Thursday, July 24, 2003

RAIL PROBLEMS STRIKE AGAIN... Stop me if you've heard this one before. On two consecutive days, SEPTA's Regional Rail system was stymied due to power problems. At around 6:00pm Monday, Amtrak lost power along most of the Northeast and Keystone corridors through the Philadelphia area. Most service was delayed nearly 45 minutes, however riders on the R5 Paoli/Thorndale, R6 Cynwyd, and R7 Trenton line saw service suspended for nearly 90 minutes. The Inquirer reported that passengers stranded aboard one R5 train got off the train at Overbrook and walked over the 63 St/City Av, most likely to catch the 65. Passegners on a Paoli bound R5 saw their train halted as it approached Wayne, then forced to back up to St David's, where passengers were forced to get off. Without being shocked, SEPTA didn't provide any alternate transit options (read: shuttle buses) despite the incident occuring during the end of the rush hour. SEPTA announced in a seat flyer that the "Service Guarantee" would not be honored because it was Amtrak's fault, not SEPTA's.

Meanwhile, late night service was disrupted on Tuesday, after reports of wire problems near Jenkintown. Trains heading on the PRR side were departing nearly 30 minutes late. The last R5 to Thorndale (#591) left nearly 30 minutes late, but not until a replacement train was sent from Frazer into Center City. Did it ever occur to SEPTA to pull a two-car trainset from Powelton Yard as opposed to having to call out to Frazer - which is between Malvern and Exton towards the outer end of the Thorndale branch - so riders on the #591 wouldn't have to wait as long? If you had to replace missing train sets, then have a yard crew recover the used set after the train returns to Frazer and send it back to Powelton.

But wait, this is SEPTA we're dealing with. You know, the owners of the laughing stock of commuter railroads...

SEPTA REALLY DOES STINK! So says Daily News "Stink-meister" Dan Geringer. Over the past three weeks, Geringer has been pointing out several SEPTA locations which have become virtual open air toilets.

On July 7, Geringer paid a visit to the virtual homeless city that exists in the plaza area near Burger King at Suburban Station (16 St at JFK Plaza):

What used to be an oasis of planters and picnic tables for SEPTA commuters is now a thoroughly-trashed hobo camp where the homeless eat, sleep, urinate and defecate amid their bedrolls and their junk.

Inside the Suburban Station concourse, commuters can watch this pigsty patio through dirt-streaked picture windows.

But wait, there's more...

While much of the surface-streets malodor emanates from Philadelphia's growing homeless population, one of Stinkmeister's faithful colleagues has twice spotted well-dressed men peeing in the Suburban Station concourse, blissfully ignoring its 24-hour restroom.

Leslie Hickman, chief officer of SEPTA's High Speed Operations, said the homeless are ousted nightly when stations are shut down for cleaning, so the subterranean system's most prolific pee-and-poop perps are regular rail riders, not drip-dry drifters.

Oh, so it's the fault of commuters and not the slime who desire to call the plazas and concourses home, right? Talk about passing the buck...

Meanwhile, it wasn't just the Suburban Station concourses that are under attack by such stenches:

On a good day, the SEPTA stairwell on the 15th Street side of the Municipal Services Building reeks of urine. But this was a bad day. Descending the stairs toward Suburban Station, the Stinkmeister almost stepped in a cowpie-sized deposit of human excrement. Luckily, the sight of flies landing on it alerted the Stinkmeister in the nick time.


Directly across 15th Street from the Stairwell of Stench lies the Exit of Excrement, an ancient SEPTA stairway that opens on the west side of LOVE Park. Recently, a stinking pile of feces, covered with a hyperactive posse of flies, lay on the urine-stained landing. It did not look fresh.


The stink-weary Stinkmeister was almost pooped in more ways than one while ascending the City Hall SEPTA stairwell at Broad and Juniper streets, and encountering: Manpie!

A takeout menu from a well-known pizzeria had obviously been used as toilet paper. Flies buzzed. The stench was overwhelming. Emerging at the top of the pee-pool-pocked stairwell and taking huge gulps of fresh air almost gave the Stinkmeister the bends.

A couple of days later, SEPTA had poured so much disinfectant on the stairwell that the Stinkmeister had tears in his eyes. A few days after that, the forces of feces had returned.

July 8: Geringer filed a report from City Hall station on the Broad St line, finding similar results.

Posted on Tue, Jul. 08, 2003

After the Daily News Stinkmeister, voice of the pee-and-poop plagued public, reported the city's urine-and-feces infested hotspots yesterday, readers roared: SEPTA! SEPTA! SEPTA!

And the subterranean transportation giant replied: We know! We know! We know!

"Years and years of 'stuff' has accumulated at our City Hall stations," said Leslie Hickman, SEPTA chief officer for high-speed operations. "Urine is the larger problem, 24-7. Then there are 'intermittent deposits' of the other stuff. The hotter it gets, the more it smells - until the odor just about knocks you off your feet."

So what does SEPTA do about it?

"We mop. We deodorize," said Hickman. "But when people stand on the edges of the platform and urinate into the track area, the urine embeds itself into the track, a hole, a crack. You can't deodorize that."

Larry Smith, director of SEPTA stations, said his guys dumped 1,200 gallons of enzyme deodorizer on City Hall platforms and stairwells this spring.

"Plus, I put 400 stickup deodorizers under the platforms," he said. "We powerwash the floors with hot water at 3,600 PSI (pounds-per-square-inch pressure). But they still smell of urine and our customers still complain."

This is despite the fact that 163 employees over three shifts clean most - if not all - of the 61 subway-elevated and subway-surface stations throughout the system. At City Hall, in particular, law enforcement is non-existent, which is typical for high profile stations such as City Hall.

July 15:

Good news and bad news to report on the SEPTA stink front. First the good news, regarding the Suburban Station homeless camp:

Thanks to SEPTA's swift sanitizing safari, the former courtyard of crap is now a vagrants-and-their-fragrance-free zone.

Construction workers who are renovating Suburban Station walled off the patio, ensuring that it will remain clean until it's rehabbed as a new atrium for SEPTA commuters.

Now the bad news. Geringer stumbled upon a new stink zone, which fortunately for riders will no longer be in service after tomorrow:

"I say goodbye to my family and make my way up the stairs on the corner of Frankford and Pratt," writes Manny Santos. "I smell the foulness of the built-up urine layers that cover the floor and walls in the dark recesses of this trainstop. Imagine walking up two long flights of stairs and, as you reach the top to catch your breath, you inhale the foul microbes from the heavily urine-stained walls."

The Stinkmeister doesn't have to imagine, Manny. He walked those stinking stairs yesterday of the Frankford Transportation Center from the Entrance of Elimination to the Exit of Excretion. He feels your nose's pain.

July 16: The owner of a newsstand at the Margaret-Orthodox/Arrott Terminal complex complained to Geringer about people urinating into the soda machines.

... Raoji Prajapati ... said, "I have a newsstand at Frankford and Oxford, under the Margaret-Orthodox El station. They're urinating in my Coke machine and in my Pepsi machine. You reach in there for a soda, you don't know what you're touching."

Grabbing his gas mask, the voice of the pee-and-poop-plagued public sped to Prajapati's pee-stained newsstand.

The urine stench emanating from the two soda machines brought tears to S-Meister's eyes.

So did the thought of reaching into those machines - after Prajapati pointed out the urine stains near their delivery holes.

The space between the machines was soaked in fresh urine.

It gets better, folks. The area in front of Prajapati's newsstand is a much smaller scale of the Suburban Station homeless city.

"They sleep behind my newsstand every night," Prajapati said. "They pee. They poop. I work here from 6 in the morning to 7 at night. I clean with Pine Sol and with bleach. They keep coming back. This is their bedroom and their bathroom. Mostly, their bathroom."

Neither SEPTA Transit Poice nor the Philadelphia Police seem willing nor able to assist Mr. Prajapati in maintaining a clean and presumably successful business.

Prajapati is not sure whether the property his newsstand sits on is SEPTA's or the city's. He only knows that neither SEPTA nor city cops have rid him of the oozing boozehounds.

"When I call, sometimes the police come, sometimes they don't," he said. "When they do come, they say, 'If we don't see them drinking, we can't do anything.' The drunks hide their bottles when they see cops."

The Philadelphia Police seem to have a valid excuse. Apparently, since that stretch of Frankford Av isn't part of Emperor Street's "Operation Save Street - um, I mean Safe Streets" initiative, you'd have an easier time scoring seats behind home plate at "Not Your Typical Ballpark" next season than you have of finding a Philadelphia cop anywhere near Frankford and Oxford. The SEPTA Transit Police zone office is a few blocks away, near the Church St El station (until the new terminal at Bridge-Pratt opens next month), but except for traffic control near the construction site where Bridge St, Frankford Av, and Bustleton Av converge, SEPTA Police coverage in the Northeast is sporadic at best.

July 21: Back to Center City. Geringer reports on the plight of El passengers at the Spring Garden El station.

Pee stench overpowers the public entering SEPTA's Market-Frankford El stop on Spring Garden Street near 2nd, or waiting for SEPTA buses underneath it. A long-shuttered newsstand, piled with festering garbage, has become a reeking open-air urinal in the middle of a heavily-traveled public sidewalk. Yoo hoo, SEPTA? You got some explainin' to do!

"The summer stench at that SEPTA bus stop can make your nose run and your eyes water," wrote reader David Cornish. "I blame the lack of public restrooms for the urine stain on Philly's name. SEPTA transports hundreds of thousands each day, but you can count the restrooms open to its riding passengers on just one hand!"

Despite calls for more public toilets from the riding public, SEPTA seems to think the complainers are full of (ahem) s---. With that, we present the latest idiotic grumblings from SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information, Richard Maloney:

"You and I and the 400,000 people who work in Center City each day know where to go when Nature calls. ... In any area of Center City, you kind of learn intuitively where there are available places to do that - Suburban Station, Market Street East (sic), Reading Terminal, a store, a restaurant."

Has Maloney ever used the bathrooms at Market East? Everyday Center City workers may know where to go, but tourists and most other infrequent Center City visitors aren't going to know off the top of their heads where to go if they have to go.

"So you're looking at a social/psychological question rather than a functional problem. ... I ride the train every day. When I leave work to go home, I go to the bathroom before I go to the station. I believe that 99.9 percent of people who live in this urban area and ride public transportation know how to make those kind of plans."

Gee, thanks for talking down to us, oh great Minister of Mis-Information. Perhaps if stations were open at more convenient hours during from the AM peak through the PM peak, people wouldn't have such problems, now would they?

"Would more public facilities eliminate that problem? My guess is: not much, if at all. And it's a nonstop problem for us to keep the facilities that we do have clean and safe. They become gathering places for people that other people don't want to associate with."

Apparently, our Minister of Mis-Information has never had the honor of using the restrooms at 69 St Terminal; at least the ones near the West Terminal. It also doesn't help that the restrooms close at 8:00pm, which really does nobody any good if they get to 69 St at, say, 8:15pm, and have to wait over an hour for the next 104 or 109 bus to head home.

"I am hearing no clarion call for more public restrooms."

Guess what, Minister. Now you are.

This, by the way, is apparently the after-effects of SEPTA sponsoring those stupid animated "Race to the Vet" features at Phillies games this season. Well, I hope it's worth it for SEPTA to blow tons of money on animated bus and/or subway races at Phillies games while commuters start considering whether or not to bring gas masks along for their commutes.

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