destination. (This would not be true on SEPTA, believe us.)

2) The Phlash runs in a tight loop, throughout Center City Philadelphia.

Even if you make a mistake and get on at the wrong place, all you need to do is sit tight, and you'll be back where you started.

3) Ease of identification, for the visitor, while boarding.

They are the only purple trolleys, in the city. This is in marked contrast, to the myriad number of SEPTA buses, trains, and trolleys. It is, essentially, mistake-proof.

4) Service frequency - every 12 minutes or so, all day.

SEPTA service on all buses, trains, and subways, is less frequent during midday hours (logically enough). It also means that if you want to catch a particular bus or train, you have to have a schedule, and keep track of when you want to leave and come back.

But with the purple trolleys - universal service, every 12 minutes, all day - you don't have to bother with those logistics. Service is frequent enough, that you don't have to plan your day around, when the purple trolley is coming or going.

You just get done enjoying your destination, and then you just wait for the next purple trolley to arrive. In summary, it runs with sufficient frequency, that you don't have to care about its schedule. It won't be a long wait, anyway.

So what's the catch? Why can't every visitor (or resident) just take the purple trolley, everywhere that they might want to go, in Center City Philadelphia? Why even bother with SEPTA?

Unfortunately, the Phlash has two major flaws, that SEPTA does not.

Service Is Seasonal - May to October

The first, and most important, is that the Phlash only runs from May 1 through Halloween, October 31. Apparently, its operators view it as only worthwhile, through peak visitor season (i.e., May 1 to October 31).

So if you're here in Philadelphia, during those six warm months, the purple trolley is, absolutely, your best bet.

But if you're not, you're going to have to rely on SEPTA, cabs, your car, or walking.

Service Is Only From 10 AM to 6 PM - Be Careful About This - Don't Get Stranded!

Note: when it says "6 PM" - that's an approximation. Each trolley stop has its last pickup noted, below. Some are prior to 6 PM; some are well after 6 PM. So make sure to look at the last departing trolley for your particular stop(s), while planning your day(s) in Philadelphia.

The second, and more puzzling, omission, is the fact that even between May and October, the Phlash only operates from 10 AM to 6 PM. The late morning start isn't an issue, since most of the major Philadelphia places to visit aren't open before then, anyhow.

However, the fact that it shuts down at 6 PM - even in June, July and August, when there is plenty of daylight - is unfortunate.

So, even if you're lucky enough to be visiting Philadelphia between May and October, you can't count on the Phlash beyond 6 PM.

The Phlash Isn't Perfect - When You Board, Ask the Driver When Your Phlash Trolley Stops Running - Read About The Experience of This Phlash Rider, and Don't Let It Happen To You!

We urge you to take this approximate, indefinite cutoff time of 6 PM, very seriously. This is particularly true, if you are not from - or familiar with - the city and region, as you could be stranded far from your destination.

The reason - we received an e-mail from a man who had the following experience on the Phlash with his wife, on July 4, 2010 - here are excerpts from it:

"Like all other goods and services, those who would use the Phlash trolley service are advised "buyer beware". In particular, when you board a Phlash trolley, and before you pay the fare, ask the driver if they are going to the stop you want to reach, and if the trolley will travel the complete route, asadvertised.

On July 4th, my wife and I boarded a Phlash trolley at 16th and Market Street, with the intention of going to Penn's Landing. The driver took our money, and gave us two tickets for single rides. He said nothing at that time to indicate that the trolley would not complete its normal route, nor were there any signs posted that would indicate that the trolley was not going to Penn's Landing.

However, shortly after the trolley pulled out into traffic on Market Street, heading East, the driver announced on the PA system that the next stop, at 12th and Market, would be the last stop of the day, and that the trolley service was ending. When the trolley stopped at 12th and Market, we asked the driver why,at the time that we bought our tickets, he had not mentioned that service was being halted, and that the very next stop would be the last one for the day.

He blustered that he had been making this announcement all along, but had to admit that he had not told us this, before he took our money. Another couple, who had bought two all day passes were similarly surprised by his announcement. He told us and the other couple that he could not give us a refund, nor issue a "rain check", to be used on another day..."

This couple was stranded 11 blocks short of their destination on a very hot day - and they were relatively lucky. They could have been stranded at the Philadelphia Museum of Art at 25th and the Parkway - or even deep in Fairmount Park.

It should also be noted that this happened to them around noon on July 4, not at 6 PM. It's always possible that due to a special event, or construction, or a traffic accident, or any other cause, that Phlash service might stop operating at any point, on any day.

So, the bottom line - ask the driver before you get on, if the Phlash will be heading to your destination!

What You Need to Know, in Order To Ride the Phlash Throughout Center City Philadelphia

The purple trolley base fare, for a single ride, is $2 (the same as SEPTA). Children under 6 and seniors over 65 ride for free. Unlike SEPTA, there are no tokens.

However, your best bet is likely the $5 all-day pass for an individual, which permits unlimited rides on the purple trolley. You can also buy a $10 all-day family pass, (which covers two adults and two children between the ages of 6-17).

You can purchase Phlash tickets at the Independence Visitor Center, at 6th and Market Streets - which is someplace you really should be headed, anyway, particularly once you've arrived in Philadelphia.

You can also buy tickets on the purple trolleys, themselves.

Important note - and there is a lot of nuance to this note:

Up until the spring of 2009, the Phlash did not accept any SEPTA fare instruments, and vice versa, as they are separate entities.

However, on March 27, 2009, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that SEPTA and the Phlash had agreed that henceforth (when the Phlash began running on May 1):

a) You can use a SEPTA TrailPass (common for Regional Rail commuters) and/or TransPass (common for City Transit Division commuters) on the Phlash, without any charge - just as if they were SEPTA vehicles.

b) SEPTA would launch an "Independence" pass, which would be $10 for an individual and $25 for families, that would be valid for Phlash travel as well. (It would not be valid until after 9:30 AM, to prevent commuters from using it - but the Phlash doesn't start until 10 AM, anyhow.)

c) However, you still cannot use SEPTA tokens, or SEPTA Regional Rail tickets, on the Phlash.

d) And Phlash tickets are still not valid on SEPTA.

Got all that?

The 27 Phlash Stops

1. Penn's Landing - last trolley at 5:48 PM - Independence Seaport Museum - Our understanding is that the trolley does not go to the Seaport Museum doors, per se - you have to walk back up on the street grid to board. But if you want to go to the Seaport Museum, this is the stop that you use to get there and back.

2. 3rd and Market Streets - Old City - last trolley at 5:50 PM

3. 6th and Market Streets - Independence Visitor Center - last trolley at 5:52 PM

4. 7th and Arch Streets - last trolley at 5:55 PM

5. 6th and Race Streets - National Constitution Center - last trolley at 5:56 PM

6. 8th and Market Streets - The Gallery shopping mall - last trolley at 5:58 PM

7. 12th and Market Streets - Reading Terminal Market - last trolley at 6:00 PM

8. Juniper and Market Streets - Philadelphia City Hall and City Hall Tower - last trolley at 6:01 PM
This stop is also where you can board the SEPTA Broad Street Subway / Orange Line - which runs north and south along Broad Street - at its City Hall station. In Center City, it also has stops at Race/Vine, Walnut/Locust, and Lombard/South.

And of course, you can take the Broad Street Subway, if you are attending a sporting event, concert, etc., at Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, or the Wachovia Center, at the Sports Complex in South Philadelphia. you take the Broad Street Subway all the way to the end, at Pattison Avenue - a ride of about 10-15 minutes or so from City Hall Station.

9. 16th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard - Suburban Station (SEPTA Regional Rail) - last trolley at 6:03 PM

10. 16th Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway - last trolley at 6:04 PM

11. 20th Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway - Logan Circle / Logan Square - last trolley at 6:06 PM

12. 22nd Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway - last trolley at 6:08 PM - This is the closest Phlash stop to Eastern State Penitentiary - which is about six blocks north of this point - a reasonable walk, but it's doable.

13. Fairmount and Pennsylvania Avenues - last trolley at 6:11 PM

14. 26th and the Ben Franklin Parkway - Philadelphia Museum of Art - last trolley at 6:15 PM

15. 34th and Girard Avenues - Philadelphia Zoo - last trolley at 6:23 PM

16. Please Touch Museum at Memorial Hall - 4231 Avenue of the Republic - last trolley at 6:26 PM

Here is where the Phlash turns around, and heads east, back toward Center City Philadelphia.

17. 34th and Girard Avenues - Philadelphia Zoo - last trolley at 6:32 PM

18. Eakins Oval - Philadelphia Museum of Art - last trolley at 6:33 PM

19. 22nd Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway - last trolley at 6:37 PM - as noted above, this is the closest trolley stop to Eastern State Penitentiary, about a six block walk, north of here.

20. 20th Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway - The Franklin Institute - last trolley at 6:38 PM

21. 18th Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway - The Academy of Natural Sciences - last trolley at 6:40 PM

22. 17th and Arch Streets - another entrance to Suburban Station (SEPTA Regional Rail) - last trolley at 6:42 PM

23. 16th and Market Streets - last trolley at 6:44 PM

This is the closest trolley stop to Rittenhouse Square, which is about three blocks south.

24. 12th and Market Streets - Market East Station (SEPTA Regional Rail) - last trolley at 6:48 PM

Market East Station is one block away, across the street, at 11th and Market Streets. You can also get on the , Blue Line / Market-Frankford Line / also known as "the el") at its 11th Street Station, which is accessible via Market East Station.

25. 8th and Market Streets - The Gallery shopping mall - last trolley at 6:50 PM

26. 6th and Market Streets - Independence Visitor Center - last trolley at 6:52 PM

27. 2nd and Market Streets - Old City - last trolley at 6:54 PM

At this point, the trolley will continue down to Penn's Landing, its initial stop, and reprise its endless loop around the city. However, you're not obligated to get off at Penn's Landing - you can remain on the trolley and head to your next destination - the trolley just keeps on going.

If you'd like to leave The Phlash Trolley, and return to the home page of Enjoying Philadelphia, please click here.

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