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?

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