Wednesday, May 28, 2003

  • MORE NEW FLYERS ON THE WAY SEPTA has awarded the contract for the next 340 low floors to New Flyer, pending SEPTA Board approval at next month's meeting. This order will essentially replace the remaining Neoplans on the roster by 2006 at the latest.

  • ROUTE 208 TO END The 208 bus between Strafford Rail Station (R5 Paoli) and Chesterbrook will be eliminated next month, due to the expiration of PennDOT funding. The funding for the line was made available as part of the US 202/Section 400 reconstruction project. Route 204 between Paoli Rail Station and Lionville will remain, however, as funding for that line - plus two new routes - will be part of the US 202/Section 300 Congestion Mitigation Strategies project. Proposed Route 205 would operate between Paoli Rail Station and industrial parks along the PA 401 corridor; Route 306 would operate between Chadds Ford and Great Valley via West Chester and Exton (this might explain why an ElDorado was seen along Swedesford Rd near the Exton Square Mall about two months ago). SEPTA is also looking to add 100 more parking spaces at Exton and pave over the gravel "temporary" lot at Malvern, as well as extending the 6:45pm R5 departure from Suburban Station from Malvern to Thorndale.

  • DOES GERLACH FINALLY GET IT? Congressman James Gerlach (R-6th) recently addressed the Schuylkill Valley boondoggle at the Phoenixville Area Chamber of Commerce Regional Development Forum. Noting SEPTA's current funding crisis, the freshman legislator gave a frank assessment of Schuylkill Valley's chances of ever being built:

    "With the number of transportation projects being proposed, we don't think we'll see a large portion of Federal money - approximately 60 percent. Now is the time to put heads together to bring some of the costs down on this project."

    Really? Geez, that's what most people who've seen the nearly $2 billion price tag for the project have been saying since SEPTA came up with this stupid "MetroRail" alternative...

  • REALLY BIG SHOES... At last week's SEPTA Board meeting, nearly 2 dozen activists tossed shoes towards the SEPTA Board in protest of the proposed service cuts that were discussed at last week's public hearings. While it's certainly nice to see that people are waking up to the incompetence that seems to exist at SEPTA, isn't that just getting a little ridiculous? On a related note, one of the organizations responsible for the protest is an outfit called the "Save Our Transit Coalition" which is a group of numerous organizations opposing the fare hikes. That's fine, but once the dust settles, do these people plan to stay around for the long term, or are they just going to show up whenever there's a fare hike? Incidentially, nearly 1,000 people testified at the recent series of public hearings on the Operating Budget, including nearly 600 people in Center City. The "morning session" did not officially conclude until shortly before 6:00pm; the "evening session" commenced shortly thereafter.
  • Tuesday, May 20, 2003

  • CYNWYD LINE UPDATE Yet another new timetable will be issued for the R6 Cynwyd line as part of weekday service changes on the Regional Rail relating to the Rail Power Project. The new timetable, which will be take effect on May 27, will reflect the limited rail service and shuttle bus operation on the Cynwyd branch, which should be complete by late July. Of course, most of the rail lines will probably be curtailed or dismantled by then, but what difference does it make, right?
  • THE CONTINUED MIS-ADVENTURES OF PASSENGER DIS-SERVICES AND SEPTA POLICE On Sunday at Suburban Station, the information booth for the Rail Power Project was actually staffed by 4 SEPTA Transit Police officers, rather than Regional Rail division employees. This was rather unhelpful when a passenger requested a Rail Power Project timetable for the R3 Elwyn line and was unable to find one. When the complaintant (who requested anonymity, for obvious reasons) requested a schedule, the officers directed my source to the timetable racks, which did absolutely no good, as they were the regular weekday timetables. It's not as though the police officers staffing the booth have any idea what the passenger was talking about. When a Regional Rail employee arrived, things got a little testy. After trying to explain that there were no R3 Elwyn weekend RPP timetables, the RRD employee reportedly got confrontational. Despite further explaination, the officers ordered my source to leave the area; come to think of it, if that incident is true, the officers at the RPP booth would've made perfect Passenger Dis-Services reps, given the state of customer service on the RRD in recent months. The correspondent reports that there were actually 3 officers staffing the booth; the 4th (the spy ID' the officer as shield #344) was reportedly in the Passenger Dis-Services office placing a personal phone call - on a SEPTA telephone when he passed through the station, though the officer returned to the booth when the call was completed. Of course, it's not as though anyone is going to get mugged on the El or Broad Street lines or shot while on the Subway-Surface lines while 4 officers are deployed as "customer service agents" at Suburban Station. And that's not counting the 2 SEPTA police officers directing traffic at 30 St and JFK Blvd when that should really be the domain of the Philadelphia Police or Amtrak Police (since 30 St is technically Amtrak property). Gee, you think that maybe these officers would be better utilized by actually riding the system and not acting as customer service reps? And you wonder why the public seems to have an unfavorable opinion of SEPTA's police department?

  • HEARINGS END WITH A BANG Nearly 700 people filtered in and out of Room 201 at the Convention Center yesterday to express opposition and make strong comments about SEPTA's proposed service cuts and fare increases. Not so surprisingly, the strongest comments came from members of Philadelphia City Council, which recently voted to essentially control the purse strings regarding the city's $56 million subsidy to SEPTA. For more blow-by-blow details on the hearings, click on these two links below:

    Inquirer article on Philadelphia hearings

    Daily News article on Philadelphia hearings

    For coverage from the other four hearings:

    Courier Times/Doylestown hearings

    Inquirer/Media hearings

    Delaware County Daily Times/Media hearing

    Daily Local News/West Chester hearing

    Inquirer/Norristown hearing

  • TAKE A NUMBER The anger in the editorial pages on SEPTA's plans are not just coming from the Daily News, but it's starting to come from the burbs as well. Take this editorial from this past Sunday's Delaware County Daily Times for example.

  • SLOW PROGRESS After several articles over the past few days, The Daily News reports that SEPTA has fixed most of the damaged call boxes that were uncovered during a routine investigation. Wow, it only took them about 2-3 years (at some locations) to do something about it. Now if they can scale back some of their draconian service cuts, then we'd be in great shape.
  • Monday, May 19, 2003

  • OH, BY THE WAY... Bus service along West Chester Pike between Havertown and Newtown Square was severely impacted yesterday due to the Welcome Home Heroes Parade. The 104, 112, and 123 were especially hard hit, as buses were departing 69 St Terminal anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes behind schedule, as the eastbound lanes of West Chester Pike were closed, forcing two-way traffic into the westbound lanes. The 110 was detoured off of Lansdowne Av and State Rd due to the parade routing, which ended on the campus of Upper Darby High School. Of course, SEPTA didn't bother to post any information about potential delays or detours on any of the Red Arrow buses that were impacted, which is par for the course for this agency.

  • LAST CALL FOR TESTIMONY The last of 5 public hearings on SEPTA's Operating Budget, fare increases and service cuts will be held today at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The morning session began at 11:00am, with the evening session slated to start at 5:00pm (all speakers must register no later than 5:30pm). The hearings are expected to be as contentious as they were in Doylestown, Media, and Norristown (oddly enough, the hearings in West Chester were fairly quiet due to a large amount of apathy by Chester County officials and local TMAs). If you are unable to attend the hearings today, you can still submit written testimony to: SEPTA, Secretary of the Board, 1234 Market St, 10th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19107. The record will remain open until Tuesday, May 27 (the original date was Monday, May 26, however that falls on Memorial Day).
  • Wednesday, May 14, 2003

  • CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? D'OH! As if you needed more proof that SEPTA has a major communications problem... The Daily News reports that nearly 1 out of every 4 emergency call boxes are not properly functioning, which by SEPTA standards is above average. Eight of the stations cited as having broken boxes have been classified as being in "high crime areas" along the system (Broad Street: Fairmount/northbound; North Philadelphia/southbound; Susquehanna-Dauphin/southbound, Tasker-Morris; El: Erie-Torresdale and Tioga/both directions; Margaret-Orthodox/eastbound; Allegheny/eastbound; Somerset/eastbound). That's right, both the Erie-Torresdale and Tioga El stations do not have properly functioning call boxes in either direction. Four years ago, SEPTA installed new high-tech (ha ha) call boxes along the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines at a cost of $3.9 million. Apparently, there have been problems with the contractor who was responsible for installing the system among other problems. SEPTA says they will be up and running by the end of the summer; by that time, there may not be too many riders left on the system, thanks to the fare hikes...

    On a side note, what nobody from SEPTA bothered to mention is that most - if not all - Broad Street and Market-Frankford stations, as well as other key locations such as Darby Loop, 40-Woodland, and Regional Rail Stations within the city and immediate suburbs - have pay phones which have been specially programmed to allow direct contact with SEPTA Police, which are clearly marked as such. Simply dial #88 to reach SEPTA Police, or #89 to reach SEPTA Travel Information. At some of the outer egde stations along the railroad (particularly along the R5 Paoli line), only #89 is listed. It amazes me that SEPTA could actually proceed with this call box fiasco when the pay phone system certainly has worked fairly well...

  • Tuesday, May 13, 2003

  • HEARING UPDATES The first two days of SEPTA hearings have passed, but not before SEPTA officials got an earful from irate riders in Doylestown and Media. During the Doylestown hearings on Monday, many commuters focused on the proposed elimination of the 128 bus - which operates between Neshaminy and Oxford Valley malls via Levittown and Bristol - and the R2 Warminster. Most of the complaints at the Media hearing focused on the 116 - which operates between Chester and Granite Run Mall via Aston and Glen Riddle - while at least three reps from PNC Bank's Eastwick facility argued against eliminating the R1 Airport line. Interestingly enough, there have been few comments made about the fare increases on the railroad and on most non-base fare increases on the transit side. The next round of hearings will take place in West Chester tomorrow and in Norristown on Thursday. The big hearings at the Convention Center in Philadelphia take place this coming Monday.

  • R6 REPRIEVE After what appears to have been a lot of complaining from Montgomery County officials, SEPTA has decided to operate limited train service after all on the R6 Cynwyd line. The original plan was to have all R6 service provided by shuttle buses. After several passengers complained to Lower Merion township officials - who apparently seem to have way too much pull within SEPTA - SEPTA relented and is now operating a total of 4 trains in each direction - 3 peak direction and one reverse peak direction train. Meanwhile, riders on the R5 Paoli/Thorndale, R6 Norristown, and R8 Fox Chase lines will still face reduced service - which coincidentially happens to be what SEPTA is proposing for weekday service as part of the draconian service reduction plan.

  • SEPTA POLICE STRIKE? The Daily News reported on Saturday that SEPTA Transit Police officers have authorized their union leadership to call a strike if a settlement isn't reached soon. FOP Lodge 109 has been working without a contract since October 2002. FOP officials are calling for significant salary increases which would - in theory - improve SEPTA Police officer's standing as being among the lowest paid officers in the region. The Daily News also reports that turnover within the department has reached about 25 percent - within the past 2-4 months alone, at least two SEPTA Police officers have since moved on to the greener pasture$ of Upper Darby Township's police department, where top pay is nearly double that of a typical SEPTA police officer's salary. Even though most police departments are prohibited by law from striking, apparently, SEPTA is exempt from that prohibition. Union officials however indicate a willingness to avoid a strike if SEPTA agrees to binding arbitration. Considering SEPTA's stance on arbitration in the past, that may very well not happen.
  • Thursday, May 08, 2003

  • CITY COUNCIL ON WARPATH Several members of the Philadelphia City Council have raised the possibility of the city withholding their subsidy to SEPTA as a result of the massive inconveniences along Market St in West Philadelphia, and also as a response to SEPTA's proposed budget and service cuts. The Daily News reports that Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr. (D-At Large) introduced a measure that would place disbursement of the city's appropriation to SEPTA under the jurisdiction of City Council for release at its own discretion. Making matters worse for SEPTA is that Fearless Leader didn't bother to show up for the hearings, but instead sent two AGMs to argue SEPTA's case. That did not sit too well with Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell (D-3):

    "We take it as an insult to the efforts to try and help businesses on the Market Street corridor, as well as residents," Blackwell said. "If you have a serious agenda and nothing to hide, then you can certainly come and face questions."

    Amen! Considering that Fearless Leader makes fewer public appearances than Saddam Hussein (though he appears to have a legitimate reason for not showing up in public), this really isn't surprising. However, this isn't DVARP that she's blowing off; it's the Philadelphia City Council. Considering how much clout Council has over how the city is run (Emperor Street notwithstanding), for Fearless Leader to send to cronies in front of City Council instead of facing the music herself is a very dangerous political move. But wait, there's more...

    During the hearing, Councilman Michael Nutter (D-4) took exception to SEPTA's response when inquiring about a broken escalator at the 60 St El Station.

    [SEPTA's AGM for Business Services Cecil] Bond said the parts to fix the escalator are no longer available. A replacement is out because SEPTA plans to build a new station with new escalators and elevators in two years, he added.

    Nutter: "Do you think I'm going to sit here and accept that ... What about the people, the elderly and handicapped, who use that station?" (Daily News)

    And Nutter was just getting warmed up...

    "Where there are things that can be done, they should be done. And all we get (from SEPTA) is: 'No. Can't. Forget about it.' That's not helpful. And people aren't going to stand for it. I'm certainly not going to stand for it because I'm not going to listen to this noise for the next 5 or 6 years about things that don't make any sense." (KYW NewsRadio 1060)

    I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, Councilman, but that's how SEPTA works these days. On a side note, Bond isn't exactly one to be talking about escalators, as he was AGM for Safety and Risk Management when the escalator tragedy occured at Cecil B Moore Station a few years ago. (Then again, I'm surprised that he wasn't fired long ago. But, SEPTA being SEPTA, this is probably a promotion for him...) If only Nutter was running for mayor this year instead of Emperor Street...

    Also commenting on the El controversy was Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky, who had some not so nice things to say about SEPTA's management (or lack thereof).

  • Wednesday, May 07, 2003

  • ACCIDENT REPORTS A subway-surface trolley was involved in an accident at 43 St/Woodland Av when a car heading northbound struck an Eastwick bound 36 car at around 9:15am. The force of the collision pushed the car that struck the trolley into a second car. At least 3 people on board the trolley were injured, as were 3 others in the cars. The accident is under investigation.

    A second accident occured near Fern Rock Station, when a Mayfair bound 70 bus struck a car on 10 St near Godfrey at around 4:00pm on Monday. At least one person in the car was injured and taken to Einstein Medical Center. No other information was made available as of this posting.

  • Tuesday, May 06, 2003

  • MORE 113 MISADVENTURES Today's 1:00pm departure from 69 St Terminal (5320/4506 block) departed for Marcus Hook 25 minutes late. The bus was at it's berth by 1:00pm; the operator, however, was not. Would it really have been too much for a service manager or somebody to explain to us why the operator was a no show? To make matters worse, a call to Customer Dis-Service (MOTTO: We put the DIS in Dis-Service) was fruitless as usual. After I complained about the bus not departing when it was supposed to, the idiot at Customer Dis-Service claimed that the control center had reported no problems with 4506 block. Umm, there is a problem when the bus is idling in the berth 20 minutes after it's supposed to depart. Then, to make matters worse, construction along Main St in Darby Borough is forcing most traffic to detour, but SEPTA buses are being allowed through, thus adding another 5 minutes in delays. How nice of SEPTA to at least post notices about the street construction ... oh, wait, they didn't even bother. I guess that would be asking too much...

  • RAIL SCHEDULE CHANGES DELAYED If you haven't noticed, the new Regional Rail schedules dated May 5 are not going into effect until May 12. That means riders on most lines - particularly the R5 Paoli/Thorndale - will still have their full weekday peak service for another week. The schedules on most lines are being adjusted or reduced due to the ongoing Rail Power Project. The date change was found out the hard way, as a search for new timetables at Suburban Station proved unsuccessful. When I inquired about the new schedules at the Passenger Dis-Services office (see above item for motto), I dealt with yet another example of obnoxious employees who seem to have a problem with the conecpt of manners. After I asked why the new schedules had been delayed, I was basically ignored and told to leave - but not before referring to the Regional Rail system as the "laughing stock of all railroads" (which is very much true, given the way that SEPTA has treated it's railroad customers throughout this entire project).

    And if anyone was surprised by what seemed like a sudden decision to reduce weekday service on some lines ... join the club. DVARP recently reported that SEPTA had planned to take this action from the very start of this project, yet chose not to notify the public of these changes until a week before they took effect. Yeah, that's a great way to keep the public informed, not to mention a wonderful way to retain that ridership once the fare increase takes effect. This, by the way, is another byproduct of the incompetence of SEPTA management since Fearless Leader took over as SEPTA's General Manager. It certainly didn't help that a very arrogant Howard Eskin-wannabe by the name of Patrick Nowakowski is now the AGM for Operations. At least his predecessor, Bernard Cohen, was willing to listen to the public. Nowakowski, on the other hand, seems to think that the opinion of the riding public is irrelevant, since after all, we're just shelling out what seems to be more money for decreased and degraded service.

  • 200-SERIES BUS SCHEDULES ALSO CHANGING In concert with the RRD schedule changes, new timetables are being issued for the 201, 203, 204, 206, 207/WHIRL, and 208 buses. Many of the adjustments are related to the new railroad schedule changes, with a new AM peak trip operating between Lionville and Paoli on the 204. More details will be posted soon (at least I would hope so).

  • R3 DETOURS IN THE WORKS It would appear that the R3 Media/Elwyn line will see some bus bridge operations in the near future. According to the Town Talk News weekly paper, the Middletown Township (DelCo) Council approved a $128,040 contract to remove the Indian Lane Bridge, which is located just east of Elwyn Station. The contractor is planning to remove the bridge at the same time a similar bridge project is taking place near Swarthmore, resulting in at least one weekend of bus bridge operations on the Elwyn line. Township Council President Douglas Roger expressed displeasure about the township having to pay the cost of shuttle bus operations, since a court order following the SEPTA takeover of the Regional Rail system shifted ownership of the bridges to the municipalities. "Middletown did not build the bridge; never owned the bridge. It's unfortunate we have to pay for the removal and for busing," he said. Yup, that's kinda the SEPTA way, now isn't it?

  • PHLASH SAVED ... FOR NOW According to reliable sources within the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, a significant amount of outside funding will keep the Phlash Center City loop in service at least until the end of 2003. As for what happens in 2004, that remains to be seen. Full details were not available, however the Phlash will remain in service as long as funding becomes available.

  • ABINGTON STRIKES BACK A public hearing will take place on Tuesday, May 13 in the Abington Township Municipal Building regarding SEPTA's plans for the R2 Warminster line. The meeting will take place at 7:30pm in the Board Room of the Abington Township building - located at 1176 Old York Rd. I highly doubt that this is a SEPTA hearing, but is most likely a hearing set up by the township's supervisors (or one of their commitees).
  • Thursday, May 01, 2003

  • DEJA VU ON THE G For the second time in nearly 6 weeks, a G bus struck an elderly passenger while in service. This time, the incident occured at around noon yesterday, as a southbound G bus struck an 81-year-old female at the intersection of 56 and Vine Sts in West Philadelphia. The victim was treated at a local hospital; no other details were made available as of today. The previous incident occured on March 18 at 57 and Chestnut Sts, also in West Philadelphia, when a 78-year-old female was struck and killed by a northbound G.