Thursday, January 22, 2004


Don Pasquale and Fearless Leader addressed the media following today's rubber-stamp session of the SEPTA Board, in which SEPTA once again called on Harrisburg to support a long term solution for funding transit systems in the Commonwealth. Don Pasquale indicated that he was "optimistic that there can be a long term solution" and that SEPTA "will lurch from crisis to crisis" without dedicated funding.

Fearless Leader then noted that the Fiscal Year 2005 budget was being developed for release in early April. Figures wouldn't be in place until the first week of February at the earliest, pending the release of the state budget by Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet). Another wild card is the due to expire contracts of the Transport Workers Union Local 234 - which is in it's own apparent state of disarray due to internal leadership issues mentioned last month. An exchange of proposals between SEPTA management and TWU leadership - whomever they may be - is scheduled for Tuesday, February 9.

During the press confab, Don Pasquale pointed out a proposal issued by the Pennsylvania Public Transportation Association (PDF file - requires Adobe Acrobat reader).

The most telling remarks came from Fearless Leader:

"Hold us accountable, but give us the tools to do so."

Perhaps these comments uttered by American Idol's Simon Cowell on last night's telecast could put SEPTA into perspective:

"If I were to call you mediocre, that would be the biggest compliment you've ever been paid."


In more vehicle-relevant news from today's rubber-stamp session, the SEPTA Board approved separate options for 18 New Flyer D40LF buses and 20 New Flyer DE40LF buses. The 18 diesel low floors are part of the 5700-series order, which is supposedly due to start delivery next month (though how that's going to happen remains to be seen).

Among the major changes starting with the 5700-series diesel buses, the Allison B400R transmission will be replaced with the ZF Ecomat transmission. SEPTA staff cited technical issues and increased reliability of the ZF transmission, plus a $773,058 savings (plus $114,162 in reduced warranty costs) certainly helps as well.

The ZF transmission utilizes an integral cooler that has been proven to be extremely reliable. SEPTA has used this configuration on 500 (actually 492 - ed.) buses with great success. The ZF transmission allows SEPTA flexibility in the choice of fluid used to lubricate the unit. The Allison transmission requires the use of proprietary fluid, which increases operating costs significantly. The retarder calibration of the ZF transmission helps increase foundation brake lining life. Numerous transit authorities that are using the same power train configuration as proposed for our buses have confirmed this fact. From Staff Summary

In addition, the next batch of buses will have a more reliable alternator, which has been cited as a key factor in the poor performance of the Neoplan artics.

Recent experience with Niehoff altenrators on Neoplan articulated buses have shown these units to be extremely unreliable. Furthermore, the Niehoff Organization has not offered technical expertise or assistance in resolving these issues. The Delco alternator (50-DN) has been installed on the last 300 New Flyer buses. The charging system reliability on this group of buses has been acceptable. From Staff Summary

In addition, a new feature starting with the 5700-series New Flyers will be a storage box directly over the front curbside wheelhouse to prevent passengers from storing items and obstructing the circulation of passengers on the bus. The kneeling feature will now be full curb side to allow easier alighting from the rear of the bus. The current batch of New Flyers have front kneeling. SEPTA will also get a $295,000 reduction for an earlier contractual delivery date, which was to have been June 1, but has been moved to February 1 - which is only 10 days away. While it's doubtful that 5713 (or 5733, depending on how the hybrids are numbered) will be on the property by February 1, at the very least, it means that the days for the 3000-3251 Neos are numbered.

The total price per vehicle, with all of the changes, plus factoring in the 18 additional buses, is $319,842; the original unit price per bus (without the option) was $316,865 - this is a 4 percent increase in capital costs.

As for the hybrids, the board approved an option for 20 more buses to go along with the existing 12 hybrids now assigned to Southern. Thus far, the testing of the initial 12 hybrids has been fairly successful for SEPTA.

Two pilot buses (5601H and 5602H - ed.) were recieved in October 2002 and placed into revenue service and have accumulated over 19,000 miles training, charter, demonstration, and revenue miles operating from the Southern Depot. Bus performance has been exceptional including driver acceptance.

Fuel performance comparison with regular diesel powered buses inidcates that the Hybrid Bus is twenty-five (25%) percent more fuel efficent which results in an estimated savings of 2,250 gallons of fuel per year per bus. Fuel efficency is 48% better than a similar 40-foot low floor bus powered by a Series 50 Diesel Engine. It should also be noted, however, that the Hybrid buses are being run with Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel Fuel which is currently 20-25% more expensive than #2 diesel fuel, thereby reducing some of the savings.

The Hybrid bus is a slightly quieter bus than a similar Series 50 powered bus.

Rear braking lining life is projected to be over 38,000 miles, which compares favorably to a diesel powered 40-foot New Flyer low floor bus rear linings, which averages 20,000-25,000 miles. The improvement to rear brake life is due to the supplemental regenerative dynamic braking obtained from the drive motors that are connected to the rear axles. This will allow the rear brake linings, that are normally replaced twice for every front brake lining, to now last as long as the front brake linings, which is over a year of service.

The first year operating experience for the two Pilot Buses has been satisfactory. The Hybrid labor and material costs compared to a sample average of 10 Southern Depot operated D40LF's over a recent 6 month period, show the Hybrids' cost per mile @ $0.376 vs. $0.391 per mile for the diesel buses.

The option accelerates the ability of SEPTA to ascertain the evaluation of the Hybrid bus technology, monitor bus costs, and evaluate flexibility, dependability, and reliability of bus systems. A fleet size of 32 Hybrid buses would provide the capability to deploy Hybrids on entire routes for extended periods to fully demonstrate the performance of this new technology when compared to a diesel fleet operating over the same route.

The route assignment diversity performance labor and material costs evaluations will be crucial over the next 3 to 4 years as SEPTA develops technology requirements for the next replacement bus procurement program (for the NABI fleet - ed.). Initial Vehicle Maintenance Information System (VMIS) cost and performance data indicate the Hybrids have a 3.89% lower cost per mile when compared to a diesel bus.
From Staff Summary

Yes, I know that's a lot to digest, but suffice to say that this has been one program that's actually proven to be successful for SEPTA - and that's saying a hell of a lot (see the P&W and El car procurement fiascos from the past 10 years). The cost of the 20 new Hybrid buses comes out to $515,578.81 per bus. By comparison, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) in Austin, Texas recently purchased two hybrids from New Flyer for $576,000 (though specs would obviously be different between the two systems). The remaining 20 Hybrids are due on SEPTA property by the summer.


At the same rubber-stamp session of the SEPTA Board, a contract change order was approved to allow Urban Engineers, SEPTA's "parrot" on the Schuylkill Valley project, extending the current contract to September 30. This change was neccestated by several factors that have been noted at this site over the past few days. The changes to the contract will have Urban Engineers:

  • Develop three project phasing plans, comprised of at least two minimum operable segments each. These phasing plans and associated segments will be developed from the short list of alternatives identified in the SVM MIS/DEIS, and new alternatives may also be considered (emphasis added - ed.).
  • Screen the phasing plans for potential "fatal flaws" with respect to laws, regulatory issues, SEPTA labor agreements, and Norfolk Southern issues. Remove any phasing plans that show "fatal flaws" in any of these areas.
  • Develop capital costs and operating costs for these phasing plans that have no "fatal flaws." Costs will be shown by individual segment, and, where possible, cost data from the SVM MIS/DEIS and annual FTA New Start updates will be used.
  • Conduct a second screening that considers costs and also laws, regulatory issues, SEPTA labor agreements, and Norfolk Southern issues. Based on the overall screening, develop a rank order of phasing plans.
  • Develop forecasts of ridership and revenue for the highly ranked phasing plans, based on the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) travel demand model and the latest 2000 Census data and demographic, socio/economic, housing, and other forcasts developed by the DVRPC. From Staff Summary

It appears that the combination of pressure from DVARP and/or the FTA has played a major role in getting SEPTA to review the Schuylkill Valley project to make it more reasonable from a financial and operational standpoint. Whether or not it forces SEPTA into major changes in the project remains to be seen...


The initial public meeting to review the FY 2004 Annual Service Plan is slated be held sometime next month. While details have been scarse so far, it appears that the major changes will affect bus routes in the Chester City area. Of course, the ongoing "financial crisis" - not to mention the potential labor mess - could throw a monkey wrench into those plans. Details should be filtering out within the next two weeks.

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