Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

🚬 SEPTA says butt out | Morning Newsletter

And arson on the rise.

A SEPTA Market-Frankford train in the subway under the 1200 block of Market Street.
A SEPTA Market-Frankford train in the subway under the 1200 block of Market Street.Read moreTom Gralish / Staff Photographer

    The Morning Newsletter

    Start your day with the Philly news you need and the stories you want all in one easy-to-read newsletter

We made it to Friday — and at long last, Phillies opening day! It’ll be a windy one, with temps going up to the mid-50s but likely feeling colder. I wonder if the players are listening to Cowboy Carter in the locker room to get pumped up.

SEPTA’s new campaign is targeting a nuisance behavior that has become increasingly common since the pandemic: smoking on trains and platforms. Will it be more effective than past efforts?

And 2023 was the worst year for arson in Philadelphia in nearly two decades. This year could be even worse.

Find these stories and many more below.

— Julie Zeglen (@juliezeglen,

If someone forwarded you this email, sign up for free here.

So-called antisocial behavior on SEPTA has increased since the pandemic, including smoking on trains and platforms. 2022 saw a whopping 1,649 reported violations for the infraction — more than triple reported three years prior.

That’s a problem for the beleaguered transit system, which has struggled to bring back riders who cite public safety fears as a reason to stay away.

A new campaign, “Smoke-Free SEPTA,” will discourage riders from lighting up through signage, marketing, and public discussions about smoking.

Violators also face a $25 fine. Four notices within a year can get a rider temporarily banned from the transportation system. It’s a sharp departure from the previous, and ineffective, $300 citations that required the person charged to appear in court. (They usually didn’t.)

One clear barrier to the campaign’s effectiveness? SEPTA is struggling to hire transit police who would enforce quality-of-life issues like this, Ariana Perez-Castells reports.

Arson is on the rise in Philadelphia. That includes fires intentionally set to structures, vehicles, and litter or trash.

By the numbers: Philly had 703 reported arsons in 2023 — the highest since the police started tracking detailed incident data. In the first three months of 2024, the city has had 159 reported arsons, which is 20% more than the 132 reported in the same time period last year.

Notable quote: “It takes away your security, your trust. It’s devastating. It’s heartbreaking,” said one woman whose Mount Airy home was set ablaze in 2023. “People lose their livelihoods in these fires.”

A Philly anomaly: Peer cities such as Baltimore, Buffalo, and Chicago have seen arsons level off or dip, data show. Our scores of vacant properties may be part of the problem.

Rodrigo Torrejón and Stephen Stirling break down the data, and what might motivate a person to commit such a crime.

What you should know today

  1. Philadelphia’s school board has outlined its $4 billion budget, projecting an $88 million gap but ultimately balancing its budget with financial reserves.

  2. The principal of Atlantic City High School was charged with failing to report an allegation of child abuse made by a student against their parents.

  3. Police are searching for two suspects in an East Germantown shooting on Wednesday night that left a 16-year-old dead and another teen wounded.

  4. Murder charges against one of the 14-year-olds accused of fatally striking a 73-year-old man with a traffic cone in June 2022 have been dismissed.

  5. A cohort of regional officials — 12 Democrats and two Republicans — is asking Gov. Josh Shapiro and the state’s legislative leaders to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from its long-stagnant $7.25 per hour to $15 an hour.

  6. Three Delaware County men who have spent over two decades in prison for a murder they say they did not commit are one step closer to possible freedom after a judge’s order just granted them new trials.

  7. The owner of Young’s Sneaker City turned his North Philly store into a success story. But he’s now facing possible prison time for hiding more than $4 million in revenue from the IRS.

  8. In Lancaster County, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is suing an Amish farmer to stop his sale of raw milk products that authorities have tied to illnesses in several states. His legal issues date back nearly a decade, and during that time he’s attracted support from the likes of Donald Trump Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

  9. Phoenixville Area High School’s JROTC program will be shut down because it doesn’t meet the Air Force’s enrollment threshold. The school is calling on legislators to help save it.

  10. A proposed development in West Philadelphia’s Belmont neighborhood would bring 1,050 units of multifamily housing across eight apartment buildings, including more than 300 affordable units.

Welcome back to Curious Philly Friday. We’ll feature both new and timeless stories from our forum for readers to ask about the city’s quirks.

This week, we’re resurfacing a 2023 explainer on the Blue Route, a.k.a. I-476, which connects Philadelphia’s western suburbs to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The story behind the name is pretty simple: It’s the color of the pencil used to sketch the highway’s path. But did you know: We almost had a Green Route or a Red Route? Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily. Here’s the full story on how the region ended up with the current path and name.

Have your own burning question about Philadelphia, its local oddities, or how the region works? Submit it here and you might find the answer featured in this space.

🧠 Trivia time

Jimmy Rollins, whose Eleven Social will open this summer in Old City, is the latest in a line of Phillies who have launched restaurants. Which of these former players has not gotten into the food biz (or combo hair salon/cocktail bar biz)?

A) Bryce Harper

B) Ryan Howard

C) Mike Schmidt

D) Chase Utley

Think you know? Check your answer.

What we’re...

📽️ Driving to: Shankweiler’s Drive-In near Allentown, which celebrates its 90th anniversary next month.

🥪 Feeling: That “old-school” vibe” from our Q&A with The Bachelor’s Joey Graziadei and Kelsey Anderson (we kid).

🚙 Moving: Our cars, as Philly’s street-sweeping program resumes Monday.

🧩 Unscramble the anagram

This heartthrob is best known for repping Chicago, but New Jersey may get some love from him soon: He’s reportedly in talks to play the Boss in an upcoming biopic.

Hint: 🧸


Email us if you know the answer. We’ll select a reader at random to shout out here. Cheers to Dorothy Hunsberger, who correctly solved Thursday’s anagram: Jake Rosenberg, the Eagles’ longtime salary cap executive, is leaving the team when his contract expires after the NFL draft next month.

Photo of the day

Shout-out to reader Dorothy Stiles, who responded to the Wednesday note in which I wondered about the Phanatic’s ancestry (beyond mom Phoebe Phanatic) with her own delightful list of his lesser-known relatives:

Phil Anthropist, an ancestor who generously, and anonymously, donated most of his wealth to various causes in early Philadelphia ... Phil Osophy, a learned and wise ancestor who, some say, named the Philosophical Society when he and Ben Franklin worked together on founding it in 1743 ... Phil Odendron, a horticulturist, who, rumor has it, was a great supporter of the Flower Show.

Have a great weekend. I’ll see you next week!

By submitting your written, visual, and/or audio contributions, you agree to The Inquirer’s Terms of Use, including the grant of rights in Section 10.