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.
  • No comments: