|What kind of ridership would you expect from a neighborhood like this?|
Why does this station have such low ridership?
Two major factors converge, it seems, to undercut Bala's ridership: infrequence and invisibility. Unlike the Paoli/Thorndale Line, which has 87 daily weekday trains (along with 58 on Saturdays and 34 on Sundays), the Cynwyd Line has just 21 daily weekday trains (and none on weekends). These trains are clustered into half-hourly peak service (four trains peak with a fifth train roughly halfway between peaks and a final train an hour after the end of peak)--in short, trains for commuters without regard for any other potential wells of ridership. This infrequence is due in no small part to the brevity of the line; commuter trains once ran all the way up to Norristown along this line, but it duplicated Reading service and was thus curtailed to Ivy Ridge; in the mid-1980s it had the fourth-highest ridership of the Pennsylvania-side lines and was thus paired (as the R6) with the Norristown Reading-side line; and in late 1986 service was curtailed down to Cynwyd due to the Pencoyd Viaduct being deemed structurally unsafe.
The station's invisibility comes from it being right under the City Line Avenue bridge, with few notable walkways or driveways to the platform; even the station's lollypop*** is hard-to-see, set back a few hundred feet or so along Conshohocken State Road. People who pass by it on an irregular or semi-regular basis cannot see the platform from the road, and so it seems abandoned.
Far more damaging than its infrequency (lots of commuter rail operations realize higher per-station ridership on similar schedules) is its invisibility. It's easy to tell when a train's coming when you can see people waiting at the platform (this is pretty certainly a big boost to Cynwyd's ridership); since it appears the PRR sold the former station area a long time ago, the current platform is crowded behind garden apartments, offices, and an abandoned service station.
|A simple site plan for Bala Station.|
And building up an improved Cynwyd Line ridership is necessary for getting more ambitious plans rolling.
* The most current given ridership of the Cynwyd line is 553, and there are 5 stops on this line. 553/5 = 111. However, a ridership breakdown shows that the bulk of the boardings come from Cynwyd, so that I was moved to consider Cynwyd as offering two stations' worth of ridership (553/6 = 92). The actual ridership count for Bala Station is thus roughly 100.
** (128+90+78)*365=108,040 (annualized ridership), suggesting that these figures are a decade old. Even so, the per-station ridership breakdown is useful.
*** Name given to a distinctive type of station sign SEPTA brands its Regional Rail with.