Wednesday, August 27, 2003

WATER-GATE A revenue collection officer working on the Broad St Subway noticed a suspicious item at the Hunting Park Subway station Monday night. According to the Daily News, 31 bottles filled with a "suspicious" substance were spotted at emergency exits along both the Broad St Line and Ridge Av Spur. Tests by the Philadelphia Fire Department's Haz-Mat unit determined that the substance in question was ... water.

Yesterday, Philadelphia Police and SEPTA officials held a joint press conference at the Roundhouse (Philadelphia Police Headquarters) to reassure Broad Street Line riders that all is well.

"We expect this to be an absolutely non-story. Non-issue. We're making sure that it's safe for our customers, and there's no reason to believe at this moment that it's anything but safe." - SEPTA Minister of Misinformation Richard Maloney

"There was nothing found that was of any hazard to anyone or anything. It's not anything that we would deem as being a serious threat to anybody. People don't have to be concerned with getting on the subway and going to work in the morning." - Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Joseph O'Connor

Well, gentlemen, terrorism is probably the furthest thing from the minds of most Broad St line riders; the top concern for most would be getting to work without fear of being shot, as was the case on August 6 at Girard station.

According to reports, most of the bottles were placed at emergency exits leading from the tunnel to Broad St along the line between Olney and Pattison, and along the Ridge Spur. Police have ruled out terrorism, and believe that it may have been either a prank or some homeless people responsible for the scare. If this was a prank, it was a pretty stupid prank at that. If it was homeless related, then haven't these people heard of shelters? The last time I checked, the Broad Street Subway is not a homeless shelter, but that's another rant for another time.

(Of course, it could've been worse. The water could've been confiscated by Iggles officials at the Linc's first NFL game last Friday night - in which the Iggles showed less enthusiasm than the Phils did over the past two days...)

Philadelphia Inquirer

POLICING ITSELF? Six years ago, SEPTA commissioned a management audit by the Phoenix Group of Chadds Ford (who reportedly got the contract thanks to some strong support by former Delaware County Councilman and SEPTA Board member Wally Nunn). Now, SEPTA is required by law to conduct a management audit every five years. To that end, SEPTA recently issued an RFP seeking a company to perform a management audit of ... SEPTA. What may have seemed like a great idea in 1996-97, thanks in part to some actual forward thinking by Nunn (political connections notwithstanding), now seems like a bad idea, given the current micromanagement of SEPTA by Don Pasquale and the rudderless leadership of Fearless Leader and the rotating resumes at 1234 Market.

Somehow, given the fact that SEPTA management (and to a greater extend, the SEPTA Board under Don Pasquale) in recent years couldn't figure out how to be accountable to the public, for PennDOT to allow SEPTA to conduct a management audit of itself is akin to the Philadelphia Police allowing drug dealers to police their own neighborhoods. If SEPTA is required to have it's management structure audited, fine. The audit, however, should originate at either PennDOT or through the Auditor General's office in Harrisburg, not from 1234 Market. What's to stop the consultants from rigging the audit to come out favorably of SEPTA instead of uncovering the truth about the mismanagement that seems to occur on a regular basis, or to take shots at a union that - in the eyes of some outside observers - is not exactly unified (see the ongoing controversies involving TWU Local 234 President Jean Alexander and some of her more vocal critics within the union).

The report from the former Amtrak executive commissioned by Governor Rendell will probably have more of an impact on what changes need to be made within SEPTA more than a hand-picked consultant prone to rigging results to curry favor with the SEPTA Board. Then again, given the unwillingness by SEPTA to even consider even some of the most fundamental changes (such as an AGM solely for the Railroad instead of an AGM level manager overseeing both transit and Regional Rail operations), don't hold your breath, unless Fearless Leader actually decides to quit before 2004 (Faye Moore's contract, though publicized as a 5 year deal, is actually a 3 year deal with two 1-year options).

Monday, August 25, 2003

STOP ME IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE... The on-time performance on the 104 is starting to get worse. Not only are operators forced to deal with the construction on Market St in downtown West Chester, but West Chester University is back in session. Toss in a lot of congestion along Church St and on Rosedale Av near the college, and you have drivers who are supposed to cover the WCU to Market St/Westtown Rd in about 12-15 minutes taking nearly 30 minutes to cover. As such, buses during the mid-day hours have been arriving at 69 St Terminal anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes late, causing a ripple effect up and down the line. Pair that with the fact that the West Chester trips have seen the older and slower Neoplans and you have a recipe for reliability problems. And yes, the buses coming in from West Chester are very overcrowded. I will post some of the findings from today's mess either tomorrow or Wednesday (I grabbed the wrong notes ... d'oh!).

SCHEDULE CHANGE DATE CONFIRMED The City and Red Arrow schedules will change on Monday, September 8. I have yet to hear if any additional schedule changes or service cuts will be implemented in addition to those approved by the Board in June, but if I see one more trip added to the 14 while the 104 continues to get screwed, well, let's just say I won't be a happy camper...

(And if you can't tell that I'm in a bad mood, blame Randy Wolf and his second crappy outing in a row. And while you're at it, blame the Phillies alleged offense for going into witness protection since they left on their 13-game road trip last week.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

MORE 104 PROBLEMS It seems that every week, there's always at least 3 or 4 incidents of missing buses on 104 trips to West Chester. On Saturday, the 10:10am departure to 69 St Terminal was a no show, apparently due to mechanical problems. Yesterday, the 3:50pm to 69 St also never made it to West Chester for the same reasons. Missing buses, however, seem to be the least of the line's problems.

For the past two days, Sharpless St in West Chester has been blocked off due to a crane blocking the intersection of Sharpless and Church. In theory, 104 buses en route to West Chester University would turn right on Price St, then left on Church and resume the normal routing. Um, no. Some buses went one block south of Sharpless to University Av, which is a very narrow street and not suitable for 102-inch wide buses. Other buses were not running to the college at all, simply laying over at New and Market. From here, things get crazier...

The operator on the 4:20pm from West Chester claimed that the control center had instructed him to lay over at New and Market. A call to SEPTA's Travel Mis-Information Center claimed that no detours had been reported on the 104, but that the 3:50pm from West Chester was a no-show. This was in spite of the fact that the Travel Mis-Information Center was notified at around 12:00pm that Sharpless was closed and that buses would have to detour via Price. In fact, the 11:05pm to 69 St Terminal also bypassed the college, as, I'm sure, a lot of the other runs over the course of the day.

Somehow, with all the new technology that SEPTA has deployed over the past few years (or not deployed as is the case of the defribulators hiding in a closet at 1234 Market), you'd think that the Control Center would be able to give the Travel Mis-Information Center access to real-time transit delays and detours. You would also think that someone would be smart enough to send a supervisor out to West Chester to figure out what the actual detour is supposed to be. Of course not, this is West Chester we're talking about, which time and time again has become the step-child of the region as far as SEPTA is concerned. SEPTA has no problem posting detour information affecting routes in Montgomery or Bucks Counties, but once you get west of Lower Merion, you're on your own.

RED ARROW SCHEDULE CONTROVERSY The schedules for Red Arrow buses and trolleys were to have changed over Labor Day weekend. The schedule change was then pushed back to September 8. Now, the changes are on hold indefinately, thanks to a problem with the cutting of runs. Apparently, the runs were cut using City Transit Division policies, which involves a lot of en route relief points (such as Wissahickon Transfer Center for Allegheny runs). Such relief points are neither permitted nor feasible under the Red Arrow contract. So now, the rotating resumes at 1234 Market have to go back to the drawing board.

As a result of the run cutting problems, some extra 120 "trippers" to Cheyney will have to be added until the full fall schedule becomes official, which could be as late as September 15. By that time, both Cheyney and West Chester will be three weeks into their respective fall semesters, while Delaware County Community College starts its fall semester a week later.

The run cutting problems, apparently, was the reason why the June 16 Red Arrow schedule change was pushed back to July 7. Wow, and you wonder why a lot of the griping in the suburbs about SEPTA has come from the western suburbs?

Monday, August 18, 2003

THE NEW "BLOCK FROM HELL" And now, a message for anyone who has to rely on the weekday 4541 block on the 113: Watch out!

This warning comes after a female passenger suffered injuries to her left leg last week. The incident occured at around 4:30am as the 113 was barrelling through Darby Borough en route to Marcus Hook. As the bus sped past the intersection of Chester Pike and Springfield Rd, the bus - a 5500 series New Flyer - hit a pothole, and the unfortunate passenger ultimately suffered ligament damage. As a result, the victim went to Mercy Fitzgerald Hosptial and is due for x-rays later this week. Surgery is a distinct probability for this passenger, whose only crime seems to have been riding with a reckless and unsafe operator.

According to this passenger, the operator of 4541 block has been notorious for covering the 69 St to Darby stretch in 9 minutes, and driving excessively fast over the Lansdowne Av R3 overpass in Lansdowne (which can be a very dangerous bridge even if you obey the speed limit). During the day, the 69 St-Darby segment is usually covered in about 20-25 minutes, depending on how bad traffic is through Lansdowne. At night, the scheduled running time is no less than 15 minutes. Obviously, minimal ridership exists on the 113 OWL service (hence, SEPTA's decision to cut overnight trips), but still, that's no excuse for an operator to drive like a maniac.

At last report, the victim is filing a complaint with Customer Service, who hopefully will give her a number to call to file a medical claim. Though, given the institutional arrogance within SEPTA, I highly doubt it.

ARE YOU REALLY SAFE? The Northeast News Gleaner recently ran an article in which residents near the new Frankford Terminal have expressed concerns about ongoing drug and vandalism problems, particularly along Frankford Av. SEPTA Transit Police are scheduled to move the Zone 4 headquarters from Frankford Av between Margaret-Orthodox and Church stations to the new terminal building within the year. Whether or not they actually do any real police work remains to be seen...

And on a related note, SEPTA sure did a great job in burying this story. On August 5, a shooting occured on the southbound platform at Girard Station on the Broad St line. According to an eyewitness, two men were involved in an arguement while on board the train. Moments after they got off the train at Girard, shots were fired. Very little information has come out regarding this incident (not surprising, considering this is SEPTA we're talking about), however it appears that no other passengers were struck by stray bullets. I would suspect that both suspects are now facing weapons charges, but again, SEPTA isn't telling us anything.

WANTED: CAC MEMBERS Jere Downs reports in today's Inquirer that several positions are vacant on SEPTA's Citizens Advisory Committee. Many of the vacancies that have yet to be filled are from the City of Philadelphia, however other openings due to CAC members service well past their terms are due to open up in Chester and Delaware Counties. Chester County's representative on the CAC, Paoli attorney M. Scott Magargee, was initially appointed to the CAC in 1985; his term was to have expired in 1991, as CAC members are limited to 2 consecutive 3-year terms. The other two members whose terms have long since expired are Belknap Freeman, an Amtrak retiree from the Rosemont of Radnor Twp whose third term expired in 1990, and H. L. Lin Bongaardt, a transit consultant from Glen Mills, whose term expired in 1991.

While the CAC had been very active in support of the riding public during the mid- to late-1980s, in recent years, it would appear that their effectiveness has been reduced in recent years. Except of course to the rotating resumes at 1234 Market, as evidenced by this statement from SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information Richard Maloney:

"They have provided over a period of time very valuable consultation and advice ... They study our programs and projects very carefully. They provide excellent, sophisticated consumer advice."

That advice has not necessarily been focused on SEPTA's current crisis - on the $41 million budget hole, the cutbacks in state funding or the system's declining ridership. Two committee members attended one budget hearing in May. But so far this year, the group's major initiative has been a study of rail-station signage, which was found to be antiquated at some stops and absent at others. The report was submitted to agency management in February.

"We've heard nothing since. It goes into a deep dark hole and that's it," said (Magargee).

File this under, "Oh how the mighty have fallen..."

Magargee, as noted, was still serving a term that was to have expired 12 years ago. However, whether or not this was related to the term limit issue that is finally being raised, he plans to leave the CAC at the end of this month.

"I have concluded that my usefulness is now over."

With all due respect to Mr. Magargee, that he feels that way shouldn't be entirely placed on his shoulders. Management has been thumbing its collective nose to the ridership at large for the past few years. Somehow, it seems as though the arrogance from the ivory towers at 1234 Market is slowly starting to spread to the CAC itself.

The term of Montgomery County representative and CAC Chair Robert Szwajkos is due to expire at the end of the year, had also indicated that he would also remain on the board after his term expires, unless TPTB in Norristown name a replacement. Szwajkos put in his own two cents on the matter:

(Swajkos) maintains that the committee can still be an effective voice for transit riders, not "in a public display of complaining and letters to the editor - but in establishing confidence with the management and SEPTA board."

"At the appropriate times," he added, "we may go public."

Establishing confidence with the management and SEPTA board? Good luck.

Friday, August 15, 2003

BLACKOUT HAD MINIMAL EFFECT HERE Despite the major problems encountered by NJ Transit, Amtrak, LIRR, and Metro-North, there were very few problems reported on SEPTA's Regional Rail, particularly the R3 West Trenton and R7 Trenton lines. The R7, however, may have been impacted indirectly due to the reduced service on NJT's Northeast Corridor line. If you were planning to head towards New York or North Jersey this weekend - don't. As for 3:30pm, all inbound NJT bus service to Manhattan is suspended, with only outbound service operating to the Meadowlands, where connecting buses will be available to points in Central and North Jersey. The NEC, North Jersey Coast Line, Raritan Valley, and Morris & Essex/Gladstone and Morristown branches are operating on a Saturday schedule. Rail lines to North Jersey, including the Pascack Valley and Main/Bergen lines, are not operating. Let's hope things can get back to normal by the end of the weekend...

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

ROUTE 29 HEARING SCHEDULED A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, September 16 in South Philadelphia regarding the "temporary bus detour" for trackless route 29. The 29 was "temporarily" converted to diesel bus due to the reconstruction of the Tasker Homes project in South Philadelphia and extended to Pier 70. The hearing will start at 6:30pm at the Barrett Nabuurs Rec Center, 2738 Dickenson St. Although SEPTA's tariffs are calling this a "temporary" bus operation, you get the feeling that SEPTA would rather have nothing to do with trackless trolleys, which is a damn shame...

UPGRADES ON THE MEDIA TROLLEY SEPTA is in the process of awarding a contract to upgrade 10 crossings along the 101/Media and 102/Sharon Hill trolley lines. It would appear that this would cover the mainline corridor between 69 St Terminal and Shadeland Av. The bids are expected to be opened in August with an award due by September or October at the latest.

MORE CONSULTANTS? Fresh off the controversy between City Council and SEPTA management over the Market St El reconstruction, SEPTA is soliciting proposals for "Affirmative Action Consulting Services" for the project. On the surface, it appears to be nothing more than lip service by SEPTA to get City Council off their collective backs, but still, you have to wonder (1) if funding for these "consultants" will come out of the capital budget and (2) if not, how is SEPTA going to be able to pay for it given the financial uncertainty in Harrisburg.

EL RUNNING SLOWER Speaking of the El, service between 30 St and 15 St is running slower than usual due to the track renewal along the subway-surface tunnel. Most of the track has been removed between 22 St and 15 St eastbound. Rail renewal crews from Elmwood have, for the most part, been efficient enough to have normal service resume on schedule. On a related note, the 34 bus bridge ended this weekend, with reports that the track bed along Baltimore Av is in fact smoother than it was prior to the track renewal (as one would expect).

BRT IN FUTURE FOR CENTRAL JERSEY? The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission's Regional Citizens Committee held a meeting yesterday at the Bourse, despite the massive power failure that struck Center City. (For the record, I was trying to get there on time, however when I got to the Bourse, power there had failed and was not restored until around 1:20pm, when the bulk of the meeting had ended. This, coupled with the slower running El and the even slower operator I was stuck with on the 10:15am 104 from West Chester (3263/4216 block), which arrived at 69 St Terminal 12 minutes late, prevented me from making it to the meeting on time.) The major topic of this meeting was a proposal by NJ Transit to operate a Bus Rapid Transit system connecting the US 1 corridor between Lawrence Twp, Mercer County and South Brunswick Twp, Middlesex County. An official alternatives analysis is due to be issued by NJDOT and NJ Transit by the end of the fall.

COATESVILLE RAIL STATION IN BAD SHAPE Today's Daily Local News reports that the Coatesville City Council approved a study regarding the renovation of the Coatesville Train Station, which is presently served only by limited Amtrak service. Preservation Pennsylvania recently listed the station - and the Amtrak stop in Elizabethtown, Lancaster County - among the 10 most endangered historic sites in Pennsylvania.

Monday, August 11, 2003

NEW BOARD MEMBER FROM DELCO Delaware County Council recently named Cornelius J. Cassidy, a major player in the Darby Borough GOP, to replace Tom Killion, who was recently elected to fill the house seat vacated by the death of House Speaker Matthew Ryan. Cassidy's appointment seemed to surprise some DelCo pols as he was selected over a Ridley Township commissioner.

BIKE RACK UPDATE SEPTA recently reissued a request for bids to purchase bike racks for the NABI, New Flyer, and Neo artic fleet. The original contract, which was awarded earlier in the year, requested 500 bike racks for the NABIs and New Flyers, however SEPTA has decided to re-bid the order to include an additional 155 bike racks for the Neoplan artic fleet. The deadline for the re-bids is Wednesday, with a contract to likely be awarded either in September or October. Delivery of the new racks would take place over an 18 month period upon awarding of the contract. For obvious reasons (ie. they're near retirement), the 40-ft Neos won't be getting bike racks.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

HYBRIDS COMING? According to Andre Kristopans - a semi-regular contributor to one of my other sites - New Flyer Hybrid buses 5603H-5612H were on the assembly line in Minnesota on June 4. This would indicate that the remaining 10 hybrids, plus pilot buses 5601H-5602H are probably about to be delivered to SEPTA within the next month or so. This may mean that some of the Neoplan EBs at Southern may be about ready to be moved, possibly to Callowhill (to allow the remaining DKs to be retired).

Monday, August 04, 2003

RECAP OF FTC OPENING Amid great fanfare (by SEPTA standards), the new Frankford Terminal building opened for business at 4:00am this morning. The first bus to use the new bus lanes into the terminal complex was Comly 5549, arriving at 3:58am as a 20 from Knights/Mechanicsville via Keswick (1052 block). At 4:02am, 5549 became the first bus to depart from FTC as a 14 to Neshaminy Mall.

At 4:20am, the first passengers went through the new El turnstiles, making their way up one of two escalators directly to the platform (one of which was not operating, no surprise here). The first passenger to enter the station area was interviewed by Fox 29 and 6 ABC. (On a related note, if you noticed 5549 pulling away during the early morning or 10:00pm newscasts on Fox 29, that was my doing (sort of), as I pointed out the departure of that bus to the cameraman from Fox 29. You're welcome...)

At 4:39am, the first revenue train departed from the new El platform, operating closed door express to 15 St/City Hall, then all stops to 69 St. The train consisted of 1056, 1055, 1003, 1004, 1164, and 1164, and is normally a deadhead train to 15 St before entering service. At 4:49am, the first full all-stops revenue train departed from FTC, with 1195, 1996, 1121, 1122, 1198, and 1197 in the consist. At 5:24am, the first eastbound train from 15 St/City Hall arrived into FTC, with 1187, 1188, 1203, 1204, 1013, and 1014 in the trainset. A/B skip-stop service resumed shortly after 7:00am.

On the bus side, here are the first departures for each of the FTC routes (in chronological order):

  • 4:02am ROUTE 14 - Neshaminy Mall: 5549/1052 block
  • 4:05am ROUTE R - Wissahickon Transfer Center: 5292/2704 block
  • 4:12am ROUTE 66 - Frankford Av/City Line: 5549/1052 block
  • 4:20am ROUTE 73 - Richmond St/Westmoreland St: 5579/1451 block
  • 4:39am ROUTE 3 - 33 St/Cecil B Moore Av: 3279/2201 block (scheduled for 4:35am)
  • 4:40am ROUTE 20 - Knights Rd/Mechanicsville Rd: 5089/1070 block
  • 5:00am ROUTE 5 - Front St/Market St: 5340/2251 block
  • 5:02am ROUTE 67 - Bustleton Av/Verree Rd: 5360/1401 block (scheduled for 4:50am)
  • 5:05am ROUTE 58 - Bustleton Av/County Line: 5582/1353 block
  • 5:10am ROUTE 8 - Olney Terminal Express: 5286/2301 block
  • 5:18am ROUTE 88 - Holme Av/Pennypack St: 5501/2501 block (scheduled for 5:15am)
  • 5:22am ROUTE 19 - Grant Av/James St: 5549/1052 block (scheduled for 5:19am)
  • 5:26am ROUTE 24 - Fox Chase: 5559/1271 block (scheduled for 5:26am)
  • 5:45am ROUTE 25 - Pier 70/Delaware Av: 5511/2177 block
  • 5:47am ROUTE 84 - Knights Rd/Academy Rd: 5363/1505 block (scheduled for 5:40am)
  • 5:52am ROUTE 26 - Chetlen Av/Rittenhouse St: 5233/3086 block

As you can expect with a major event such as this, most high ranking managers from 1234 Market were out and about the terminal area directing and greeting passengers. And yes, even Fearless Leader made an appearance at the opening, while also giving seemingly rare interviews to reporters gathered in front of the Thriftway store at Frankford and Pratt. Despite the few buses that left late (part of the reasoning is that some operators aren't quite used to the new routing just yet), everything seemed to be running as smoothly as one can expect, which is a major accomplishment for an agency that seems to shoot itself in the foot more often than not.

OH, YES, THERE IS OTHER NEWS... A couple of quick hit news items, now that the giddyness of the FTC opening is out of my system...

  • A federal judge upheld the right of TWU Local 234 President Jean Alexander to hire and fire staff as she feels fit. The Inquirer reports that the latest court ruling would "add to the factionalism" that has long divided TWU 234. With more than 7 months remaining before the current collective bargaining agreement expires, things are going to get very interesting...
  • A water main break made life very miserable for residents in the People's Republic of Lower Merion and Radnor Twp on Wednesday. It was made even worse for P&W riders. The incident occured at around 6:00am Wednesday morning at County Line Rd near the Blue Route, as a 24-inch water main broke, spilling water and rocks onto the P&W right of way. A bus-bridge was deployed between Radnor and Norristown for most of the day, however single track service was restored by the PM peak.
  • The last two R5 trains to Thorndale will be operating with nearly 15 minute delays for the next 6-8 weeks due to Amtrak replacing ties along the line. Service between Paoli and Thorndale will be impacted. (Which means that my commute for the next two months will royally suck...)
  • Subway-surface trolleys will be operating "over the top" starting next week, as SEPTA replaces rail inside the subway-surface tunnel. At the same time, trolley service will be restored on the 34 along Baltimore Av.