Monday, June 30, 2003

WHAT SYSTEM IS HE RIDING? Apparently, there are people around the country who haven't really spent a lot of time running SEPTA. Take Baltimore Sun columnist Jacques Kelly for example. When comparing the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA Maryland) to SEPTA, Kelly makes a very interesting observation:

The punctuality of the Philadelphia SEPTA is nothing short of amazing. You can actually trust and plan your journey around the posted schedules.

Really? I guess Mr. Kelly hasn't waited anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes during the evening peak waiting for a 104 bus that's either stuck on West Chester Pike, overheated, or not coming at all because Red Arrow ran out of buses.

On the other hand, it's not as though MTA Maryland has a lot to brag about either. While they've finally gotten around to replacing some of their older buses, the 9900 and 0000 series NABIs have destination signs that are barely readable. If you think it's fun trying to squint at a destination sign on a SEPTA Neoplan 40 foot bus, then try reading the signs on a "newer" NABI in Baltimore, though be careful that you don't strain your neck. Of course, those newer buses may not last too long in Baltimore since the streets there are in almost as bad of shape as they are in Philadelphia (Reisterstown Road between the Mondawmin Mall and Old Court Rd is a great example, as observed while riding MTA Neoplan 0254 on the M-2 yesterday).

And don't get me started on the poor traffic flow on Howard St, where the MTA's light rail line attempts to operate. Apparently, the powers that be in Baltimore City are unfamiliar with the concept of priority signals for trolleys. This was evidenced yesterday as it took about 5 minutes to get from Lexington Market to the Convention Center (near Camden Yards) - walking the same distance to Camden Yards would probably have gotten me there at around the same time.

MORE FUNDING SCHEMES Now that I've had a few days to catch up on my sleep (it's not easy working 3rd shift) and enjoy a Phillies win at Camden Yards, it's time to catch up on some other developments in the land of INEPTA... Friday's Daily News reported several proposals floated around by our geniuses in Harrisburg. In addition to the proposal by Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia) to double the car tire and rental car taxes, and plans by Rep. Don Walko (D-Allegheny) to introduce a constitutional amendment removing the prohibition on gas tax funds being used for mass transit, Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) is proposing an increase in the state fees collected for automobile inspections from $2.00 to $5.00 for most vehicles and from $1.00 to $4.00 for commercial vehicles which are inspected semi-annually. There is also a plan that would remove the $75 million cap imposed from sales tax collections. As for whether or not any of these proposals are implemented, that remains to be seen.

As a follow-up to Thursday's adoption of the Operating Budget, Board member Jettie Newkirk cast the lone vote opposing the budget because of the dieselization of the trackless trolley lines. As much as Ms. Newkirk's support of the trackless trolley network is appreciated, it was really a moot point as there's no guarantee that the three Frankford trackless lines would've been up and running after the new terminal opens at Bridge-Pratt; the 29 will be dieselized due to the Tasker Homes reconstruction project; and the AM General fleet is way beyond their useful life. As long as this is not a permanent conversion to diesel service, with the door remaining open that they could return next fiscal year, this may be the only option at this time. I don't like it, and I'm sure a lot of other people who visit this site don't like it, but let's just hope it is only temporary...

MORE UNION MELTDOWNS? Supporters of suspended TWU Local 234 president Jean Alexander picketed the TWU union hall on Spring Garden St on Friday. According to Saturday's Inquirer, at least 50 employees were joined by activists from the National Organization for Women, the NAACP, and other key city unions (including AFSCME District Council 47). The message of the protesters was very simple: Stop the infighting and focus on the next contract negotiations. That doesn't mean Local 234 is out of the woods yet...

The TWU International office imposed a truseeship on Local 234 after the late Steve Brookens was removed from office by a federal judge after allegations of "political factionalism, subversion of democracy, and financial malpractice," charges subsequently supported after a former TWU bookkeeper plead guilty to stealing $98,132 from Local 234. Former Local 234 president Harry Lombardo, now an officer with the International office, took over negotiations for the 2001 labor agreement.

Alexander's election last July was supposed to have been the first step away from the problems that plagued the union in the past. However, the TWU International office in New York warned that if the in-fighting continued, the International would take over the union for the second time in less than 2 years.

Interestingly enough, Alexander hadn't been making most of the appearances at public hearings and SEPTA Board meetings in recent months. Union Vice President David Szczepanski offered the union's official position on the Operating Budget at most of the hearings, except for the Philadelphia hearing. Whether that means anything is up in the air, although Brookens was front and center during the tumultous 1998 labor negotiations and subsequent 40 day strike in the City and Frontier divisions.

All in all, the union's latest squabble is probably bringing a smile to Fearless Leader's face. If SEPTA's mis-management were to stoop to ridiculous lows (that wouldn't take much doing), they'd take advantage of Local 234's in-fighting and use it to their advantage. Please, tell me that I'm wrong...

FOURTH OF JULY DETOURS ... WELL SOME OF THEM SEPTA posted detours on City Transit Division lines that will be affected by 4th of July activities, including detours in Cheltenham, Abington, and Rockledge. Not surprisingly, no detours were posted for any suburban lines, even though several Red Arrow routes will be impacted due to events in East Lansdowne, Aldan, and Chester among other places. Is there any reason why SEPTA can't be bothered to post detour information for suburban routes? Would that be too much to ask?

Thursday, June 26, 2003

OVERHEATED... Several Red Arrow routes suffered major delays due to overheating of several buses over the course of today. Reports of delays of nearly 20 minutes were reported on several lines, with the 104 and 111 suffering the brunt of the delays. At least two 104 buses - the 5:05pm West Chester Express and the 5:20pm Newtown Square local - did not run, causing a major overflow crowd on the 5:35pm West Chester Express. There has been an ongoing problem with availability of enough road worthy buses at Red Arrow - which is hardly news by this point. On several occasions, peak hour 104 departures to West Chester have either departed late or have been cancelled due to a lack of available vehicles in the yard at pull-out time. How much longer would it take for SEPTA's Minster of Mis-Information Richard Maloney to deny that there's a bus shortage?

MEANWHILE, DEMOCRACY TAKES A DAY OFF... Someone at SEPTA must have a very interesting sense of fiscal restraint. At today's SEPTA Board meeting, those people who arrived had to be furious when only an agenda - rather than a package including the financial report, updated resolutions, _and_ the agenda - were left. SEPTA's reaction: You snooze, you lose. Never mind the fact that there weren't quite as many people at this month's meetings. Gee, there's nothing like only telling people only half of the story; it's worked for SEPTA almost since the day David Gunn left the company.

To top things off, after arriving for the meeting late and attempting to get on the speaking list, one of the SEPTA Transit Police goons (P/O R Buggy, #102) rather rudely told me that I wasn't going to be able to get on the speaker's list because I was late. Never mind that my 104 bus was one of the many buses that broke down over the course of the day along West Chester Pike and other parts of Red Arrow territory. When I took exception to being denied the right to address the board, I was escored out by Buggy and the rest of Capt. Rodgers' goon squad. Yep, that's democracy under SEPTA Board Chairman/Radio Mogul/Turnpike Commissioner/Land Developer Extraordinaire/All Around Jerk Pasquale T. Deon, Sr. Well, after today, the gloves come off. For those who've been regular readers of this blog: If you thought I had a chip on my shoulder before, then you ain't seen nothing yet...

Goon Squad notwithstanding, SEPTA did pass an interim budget, pending what they expect to be a $41 million windfall from Harrisburg. HA! Don't Fearless Leader, Don Pasquale, and the rest of the idiots at SEPTA understand that neither the Governor nor the Legislature is going to send a blank check for $41 million just because SEPTA whines about being broke? Considering that several people have suggested that SEPTA restructure the way the Regional Rail system is operated (the first step would be firing COO Pat Nowakowski) by re-pairing lines to reduce layover/recovery times at outer terminals, and have also suggested that several bus routes be moved to depots closer to terminals to reduce deadheading, did it ever occur to SEPTA to try those options before acting like one of those low-life panhandlers who annoy the hell out of commuters at Suburban Station and other major terminals?

Yes, as you can see, I am in a very bad mood...

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

  • TRAGEDY AT ALLEGHENY A trespasser was struck and killed by a southbound Broad Street express train yesterday morning. According to the Daily News, the unidentified victim was struck by the southbound express train - which was en route to Walnut-Locust - shortly after 7:00am. The victim was reportedly attempting to cross the tracks from the southbound platforms to the northbound platforms. A bus-bridge was deployed between Fern Rock and Girard while Philadelphia Police conducted an investigation. Normal service was restored shortly after 8:00am.
  • Thursday, June 19, 2003

  • CUTS NOT AS BAD ... FOR NOW A revised listing of service changes which would take effect in the fall is now posted at the site. Please bear with me as I upgrade the format of the page, but it should be pointed out that - for now - no routes would be eliminated, pending final passage of the Pennsylvania budget.
  • Wednesday, June 18, 2003

  • MIXED BAG OF NEWS The SEPTA Board will meet next Thursday to finalize the FY 2004 Operating Budget ... sort of.

    Most of the Draconian Service Cuts that were being proposed, including the elimination of several bus and rail lines, are on hold for now. SEPTA is, however, proceeding with these changes:

    • Increasing the parking fees at Regional Rail stations from $.50 to $1.00 and at Subway parking lots (69 St, Bridge St, and Fern Rock) from $1.00 to $2.00
    • Converting the 5 trackless lines - 29, 59, 66, 75, and 79 - to diesel bus operations
    • Weekend closings of Allegheny and Frankford depots, with operating moving to Midvale and Comly, respectively
    • Changes in service frequencies on some bus routes and rail lines (whether or not these were part of what was originally proposed has yet to be confirmed)
    • Service changes on the R1 Airport, R6 Cynwyd, and R8 Chestnut Hill West lines - the R8 will most likely see an increased headways from 30 minutes to hourly during the mid-day hours

  • As for the fare increases and service cuts, those are delayed pending adoption of the Commonwealth's operating budget. Once Harrisburg passes its budget, SEPTA will then review the remaining items that were under consideration during the hearing process, depending on whether or not additional funding comes from Harrisburg.

    These moves were based upon the report of the hearing examiners, who released their reports last week.

    Inquirer - June 14
    Daily News - June 14

  • LABOR UNREST... All apparently is not well within the leadership of SEPTA's largest union. According to Tuesday's Inquirer, Jean Alexander, president of TWU Local 234, was suspended from her position, pending a union hearing. There are rumblings within the union that the suspension was political at best.

    "I was elected with a split board. They have been against me from day one," Alexander said (on Monday). "I don't know why they're doing it, other than they just don't want me because I am a woman."

    A union attorney told the Inquirer that Alexander may have been suspended for requesting time to review an order from the union's Executive Board regarding an insurance provider. Attorney Joshua Rubinsky told the Inquirer:

    "It's highly unlikely that you can remove a chief executive officer for wanting to look at something before she signs it."

    Rubinsky also noted that it was very likely that the suspension would be overturned at a hearing to be scheduled within 20 days. This certainly seems like a strange time for TWU 234 to be in the middle of an internal war, with the current collective bargaining agreement for City Transit Division employees set to expire 9 months from now.

  • ...AND SOME WISHFUL THINKING Meanwhile, some rumblings have also come from 1234 Market regarding the status of Fearless Leader herself. Based upon some rumors that had been floating around 1234 Market, Fearless Leader wrote a "candid" memo to employees that was recently posted at elevators within 1234 Market:

    "The SEPTA challenge... is not the toughest thing I've had to face ... I appreciate all of those concerned about my stamina and sympathize with those who want these rumors to be true, BUT I'M NOT GOING ANYWHERE!!!"

    SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information Richard Maloney provided yet another classic for the "Stupidest Things Ever Said by a Liar" file by saying this after the rumors began to fly around 1234 Market:

    "When a major rumor comes up, she's going to address it head on."

    Ah, yes, leave it to Richard Maloney to make statements so ridiculous, that it makes "Baghdad Bob" as credible as Bill O'Reilly. Well, if Fearless Leader is willing to address major rumors "head on" as Maloney mis-stated, why is it that she has practically disappeared during this recent budget crisis? It wouldn't happen to be because of the horrendous performance of the Regional Rail Division, would it? Or the fact that her credibility is virtually non-existant after misleading the public regarding SEPTA's financial status, not to mention the contoversy involving the Market Street Elevated reconstruction project? Or could it be that as some of the mismanagment occured while Jack Leary was finishing up his stint as GM, Fearless Leader was SEPTA's Treasurer?

    Well, it's too bad that the rumors about Fearless Leader's departure were unfounded, because hiring her was one of the biggest mistakes that SEPTA has ever made.

  • NOT GUARANTEED One area that may be cut is the often controversial Service Guarantee on Regional Rail. According to Sunday's Inquirer, SEPTA plans to dump the Service Guarantee due to an increase in claims, mainly as a result of SEPTA's horrendous on-time performance since the start of the current fiscal year. When the program was initiated in the early 1990s, Regional Rail's on-time performance was around 93 percent. In FY 1999, the performance level dipped slightly to 91 percent. Now, as of the end of April, on-time performance is an appalling 84 percent. Instead of admitting that the conversion to the new Control Center at 1234 Market has been a contributing factor in the constant delays on the railroad, SEPTA's Minster of Mis-Information Richard Maloney passed the buck and found a convenient scapegoat:

    [Maloney] puts most of the blame for the system's delays on Mother Nature.

    Old power lines were snapped by the cold and stretched by last summer's heat, he said. In the fall, "our slippery rail season was the worst in our recorded history."

    Oh. Well, Maloney apparently forgot to mention the major meltdowns that have occured on the Regional Rail system in the past 10 months alone, and not all of the blame can be placed on Mother Nature.

    SEPTA's problems cannot be pinned entirely on weather, said Tom Dorricott, a spokesman for the Philadelphia area chapter of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.

    Since a new regional rail dispatching system debuted in September, he said, engineers have grappled with slow signal changes and confused traffic control.

    In any case, Maloney's predecessor as the Mis-Information Minister at SEPTA, Stephan Rosenfeld - who was a marketing manager when the program was instituted - offered this ominous warning about ending the Service Guarantee program:

    "(SEPTA) put it into effect because we needed to restore passenger confidence in the railroad, [and] we had to do something dramatic to show we were serious ... If you kill the program, you chill the relationship with your passenger [who is] struggling to decide between driving and continuing to [take the] train. It might be the added push."

    No kidding. Here's a concept for SEPTA - try improving your on-time performance on the railroad, and maybe, just maybe, you'll get some of those costs down.

  • CONTRACT SETTLEMENT? SEPTA appears to have reached an agreement with Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 109 - the union which represents SEPTA Transit Police officers. Although the actual resolution was not included in the agenda package for next Thursday's board meeting, the fact that it's on the agenda indicates that an agreement has been reached. Last month, SEPTA Transit Police officers had authorized a strike if a contract hadn't been reached.
  • Thursday, June 12, 2003

  • MORE WEST CHESTER PIKE MADNESS It seems like something else messes up the 104 every day, doesn't it? During today's PM peak, the 5:05pm from 69 St to West Chester (5148/4231 block) was initially cancelled - then departed 30 minutes behind schedule - after a downed wire on Market St at Bolmar in West Chester (near the Dunkin Donuts) blocked traffic. The wire fell literally moments before 5148 was to pass the intersection. The 5:05pm, which had been initally announced as cancelled, ultimately departed 69 St as a 104 local to West Chester at 5:34pm. The 5:35pm West Chester Express (3438/4241 block) departed on schedule, however the two buses were leap frogging each other for the entire trip to West Chester.

    Now, far be it for me to criticize Red Arrow management (ha, ha, ha), but it would've made more sense to run 4231 block as an express to Newtown Square - and possibly cut it back to New St/Market St, bypassing West Chester University to at least get it back on schedule somewhat - then send out 4241 block either as a West Chester local or as it's scheduled West Chester express to Eagle Rd, then have local passengers between 69 St and Eagle Rd (or at least Darby Rd) take the 5:40pm 112 to Lawrence Park. Of course, 4231 block arrived before 4241 block at West Chester University. And of course, logic seems to be a missing trait among the front line managers at 69 St Terminal, who only seem to show up when the trolleys are off schedule...

    Adding insult to injury (as if that were possible) there were no spare operators available to fill the schedule 5:05pm departure. Even worse, while an announcement was made that the 5:05pm departure was cancelled, I think it would've been nice if we found out the reason why, so at least people wouldn't be tempted to blame the operator.

    FOLLOW UP (6/18/03) Separate problems on the 104 wreaked havoc on the line later that night. 3438, which had been the bus used on 4241 block, apparently broke down at some point during a later run. The 9:05pm departure from West Chester subsequently departed about 20 minutes late, using a spare driver and 5373. The regular operator for 4241 block did make the 11:05pm departure, but had 3378 for that run.
  • Monday, June 09, 2003

  • SCHEDULE CHANGES NEXT WEEK City Transit Division schedules change on Sunday, June 15. Among the major highlights of the summer pickings:

    • ROUTE 8: Service will be reduced from every half hour to every hour between 10:00am and 2:00pm
    • ROUTE 34: A bus-bridge will be deployed between 40 St Portal and 61 St/Baltimore Av due to track renewal. The bus-bridge will continue until August 8.
    • ROUTE 37: Will officially become a bicycle accessible route.

  • More details will be posted when they become available. I would suspect, though, that most routes would see relatively minor changes due to the end of the school year in Philadelphia. Changes on the Red Arrow lines will be delayed until July 6.

  • PARATRANSIT CONTROVERSY IN MONTCO Yet another example of how picky SEPTA has become when it comes to dealing with disabled passengers. An article in this week's Montgomery Newspapers/North Penn Life details the story of Saul Burnstine, 63, of North Wales. Mr. Burnstine suffers from the after effects of an coma-enducing epileptic seizure, which makes walking difficult for him. Due to a quirk in SEPTA's ADA Paratransit borders, the Burnstines live just outside of the SEPTA Paratransit service area, forcing him to walk three blocks to a nearby 7-Eleven. The three block walk takes Mr. Burnstine nearly half an hour. So you'd think that SEPTA would try and accomodate this gentleman considering his health condition, right? Of course not. Now, here's where the quirks come in:

    Burnstine insists she and her husband live in the service area and should get door-to-door service. And although Burnstine said she sees ParaTransit drive down nearby Maple Glenn Drive from her living room window, SEPTA officials still tell her she's out of their reach.

    Making things even more interesting is that the Burnstines reportedly recieved a letter dated May 9th from Fearless Leader herself claiming that their house was not within the paratransit service area. That elicited a response from Montgomery Township officials:

    James Mallon, assistant township manager of Montgomery Township, replied to Moore and SEPTA May 30, writing, "We are
    aware of your present policies, but ask that you reconsider them under these unique circumstances."

    Well, Mr. Mallon, good luck. As much as I'd like to see you succeed in your fight on behalf of the Burnstines, remember that this is SEPTA we're dealing with, not some non-profit human services organization.

    Related article in Lansdale Intelligencer

  • TROLLEY/SCHOOL BUS COLLIDE An inbound 11 trolley collided with a school bus on Thursday near the start of the PM peak, injuring 5 trolley passengers. At 3:30pm, the vehicles struck at 64 St/Woodland Av. There had been no further details posted about the accident.

  • NEW GRETNA UPDATE The Press of Atlantic City reports that NJDOT and Burlington County officials are still trying to formulate a plan to accomodate stranded Route 559 passengers in the New Gretna section of Bass River Township, nearly 6 months after the 559 was diverted off of US 9 due to construction of the Bass River bridge. NJDOT officials are now saying it's up to either Burlington County or Bass River Township to come up with a solution. NJDOT officials had recently promised $25,000 towards shuttle service, however township officials are coming across some snags in their plans.

    (Bass River Township Mayor Rich Bethea) said that possible shuttle service is complicated by several logistics, not limited to personnel, insurance, scheduling and putting a face on exacly who the town's ridership is now.

    Maybe it's just me, but doesn't that seem like another example of NJ Transit's bias against South Jersey?

  • DISHING MORE DIRT ON NJT It appears that the City of Camden isn't the only one that's being used by NJ Transit as a staging area for dumping dirt from other townships and boroughs along the South Jersey Boondoggle Express. According to the Burlington County Times, Assemblyman Jack Conners (D-Pennsauken) is taking exception to dirt being dumped in the Roebling section of Florence Township:

    "I request that your respective departments initiate plans to remove any contaminated soil from Florence and stop using the township as a dumping ground for soil from other communities along the line,'' he wrote (in a letter to NJ Transit).

    It should be pointed out that Conners had been one of the more vocal critics of the entire project.

    Meanwhile, in Camden, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) is also taking shots at NJ Transit over dumping of dirt in his East Camden district. According tp the Cherry Hill Courier Post, Roberts has also demanded that dirt be removed from the East Camden site, sending off letters to NJDOT and the state's Department of Enviromental Protection.
  • Wednesday, June 04, 2003

  • LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL? The Philadelphia Inquirer reports in today's editions that there's an outside shot of Harrisburg restoring some of the funding cuts that led to the proposed Draconian Service Cuts. State Rep. Don Walko (D-20, Allegheny) is drafting legislation that would the nearly $16 million in statewide transit funding cuts. This, in effect, would restore the $15 million that SEPTA stood to lose in state aid and corresponding matching local aid. Walko has also been attempting to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow gas tax revenues to be used by transit systems, a prohibition in effect since 1945. In Pennsylvania, both houses of the legislature must approve a resolution in two consecutive sessions before the amendment is placed on the ballot in a future election, which makes Walko's amendment proposal an uphill battle at best.

    In addition to Walko's proposal, State Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-2, Philadelphia) introduced a bill that would double the tire-sale tax to $2.00, and the car-rental tax to $4.00. Tartaglione's proposal would raise an additional $38 million for transit systems across the state. State Rep. Joseph Markosek (D-25, Allegheny/Westmoreland) also introduced a bill that would increase the cap on transit's share of sales tax revenue from $75 million to $93 million.

    Yet, despite potential relief from Harrisburg, both SEPTA and the Port Authority of Allegheny County (which is suffering some severe budget problems of its own) are still being targeted by Republicans in Harrisburg to see what additional administrative costs can be pared in order to increase efficiency. To that end, former Amtrak financial executive Arlene Friner has been reviewing the financial records of both SEPTA and PAAC. In reality, all Ms. Friner has to do is get in touch with DVARP and other critics of SEPTA's current mis-management (including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers) to find out where the waste within SEPTA exists.

  • CALL BOX UPDATE Three of the damaged emergency call boxes exposed in a scathing news report last month still remain out of service, according to today's editions of the Daily News. The two call boxes at the Girard Av El station and the 19 St subway-surface station remain out of order due to additional problems with the boxes. Despite SEPTA promises to affix stickers on the damaged boxes, only the 19 St box had such a sticker. Somehow, I doubt anyone at the Daily News took a look at the call boxes on the southbound platform at the City Hall subway station, since those boxes were still covered as of Sunday afternoon.

  • MORE FALLOUT OVER SOUTH JERSEY LRT In the latest black eye for NJ Transit, the Cherry Hill Courier Post noted in an editorial that NJ Transit planned to dump the equivalent of nearly 8,000 large dump trucks of contaminated soil in East Camden. Officials claimed that the soil came mostly from Camden, then later admitted that the soil in fact came from towns outside of the city. Doesn't it seem strange that NJ Transit's management tends to get dumber the further south of Trenton it goes?

  • ON THE OTHER HAND... For every Trenton-Camden LRT fiasco that occurs at NJ Transit, there's usually something along the line that actually improves the system in South Jersey - even though there are people in South Jersey who still think they get blown off by North Jersey. The new Vineland Regional Transportation Center officially opened last Wednesday, despite delays due to the rotten winter and funding issues. The new terminal replaces an obsolete location along Landis Avenue which had long been the source of operator complaints, due to its location. Operators had been forced to drop passengers off along Landis, which made for some very unsafe conditions. The new terminal includes a newsstand, clothing store, electornics/furniture store, and a modernized ticket office. A hair salon, day care center, taxi stand, and home-ownership/employee training office will open in the near future, adding to the mix of services offered. The Vineland Regional Transportation Center serves bus routes 313, 408, and 553.
  • P&W DEATH A 3-year-old Upper Darby boy was killed following an incident along the P&W last night. Brandon Davis was pronounced dead earlier today following an incident near the State Rd overpass in which he and a friend reportedly wandered unto the tracks. There was some confusion as to what exactly happened. According to KYW 3, a child reportedly told Upper Darby police that he and Davis were throwing rocks at the passing P&W trains at around 6:00pm last night, when the victim allegedly bent over to pick up a stone and was struck by an inbound train. This is where things get a little muddled. SEPTA's Minister of Dis-information Richard Maloney initially denied that it was a P&W train that struck Davis, according to the Delaware County Daily Times:

    None of our operators reported hitting anything on the tracks. None of the passengers felt anything either. We are conducting a major investigation with the Upper Darby Police, but the circumstances are very unusual in this kind of case.

    That's a far different story from what Upper Darby police are saying:

    "We responded to a call for a child struck by a train," Detective Sgt. David Madonna said. "The child was on the train tracks with a friend."

    Now, of course Maloney is paid to present a rosy picture of SEPTA's operations in general (see the way he and the rest of SEPTA's management have lost all credibility during the budget crisis), but this is getting ridiculous. Of course, I'm sure there are many in the upper levels of mis-management at 1234 Market who have some very bad memories of the Shareef Hall incident at the Cecil B Moore/Temple University station a few years ago (Cecil Bond - who amazingly is still on the SEPTA payroll even though he was AGM for Safety and Risk Management at the time - comes to mind), in which SEPTA covered up it's shoddy maintenance of its elevators. The end result was a massive lawsuit against SEPTA, resulting in a $51 million judgement (later reduced significantly on appeal).

    Why bring the Cecil B Moore incident up? Because neighbors in the area near the P&W Yard adjacent to where the accident occurred have told several media outlets about a hole in a fence near the State Rd overpass. It was through that hole in which Davis and his friend, 4-year-old Jahlil Straughn, apparently passed through to reach the P&W right-of-way. Keisha Sutton, a resident of the neighborhood, told 6 ABC:

    "(The holes have) been there a long time. People have been complaining about that big hole. Little kids will be up there playing on the tracks."

    Of course, NOW SEPTA will likely take action in order to repair the fence. That's little comfort to Brandon Davis' family, who are now preparing for their son's burial instead of his 4th birthday - which would've been next month...
  • Tuesday, June 03, 2003

  • SCHUYLKILL VALLEY DE-RAILED? That appears to be the way things are going, according to the Pottstown Mercury. The article notes the planned reduction in federal matching funds from 80/20 (state/local match 20 percent) to 50/50 would potentially force Harrisburg, SEPTA, and the Berks Area Reading Transportation Authority (BARTA) to come up with half of the $1.8 billion (and rising) price tag. While the new formulas have not been approved by Congress yet, BARTA boss Dennis Louwerse, whose agency stands to lose nearly $2 million in operating assistance for day-to-day bus operations in Reading, offered this worst case scenario:

    "No guaranteed funding and 50-50 would mean the death of the Schuylkill Valley Metro, barring a miracle."

    Here's an idea. How about scaling back the project so it doesn't become the boondoggle that it appears to be becoming? Considering the costs for other passenger rail extentions across the country are coming in far less than what Schuylkill Valley would potentially cost, SEPTA, BARTA, and their enablers in this scheme (take a bow, Greater Valley Forge TMA Director Peter Quinn and the rest of the "SVM Coalition" who have taken an all or nothing approach to this project from day 1) may want to try designing a less ambitious project instead of risking political embarassment from Washington when the plug gets pulled on this project.

  • ANOTHER VOICE HEARD FROM Inquirer Architecture Critic Inga Saffron is the latest person to spin the potential impact of SEPTA's Draconian Service Cuts. Saffron's view is that SEPTA's cuts combined with an increase in parking decks within the Center City over the past 10 years (not to mention the botched DisneyQuest site at 8/Market, which is now - you guessed it - a parking lot) would significantly decrease any advantages Center City - and for that matter, Philadelphia as a whole - would have over suburban areas and even the rest of the nation. It is, to say the least, an interesting read.

  • AND YET ANOTHER ONE This week's Philadelphia Business Journal offers it's own editorial views on the SEPTA budget crisis, calling upon Harrisburg to send some consultants to find ways to reduce expenses without resorting to Draconian Service Cuts. Not so surprisingly, the editorial notes the following SEPTA position, which has been spun through the press ever since the Draconian Service Cuts were proposed:

    SEPTA says it has left the door open to such a review, even as it denies there are better places to cut spending from. An independent evaluation would be useful about now.

    They're kidding, right? Well, a good place to start would be laying off 200 employees, as SEPTA had promised to do as part of expense reductions (the Daily News reported recently that the layoffs would save nearly $10 million). Then, freeze the salaries of all remaining non-union (ie. management and other executives who are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement). I'm sure you can find about $5 million in savings if such employees delayed raises for a year or two.

    The next step would be to reassign several bus routes to different depots to reduce deadhead mileage and to eliminate wasteful deadhead mileage on the remaining routes (don't even get me started on all of the buses that deadhead from Southern to starting points in North Philadelphia and to Overbrook Rail Station (G bus); not to mention the fact that the 89 runs out of Midvale even though the starting point for all runs are at Arrott Terminal, which is about 7 blocks south of Frankford Depot).

    And finally, SEPTA needs to reform the Railroad Division, or at least the scheduling and line pairings. It seems wasteful to send a 5 car train to the Airport, then turn it around and run it to West Trenton or Warminster when such longer consists aren't really neccesary.

    But, then again, why would SEPTA want to listen to logic?

  • MORE TOUGH TALK FROM COUNCIL Philadelphia City Councilman Darrell Clarke (D-5) is the latest member of City Council to jump on the anti-SEPTA management bandwagon. KYW 1060 reports that Clarke is floating around the idea of having the City of Philadelphia pull out of SEPTA and form it's own transit agency. As tempting an idea as it may be, there would be numerous potential roadblocks to such a plan, not the least of which is the frosty (at best) relationship between the City and lawmakers in Harrisburg. Then again, Emperor Street can't do any worse being in charge of transit within Philadelphia than Fearless Leader.

  • MORE FALLOUT FROM EXEC SESSION The SEPTA Board got another bashing in the press, this time in a Sunday Inquirer editorial criticizing the Board for it's recent executive session prior to the May 22nd Board meeting. Considering that this seems to be the way SEPTA has conducted business over the last 10-plus years, it would take a major turnover of the board membership (highly unlikely) to see any changes take place.

  • SANTORUM ON BOARD FOR QUAKERTOWN RAIL The Lansdale/Doylestown Intelligencer reports that in a recent visit to Northern Bucks County, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) offered his support for restoring rail service to Quakertown. This comes a couple of months after fellow U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) also threw his support behind the project. Santorum indicated that support for Quakertown had to not only come from the communities to be served in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, but also by Harrisburg and by SEPTA. Milford Township Manager Jeff Vey offered a very pessimistic view of SEPTA's potential support:

    "If it relies on SEPTA to back it, it's not going anywhere ... Its time has come."

    I'm sure there are people along the US 422 corridor between King of Prussia and Reading who would share Mr. Vey's assessment.

  • ANOTHER FINE MESS IN NORTHWEST There's an interesting take on SEPTA's financial crisis in this week's Philadelphia City Paper. However, it appears that not everybody is as sold as others regarding the sorry state of leadership and a lack of accountability from Fearless Leader and the rest of her cronies at 1234 Market. Take Tom Hutt for example. Hutt represents the Northwest Campaign for Public Transportation, "a group of Germantown, Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill residents fighting the planned end of service on the R8 Chestnut Hill West line." Hutt told City Paper:

    "We've decided to turn our attention to Harrisburg because ultimately it's not just SEPTA's mismanagement, but Harrisburg's lack of funding that has caused the proposed cuts."

    Okay. Maybe Harrisburg hasn't been as supportive of transit systems in the Commonwealth as other states have been in the past. But before Harrisburg starts sending off blank checks to SEPTA, perhaps some management reform is in order. Given the sorry state of the Regional Rail system (an 84 percent on-time record, clearly among the worst in the nation), it appears that some "advocate groups" are oblivious to the fact that SEPTA's problems aren't directly tied to a lack of funding from Harrisburg, but rather a lack of competent operations people at 1234 Market. This site has repeatedly noted most (though not all) of the problems just on the operations side alone over the past few years, not to mention some very dubious decisions by management. Perhaps Mr. Hutt would like to review the news archives of this site from the past 2-3 years to get a better grip on the problems facing SEPTA.
  • ROUTE 207/WHIRL HEARING A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, July 10 at the West Whiteland Municipal Building in Exton regarding the Route 207/Whirl service funded mainly by a CMAQ grant applied for by the township. The hearing, which begins at 1:30pm, will make permanent routing changes that took effect last year. Ridership has been dismal in recent months, due mainly to the stagnant job market.

  • COATESVILLE PLANNING AHEAD? The City of Coatesville is in the process of developing and building a new parking deck near the Amtrak station off 3 Av/Diamond St in the city's east end. The city sees the construction of the parking deck and potential renovation of the old rail station as a possible precursor to bringing the R5 - which currently ends at Thorndale - back to Coatesville and Parkesburg. Considering SEPTA's budget crisis and historic aversion to making ANY transit improvements in Chester County, I don't see that happening anytime soon.

  • MEDIA RESCHEDULES CRAFT FAIR Due to the inclement weather last Sunday, the Media Art Exhibit and Craft Fair was rescheduled for this Sunday, June 8. As a result, the 101 Media Trolley will terminate at Providence Rd/Bowling Green station, with a bus-bridge in effect between Bowling Green and Orange St. Incidentially, there's no notice about any bus-bridge on the SEPTA web site, which is nothing unusual.

  • AND ON A RELATED NOTE... It appears that the people responsible for setting schedules on the Broad Street Subway dropped the ball, as they usually seem to do. Despite the fact that the Phillies were playing a double-header against Montreal on Sunday which started at 1:05pm, the Sports Express trains were running as though the first pitch was at 1:35pm. It does make one wonder if somebody at SEPTA even had a clue that the time for the first pitch had changed. (Just remember three weeks ago when that parade along West Chester Pike fouled up the 104, 112, and 123 for most for most of the afternoon, but nobody bothered to post signs at the terminal or even send a supervisor out to the platforms.) Well, it's a good thing that only 36,000-plus passed through the turnstiles for both games, as I would suspect that a lot of people would've been squeezed like sardines if attendance was higher. (Side note: I highly doubt that there were 36,000 at the Vet on Sunday. Maybe most of them saw the first game, then left while others missed the first game and saw the second. It seemed the attendance was more like 20- to 25,000, but what do I know?)
  • Monday, June 02, 2003

  • ROADEO UPDATE The SEPTA Roadeo is still scheduled for Saturday, July 12. However, due to the "Summer Sanitarium" concert being held at the Vet on that day, this year's Roadeo will be held at the parking lot area of the Philadelphia Park racetrack in Bensalem. That seems like a rather odd - and transit unfriendly - location to hold a bus roadeo, but what do I know?

  • SCHEDULE CHANGES COMING SOON The City Transit Division schedule changes will take effect on Sunday, June 15; Red Arrow schedules will change on Sunday, July 6, even though the timetables will be dated June 15.
  • Sunday, June 01, 2003

  • NEW FLYER PROBLEMS There have been a slew of problems with windows on the 5600 series New Flyers operating out of Midvale and Southern Depots, in what is believed to be the first significant problem with the low floors since arriving at SEPTA nearly 2 years ago. According to sources at Midvale, the entire fleet of New Flyers assigned there are being stored for the weekend, and will continue to be that way for the immediate short term. The problems stem from a lack of replacement windows and windshields to replace broken ones. At least 5 New Flyers - 5671, 5675, 5689, 5694, and 5707 - are confirmed to be out of service indefinitely due to damaged windows. This could lead to some lines that are supposed to be wheelchair accessible on weekends seeing some non-accessible 3000s. Southern is reportedly having similar issues with their 5600s, but the problem apparently isn't as widespread as it is at Midvale.

  • PSST ... CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? A report in Thursday's Inquirer should come as no shock to those who've followed SEPTA regularly over the past several years. Jere Downs reports that the SEPTA Board discussed a possible fare increase in addition to those proposed during the executive session prior to last month's meeting. Throughout the article, several SEPTA Board members indicated that they did not want the draconian service cuts to take place (duh!), but at the same time floated the idea of increasing fares even further to avoid the cuts. The board reportedly asked staff to make three new financial outlooks, including fare hikes to avoid any cuts, fare hikes to allow for "minimal cuts" and the possibility of allowing SEPTA to carry a deficit past the end of the fiscal year (June 30) pending funding relief from Harrisburg. This sounds like shades of two years ago, when SEPTA proposed the base fare increase of $1.90 during the public hearings, then turned around and hiked it to $2.00 on the day the budget was adopted. Apparently, streamlining operations was not one of those options, but considering the lack of competence that Chief Operations Officer Patrick Nowakowski displays, not to mention the virtual invisibility of Fearless Leader during the entire process, why wouldn't SEPTA try a back door approach to raising the base fare?