Thursday, December 30, 2004
Monday, December 27, 2004
The "Phase II" Contingency Plan hearings are scheduled for the end of January at the following locations:
- Monday, 24 January: Council Chambers, Delaware County Government Center, 201 W Front St, Media Courthouse (3:00pm and 6:00pm)
- Tuesday, 25 January: Convention Center, Room 113, Philadelphia (11:00am and 5:00pm)
- Wednesday, 26 January: Community Room, Doylestown Courthouse (3:00pm and 6:00pm)
- Thursday, 27 January: Council Chambers, West Chester Borough Hall (3:00pm and 6:00pm)
- Friday, 26 January: Commissioners Chambers, Norristown Courthouse (3:00pm and 6:00pm)
In other scheduled hearings:
- Thursday, 6 January: Route K public hearing at the Awbury Rec Center, 6101 Ardleigh St, Philadelphia, 2:00pm. This hearing will deal with a re-routing of the K bus at Chelten and Ogontz, due to the reconfiguration of Chelten at Ogontz.
- Wednesday, 19 January: Route 99 public hearing at Phoenixville Hook, Hose, and Ladder Co (Station 65), 1:00pm. This hearing will deal with two routing changes, one in Phoenixville, the other in Royersford.
- Wednesday, 19 January: Routes 9, 35, 61, and 62 at Philadelphia Police, 5th District stationhouse, Ridge Av & Cinnaminson St, Roxborough at 7:00pm. This hearing will deal with the elimination of the 35, re-routing of the 9 and 61, and renaming of the existing 61 Express service to "Route 62".
- Tuesday, 25 January: Route 71/Navy Yard Shuttle at Vivetta Conference Room, Navy Yard, 4747 S Broad, S Philadelphia. This hearing is to make the 71 permanent.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
This marks the second time this week that signal problems have affected the RRD; earlier this week, the R1 Airport and R2 Wilmington lines were delayed due to major signal problems on the NEC between Philadelphia and Wilmington. At one point, R1 service was using a bus-bridge between 30 St and the Airport, then service was restored but only operating hourly.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Possible loss of SEPTA jobs and service presents an opportunity for Gov. Rendell not only to save the day, but maybe save the year.
With a $62 million SEPTA hole threatening to suck down a chunk of the regional economy, there is every reason to act and act fast.
For despite blame aimed at the Legislature for ending its two-year session early, the governor is the most identifiable and responsible leader on this issue. He has the authority, the smarts and certainly the reasons to avert a transit nightmare.
Plus, the Legislature's gone until January, when cuts and fare increases are set to start.
The only problem is, Iggles season drags on through the holidays and Gov. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) is rather busy with other priorities right now...
So, Ed. There's "flexible" federal highway money, not a first choice, but an option; there's capital fund cash, I'm told, authorized but never bonded; perhaps unexpended balances in PennDOT or other agencies; maybe the option of
accelerating normal state payments to SEPTA as was done for schools during the
last "crisis"; or even slush fund grants.
Point is the government is huge. Things can be done. I'd note, for example, after a tax-breaks-for-Comcast deal flopped in the Legislature, Ed found a $30 million grant for the company.
If you can find money to help people who run corporations, you can find money to help people who ride the early bus.
Of course he helped Comcast. He's on the payroll, remember?
Make no mistake: The situation at hand is the result of failures on the part of lawmakers and the governor. That SEPTA workers face the fear of layoffs is directly attributable to gamesmanship and lackluster leadership.Even then, the buses and trains don't run as well as they could...
The problem exists, along with others, because early warnings were ignored and because the Legislature's four caucuses and two houses do not work well enough together or with the administration.
That, and the fact Ed and GOP leaders are at distant odds over pay raises and name-calling, petty partisanship no one but they care about but that, yet again, prevents problem-solving.
Folks who work for and ride SEPTA have no interest in who called whom what, or who failed to act when - they just want the buses and trains to run.
The politics are plain.And the Governor won't race down the Turnpike at 90 miles per hour en route to get to his Iggles gig, right?
SEPTA gets 68 percent of the state's $741 million mass-transit budget. Now it wants more. By most accounts, the agency's well-run, basically the victim of underestimated revenues from a funding fix in '91. So its need seems real.
But Republicans who run the Legislature hate the idea of their constituents, who mostly never see a SEPTA vehicle, paying increased taxes or fees of any kind for services they don't use.
This is well-known. Yet a Dwight Evans plan backed by Rendell offered at the 11th
hour is $110 million in various increased statewide fees, and when it's rejected, Rendell and others act surprised.
Who's kidding whom?
Meanwhile, Republicans say some Rendell wish lists near the end of session did not include SEPTA, and at least one priority-numbered list had SEPTA only at the bottom and without a number, as if, said a source, "it's an afterthought."
Rendell press secretary Kate Philips says, "That's not the case."
Whatever is the case, SEPTA got short shrift. And when its board then
proposed drastic cuts and fare increases, Rendell called it, "The inevitable
result of the Legislature's failure to act."
Come on. The problem isn't new; the solution offered isn't politic. The governor and the Legislature dropped the ball.
What does makes sense is for the governor to find funds to keep SEPTA running now without blaming the Legislature.
Then it makes sense for Rendell and the legislature to find ways (gas tax, property-transfer tax, parking tax, commuter tax, some combination) to better fund SEPTA with statewide revenue that also funds other transportation needs or with regional revenue used solely for SEPTA.
A challenge, no question. But also an opportunity - to show leadership, improve political relations, save the day and maybe the year. Daily News
At least Baer isn't blindly blaming Republicans as is often the tact of most reporters on the Daily News payroll...
Perhaps the good councilman should realize that other than Detroit and San Francisco, virtually no other major city in the United States has a transit system that is not operated by a state-, regional- or county-managed authority (or in the case of WMATA, an inter-state authority).
The veto is symbolic of the fact that those two SEPTA board members are there to represent Philadelphia, which contributes the highest subsidy of the five counties served by the authority and the highest portion of the authority's fare revenue. It does not represent real power so Philadelphia does not have real equity in the governance of public transportation in the region. The city has been bound by state legislation that established and oversees the authority - and a 36-year-old lease agreement that luckily will expire next year.
Under the terms of the agreement with the now-defunct Philadelphia Transportation Co., SEPTA acquired properties from PTC and the rights to use transit facilities owned by the city. The lease will expire when SEPTA has made the last payment, or on Dec. 31, 2005.
Last week, as SEPTA board members were planning to raise the base fare to become the highest in the nation, City Council unanimously passed a resolution to review the city's lease agreement with SEPTA. It is imperative that the city, in the interest of local SEPTA riders and all of its citizens, examine the city's stake in SEPTA's infrastructure through the lease agreement. The city controls a significant amount of transit infrastructure that can possibly be operated by a system other than SEPTA.
Okay, and as soon as you figure out who that other system will be, please let us know, Mr. Goode...
When the lease ends, the city could require SEPTA to purchase that infrastructure with state and federal capital dollars - not funds that would be used for operating expenses - or risk competition from another transit system. At the least, the city must use its leverage to negotiate a better lease agreement with SEPTA if it is expected to meet our mass transit needs in a way that benefits public transit customers as well as the city as a whole. Mass transit is crucial to our economic vitality and quality of life.
As the former chairman of City Council's transportation committee, I have both sued SEPTA on behalf of the citizens of Philadelphia and seized control of and transferred its local subsidy to create legal, legislative and political leverage against board decisions that might negatively affect the city.
So I now call on the governor and state legislature to create a dedicated source of funding for mass transit in Philadelphia. I also urge the state to remedy the inequity that exists with regard to Philadelphia's role in the regional governance of mass transit, considering that the city contributes both the highest subsidy of the five counties and the highest portion of fare-box revenue.
I also call on the mayor and my Council colleagues to immediately consider our options as our lease agreement with SEPTA comes to an end after more than three decades. We desperately need mass transit in this city, but not at any cost under the terms of an old agreement.
It's time to use all of the leverage at our disposal. Daily News
Well, considering that Emperor Street has been too busy tap dancing his way around possible ensnarement in the current "pay-for-play" scandal and by his own admission has done next to nothing to lobby on behalf of SEPTA or mass transit in the city, this seems like a tall task. Bear in mind that transportation planning has gond from a cabinet level position during the Rendell administration (at least when Fast Eddie wasn't moonlighting for Comcast SportsNet during Iggles season) to a relatively irrelevant department of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, it's almost laughable that the city would now start giving a damn about SEPTA.
And, no, Emperor Street, simply sending Lance Haver to do your dirty work on behalf of the city is woefully inadequate...
Of course not, Mr. Suarez. Why let an over-rated loser like Ramos (who works for the most evil radio ownership corporation in America) endanger himself or other passengers when you have James Jordan, Richard Evans, and David Scott to endanger the lives of us passengers every day with questionable deployment and management decisions?
SEPTA police thwarted a planned stunt by Q102's Diego Ramos Friday morning. Ramos, who'd heard of an elderly woman's being mugged on a bus, announced that he'd dress up as an old man and board a bus at 11th and Market to tempt fate. The wife of a SEPTA exec heard of Ramos' intentions on WIOQ-FM (102.1), and phoned in a tip. SEPTA police were waiting when he stepped out of the Q102 van. Ramos, who got into trouble 21/2 years ago when he drew police to a Northeast Philly IHOP during a stunt, says he backed down quickly.
SEPTA spokesman Felipe Suarez yesterday said: "We couldn't allow him to stage an event or become part of a gimmick to boost ratings that could have potentially endangered himself and other passengers." Inquirer
Apparently, something is minor as a catastrophic budget crisis is preventing SEPTA from proceeding with this waste of taxpayer money:
Sponsors of the 2004-2005 Kimmel Center Presents season include Mellon Financial Corporation, University of Pennsylvania Health Systems, Bank of America, Sovereign Bank, Wachovia Foundation, The American Express Company, Verizon Foundation, Bucks County Coffee, and SEPTA, the Commuter’s Choice.And just where is SEPTA able to find the money to even sponsor the Kimmel Center events? It's not as though a substantial portion of the audience takes SEPTA to these events...
Monday, December 06, 2004
A possible $5 million in state grants has Borough Council and developer Don Pulver working quickly and collectively to draw the eyes of the governor's office.If awarded, the money would be split between Oliver Tyrone Pulver Corp. financing its Ten Tower Bridge project and aiding various projects in the borough.
Following the passage of a resolution Tuesday, council gave its blessing for the pair to jointly pursue the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Grant. The money is earmarked for community and economic development projects, such as the parking garage planned in Norristown.
Pulver and others from his company presented their ideas before council Tuesday, displaying some projects the acquired grant money could benefit in the borough.
At the top of the list was a large-scale renovation to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority station on Washington Street. Pulver envisioned providing a covered, modern platform for both sides of the tracks. He said he would also like to expand parking available to rail users.
"It would be good for the borough, because the train station now is a wreck and needs to be brought up to today's standards," he said.
Not only would the train station renovations be beneficial to Conshohocken residents, but the project would also be viewed more favorably by the state government and thus give them a better chance at more money should the grant application be approved, Pulver added.
Second Ward Representative Ray Pirollo said he welcomes the proposed renovations to the SEPTA station, located within his district. He also supported the joint venture with the developer, who has been a kind of "pioneer" in his work that has helped revitalize the borough. Council's only hesitation was initially when members were unsure just how the grant money would be divided.
Pulver promised a close to 50/50 split, and council voted to hold him to that, adding a condition in their resolution that would ensure that balance of funding.
"We just wanted to make sure the borough was not promised things that wouldn't be delivered," Pirollo said. Norristown Times-Herald
Not too long ago, reaction at 1234 Market to rehabing the station was luke-warm at best. Maybe the funding from Harrisburg will get a better response from SEPTA...
Saturday, December 04, 2004
Last year, six African-American SEPTA cops - including the son of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson - filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in federal court. Two weeks ago, a judge ruled that the case can proceed, according to WCAU-TV (NBC 10).
"Finally we have a chance to bring them to court and let the case be heard," said SEPTA Officer Marcus Blake. WCAU-TVBlake gave a more detailed account to NBC 10 on November 23, the feed of which is still available at the NBC 10 web site. Among other things, Blake accused SEPTA Police higher-ups of not providing adequte back-up on assignments considered to be high-risk. Blake, it should be pointed out, identified himself as an undercover officer, and his face was obscured during the on-air interview.
SEPTA offically had no comment on the suit, as is SOP at 1234 Market. However...
NBC 10 ran a separate yet unrelated story on an increase in pickpocketing on SEPTA, including an incident last month in which a 68-year-old Philadelphia woman was robbed on a SEPTA bus:
Louise Richardson, 68, said she was a victim last month.Sadly, it is that time of the year when theives are hard at work trying to steal from honest hard-working people, and to be fair, its not just limited to SEPTA.
Shortly after paying her cell phone bill in cash, Richardson said she boarded a crowded SEPTA bus at 11th and Market.
"I felt someone hit me on my side, and being crowded you pay that no attention," she said. "And someone hit me again, and still paid it no attention because the lady next to me had a baby."
But Richardson said that once she got off the bus, she realized what happened.
"When I went to reach in my pocket where the money was in a bank envelope, there was no envelope," she said.
Richardson said about $2,000 was missing.
Richardson filed two police reports, one with Philadephia and the other with SEPTA. She identified the thief as the woman with the baby.
"If that woman and that baby were working that bus, she's going to get more than me. She's going to get a lot more seniors," Richardson said.
Go to any mall, and I guarantee you, local police departments (or in the case of Granite Run Mall, the State Police) are spending more time at malls than they are on the road. Philadelphia DA Lynne Abraham recently held a press conference on this issue and other fraud related issues to warn seniors and all citizens about an increase in theft. And, in a heart-wrenching story, a thief in Montgomeryville allegedly burglarized several homes, stealing Christmas presents, according to KYW's Suburban Bureau (read: MontCo Courthouse) chief Jay Lloyd (we refer to Mr. Lloyd's title as such because it seems every other report he files is from Norristown Courthouse).
Now, back to our story...
SEPTA police sources said nearly a dozen riders were ripped off. But SEPTA officials would only confirm that pick pocketing increases this time of year, and they have stepped up patrols.Why do we tie the two stories together?
"We have a pickpocket patrol at the SEPTA Police Department, and they're undercover police, and they make arrests," SEPTA spokesman Rich Maloney said. NBC 10
We recieved an email today from a SEPTA insider, who asked not to be identified for obvious fear of retailation.
"Funny thing is the day after the report aired on the news [November 24 - ed.], SEPTA Police Deputy Chief David Scott sent a memo down canceling plainclothes/undercover departmentwide claiming he wanted higher visibility for the holiday season.So, once again, we appear to have caught the Minster of Mis-Information in a lie, eh? But wait, there's more trouble brewing at 1234 Market, according to our insider, including a follow-up to a recent comment noting the lack of SEPTA Police presence during certain hours, including the overnight and early AM peak:
Plainclothes/undercover assignments were actually stopped because the one officer in the report (Blake) identified himself as an undercover officer and he pissed the administration off big time and this was their way of getting back at him. Pickpocketing is more frequent throughout the SEPTA system during the holidays so it makes no sense to stop the undercover assignments."
"In other news, I read how you stated they barely have any SEPTA Police between 11pm-7am. This is true. If at full staff, the night shift has 10 officers working between 11pm-7am, so if anyone is off or out sick, which occurs quite often, you could be down to 7 or 8 guys covering the whole system. Several times i have heard of only 4 officers working when at peak vacation season in the summer, but the SEPTA Police Dept doesn't really care about late night riders.The sad part about this is that even assuming that in fact SEPTA Police are rotated around school dismissal times, that doesn't explain the violent brawl that took place at the Spring Garden subway station this past April involving students from a charter school and an disciplinary high school. That said, the above comments confirms much of what was reported to me by another SEPTA insider regarding how shifts are managed.
Also, for the most part, all SEPTA Police adminstration care about are the school kids at dismissal time, so most officers shifts are adjusted to work 8am-4pm, 8:30am-4:30pm or 9am-5pm and middle shift works 1pm-9pm, 1:30pm-9:30pm or 2pm-10pm. All this does is have a large amount of officers working at dismissal time to stop all the kids from robbing everyone on trains. Funny thing is that this leaves practically no officers working during morning rush from 6am-9am, you're lucky if there are 15 officers out there systemwide between those hours due to the adjusted schedules because the department refuses to pay overtime. Also there are usually no officers out on the system after 9pm or 10pm because their shifts are adjusted to prevent overtime."
It also confirms that SEPTA financial crisis may also have an impact on the safety of its riders. One would think that SEPTA's AGM for Safety and Risk Mis-Management James Jordan would get his head out of his ass and realize that despite all of the talk about passengers being more vigilant and safety being a #1 priority, the majority of riders can sum SEPTA's concerns about safety in two words:
"Yes, we have no solution."
Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) issued this statement on Thursday regarding the status of temporary financial help for SEPTA and the other transit agencies across the commonwealth:
The cutback plan considered by the SEPTA Board is the inevitable result of the legislature's failure to act. Unfortunately, Republican legislative leaders chose to recess their session early rather than work toward a responsible solution, creating a fiscal crisis of catastrophic proportions.
Actually, Eddie, it's because you're more concerned with Terrell Owens' next touchdown celebration dance instead of finding a solution to the transit crisis and other problems that have essentially slowed Harrisburg down to a crawl...
Everyone familiar with the finances of our state's transit agencies knows that it is necessary to find new sources of stable, dedicated funding. This is no less true for the small systems serving places like Altoona than for the large ones serving Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
I have supported a plan to provide $111 million per year in new money for transit. While in a letter dated Nov. 20, 2004, Republican legislative leaders said, "you can be certain of our interest in addressing the short-term needs of public transportation in Pennsylvania," they inexplicably ended their session with 10 working days left in the session without voting on this or a viable alternative plan to close the funding gap. Now that any opportunity for legislative action has passed, I am exploring whether options exist that would postpone the severe service cuts, fare increases and employee layoffs that are coming. The technical and legal barriers to providing stopgap funding are significant, and my administration is working to see if they can be solved. There is no free lunch, and no guarantees that we can solve this problem.
Here's one thing we can guarantee. It's going to get ugly, and fast...
On KYW NewsRadio today, Tony Romeo interviewed Franklin and Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna (one of the state's foremost experts on Harrisburg happenings) for his thoughts on the crisis (note that the report is not at the KYW web site as of the time of this posting). Madonna seems to think that Rendell is deliberately stalling any action on the transit issue to put more pressure on the legislature. Bailing out SEPTA, Mr. Madonna says, would in effect eliminate any emergency, thus the legislature won't take any immediate action.
While Rendell indicated that he is "committed to finding a solution" to the crisis, he did note that some options, including flexing highway funding temporarily until a stable funding solution can be reached, may not be legal under state and federal law.
Yeah, right, and the Miami Dolphins will win the AFC Championship...
Meanwhile, Emperor Street has finally been making noise on SEPTA's latest financial fiasco. The Emperor, who is rather busy running the city into the ground, threatened to take legal action to block the fare hikes or even have the City Transit Division split from the rest of SEPTA and taken over by City Hall. At the same time, the Michael Moore-on wanna-be took a few shots at legislative leaders in Harrisburg:
"I’ll bet the Pennsylvania general assembly has spent more time trying to figure out how to take over the Philadelphia airport than how to fix the problems of SEPTA. These people are really really good at paying attention to things that are local matters."
No, they're more concerned about how to get a piece of the slots action, but I digress. As far as the airport is concerned, I don't think the folks in Tinicum Township or Delaware County would mind having a say in how PHL is managed; after all, a chunk of the airport is in Delaware County...
That said, any legal action by the city is an uphill battle at best. More will come out by the time Decmeber 16 comes and goes...
In a survey of 14 of 15 SEPTA board members, 10 described themselves as using the system occasionally or rarely. Four members said they travel SEPTA on a regular basis, or at least twice a week. Board member Thomas Babcock [Delaware County - ed.] did not return four phone calls.At least someone understands his purpose of being on the SEPTA Board.
"I think it gives me a real perspective of our general ridership," said Christian DiCicco, one of Philadelphia's two representatives on the board, who said he takes SEPTA at least four times a week.
As they consider overriding the veto at their Dec. 16 meeting, board members offered varying opinions on the importance of their riding habits in their decision making on the board, which approves and directs the spending of SEPTA's $920 million annual budget and $427 million annual capital budget.Insert laughter here...
DiCicco and other board members questioned the need for a board member to take the train every day.
"It's like any other board. There are people who serve on boards who have very little or nothing to do with the product produced by the company," said board member Michael O'Donoghue [Montgpmery County - ed.], who said he rides SEPTA about three times a month.
Some members said they must take a broader view. Regardless of how often they use the system, they said, they need to consider the regional impact on the economy and riders.
"Whatever my personal experience, it's more important I know the interest and concerns of the riding public," said James C. Schwartzman [Senate Democrats - ed.], the board's vice chairman.
Lance Haver, director of Mayor Street's Office of Consumer Affairs and a founder of the Philadelphia Transit Campaign, a transit advocacy group, said he wasn't overly concerned with how often the board members took a trolley or a bus.How can he not be? After all, we're not asking that they ride every single day...
But the board does not meet Schwartzman's standard of listening to the ridership, he said. By holding meetings in the middle of the day, and conducting hearings only during crises, the board gives the impression it doesn't care, he said.Isn't it funny how Mr. Haver has suddenly toned down some of his rhetoric now that he's on the city payroll?
The 15-member board has no seat reserved for a rider's representative. A 29-member Citizens Advisory Committee was created in 1981 by the Pennsylvania Legislature, but activists question its effectiveness.Although some members such as Chairman Bob Clearfield of Montgomery County and Greg Pastore of Philadelphia have taken their roles on the CAC seriously, we haven't heard too much from any of the other members on this issue.
"It's not really how often they ride the system; it's how they make it hard for riders... to voice their concerns," Haver said. "That's why riders don't always feel that SEPTA represents their interests."
O'Donoghue and seven others described themselves as occasional riders: those who ride less than twice a week but at least twice a month. Two others, Cornelius Cassidy [Delaware County - ed.] and Herman Wooden [House Democrats - ed.], said they seldom used the system.It should be pointed out that while State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-12th, Upper Moreland) is a SEPTA Board member who has been on the front line for transit funding, he doesn't exactly practice what he preaches, as he frequently drives from to and from Harrisburg instead of taking Amtrak. A couple days before the lame duck session ended, Greenleaf was involved in a minor vehicle accident, apparently due to falling asleep, according to news reports.
Board chairman Pasquale T. "Pat" Deon of Bucks County, who described himself as an occasional rider on the R5, R3 and R7 rail lines, questioned the relevance of his riding habits during the current crisis.Apparently, neither is your big mouth, Don Pasquale. I don't think it's a coincidence that quite a few of the road projects that could be sacrificed to bail SEPTA out are in Bucks County...
Referring to the failed attempt to get legislators to provide more funding for SEPTA, Deon said: "My riding is not going to produce $62 million out of Harrisburg." Inquirer
That said, Don Pasquale's riding could certainly open his eyes as to how many riders feel about SEPTA. And I can guarantee you that the results wouldn't be pretty...
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Jettie Newkirk and Christian DiCicco, the city of Philadelphia's two representatives to the SEPTA Board were the lone dissenters, effectively vetoing the resolution until the regular "rubber-stamp" session on December 16. The announcement by Newkirk that the city would exercise its veto power angered most of the board members, not to mention confuse many observers who questioned the logic of that decision. To override the veto, 12 votes are needed, and its obvious to anyone with half a brain (ie. most of SEPTA's management) that the votes are there to override the veto.
The plan would reduce weekday service headways by 20 percent across the board, however service spans would remain largely unaffected. Saturday schedules would be reduced to Sunday headway levels on most routes in the system (though some City Transit and Regional Rail lines already have that in effect, along with Red Arrow route 305) with some modifications, and routes with no Sunday service would retain Saturday service (such as the 1, 19, 92, 103, 111, and 127 among others). A fare increase of 25 percent would be implemented on January 23, the same date as the service reductions, while a second fare increase of nearly 20 percent would be imposed in March.
More details, commentary, and links to stories will be posted as this story develops...
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Sunday, November 28, 2004
In any case, the Inquirer ran a story in Saturday's editions:
According to Cheltenham police, "the victim was in a place she shouldn't have been," SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said yesterday. "It's a terrible tragedy."
He said police reported that Szoke and a male companion got off at the station after realizing they were on the wrong train. Szoke crossed the tracks and jumped the fence to see whether the station was open so she could get information, he said.
While making her way back, Szoke was struck by a northbound R5 train that was not scheduled to stop at Melrose Park and was traveling about 50 m.p.h., Maloney said.
"It takes a long time to stop," he said. "The engineer is powerless in a situation like that." Inquirer
... [T]he project has struggled to win federal funding approval over the years, largely because the projected cost has steadily risen beyond $2.5 billion.
The Metro money in this bill -- a bill that has been criticized as excessive and full of "pork barrel" projects in the national press and by Arizona Sen. John McCain -- will be used for engineering and design work, according to a release from the office of Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.
Sen. McCain has long been known as an opponent of rail service in general, specifically Amtrak. However, the senator seems to be referring to the whole bill in general...
You don’t have to tell Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-6th Dist., about how important the Metro is.
When the price tag threatened to kill the project entirely, Gerlach was among a handful of officials who stepped in to try to whittle the cost down to a level that would make it viable for federal funding.
In fact, he said the final recommendations from the oversight committee he convened may be released in December or early January.
"The talks on this are on track, no pun intended," Gerlach said with a dry chuckle.
All the people of the 6th District can say is "Thank god this guy was re-elected."
"In the next few months, the engineers and consultants who are doing the actual crunching of the numbers to try to get us below $800 million will be reporting back with their final recommendations," said Gerlach.
The reason the price tag needs to get to that magic number, Gerlach said, is because the Federal Transit Admin-istration "is not funding any new project over $800 million."
With an FTA official at the table during these talks, Gerlach said he remains hopeful the project, which is seen as particularly important for the revitalization of older boroughs like Phoenixville, Royersford and Pottstown, can move forward.
"As far as they’re concerned, we’re asking the right questions and looking for the right answers," said Gerlach.
"Right now, we’re considering questions such as whether to go with diesel or electric; how many stops we should have; whether to go with 15-, 20- or 30-minute intervals and where in Philadelphia it should stop, 30th Street or Suburbia Station, that sort of thing," said Gerlach.
"We’re trying to whittle the cost down and still keep it viable in terms of ridership," he said.
"It’s a two-pronged ap-proach," Gerlach said. "We need to reach a regional consensus and we need to keep the federal money flowing into it."
Hopefully, one of those prongs will involve SEPTA being stripped of anything to do with this project at all...
Ultimately, that federal money will only amount to 60 percent of the total cost if the project is approved.
The remainder of the funding will have to come from state or local sources, said the two-term Con-gressman.
"The local share could come from a variety of sources, even in-kind services," said Gerlach. "For example, a private group could pay to retrofit the Pottstown train station or something like that."
Who in their right minds would want to even invest in an armpit like Pottstown is beyond me, but that's another rant for another time...
In any case, elected officials, along with those who have followed this project from day one, will anxiously await the results of Congressman Gerlach's panel...
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Already, the guestbook has been rife with rumors, including the elimination of routes that SEPTA has tried to eliminate before, such as the 19 and 121. Of course, nothing is final until December 2, when the SEPTA Board will hold a special meeting at 9:00am at 1234 Market. But, we shall see what happens and will try to keep you posted as to any rumors that may be out there...
Monday, November 15, 2004
During the financial report, Treasurer Joe Casey noted that fuel costs for the first few months of the fiscal year jumped by nearly $445,000, which would appear to further compound SEPTA's woes. The higher fuel costs were blamed on the recent hurricanes that hit the Gulf of Mexico a couple of months ago (that's according to media reports, not Mr. Casey).
There was very little that stood out in this month's agenda, except for two major items that had been noted on the blog over the past year:
- SEPTA reached an agreement with UTU Local 61, which represents conductors and assistant conductors on the Regional Rail system. Negotiations with the union were at an impass, leading to the creation of Railway Labor Act Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) 237. Among the highlights of the new contract, a revised progression rate was introduced, meaning that conductors would now require 10 years to reach the full rate of $23.7291 instead of the current 3 years; assistant conductors hired from this point forward (assuming no major layoffs as part of the Doomsday Plan) would be paid at a lower starting rate, but would still reach the top level after 3 years; a change in insurance plans, which would increase the co-pay for specialist visits from $5.00 to $15.00 and reduce co-insurance for out of network visits from 80 percent to 70 percent; during the first two years of the deal, a one-time 6 percent wage increase was implemented on November 7, with the third year seeing a one-time $1,000 bonus paid to all employees in lieu of a pay raise.
- Also, SEPTA will have a new advertising agency. Titan Outdoor LLC, a realatively new firm based in New York City, will take over the advertising for all of SEPTA's bus and rail vehicles from Viacom starting May 1, 2005. The new deal with Titan is expected to raise a minimum of $22.5 million in guaranteed revenues over the first three years of the deal, and features 2 three-year options. Earlier this year, SEPTA had attempted to extend its current deal with Viacom, however that deal was rejected by the FTA. In June, Titan took over the advertising services contract from New Jersey Transit, which was also held by Viacom and it's predecessor, TDI.
Other than those two deals, there were no major items that stood out on the October agenda.
There was a moment of almost unintentional comedy when Don Pasquale called for speakers on non-agenda items and saw none. At that point, he immediately asked "Where's Don?", a reference to DVARP President Don Nigro, who was not in attendance (presumably because this was a very boring month for the agenda). After the "non-report" report of Shyster-in-Chief Nick Staffieri, Fearless Leader reminded everyone about the November 10 rally at Harrisburg, then recognized SEPTA's representatives to the recently held APTA Roadeo in Atlanta - Southern bus operator John Rinylo and the Midvale maintenance team of Dave Allmond, Phil Carey, and Mike Westerfer.
Following the dog-and-pony show (and don't get me wrong, the APTA Roadeo team deserved to be recongized), the meeting ended at 3:37pm.
And that, ladies and gentlement, is how to run an 8 minute meeting...
The hearing began nearly 15 minutes late because another committee hearing on an unrelated matter ran long. When it began, Councilman Michael Nutter (D-4th) heard from Don Pasquale, who left early to lobby in Harrisburg (of course, Mr. Turnpike Commissioner shouldn't have any problems getting through the toll plazas on the Turnpike) repeated many of the same talking points that have been hashed out before: SEPTA's reduced the workforce by nearly 1,800 people over the past five years as part of a $20 million savings plan (even though most of the savings took place prior to Fearless Leader's promotion to General Manager); it's critical that there's a unified message; we don't want to make these cuts, but we have no choice; etc., etc.
Board member Jettie Newkirk of Philadelphia reiterated the same mantras during her comments.
"There is no more fat," she said of the budget.
As far as the doomsday plan:
"This is not a threat ... it is simply a proposal to the board" in case funding from Harrisburg doesn't come through. "This is not something management wants to do. Nobody wants to see cessation of weekend service."
Following brief comments by SEPTA Board member Chris DiCicco, Nutter, who has been critical of how SEPTA has handled the Market Street El reconstruction and restoration of trolley service on the 15/Girard line, noted that SEPTA's presentation "brings great clarity to this situation" adding that it was truly a state-wide problem with most of the attention focused on Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Fearless Leader then spoke, and yes, she brought up the same talking points before closing out her statement with this quote:
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if ... SEPTA was able to devote its full efforts towards running the system and less time begging for funding?"
My answer? Yes.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
Starting with Thursday's "unofficial" SEPTA Board committee meetings, SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon, Sr. was gracious enough to interrupt his busy schedule of planning fishing trips with Al Mezzaroba and micro-managing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to grace us with some pessimistic news, according to the Inquirer:
"We can't get enough momentum to push the governor and the legislature... . There is not a groundswell of public support," Deon said as the board's budget committee reviewed the crisis. "We have no more rabbits in our hat."Gee, way to show that bright optimism there, Don Pasquale...
Meanwhile, the other half of the Duo of Doom, Fearless Leader, uttered these words:
SEPTA riders "take us for granted," transit agency general manager Faye Moore said in an interview yesterday. This is the third year in a row of dire straits for SEPTA caused by a lack of predictable state funding, she said. "There is no good alternative. We have to increase fares or cut service."Is it any coincidence that the aforementioned three years of "dire straits" all occured under Fearless Leader's watch? Perhaps Jack Leary left at the right time...
Perhaps because the public has heard the same BS from SEPTA officials for the past three years...
Representatives of both Gov. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) and House Speaker John Perzel (R., Phila.) took a more positive view.
Rendell "is cautiously optimistic that a solution is within reach" that would avoid layoffs and service cuts before the legislature's two-year term ends this month, Kate Philips, his press secretary, said yesterday.
"He's working on a solution that will help SEPTA in the near term... and he also wants a long-term solution," said Philips, who refused to discuss current talks. "He's not looking for a quick fix that will necessitate another quick fix."
Beth Williams, Perzel's press secretary, said: "We are working on it, and we are looking to have some kind of relief by the end of the session."
Just as Rendell and many GOP leaders have had long-standing doubts about SEPTA's fiscal condition, the public does not believe the transit agency is truly facing a crisis, says a report the transit agency released yesterday summarizing its recent budget hearings.
As in past years of financial trial, SEPTA officials will contemplate a different course at the last minute.
Deon yesterday directed SEPTA staff to "come back with some options" other than the current plan. The SEPTA board will meet Thursday and has tentatively scheduled a Dec. 2 gathering.
How much do you want to bet that this will involve service cuts on top of a major fare hike. There are already rumors posted on the guestbook that some under-performing routes such as the 8, 19, and 121 are on the chopping block, along with the elimination of night owl service, but nothing is official until the Rotating Resumes at 1234 Market figure out an exit strategy...
In a possible violation of Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law, the SEPTA board's budget committee met behind closed doors yesterday to discuss the budget and possible layoffs an hour before the noon public meeting.
Going into the private session, SEPTA lawyer Nicholas Staffieri said the board would discuss "what has been going on in Harrisburg and its implications for the budget."
He said the closed-door gathering was legal because the board would be discussing specifics of layoffs related to the budget crisis.
With few exceptions, the Sunshine Law requires public-agency officials to deliberate in public. When more than half the members of a board assemble, they are allowed to meet privately only to consider limited matters, such as personnel, real estate, labor negotiations, or anticipated or pending court cases.
Nine of 15 SEPTA board members "straggled in" during the executive session, Deon said. Their private talks were proper, he asserted.
"The ship is really going down this time," Deon said. "Don't twist the story around on things that don't matter."
Okay, I'm sure Jere Downs wouldn't walk into WBCB radio in the Levittown district of Bristol Township to tell Don Pasquale how to run his radio station; I don't think Ms. Downs - or any member of the media - needs to be told how to do his or her job.
Meanwhile, the hearing examiners came out with their report and recommendations on how to proceed with this year's budget crisis...
As for the public not believing a real crisis is at hand, independent SEPTA hearing examiners Ronald DeGraw and retired Judge Murray C. Goldman said in their report yesterday that "the general tenor is that this is just another ploy by SEPTA to get more money." They cited two recent state audits of SEPTA that they said "refute this assumption."Meanwhile, Dan Geringer filed this report in Friday's Philadelphia Daily News (a fully-paid subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee):
The hearing examiners suggested that SEPTA hike fares next month, trim weekday service in January, and delay ending weekend service until February or March. SEPTA is not required to follow their advice.
"Taking action immediately... may serve to convince the public, the governor and the legislature that this transit crisis... is indeed a very serious one," the report stated. Inquirer
Isolated from the public behind a red-tape barrier with no nameplates to identify them, SEPTA's board members yesterday heard the agency's budget director detail a $62-million-deficit winter plan for drastic service cuts and fare hikes.
The meeting began with the ominous announcement that there would be no public comment, and went downhill from there:
Unless the Legislature finds $62 million to eliminate SEPTA's deficit, budget director Richard Burnfield said, fares will be hiked 25 percent on Jan. 1, followed on Jan. 23 by a 20 percent cut in weekday service, and the
elimination of all weekend service and 1,400 jobs.
In the surprisingly brief and emotionally flat discussion that followed, the few board members who spoke showed no sense of urgency or outrage at the possibility of public transit turmoil here.
One member's only contribution was to blame SEPTA's troubles on the media for suggesting that the transit giant was "crying wolf" about its money woes.
Too bad I couldn't make it, because I probably would've been able to point out which board member has been taking pages out of the Ministry of Mis-Information's playbook, particularly the page on "How to attack your enemies..."
Another asked SEPTA lobbyist Jeanne Neese how things were going in Harrisburg, where SEPTA's funding fate will be decided by month's end.
Neese said she's heard everything from SEPTA will get its $62-million bandage to "absolutely nothing."
Ahh, more money well spent...
She said legislators complain to her about not hearing a public outcry from their constituents to save mass transit.
Gee, I wonder why...
And now, we hear from Lance Haver, who is continuing his role as public nuisance extraordinaire who's now doing his thing on the dime of the taxpayers of the City of Philadelphia:
"SEPTA's board meetings, where there is no way for riders to be heard, violate every concept of the Sunshine Act," he said.
"You do things behind closed doors, then come out, discuss it a little in public and vote. You put riders in the role of complainers. You refuse to address riders' concerns, and then you're surprised they're not there for you
when you need them to ask for money?"
Haver said the SEPTA board was an isolated, insulated group that offends the very people it should be most responsive to: riders who pay the fares.
"The people who are SEPTA's base, who have no choice but to ride public transit, who are wed to SEPTA by economic marriage, are the people they mistreat," Haver said.
"After years of abusing me, are you surprised that I don't want to help you when you're in trouble?" Haver asked. "It's easy to get people to come to a hearing and scream at you, but it's hard to get people to come out and say how wonderful you are - because you're not wonderful." Daily News
Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner...
That's pretty much the reason why hardly anyone except the usual vocal transit activists have been showing up in Harrisburg more often than your typical lobbyist.
Of course, that was just what happened on Thursday. Yesterday, the Daily News came back with this potential bombshell:
(State Rep. Dwight) Evans (D-Philadelphia), minority chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was mysterious but upbeat yesterday about the state Legislature saving mass transit with a last-minute cash
"I've talked to all the different players, Republicans and Democrats, and I know this may sound naive, but no one has said 'No' to me about trying to do something," he said.
Evans clammed up when asked if that "something" includes his recently-announced idea of raising $46 million through a new inspection sticker fee for emissions and safety, and state Rep. Michael McGeehan's, D-Philadelphia, proposal to raise $50 million by increasing the tire tax from $1 to $3, and the car rental tax from $2 to $4.
"My staff has worked up an idea today involving general fees and a technique that we used last year involving some small portion of the sales tax," Evans said. "We'll circulate that idea around with people, and may shoot for a vote on Monday.
"It's easy to have a solution. The question is: Do we have the votes?"
Honestly? I'd doubt it...
You may recall that former SPETA Board member Richard Voith, who now works for a transportation policy think-tank, once floated around a similar idea to what Evans is proposing. While I don't remember the exact proposal off the top of my head, I do recall it involved raising dedicated revenue for mass transit via emission or registration fees...
Meanwhile, at the edifice at Broad and Market known as Philadelphia City Hall...
... City Councilman Michael Nutter (D-4th) will conduct a 2 p.m. public hearing Monday on rescuing SEPTA from having to raise fares and slash service so severely that thousands of bus-and-train-dependent riders won't be able to get to work.
All the key city players, including SEPTA General Manager Faye Moore and Transport Workers Union Local 234 president Jeff Brooks, are due to testify. Afterwards, the transportation committee that Nutter chairs will
consider action on SEPTA's brink-of-disaster funding crisis.
"What's unfortunate," Evans said, "is that there's such a huge sense of cynicism, people thinking that this is not for real, that SEPTA's just crying wolf. You don't like Faye Moore? You don't like [SEPTA board chairman] Pat Deon? Let's look beyond personalities."
Actually, Mr. Evans I can't stand either of them. As noted earlier in this post, the past three years of SEPTA's budget problems have all come during Fearless Leader's watch. But, anyway...
"Let's look at the direct connection between SEPTA and our workforce, our economy. Let's look at the effect of the devastating actions they'll take if they don't get the money they need."
Evans believes that his colleagues on both sides of the aisle understand they can't just ignore the statewide public transit funding crisis, which is most obviously critical in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
"They're feeling the heat," he said of his fellow-legislators. "They know they cannot leave there without doing something about this. So let's put it up for a vote. I want to offer my amendment. I want my shot." Daily
Thursday, November 11, 2004
NJ Transit warned yesterday that it may impose a 15 percent fare increase on its 375,000 bus, train and light rail passengers next year to close an impending budget gap of up to $65 million.
Transportation officials blamed the potential fare hike on skyrocketing expenses for things like fuel, security and employee health benefits, as well as on the loss of financial maneuvers they previously used to balance past budgets.
The agency this year expects to collect about $560 million in fares, which covers about 43 percent of its $1.3 billion operating budget. State taxpayers pick up most of the rest of the tab.
The proposed increase comes during a changing of the guard in Trenton and ultimately would require the approval of Senate President Richard Codey, who becomes acting governor next week.
"He's looking at this as a last-resort option," said Kelley Heck, Codey's spokesperson.
Dissatisfied commuters -- who were hit with an average 10 percent increase in 2002 -- say another fare increase would be an insult.
"With the service they currently provide, I think I am paying too much now," said Matt Wagner of North Plainfield, who commutes on the Raritan Valley Line. "An additional 15 percent might force me back to driving."
"Hiking the fare would just be throwing good money after bad unless NJ Transit guarantees up front that the extra money would go to improve service and run the trains on time," said Greg Storey of Roselle Park, another Raritan Valley Line rider. "I've been riding NJ Transit for over 18 years and its service and the customer-be-damned attitude of its management are as bad as I've ever seen."
NJ Transit Executive Director George Warrington and state Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere promised yesterday to do everything possible to try to minimize the size of the increase or to avoid it altogether. They said they were not considering cutting services -- even though operating at large deficits -- to close the budget gap.
"We're still early in the process," Warrington said.
"We have our work cut out for us," Lettiere said.
The exact size of the increase may vary for NJ Transit's buses, trains and light rail systems as well as for different lines within those modes of transportation.
By January, officials said they would put together a plan with specific details on the increase. In February, they expect to hold public hearings on the hike, which most likely would take effect in July, officials said. A 15 percent increase would produce about $55 million in extra revenue, officials said.
If anyone recalls the hearing held at Walter Rand Transportation Center, then you can expect these hearings not to go too well. While NJT had reduced some of its proposed fare hikes and modified some of its fare policies to make it more user-friendly in some modes, the hearing itself was held inside the lobby of the transportation center, making it difficult to hear many of the comments. That said, I'd expect more details to become available in the near future...
Warrington said his agency faces a $15 million increase in fuel costs next year, an extra $13 million for security measures and rising health insurance costs that already have jumped by $37 million annually since 2001.
In the past, NJ Transit has been able to rely on two financing maneuvers to close budget gaps.
First, it has used about $350 million per year that was borrowed for big projects to cover operating expenses. But officials said they do not want to take a bigger cut out of the capital budget money.
Officials also have used about $48 million over the past four years from so-called leveraged lease agreements -- which are basically deals that allow private investors to pay a fee to NJ Transit to buy the tax benefits of the depreciation on transit equipment. But the federal government last year placed a moratorium on leveraged lease deals nationwide because of the loss of tax to the U.S. Treasury.
As part of its 2002 hike, NJ Transit had the option of imposing 3 percent fare increases for inflation in each of the past three years, but the agency decided not to do so. Officials acknowledged that if they followed through with that plan, they would not need a steep hike now.
"At the time, Governor McGreevey was very concerned about a fare increase in uncertain economic times," Lettiere said.
Jeffrey Warsh, Warrington's predecessor as NJ Transit's executive director, said yesterday that the McGreevey administration reduced its subsidy for mass transit in 2002, effectively shifting the proceeds from that year's fare hike into the state's general treasury.
"The public needs to be assured that the proceeds for any future fare increase will be applied exclusively to the NJ Transit system," Warsh said.
Yes, another wonderful legacy of the McGreevey administration. Robbing NJT to pay for some of his pet projects on top of tax hikes.
Indeed, riders yesterday said they would be more tolerant of a fare hike if they believed their commutes would improve.
Anthony Baldo, a Middletown resident who rides the North Jersey Coast Line, said the agency needs to fix equipment that frequently breaks down and should come up with better contingency plans for whenever there are service disruptions.
Tom Schopper of Bloomingdale said NJ Transit ought to improve security at its bus park-and-ride on Route 23 in Wayne, where he said cars are often broken into.
Anthony Buccino of Nutley said the agency should provide better information about bus connections at its new -- and uncomfortable -- Newark city subway station at Branch Brook Park.
"NJ Transit is increasing fares while service delays have increased, customer service has gotten worse, maintenance of rail cars has been minimal," said Michael Weinstock, a rail rider from Scotch Plains. "Many cars have electrical tape holding things together, cars haven't been washed on the outside in ages, conductor interaction with passengers is more confrontational given the encounters I have witnessed over the past year, and communication with commuters when there are delays is minimal and usually sporadic."
"Passengers are being asked to pay more for less," Weinstock said.
That's not even including how bad bus service is in some parts of South Jersey, particularly the Washington Twp routes where the Flxs operate (400, 403, 406) and some runs out of Newton Av garage (404, 405, 407, 413, 419), where the 1988-era Flxibles continue to chug on - barely, in some cases - while North Jersey seems to get preferential treatment when it comes to newer buses. Supposedly, new buses are on order to replace the 1988 Flxibles, but when they're going to get to South Jersey remains to be seen.
"This bus uses the most efficient hybrid architecture available in the world today, and is an important initiative in our three-prong hybrid technology approach that is designed to provide our customers fuel economy gains and reduced emissions in a wide variety of products," said Tom Stephens, group vice president of GM Powertrain. "We have developed a second generation advanced hybrid system, based on this hybrid bus technology that will be applied to GM full-size sport utility vehicles and pickups during the next few years."
DTC Executive Director Ray Miller stated, "These colorful hybrid electric-diesel buses represent our continuing commitment to provide our riders with the latest in leading edge technology that will improve our efficiency, save us fuel costs, and help reduce harmful emissions. We're very pleased to be bringing these new hybrid buses into our fleet to better serve our riders." DART Press Release
These are believed to be the first new hybrid buses built by Gillig. It's very interesting that DART, which had purchased nearly 60 Gillig Phantoms in 1995-96 and 7 Advantage low-floor buses in 2001, has decided to purchase hybrids from Gillig after a major purchase from NABI a few years ago.
The bad news is that the CEO in question isn't SEPTA's own Fearless Leader...
Raymond C. Miller, the Executive Director of the Delaware Transit Corporation (DART First State), has been named the executive director of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HARTLine). Mr. Miller will begin his new position in January.
Monday, November 08, 2004
However, Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Philadelphia) predicted yesterday that dependable funding for transit would be secured by the time lawmakers adjourn for the year before Thanksgiving.Isn't it interesting how a couple of Fearless Leader's comments, including her angry response to Mr. Brooks were left out of Sunday's editions? Either (a) there was some very loud complaining from Fearless Leader or possibly the Ministry of Mis-Information regarding the bold faced comments or (b) the Inky ran had to edit the article in Sunday's editions due to space limiations. Either way, I have a feeling that enough people may have caught Saturday's article that led to the "offending" comments being removed.
"We must fix this problem. It's connected to the economy, the hospitality industry, everything," said Evans, the minority chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "Forget the turkey. Nobody gets stuffing until it gets fixed."
By state law, transit agencies use riders' fares to pay half their operating costs and rely on state subsidies for the rest.
For SEPTA, only about 14 percent of those subsidies comes from a reliable source that can be counted on to grow with inflation, according to a Brookings Institution report released in June. In that respect, SEPTA lags at the bottom of a list of transit agencies. Others, such as those serving Boston and Dallas, receive more than half their subsidies from dedicated state sources.
SEPTA's current funding crisis has been slow but sure in coming. For the six years preceding the current state budget, for example, Pennsylvania transit agencies largely received flat or declining state aid.
"It is like living on a fixed income," Moore said yesterday.
Now, SEPTA managers are drawing up plans to downsize, Moore said. It is a massive effort, she added, including selecting workers and combing through union pacts and federal and state rules to determine who can be laid off and when.
"If there is going to be a Band-Aid solution, I need to to know because I have to tell people if they will have a job or not," Moore said.
If SEPTA begins layoffs, managers must go first, said Jeff Brooks, the newly elected president of the 5,000 members of Transport Workers Union Local 234. Bus and subway operators, mechanics, cashiers and others are protected, Brooks said recently, because their contract has a no-layoff provision after one
year on the job.
"The legislature should hold SEPTA management accountable for the deficit," Brooks said. "Remember the boy who cried wolf? Nobody believes they are really broke this time."
But no SEPTA employee is safe, Moore said yesterday.
"Tell Mr. New Person that he better get his act together and read his contract," Moore said of Brooks. "A big part of this will be TWU operators and mechanics."
Friday, November 05, 2004
With no action apparent in Harrisburg to pump needed money into SEPTA, the transit agency's general manager, Faye Moore, announced today that she was preparing Jan. 1 layoff notices for 1,400 employees.
Moore has said that if state aid is not received to close a $62 million budget gap, SEPTA would be forced to fire workers from its 9,000 person staff, end weekend service and raise fares.
"As people play chicken and poker in Harrisburg, we are continuing to play with people's lives," Moore said in an interview in King of Prussia. She appeared alongside legislators in a forum dedicated to the state shortage of highway, bridge and transit funding.
Well, Fearless Leader would know about "playing chicken" as that's what SEPTA's strategy has been when dealing with Harrisburg over the past couple of years...
Lawmakers are to return to Harrisburg Monday for a lame-duck session, but the Republican leadership does not have the issue of transit funding on its agenda.
"Honestly, it is not," Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Samuel H. Smith (R., Jefferson). "We're not ignorant about SEPTA. There is a feeling ... that SEPTA creates these budgets to create a crisis."
That's partially true. Then again, questionable management decisions certainly don't help SEPTA's cause, either. Especially the decision to make threats to severely cut service if Harrisburg doesn't cough up more funding, a mantra that has alienated SEPTA and it's counterpart in Pittsburgh, the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which is also facing similar cuts and fare hikes if Harrisburg doesn't show them the money...
In a speech last month, Gov. Rendell pledged to lead the fight for transit funding after the election. He also made it clear that he would not raise transit spending without a tax increase. He could not be reached immediately for comment today. Rendell has told some lawmakers that he expects to unveil his lame duck session priorities on Monday or Tuesday. InquirerHow much are you willing to bet that transit funding may not be one of those priorities?
Meanwhile, KYW NewsRadio recieved these comments from SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information Richard Maloney:
“We are required by law and by labor agreements, that if we have to implement these actions, to give notice approximately 60 days in advance. So the wheels of bureaucracy are in motion, but we still remain hopeful that Harrisburg will come through and we won’t have to put this into effect.”
Maloney says the only way to realize savings with service cuts is to cut jobs:
“The tragic part is that to save 62 million dollars, when most of our costs are labor costs, we would have to cut service. And the people who are running that service, some of them would have to lose their jobs.”
The real tragic part is that - as far as we know - neither Fearless Leader nor most of the Senior Rotating Resumes at 1234 Market will be among those getting pinkslipped.
But, Maloney says, if layoffs happen the number of jobs cut may be less than 1,400:
“Fourteen hundred is the number that was determined by the size of the cubacks in service by the elimination of weekend and evening. We are still studying the number that would be affected by that, and we don’t have a number yet.”
Somehow, I think SEPTA knows damned well what they're going to cut. It's just a gut feeling...
SEPTA wants a new permanent source of funding. But that kind of funding for mass transit would likely have to be coupled with a gasoline tax increase to pay for highway projects.
And just this week, Governor Rendell said that high gas prices make that unlikely.
But Rendell believes temporary funding, less than what SEPTA says it needs, is possible.
Of course, Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) has other priorities, such as his Iggles Post-Game Live appearances...
Monday, November 01, 2004
Within the past couple of hours, we have recieved word that express service will be restored to the P&W on November 22, with the 3-tier pattern that was mentioned earlier. The signal project apparently has been completed, thus allowing the service to be restructured.
Northbound service between 69 St and Norristown will operate as follows:
- Local trains will make all stops between 69 St and Bryn Mawr; in addition, there will be local trains between 69 St and Hughes Park
- Two express patterns will be introduced: Express trains to Hughes Park will run non-stop to Beechwood-Brookline, then make all stops to Hughes Park; Express trains to Norristown will stop at Penfield, Ardmore Jct, and Ardmore Av, then make all stops between Bryn Mawr and Norristown
- Norristown Limited trains will stop only at Ardmore Jct, Radnor, and all stops between Gulph Mills and Norristown
- Local trains will originate at Bryn Mawr and Hughes Park, making all stops to 69 St
- Hughes Park Express trains will make all stops to Beechwood-Brookline, except for County Line, then run express to 69 St
- Norristown Express trains will make all stops to Bryn Mawr, then stop only at Ardmore Av, Ardmore Jct, and Penfield en route to 69 St Terminal
- Norristown Limited trains will make all stops to Gulph Mills, then stop only at Radnor and Ardmore Jct en route to 69 St
The changes will take effect on November 22, when all Red Arrow route changes will also take effect. The new P&W timetables will probably be available for preview within the next week or two.
Sunday, October 31, 2004
The Inquirer reported on Wednesday that the prime contractor for the Market Street El reconstruction is suing SEPTA to terminate its contract for the project, which as noted earlier this month, is now 2 years behind schedule.
PKF-Mark III filed suit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court yesterday seeking release from its $74 million contract.Well, we're already two years behind. What's another couple of years between friends, right?
"We want out," said Peter E. Getchell, president of the Bucks County company. "We are just pretty much at the end of our rope in trying to get the work done."
This is a story little heard in the local construction world - a prime contractor on a multimillion-dollar project seeking a divorce.
SEPTA began the job to replace the El west of 63d Street in 2001 and expected to finish it first in 2006, then in 2007, and now in 2008. The job is a critical part of the $567 million El makeover in West Philadelphia.
Informed of the lawsuit, SEPTA chairman Pasquale "Pat" T. Deon Sr. said he would seek to hold PKF to its contract.
"When you give your commitment with a bond and a contract, I expect you to live up to it and not go around and whine and try to change it," Deon said.
Disruptions caused by construction on Market Street and surrounding neighborhoods is regrettable, he added.
"The only thing I'm concerned about is that neighborhood," Deon said.Excuse me while I laugh...
Deon faulted PKF for unsafe and low-quality construction, including steel beams that the transit agency rejected for poor manufacture.Well, Don Pasquale, you ought to have known something about this contractor. They are from Bucks County, after all...
"We cannot let them build something that is unsafe," he said.
Different contractors are executing three other major projects on the El in West Philadelphia."Persistently interfered with a company's means and methods?" Where have we heard that one before as it pertains to 1234 Market?
SEPTA and PKF, which was still fielding crews yesterday on the site, say that work on the Cobbs Creek end is proceeding slowly.
The complaint, which PKF filed in the late afternoon, claims that "SEPTA is in material breach of its contract" with the company.
It alleges that SEPTA did not make payments to PKF in accordance with the contract and "persistently interfered with PKF's means and methods." The suit goes on to say that SEPTA continually issued "unjustified stop orders," and failed to accept "work performed in accordance" with the contract and "accepted industry standards."
As a result of SEPTA's actions, PKF asserts that it has been delayed more than 600 days in its work and that its costs have "been substantially increased." PKF said it had "incurred or will incur over $34 million in damages."
SEPTA has 20 days to file its response to the suit.
Officials for the city, which owns the El, say they are frustrated, but are uncertain what they can do. Next year, the city's lease agreement with SEPTA to run and maintain the El expires.Here's hoping Fearless Leader has a lot of answers for Councilwoman Blackwell; you may recall last year when Fearless Leader was grilled on the same issue at City Hall.
"This suit will prolong this thing [the PKF project). It certainly will raise a red flag here that we probably have to get more involved," City Managing Director Phil Goldsmith said yesterday. "There is not a heck of a lot we can do. We're dealing with a regional agency and the city's power is very limited. What makes it especially frustrating is that it is happening to city business people and residents."
City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell pledged to hold public hearings on the El project on Nov. 22.
"This is horrible and I don't know what's going on," said Blackwell, who represents West Philadelphia. "Sounds to me that they're both probably wrong."
"This project has been a nightmare, the community has been a hostage, and I sometimes feel like it's never going to get done," she said.
The Federal Transit Administration is funding 80 percent of the El's reconstruction. FTA spokesman Paul Griffo declined to comment yesterday.Well, if you're the feds, you'd be worried to about the transit equivalent of Boston's "Big Dig" highway fiasco.
SEPTA and PKF have worked satisfactorily together on other projects, including last year's intricate reconstruction of the El in Northeast Philadelphia at the Frankford Transportation Center.Which, as had been noted in the past, was one of the few projects that actually went for SEPTA.
Rarely do construction projects of this magnitude break down so dramatically, veteran transportation officials say. In 25 years with the Pennsylvania Turnpike, spokesman Bill Capone could not recall such an instance. In the mid-1980s, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials recalled replacing a major contractor during a rebuilding of Interstate 76.
"It just really is an admission of desperation and an admission that adults just can't work together," said Andy Warren, regional PennDot administrator and a former SEPTA board member. "To take that step, you can taste the frustration."
On a somewhat related note, a little bit of research through the fundrace.org web site shows that Mr. and Mrs. Getchell, who list their address as Perkasie, Bucks County, contributed $500 to the Democratic National Committee. The majority of the SEPTA Board (11 of the 15 members) are Republicans (8 appointed by the suburban legislative boards, 2 by Republican legislative leaders; Board Vice-Chair James Schwartzman is reportedly a Republican but appointed by the Senate Democratic leadership).
Draw your own conlcusions...
Yet another wire problem on the Reading trunk. This time, the #0213 (6:49am R2 Warminster to Center City) reportedly had its pantographs take down wires near Tabor Jct, resulting in a bus bridge between Fern Rock and Glenside. For most of the day, SEPTA only announced that the R2 Warminster, R3 West Trenton, and R5 Lansdale lines were running "reduced schedules", which really didn't mean a heck of a lot when people were trying to catch one of these trains...
Meanwhile, there were reports that a tresspasser was struck and killed along the NEC near Crum Lynne station in Ridley Thursday afternoon. We have been unable to confirm via the papers or internet, but the incident is believed to have occured at around 1:15pm. It appears that either Acela #2111 or SEPTA's #9238 may have been involved as those were the two trains that fit into the timeslot. If more details become available, we'll pass them along...
In addition to dealing with the headaches of a rumored Turnpike strike (he's a member of the Pa. Turnpike Commission; another reason why I always tell friends to get their EZPass tags in Delaware), Don Pasquale has been writing to the editorial pages of the Philadelphia Daily News (a fully paid subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee), which was published a few weeks ago.
This week's edition of the Northeast News Gleaner features the exact same commentary/manifesto from Don Pasquale, with a few words changed around.
The article in the News Gleaner, however, appears to be a little dated...
I also urge everyone to attend one of the public hearings SEPTA will be holding on the Contingency Plan proposals beginning on October 14, 2004 to express your concern about the future of public transit. Northeast News Gleaner
For starters, this appeared in the October 28 edition of the News Gleaner; the last SEPTA hearing was held on October 21. In fairness, this could've been a bad editing job by News Gleaner editors, but...
Maybe I missed something here, but I didn't think that someone was allowed to submit virtually the same statement with a few words switched around. After all, the same statement appeared in the Daily News on October 19, when 3 of the 5 hearings scheduled had already taken place.
Looks like someone needs a better publicist...
Millbourne and Upper Darby police officers arrested a 23 year old Philadelphia man after he allegedly attempted to hijack a 113 bus early Thursday morning, the Delaware County Daily Times reports.
The alleged assailant, identified as Sekou S. Williams, 23, of the 5400 block of Chester Avenue, Philadelphia, was apprehended by a another SEPTA employee who came to the driver’s aid after being summoned by two commuters.The first question that has to pop into one's mind is this: How did a Millbourne police officer end being the first to arrive at the scene of a crime at a SEPTA facility in Upper Darby?
SEPTA police, Millbourne police and Upper Darby police responded to the call of an assault in progress on the Route 113 bus at 4:29 a.m. outside the south terminal, 69th and Market streets.
Millbourne Officer Maria Hillanbrand arrived first and observed SEPTA porter Dave Evans restraining Williams on the ground next to the bus.
The female driver told Officer Joseph Dougherty she was seated on the 113 Marcus Hook bus when the defendant approached and allegedly opened the driver’s-side vent window, reached in, opened the passenger’s-side door and got onto the bus.
"She drove the bus approximately 75 feet, hoping to get closer to the terminal where someone might help her," Dougherty wrote in the affidavit about the driver. "The woman stopped the bus a short distance away, and Williams dragged her from the bus, where she fell to the ground."
Williams re-entered the bus and attempted to drive away," but was unsuccessful and allegedly assaulted the driver again, "punching her numerous times in the face, head and upper body. She curled into a fetal position, covering her face with her hands, until Evans came to her aid."
The driver suffered injuries to her right cheek, lips, right hand and right shoulder. She was taken to Delaware County Memorial Hospital, where she was treated and released.
Beside the fact that Millbourne police are in Upper Darby fairly regularly because of the geography of that area (it's basically a postage stamp size borough surrounded by Upper Darby) and that most arrests made by Millbourne police are processed in Upper Darby, it doesn't seem that unusual.
That said, this would also lead to a question of adequate staffing by SEPTA police, considering that you do have buses running into and out of the terminal 24/7. Not too long ago, I received an email from an SEPTA police insider who says that there are only 8 to 10 officers to cover the entire system between 11pm and 7am. Obviously, that's due to the El and Broad Street Subway not running, but still that's a lot of territory for only 10 officers to cover. From past experiences in having to take a late night 65 bus to Overbrook to catch the R5, SEPTA police coverage at 69 St Terminal - which is supposed to be a major hub, I might add - is spotty at best.
Meanwhile, the processing of Williams didn't quite go as smoothly for Upper Darby police...
While Williams was awaiting arraignment in a holding cell at the Upper Darby Police Station, he stripped naked and refused to get dressed again. This did not prevent him from being presented with a criminal complaint by Pennsylvania state constables.Insert your own joke here...
He is facing charges of robbery of a motor vehicle, robbery, simple and aggravated assault, receiving stolen property, unlawful restraint, terroristic threats, theft and harassment.The aggravated assault charge is most likely an enhanced charge, since attacks on operators of transit vehicles are covered under a separate charge in Pennsylvania (this is based upon what I've seen on buses in other parts of the state, particularly Reading). In New Jersey, NJTransit operators are protected under a similar statute that calls for a 5-to-10 year jail term upon conviction for assaulting an NJT bus or rail operator.
Bail was set at $30,000 pending a preliminary hearing Monday in district court. Delaware County Daily Times
How high of a priority is the proposed Schuylkill Valley Metro train line from Philadelphia to Reading?
First, Congressman Gerlach's response:
Really, really high. It's one of my most important projects I've been working on. Maybe contrary to what (Murphy) said, if I didn't get the task force formed six months ago to keep the dialogue going on this proposal, it probably would be dead by now. I wrote to Gov. Rendell asking him to be involved in this task force. He assigned PennDOT Secretary Beiler to chair it, and it's made up of himself, me and the SEPTA consultants. We've been working on way to bring the $2.5 billion project [down to] a level of about $800 million, which is really where we need to be if we're going to be competitive with other new-start mass-transit projects around the country. So, if she made comment somehow that I'm not involved then she really doesn't have her facts right, because I'm intimately involved with the project. I was also able, in the House Transportation Authorization Bill, to get the project put on what's called final construction authorization, which has to be in place to get the final OK by the Federal Transit Administration to move forward. I've not only been working here locally with state government to come up with local authorities to come up with the right proposal. I've also come up with the project in the final construction project of the highway authorization bill that is now in conference committee between the House and Senate. It's a huge project of importance and among the communities along the corridor - Norristown, Phoenixville, Pottstown, Reading and Wyomissing. It's important to employers to better connect with employees in the region and hopefully get some traffic congestion alleviated along the 422 and 202 corridors.
Now, Murphy's response:
It's a very high priority for me and for the people of this region, and it's a great disappointment that the current fiscal and budgetary policies in Washington have not resulted in adequate federal funds being applied to promote this very important investment in our local infrastructure.Murphy is apparently oblivious to the fact that it was SEPTA who wanted a $2 billion gold-plated rail line masquerading as a glorified "trolley" instead of a rational rail proposal. Fortunately, Congressman Gerlach at least realizes that $2 billion was way too much for the line.
On a related question, both candidates were asked about widening the US 422 corridor between the interchange with US 202 and I-76 in Tredyffrin to the end of the 422 expressway in Berks County. The candidates invoked the $chuylkill Valley rail line in their responses. First, the Congressman speaks:
I haven't seen any particular plans to do that. If at the end of the day, through the metropolitan highway process, that is listed by Montgomery County and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission as one of the top projects, I'd support it. But quite frankly, I haven't seen any specific proposals to do that. There is more interest in the creation of the Schuylkill Valley Metro to help alleviate some the congestion. That's not to say, with the continued growth in the western part of the county, along with Berks County, that that project will not necessarily someday. It very well may be. Right now there are no specific plans being put forward. It's not a plan that's at a high level on any priority list. I try to focus on the projects that everybody had agreed we need to do and those are the things we try to pursue funding for. They've already been vetted by the local, county and regional people and they say, "Yep, that's the priority that they have," and that seems like the priority that we have to follow upon.Murphy's response to the question:
If we had the Schuylkill Valley Metro, we might not have to answer that question. And again, that's probably ultimately going to be a state decision and require the analysis from the state both on the highway consequences and on the environmental consequences. I have sufficient experience to understand the need to reduce traffic or to expand the ability to travel. I don't have enough information to evaluate whether and how it could be expanded. The PhoenixOf course, as I am apt to remind anyone who will listen (which apparently doesn't include the Rotating Resumes at 1234 Market), we could've had rail service operating between at least Phoenixville and Center City if SEPTA hadn't come up with this stupid "MetroRail" concept.