Wednesday, November 26, 2003


The next two weekends will prove to be very interesting for South Jersey commuters, as several bus routes will be on detour due to various parades other other activities:

MERCHANTVILLE: The 405 and 407 will be detoured off of Maple Av between Center St and Poplar Av from 9:00am to 11:00am next Saturday due to a parade.
MOORESTOWN TWP: The 407 and 413 will be detoured off of Main St between 11:30am and 1:30pm next Saturday due to a parade.
OCEAN CITY: The 507 will not serve Ocean City Loop next Friday between 6:30pm and 9:30pm due to a parade.
PENNSAUKEN TWP: The 404 will be detoured off of Westfield Av between 36 St and Cove Rd between 9:30am and 3:30pm this Saturday due to a parade.
PITMAN: The 313, 408, and 412 will be detoured off of Broadway for most of the day this Saturday due to a parade.
VENTOR: The 505 will be detoured off of Ventor Av onto Atlantic Av between 10:00am and 1:00pm next Saturday due to a parade.

In addition, bus routes that connect the Trenton Rail Station with the State St corridor - the 409, 601, 606, 608, and 609 - are now operating straight along State St, with the opening of the Trenton Commons to vehicular traffic. The re-routing is expected to reduce travel time between the State House and Trenton Rail Station.

As far as holiday service goes on NJ Transit's South Jersey bus routes, no information has been posted yet. It is expected that NJT will post any information regarding added service from South Jersey malls to Camden and Philadelphia early next week.

The Philadelphia City Council hearing on the police department's Reimbursable Overtime Program was continued until December 17 at 10:00am. As noted a couple of days ago, SEPTA is believed to have been one of the companies that participated in the program, despite having its own police department. One possibility that had been circulating was that SEPTA in the past had brought in officers from the PPD's Public Affairs (plainclothes) unit, particularly during board meetings in the middle of labor disputes and/or during fare increase season. This hasn't been confirmed, and probably won't be until the hearing itself takes place.


SEPTA will hold a public hearing next month on the changes to the 115 that were implemented as part of last year's Annual Service Plan. The changes involved the extension from Delmar Village to MacDade Mall and the cutback from Ardmore to Brookline. The hearing will take place on Tuesday, December 23 at 1:00pm at the American Legion hall, 29 Bartram Av, Glenolden.


At least two contracts are now out for improvements to two stations on the R5.

The Fort Washington station project went to a pre-bid meeting today, with contracts expected to be awarded sometime early next year. At Fort Washington, plans include a parking lot expansion, nearly tripling the number of available spaces from 202 spaces to 585; installation of a pedestrian tunnel and adjoining ramps and supports for a future high-level platform; reconstruction of the bus loop; and construction of a new bike trail.

At Exton, fewer details are available right now, however one would have to guess that it would involved extending the existing platforms to allow longer trains to safely board and alight passengers. Which is fine and dandy, but the platforms were already improved less than two years ago. If SEPTA or Amtrak knew there going to be train length issues at Exton, why not fix those problems then?

Monday, November 24, 2003


SEPTA will add extra holiday service on certain lines starting this week. In some cases, it involved either holding of certain trips and/or adding of extra trips. Unlike last year, there was nothing listed for extra 20 service between Bridge-Pratt and Franklin Mills Mall, however SEPTA has been known for adding trippers on the 20 without any publicity, so it's possible that there may be extra 20 trips running.


Normally, the last columnist in Philadelphia that I'd want to quote is Jill Porter, the uber-liberal feminist columnist from the Daily News, who has been known to write male-bashing columns in the past that could be described as "toxic." Yet, in today's Daily News, Porter actually raises an interesting issue (and, no, there's no male-bashing involved ... thankfully).

City Councilman Frank Rizzo (R-At Large) has initiated public hearings through Council's Public Safety Committe regarding excessive overtime charges by Philadelphia Police officers who work in a program called the Reimbursable Overtime Program, in which off-duty officers are permitted to work for private companies at overtime rates, with the companies paying the City of Philadelphia - in theory, at least.

According to Rizzo, however, many participating companies are neither billed by nor reimburse the city for the officer's services. As a result, the program is costing city taxpayers nearly $2.1 million as of the end of the first quarter of the current fiscal year.

Why is this issue being brought up? Well, guess who one of the participating companies was...

None other than SEPTA.

This raises the question: Why is SEPTA hiring off-duty Philadelphia Police officers when they have their own Transit Police Department?

At this point, it is unclear exactly how involved SEPTA was in this program, nor is it clear at this time how much SEPTA paid the city - or whether or not SEPTA owes the city any money. Rizzo's hearing is scheduled to continue tomorrow morning. If and when more details become available, they will be posted here...

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


PennDOT recently awarded a $115,000 grant to West Chester Borough officials to initiate a new shuttle bus service within the borough and nearby West Goshen and East Bradford townships. Considering that a shuttle bus service was to have been one of the higher priorities for the borough over the next few years, this would appear to be a no-brainer, right?

Um, nope.

West Chester Borough Council's Finance Committee recommended to the full council not to accept the grant, because it would cost the borough $38,000 to operate the service for the first year.

Before anybody finds that last item ridiculous, bear in mind that this is the same borough council which recently held a special session a couple of months ago - on a Saturday, no less - to authorize the purchase of a more expensive brick for use in replacing the sidewalks along Market St in downtown West Chester. As I recall, the amount spent fot the newer brick was nearly $150,000. Yet, these same geniuses (two of whom are leaving at the end of the year, thankfully) won't shell out $38,000 to operate a highly needed shuttle bus?

And don't think the borough council isn't the only culprit here. The TMA of Chester County had approached West Chester University about funding part of the service for the weekday daytime service. The university was more interested in weekend evening service as opposed to the weekday service proposed by TMACC. (Incidentially, knowing the TMACC's past policy regarding their refusal to honor SEPTA fare instruments, the shuttle would've probably been a failure, but we probably won't know until next year at the earliest.)

An editorial in Tuesday's Daily Local News seems to have hit the mark. What they apparently are missing is the lack of interest on SEPTA's part. How is it that the authority can support boondoggle routes in Lower Merion and Lower Bucks while ignoring a potential successful shuttle service in West Chester? If SEPTA's involvement is good enough for West Whiteland Township (where the WHIRL has been in place for two years), then it should be good enough for West Chester.

Assuming that the borough council and the university wake up to this fact before High and Gay Sts becomes gridlocked even worse than I-76...


Apparently, some peope have taken exception to recent comments I made regarding a recent item involving State Sen Connie Hess Williams (D-17), particularly linking the first term senator to highway interests by way of links to her family fortune - which incidentially is in the oil industry. As tempting as it is to apologize right off the top, I do have to make what I feel is a valid point...

Why is it okay for liberals to criticize President Bush for his ties to the oil industry but it's not okay for non-liberals to do the same to a Democratic legislator?

That said, the only apology I am making is for linking my analysis of Sen. Williams statements on $chuylkill Valley to her family background and to the opening of the I-76/US 202 interchange. I still believe that the senator should be realistic about who $chuylkill Valley will play out, but I probably shouldn't have allowed my Republican views to cloud my comments and accusing her of being tied in with highway interests.

That doesn't mean I'm going to treat Lower Merion with kid gloves, by the way. I still think the pols in that town are borderline elitest. How else do you explain the school board's plans to essentially tear down its two high schools which were renovated only a few years ago? There had better be a compelling reason for that proposal...

Saturday, November 15, 2003


In this past Sunday's Inquirer, Jere Down reports that SEPTA will be cancelling the Magincal Holiday Railway display that has graced the lobby of 1234 Market due to financial constraints. The net savings? A whopping $40,000.

On Thursday, the Inky ran an editorial bemoaning the loss of the railway display, which attracted a significant number of people over the past several years.

Meanwhile, while the Magical Holiday Railway is grounded, SEPTA is somehow able to offer discounts for the Philadelphia Kixx indoor soccer team. I wonder where that money is coming from?


The past three evenings haven't exactly been fun for SEPTA...

On Wednesday evening, apparent signal problems caused delays to the last R5 en route to Thorndale (#591), which ran 15-20 minutes late.

On Thursday evening, the #581 (8:10pm from Market East) reportedly struck a deer east of Downingtown. A rescue train was dispatched nearly an hour later to recover the #581, however that resulted in the apparent anullment of the #596 (9:43pm Thorndale to Lansdale). The #585 (9:10pm from Market East) was stuck in the congestion and arrived in Thorndale nearly 30 minutes late. This was despite repeated attempts by dispatchers to turn the train before Thorndale to cover the #596. The #598, as a result, left Thorndale about 30-40 minutes late and had to cover both the #596 and #598 loads on the Paoli side. There was no word on how or if the Lansdale side of the runs were covered.

Then, last night, an R5 train arrived at Exton at 6:27pm. Was this the #7565 Great Valley Flyer (5:41pm express to Paoli, local to Thorndale)? Nope. It was the #9559 (5:08pm Thorndale Limited to Wayne. It did not appear to be a signal problem on Amtrak's side, as the #649 arrived at Exton only a minute or two late.

Yet, on both Thursday and Friday nights, KYW 1060 - which is usually on top of any major railroad delays - had no reports of major problems. The excuse from KYW was that SEPTA never let them know about it. Given SEPTA's past history, that sounds about right...


Anybody who thought SEPTA was bad has never had the misfortune of dealing with a bus line that makes SEPTA look like DART. The line in question is the Krapf's (ahem) Transit "A" bus between Coatesville and West Chester - the same line that is in direct competition with SEPTA's 92 bus.

This afternoon, several passengers trying to get to Coatesville were waiting for an "A" bus in downtown West Chester shortly after 3:00pm. The only problem was that many of them had been waiting since 2:00pm. Allegedly, neither the 2:00pm nor the 3:00pm departures ever showed up. Calls to Krapf's by these passengers went nowhere, with the dispatchers reportedly blaming the passengers for not getting to the stop on time (a page right out of SEPTA's playbook).

Even for this poor excuse of a transit line, this is an all-time low. When one bus doesn't show up on this line, that tends to cause problems. When neither bus shows up and passengers are stranded with virtually no alternate means to get to Coatesville, that becomes a major problem.

The biggest problem of them all is that Krapf's can get away with it.

A suggestion to complain to Coatesville City Council went on deaf ears, with the common refrain by Council being "Call the dispatcher." Right, like that's going to do any good on a Saturday when nobody knows what the hell is going on...

Because Krapf's relies on no government funding and apparently strong protection from the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission, trying to hold anyone accountable is virtually impossible. (In theory, SEPTA is supposed to be held accountable by PennDOT, FTA, the counties, and the City of Philadelphia, but in practice, anyone can tell you that it's all a bunch of crap.) Without the strings of PennDOT or federal funding attached, it's pretty much a license to screw the people of Chester County over. This means that the "A" bus:

  • Is permitted to operate vehicles that are not accessible to passengers with disabilities;
  • Does not accept nor honor SEPTA passes, transfers, or other fare instruments, and apparently have no desire to do so;
  • Is permitted to operate vehicles that most transit agencies wouldn't even think about running, including junk transit buses (the Thomas TL960 buses are in horrible shape; 1 bus is out of service, the other breaks down a lot), older MCI over-the-road coaches, small cutaway buses, and the occasional school bus, while at the same time, purchases brand new MCI J-series coaches for its charter operation and enables the Krapf's family to make a huge profit (so much so that they own an enormous "McMansion" in East Bradford Twp, just west of West Chester);
  • Has nobody within the government structure - either at the county, state, or federal level - to hold them accountable;
  • Has minimal supervision on the road to prevent fiascos like today; and
  • Is permitted to operate two SEPTA bus routes under contract to SEPTA (204 and 207/WHIRL) at the expense of SEPTA's generally hard working bus operators

  • Were the "A" bus operated under SEPTA's jurisdiction, there would be so many complaints coming from Coatesville and Downingtown (among other places) that Fearless Leader herself would have to personally address these issues. (Which, of course, is highly unlikely, since it's obvious that Fearless Leader can't seem to find West Chester on a map, much less Coatesville).

    Any transit agency that allows a bus line to go to hell as the "A" bus has would be in major trouble with the alphabet soup of state and federal agencies responsible for oversight in mass transit (FTA, USDOT, PennDOT, PUC, et al). But, if it's a private company with little oversight, what can be done? Sadly, next to nothing...

    If there were ever a time for SEPTA to consider a hostile takeover of the line, this would be it. Don't count on it happening, though...

    Wednesday, November 12, 2003


    At today's NJ Transit Board Meeting in Newark, an announcement is expected to be made regarding the new name for the Southern New Jersey Light Rail Transit System (aka the boondoggle tribute to Burlington County's GOP), as well as the official launch date for the line. SNJLRTS, which was to have opened last year, has been beset by delays due to construction problems and legal actions. Now, if NJT can stick with this date, all will be well.


    It appears that based on spotter observations, the 12 hybrid low floor buses will mainly be used on the 12, 17, and 37. The hybrids have bike racks (as do the 5600s assigned to Southern), and the 12 and 37 are bike rack lines. The 17 is, well, the 17 - one of the busiest lines operating out of Southern. Even though the hybrids may make an occasional appearance on other Southern routes, they will mainly stay on the 12, 17, and 37.


    Out of the 398 NABIs, there are now 43 that have yet to go through the overhaul process. Three more have recently returned to service with the past few days: Comly 5107, Midvale 5236, and Red Arrow 5302. In a recent observation, 5102, 5188, 5293, 5373, and 5394 are about to go through the process or have completed VOH since the last report from Wyoming.

    Once the NABI overhauls are complete, which should be within the next 6-8 weeks, Wyoming Shop employees will begin identifying problem areas with the Neoplan artic fleet, which has endured problems ranging from slow acceleration, sticky brakes, and a myriad of problems that some operators have started branding them as "junk." And they're less than 4 years old...

    Allegheny 7102 is reportedly the pilot bus for the VOH process, and is expected to be out of service for at least the next 2-3 months, and possibly longer.


    Congestion problems along Ridge Pike have forced SEPTA to make adjustments to three AM peak trips on the 93 between Pottstown and Norristown. The 6:40am departure from Pottstown will now depart at 6:25am, while the 7:40am and 8:40am departures from Norristown will depart 5 minutes earlier. New timetables will be issued with a November 24 effective date.

    Isn't it interesting how SEPTA can change the 93 schedules mid-way through a schedule cycle, but they can't do the same for the often unreliable 104?

    Thursday, November 06, 2003


    The two unaccounted for hybrids have been identified as 5603H and 5608H. All of the reported buses, save for 5606H are now at Southern (at last report, 5606H is still at Germantown). 5612H was reportedly on the 476/Turnpike Extension en route to Philadelphia on Tuesday (this may have been a delivery; it appears they're taking I-80 from the Midwest and picking up 476 to get into Philadelphia, presumably to avoid the Mainline PA Turnpike tolls). The above listed buses join 5605H and 5611H as confirmed hybrid vehicles on SEPTA property.


    Rather than waste blog space bitching about the 104, I've decided to start posting problems that I encounter on that line in the guestbook. Today's posting involved a delayed bus right before the start of the PM peak. Let's just say it's starting to become a broken record.

    Wednesday, November 05, 2003


    The Regional Rail schedules will change on Sunday, with major changes to the R1 Airport/Glenside line, R2 Warminster, and both R8 branches. More details will be posted by the weekend.


    The Center City TMA is proposing to manage a privately operated shuttle bus that would partially replace the Phlash. Details, inlcuding the routing and fare structure, are sketchy, however, the CCTMA is asking DVRPC to transfer CMAQ funding from the former Phlash service to fund the new service. SEPTA would not be involved in the project, but I have a gut feeling that TWU 234 is going to have something to say about this...


    At least 3 of the New Flyer diesel-hybrid low floor are confirmed to be on SEPTA property. 5605H and 5606H were seen yesterday at the Germantown shops, while 5611H was at Wyoming. A SEPTA official told the DVRPC's Regional Transportation Committee that at least 5 hybrids were on the property. Thus far, I've only been able to confirm the two at Germantown and the single bus at Wyoming, but that's not to say that the other two haven't arrived. It's also possible that the two unaccounted hybrids are at Southern as we speak, awaiting their first runs.

    As a result of the 5603H-5612H arriving at SEPTA, it appears some 3100s or 3200s could be shifted to Frankford to allow some 3000s to be pulled out of service (or transferred to Midvale). Should make for an interesting couple of weeks...


    By the time this posting is published, I will have probably burned Dan Geringer's ear off. Or at least his voice mail...

    This afternoon, I made the big mistake of walking into the men's room at Market East's Section A (the 10 St side). Let's just say I should've brought a gas mask...

    It was one of the worst stenches I have ever encountered. The conditions in the men's room were worse than they ever could've been at 69 St (and that's saying something). Complaints to a maintenance worker and SEPTA Passenger Dis-Services went nowhere. Surprise, surprise...

    OH, BY THE WAY...

    You can expect my take on Emperor's Street's re-election soon. It won't be pretty...

    You can also expect a long rant about the ongoing problems on the 104, where there seems to be a problem on that line every day...

    Right now, I need my sleep...

    Saturday, November 01, 2003


    Last night's commute on the R5 Paoli/Thorndale wasn't a particularly fun one.

    The 4:47pm Thorndale Limited (#9555) ran nearly 15-20 minutes late last night, due to a combination of slippery rail and Amtrak problems. At least the 9555 made it to Thorndale...

    The #9571 (6:06pm Thorndale Express to Bryn Mawr) made it as far as Downingtown before breaking down between Downingtown and Thorndale. As doors seemingly couldn't make of their mind whether to open or close, one had to wonder if this was a haunted train or just more sloppy SEPTA maintenance (my guess is the latter). Several passengers, including one unfortunate woman from Center City who was visiting friends and missed a dinner reservation as a result of the 9571's breakdown, simply got off the train where it was stalled.

    And this mess was before today's bus bridge. Fortunately, that seemed to work out well, as two Red Arrow buses (5593 and 5595) were covering the shuttle. And, as reported yesterday, they both had bike racks. The only problems encountered were construction workers along the 30 Bypass approaching PA 113 in Downingtown, but other than that, there were no major problems.