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.

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