Saturday, February 28, 2004
Friday, February 27, 2004
- There's talk among Frontier drivers that the 92 and 133 may be re-linked back into a single line as early as the summer or fall picking. The most likely time-line would be the fall, since SEPTA has probably already started planning for the summer schedules in the suburbs. Plus, even though there's a hearing on the 92 next month in Exton (which focuses on the new routing to the Main Street at Exton complex), re-linking the 92 and 133 may end up being covered under the Annual Service Plan project, if and when that comes out.
- The rumors regarding possible restoration of trackless trolleys on the 59, 66, and 75 appear to have picked up some steam in recent months. Crews have recently been seen stringing wire up around the Frankford Terminal area in recent weeks. Though some have suspected that it's being done in order to retain federal funding for the Frankford Terminal reconstruction, there are other unconfirmed reports that some of the AM General ETBs are being prepared for a return to service at the Courtland shops. Stay tuned...
- The Freightliner/Champion cutaway buses will reportedly be deployed in about 3 weeks. That's the latest timeline heard from a manager at 1234 Market. Considering these buses were due on the property at the end of 2003, one can't help but be sceptical. At the same time, though, if this date is firm, then it means that the Fords will finally get what they deserve - pulled out of service immediately.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, BLE leader Tom Dorricott called SEPTA management out regarding the questionable tactics involved in the process.
Yesterday, (Dorricott) said, "Our concerns are the fact that the process and philosophies of this project have been flawed."
Dorricott, who represents the men and women who drive Regional Rail trains, questioned SEPTA's decision to save $14 million with United Transit, which received the agency's lowest technical ranking: 125 out of 175. Runner-up Kawasaki had a rating of 162, and bid $250 million for the work.
SEPTA's decision to recommend United Transit "made it sound like, 'We're willing to undergo a certain amount of risk just to save $14 million,' " Dorricott said. "Is that amount of savings appropriate?
"I don't believe... that any board would approve of a project that he or she did not think would work," he said. Inquirer article
(Dorricott) charged that SEPTA riders, employees and even managers involved in the initial design of the railcars were "kept in the dark" about changes made to bid specifications and delays in deciding to award a contract. Daily News article
That led to a heated response from Fearless Leader:
"This was a long and hard procurement process. I will tell anybody it was done well," Moore said... Inquirer
Fearless Leader's also added comments which, in effect, said that staff was right to leave the BLE and other operating employees out of the loop during the process.
"The decision had to be made by the people responsible to leave certain people out of the loop," she told Dorricott.
Translation: Well, it shouldn't be such a big deal to the BLE. After all, they're only going to be the people who are operating these new rail cars, so it's not as though they need to be "in the loop" regarding how these cars are built.
It appears that Dorricott's comments had a profound impact on Fearless Leader...
Dorricott's comments clearly incensed (Moore), who snapped at reporters who tried to interview the head of the publicly funded transit agency and others in her employ.
"No!" she snarled when a reporter approached. "Leave me alone!" Daily News
Great leadership, oh Fearless Leader. Simply great. Instead of dealing with the issue straight on, you have to run and hide like a coward. Isn't it wonderful to know that the people running the system are willing to address these issues head-on, without having to hide behind the shield that is the Ministry of Mis-Information?
But, Fearless Leader wasn't the only one running and hiding from the press...
Nervous SEPTA lawyers ushered board members away from reporters. Other board members cut interviews short or beat a path to the door.
"Nothing we did was wrong," said SEPTA Chairman Pat Deon before jumping on an escalator. Daily News
Right. If you have nothing to hide, Don Pasquale, then why aren't you being more open with the public?
SEPTA has so far refused to release lobbyist disclosure forms that each company must file under law with their proposals.
"The whole package is still part of an active procurement and will remain so until the board acts on it," said SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney, explaining the reason for the agency's position. Daily News
That is, until Common Pleas Court Judge Matthew Carrafiello issues an order for it as part of the March 15 hearing on the preliminary injunction.
On that front, the Minister of Mis-Information announced that SEPTA was about to enter the gray legal area known as "forum shopping."
Meanwhile, SEPTA began the process of trying to move the case to a court that specializes in commercial litigation.
It wants Commerce Court to hear the case rather than Court of Common Pleas Judge Matthew Carrafiello, who issued the injunction.
"Carrafiello is a regular, day to day, Common Pleas Court judge," SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said. "The effort is to have a very complicated, business contractual matter seen by a judge who does these things."
No hearing was scheduled on the motion to move the case.
SEPTA, already allied with Dilworth Paxon, hired another law firm, Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, yesterday.
William R. Sasso, the chairman of the firm, just so happens to be chairman of the board of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, which employs a certain former Governor by the name of Mark Schweiker, who just happens to be from - drumroll, please - Lower Bucks County.
Great. Spend more money on lawers for a process that is starting to stink even worse. Maybe that's where all that extra money that was taken from the 27 has disappeared to...
Thursday, February 26, 2004
Well, towards the end of today's 20 minute rubber-stamp session of the SEPTA Board, recently "re-elected" board chairman Pasquale T. Deon, Sr. was kind enough to interrupt his life (undoubtedly, it's difficult to run a SEPTA Board meeting and plan a fishing trip at the same time) to swear in 22 new SEPTA Transit Police officers. Hmmm, that's never happened at a SEPTA Board meeting; usually, new officers are sworn in at the Philadelphia Police Academy.
The timing of the swearing in certainly looks suspicious enough. Less than a week after SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information Richard Maloney denied that there was a crime increase on the El - a statement that was directed to the press after a Fox 29 videographer was assaulted at the 5 St El Station - or that it was part of a pattern involving students from an alternative high school (read: school for troublemakers), SEPTA attempts to stage a dog-and-pony show by swearing in new officers.
That's not to say the officers weren't going to be sworn in this week, but given the suspicion that tends to follow SEPTA - particularly after the Silverliner V fiasco-in-the-making - one can't help but wonder if this was a perfectly timed PR move by SEPTA. If it was, it didn't seem to work, as besides the two major Philadelphia dailies, I didn't notice any other members of the press at today's meeting.
Meanwhile, in other non-PR stunt related news...
The Silverliner V contracts were not awarded today, as expected. The contracts were delayed after Common Pleas Court Judge Matthew Carrafiello issued an emergency restraining order prohibiting SEPTA from awarding the controversial Silverliner V contract to United Transit Systems. The order was requested by Kawasaki after it filed suit in Common Pleas Court earlier this week.
There was a rumor (as yet unconfirmed) that the start of the meeting was delayed nearly 15 minutes while "Don Pasquale" and SEPTA's chief legal counsel were awaiting a ruling that would've allowed SEPTA to award the contract but delay executing the order pending the court hearing. Since the board usually meets in executive session (outside of public view) prior to the start of the public session, it's impossible to confirm, as legal issues are often discussed in executive session (which is permitted under state law). Or, the report could've been gallows humor and not neccesarily true, but nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to SEPTA...
Wednesday's Inquirer report on the injunction
Wednesday's Daily News report on the injunction
More news and notes will be posted by tomorrow, or as time permits...
In an even bigger shock with much drama (yes, that is sarcasm), James C. Schwartzman was re-elected Vice Chairman of the SEPTA Board, also for a sixth term. Schwartzman - a Republican from Radnor who was appointed by the Minority Leader of the Pennsylvania Senate (who is a Democrat) - has served on the SEPTA Board since 1991.
(And, if you haven't noticed, I just cut and pasted the same post that I wrote last year.)
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
- Weekday trains from Camden will depart from the E-Centre to Trenton starting at 6:00am until 9:00pm, with short-turn trains departing from the E-Centre to 36 St/Pennsauken every 30 minutes between 9:30pm and 12:00am; there will also be a 6:17am short-turn from Bordentown to Trenton, and a 6;23am short-turn from Florence to Trenton
- Weekday trains will depart from Trenton to Camden starting at 6:00am, then every 30 minutes until 9:05pm, with short-turn trains departing 36 St/Pennsauken at 5:42am, 6:12am, 6:42am, 10:26pm, 10:56pm, and 11:26pm
- Saturday trains will depart from Trenton to Camden starting at 6:15am, then every 30 minutes until 8:15pm, with 30 minute headways continuing between 9:00pm and 12:00am; short-turn trains will depart from 36 St/Pennsauken at 5:27am, 5:57am, 6:27am, and 6:57am
- Saturday trains will depart from Camden to Trenton every 30 minutes between 5:45am and 8:15pm, with 30 minute headways continuing from 9:00pm until 12:00am, plus three short-turns to 36 St/Pennsauken at 12:15am, 12:45am, and 1:15am
- Sunday trains will depart from Trenton to Camden starting at 6:15am, then every 30 minutes until 8:15pm, with the last train departing Trenton at 9:00pm; short-turn trains will depart from 36 St/Pennsauken at 5:27am, 5:57am, 6:27am, 6:57am, 10:26pm, 10:56pm, and 11:26pm
- Sunday trains will depart from Camden to Trenton every 30 minutes between 5:45am and 8:15pm, the last train to Trenton departing at 9:00pm; short-turns to 36 St/Pennsauken will depart every 30 minutes between 9:30pm and 12:00am
Assuming there are no other problems between now and March 14, revenue service should begin on that date. Then again, with NJ Transit's track record regarding this line, who knows?
The Inquirer reports that Kawasaki is seeking an injunction against SEPTA from awarding the contract to United Transit Systems, accusing SEPTA of rigging the bidding process in order to award the contract to a group with significant political connections.
At the core of Kawasaki's lawsuit is its claim that the bid specifications were changed to relax a requirement that the winning bidder have specific experience manufacturing stainless steel railcars "which comply" with federal technical specifications.
United Transit does not have such experience.
On May 30, 2003, SEPTA changed the specifications to require only "prior experience" generally with federal requirements, doing away with the more specific requirement.
Kawasaki contends that without the change, United Transit would have been disqualified.
SEPTA officials, in an interview last week and in a letter to Kawasaki, have contended the wording was changed to eliminate any possible ambiguity.
As part of its court action, Kawasaki filed affidavits from three other competitors stating that those firms did not bid on the job because they could not meet the original experience rule.
If the second set of specifications had been in place originally, Siemens, Hitachi, and CAF, a Spanish railcar maker, said in the affidavits filed yesterday that they, too, would have bid for the contract.
Some reports from Washington indicate that it's probably a blessing that CAF didn't bid on the contract, as there have been reported problems with WMATA's 5000-series Metrorail car fleet, which was built by CAF. The problems were significant enough to halt production of WMATA's newest Metrorail cars.
The reaction to the lawsuit from SEPTA Minister of Mis-Information Richard Maloney was, shall we say, predictable.
"We are very confident we have followed... the letter and spirit of the law, and we will prevail," said Richard Maloney, the transit agency's chief spokesman.
Right. That's what the NFL was saying after the Maurice Clarett lawsuit.
If last year's lawsuit regarding the Market Street El reconstruction is any indication, Kawasaki may be spinning it's heels, which is rather unfortunate. At the same time, the Market Street lawsuit was filed in federal court, while this legal action is being sought in state court.
Sunday, February 22, 2004
There appear to be two very strong takes on SEPTA's controversial awarding of the Silverliner V contract to a group led by a Korean rail car manufacturer with minimal North American experience, but with plenty of political connections.
The Inquirer's article written by Jere Downs and Nathan Gorenstein on Thursday's public presentation (SEPTA may hire firm it rated low) focused on the numerous political connections between United Transit Systems, LLC - a consortium consisting of Nissho Iwai American Corporation (who was project manager when Kawasaki built the Broad Street and light rail cars in the early 1980's) and Korean-based Rotem - and influential state politicians and political party leaders from both the Demorats and Republicans. Many of these connections, dubbed the "Korean Octopus" by at least one on-line poster not associated with this site, were detailed at this site last week. It also noted that while United Transit Systems was the lowest bidder, it rated the worst among the four bidders in the technical ratings.
To help get the bid, United Transit launched an intensive two-year lobbying campaign. The company hired Alan Novak, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party; SEPTA's former general manager, John K. Leary; and others.
SEPTA general manager Faye Moor (sic) dismissed suggestions that "politics drove our decision."
"These are normal sour grapes. It's disappointing, but it's not surprising. Everybody wanted to have a $300 million contract," the original SEPTA cost estimate. Saving $14 million is the fiscally responsible move, she said.
Sure it is, Fearless Leader. Sure it is. Yet, you can't seem to blame the other bidders for being upset about the way the process went...
Kawasaki is considering "all its options," including a lawsuit, Jitendra S. Tomar, Kawasaki's manager of marketing and business development, said yesterday.
Tomar called the selection of United Transit "disappointing" because SEPTA's technical staff had told Kawasaki the award was "not going to be a low bid, it will be bid on the technical expertise. And what happened today, they just went to the lower bidder."
Kawasaki said it has been building rail cars in the United States for two decades, and has sold cars to Philadelphia and New York City.
I certainly can't comment about the New York City subway cars, but from what I've been told the new bi-level coaches on the Long Island Railroad have been well recieved, as have similar cars used by MARC and Virginia Railway Express.
United Transit, a consortium of Korean firms, was unhappy with its low rating.
"We were very surprised, to say the least," said Richard S. Lewis, the firm's spokesman. "We know one of the key components of the rating system is U.S. experience, but that's the one thing we don't have a lot of. But we have built 32,000 cars," for other countries over the last 30 years, he said.
One of United Transit's corporate parents sold 12 cars in the 1990s to the Alaska Railroad, SEPTA said.
Well, the Alaska Railroad shouldn't exactly be confused with the R5 Paoli line, nor for that matter, the R6 Norristown. At least when you compare that with the numerous rail cars built by the other three bidders.
Lewis acknowledged United Transit's intensive lobbying effort, and said it had been disclosed in a public filing with SEPTA. Novak's firm gave "good strategic advice and counsel," Lewis said.
"They are local, and we knew we needed local consultants... who could introduce us, especially to SEPTA board members, because we are not known here." Novak did not return a call seeking comment.
The Republican Party controls 10 of the 15 seats on the board by virtue of its political dominance in the Philadelphia suburbs and state legislature.
United Transit also retained Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, Gov. Rendell's former law firm, and hired Al Mezzaroba, president of the Convention Center, to offer advice about doing business in Philadelphia.
Mezzaroba is a former top aide to City Council President Anna C. Verna. He also has a regular halibut- and salmon-fishing partner in Pasquale "Pat" Deon, the SEPTA board chairman.
Deon acknowledged the lobbying effort, but said lobbying efforts were undertaken by all the competing firms. He and other SEPTA board members said they were confident that the problems with the Market-Frankford El cars, purchased in the 1993 contract, would not be repeated by United Transit.
Conveniently, "Don Pasquale" forgot to mention that same same company that built the M-4 El cars, ABB/Adtranz, also had problems with the N-5 cars built for the P&W. Oops...
In any case, that's one version of how the Philadelphia press is spinning this story. That said, one would think that the Daily News would make a big deal out of all the political connections, considering that Daily News reporters and columnists generally go after Republicans with amazing gusto.
Then again, the people of Doylestown must have thought that American Idol loser Justin Guarini would have a far better music career than AI-2 runner-up Clay Aiken, and we all know how that turned out...
The Daily News article written by Erin Einhorn and Myung Oak Kim on that same meeting (SEPTA to OK deal to build rail cars at old Navy Yard) made little mention of the political connections, but instead focused on the 140 jobs that United Transit Systems "promises" to bring to a new facility at the Navy Yard.
The thought of new manufacturing jobs in a city where heavy industry has been in decline has local boosters smiling and singing the praises of the Korean company. But the choice of UTS is raising eyebrows among some industry experts who fear the transit agency is choosing price over quality and taking an unnecessary risk with an unproven company that happens to have the backing of influential political leaders.
Among those supporting UTS are Gov. Rendell and Mayor Street, both of whom cited job creation in their praise of the deal.
The firm also has the backing of politically connected members of the local Korean community and a team of high-powered lobbyists, including state Republican party chairman Alan Novak, former Street administration Chief of Staff Stephanie Franklin-Suber and former SEPTA general manager Jack Leary.
"We are very much suspicious about what they have in their proposal and what is going on behind the scenes," said Jitendra Tomar, of Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc., one of the bidders that did not get the recommendation.
Kawasaki's bid would cost SEPTA $14 million more than the UTS bid, but Kawasaki scored a technical rating that was significantly better than UTS's on the scale SEPTA used to rate the qualifications of its bidders.
While some mention was made of the political connections, the Daily News' slant appears to be that of "We don't care how you do it, just bring more jobs to Philadelphia."
This plays right into the hands of Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) and Emperor Street, two favorites of the Daily News editorial board. Well, at least for Rendell, who is undoubtedly trying to spin this as a job creation thing in order to appeal to voters in 2006.
It just goes to show that even though the Inquirer and Daily News are under the same corporate umbrella (Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc.), it seems that the two papers can occasionally have differing takes of news stories...
(Personal disclosure: I am employed by PNI out of one of the home delivery warehouses in Downingtown, but I obviously have no say in how stories are covered. That said, I have no problem criticizing either paper, should it be necessary.)
MORE SCHUYLKILL VALLEY NEWS
The Norristown Times Herald reported on Friday's meetings between Congressman Jim Gerlach (R-6), SEPTA, BARTA, and PennDOT (aka the Committee to Come Up With a Plan B For Schuylkill Valley)regarding the often controversial Philadelphia-to-Reading rail link. Among some of the suggestions that came out of that meeting (from the article):
Using diesel service on some part or all of the line, at least initially, rather than electrifying the entire system.
Don't electrify the entire Norristown to Reading corridor in the first phase? BRILLIANT! What else have you got?
Sharing tracks with Norfolk Southern rather than running a separate track in the same corridor.
Using the same tracks for commuter rail service and freight rail service, as is common practice virtually everywhere else in the nation? BRILLIANT! What else have you got?
Retaining the higher platforms of traditional commuter rail service rather than the more costly ground levels platforms.
Well, I don't know if higher platforms are less expensive than ground-level platforms, but, moving on...
Aiming, at least initially, for service every 30 to 40 minutes rather than the 15-minute peak-hour service initially proposed.
Reducing headways to fit the actual needs of the corridor? BRILLIANT! Anything else you want to suggest?
Phasing the project either geographically or system-wise, such as first getting all the tracks in place, then constructing the needed rail stations and then purchasing the equipment such as rail cars.
Phase the project in rather than do everything in one shot, thus delaying service even longer? BRILLIANT!
(Yes, I borrowed rather liberally from those annoying Guinness commercials featuring those two idiots from the brewery. No, I am not paying royalties, thank you very much.)
It certainly makes one wonder why it took the powers that be so long to figure this out. Could it be that Gerlach, unlike most of the "rocket scientists" down in Washington and Harrisburg are finally paying attention to how flawed SEPTA's "Metrorail" proposal was?
"We need to re-energize our efforts," Gerlach said. "This project is too important to die."
As an aside, I am not opposed to rail service between Philadelphia and Reading. I never have been and I never will be, as it's too important a corridor to leave languishing while US 422 becomes a virtual parking lot. What I am opposed to was the way that SEPTA botched the entire process in coming to this "Metrorail" proposal, not to mention the ridiculously high $2.2 billion price tag. Just so we're clear on this...
Daily Times transportation writer John M. Roman exprienced first hand the convenience - or lack thereof - that SEPTA offers. Take today's offering in his weekly "Road Watch" column (which is not posted on-line):
Here's one for my "Bumps and Thumps" section:
Why doesn't the SEPTA parking lot ticket machine at the major 69th Street Terminal hub accept one-dollar bills?
Not everyone carries $2 worth of change in their pockets - especially since the ticket machine only accepts nickels, dimes, quarters and (SEPTA) tokens.
It also accepts one-dollar coins, but who the heck ever has one of them handy? I can't remember the last time I ever got a Susan B. Anthony coin in change.
I don't think it would require a major technological innovation to have a maching that accepts dollar bills. Every supermarket's self-service lane has such machines ... and they even provide change.
Friday morning, I parked my car at the lot off Market Street, but luckily I stopped at a Wawa to get two more quarters in change after buying a newspaper [his own, we hope - ed.], which I added to the six quarters I scrounged up around the house.
I noticed the machine doesn't have its date timer set up correctly. [No shock there - ed.] The ticket reciept I got back for parking space No. 42 was dated 2/18/04 and the time recorded was "12:00 AM" although it was Feb. 20, Friday, and I parked about 9:40 a.m.
The expiration time on my ticket read 4:46 p.m. Does that mean I was entitled to 16 hours and 46 minutes of parking time between using the Frankford-Market (sic) El?
SEPTA wasn't able to provide me with any answers Friday [yet another shock - ed.] although I left a message with Media Relations Director Richard Maloney around lunchtime. Late Friday afternoon, press officer Sylvana Hoyos said the guy in charge of the parking lots wasn't available and she would have to get back to my Monday. Stay tuned.
Yo, SEPTA, let's fix this parking lot ticket machine.
Okay, Mr. Roman, here are a few things to understand.
First of all, SEPTA is not bright enough to retrofit it's TVMs at it's Center City Regional Rail stations to accomodate the new $5, $10, or either version of the new $20 bill.
Secondly, it's a computer-based machine. SEPTA is seemingly incapable of maintaining them properly.
Finally, it shouldn't be a shock that the person from SEPTA's Ministry of Mis-Information would call to say that the person who could answer your questions wouldn't be back until Monday. (Apparently, it's the Fearless Leader strategy when it comes to Fridays - leave as early as you can.) Although, another theory is that the person with the answers was actually in the office at the time and needed the weekend to come up with an excuse that you and the rest of the riding public would accept.
Good luck, pal. You'll need it.
Saturday, February 21, 2004
It didn't take long for the SEPTA Spin Machine to go into full force following the arrest of two teens on the El earlier this week.
KYW NewsRadio spoke to SEPTA Minister of Mis-Information Richard Maloney on Wednesday.
A Septa official claims the transit agency's security police, Philadelphia Police, and the Philadelphia School District are engaged in ongoing efforts to deal with problems believed tied to students riding the Septa system.
But, Septa spokesman Richard Maloney charges, the number and severity of incidents -- most of which appear to occur in the late afternoon hours -- are being overblown by the media and by Septa riders.
Police believe certain groups of teen riders may be the cause of troubles on the subway system and bus routes. They say more than 40 incidents -- including harassment, intimidation, and assaults on riders -- have been reported over the past month. Some have involved violence.
So, according to SEPTA's Ministry of Mis-Information, 40 reported incidents involving teen riders over the past month is overblown? And, to add insult to injury, SEPTA is accusing riders of blowing things out of proportion?
Sure, and I have a bridge in Tacony for sale...
Thursday, February 19, 2004
There have been rumors flowing around about a possible back-door attempt by SEPTA to award the Silverliner V contract to a group led by a Korean firm with minimal experience in rail car building in North America. A group called United Transit Systems LLC, which includes the Korean firm Rotem, will be awarded the Silverliner V contract at the next SEPTA Board rubber-stamp meeting. Some of the circumstances appear to be ethically questionable at best.
To wit, despite having the lowest technical rating of the four bidders (the others were Kawasaki, Sumitomo, and Bombardier), United Transit Systems submitted the lowest bid - $236,530,347 - for 104 rail cars (35 EMU sets and 34 single cars) to be delievered starting in August 2006. There are allegations of political manipulation surrounding the deal, as many of the state's biggest players on both sides of the political aisle are reportedly involved. To wit:
- UTS/Rotem hired Pennsylvania State Republican Committee Chairman Alan Paul Novak for an undisclosed position. One of Novak's partners at Conrad O'Brien Gellman & Rohn, LLC, Philadelphia, is James J. Rohn, is a SEPTA Board member from Chester County. [The apparent theory, according to some insiders, is that Novak will use his friendship with Republican National Committeeman (and convicted felon) Robert B. Asher to influence Montgomery County's two board members and two legislative representatives who also live in Montgomery County; Asher is also close to SEPTA Board member and Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission boss Frank McCartney]
- UTS/Rotem retained the powerful Ballard Sphar Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP law firm; one of the attorneys listed as working at that firm is recently elected Montgomery County Commissioner - and SEPTA Board member - Thomas Jay Ellis. Here's an excerpt from Ellis' biography posted at the Ballard Sphar web site:
- Thomas Jay Ellis is a partner in the Public Finance Department. Mr. Ellis has worked on a variety of tax‑exempt financings since joining Ballard Spahr, primarily with Pennsylvania local government and authority issuers. Mr. Ellis also handles government relations matters within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
- Another lobbyist with deep political ties who was hired by UTS/Rotem is Al Mezaroba, a former aide to City Council President Anna Verna and close ally of State Sen. Vince Fumo (D-1/Peco Energy). One of Mezaroba's close friends is none other than the Chairman of the SEPTA Board, one Pasquale T. Deon, Sr. Both "Don Pasquale" and Mezaroba served on the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority Board of Directors before its recent restructuring. "Don Pasquale's" political mentor, Bucks County GOP boss Harry Fawkes, is also an ally of Mezaroba; the three often spend time in the summer fishing in Alaska (where "Don Pasquale" will be disappointed to learn that there are no toll roads)
- UTS/Rotem recently hired former SEPTA GM John K. Leary, Jr. - who was previously affiliated with the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail consortium that is currently making the MBTA's commuter rail system even more of a laughing stock than SEPTA - if that's possible - to work with SEPTA staff on the Silverliner V project
- Both Rotem, and Incheon, a Korean Trading Company with offices in Philadelphia, have made political contributions to Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet); officials from both companies attended Rendell's inauguration
But wait, there's more, some of which is believed to have occured as a result of many of the links above:
- UTS/Rotem has already purchased property at the former Navy Yard site in South Philadelphia, from which they plan to build the Silverliner V cars
- As noted in the opening, UTS/Rotem was rated lowest among the four manufacturers who had submitted bids on the Silverliner V
- The initial technical specs would have disqualified UTS/Rotem from even submitting a bid. There was a requirement that the carbuilder have previous experience in constructing stainless steel carbodies which comply with FRA regulations; however, that was changed with the release of the revised specs last May. [The official excuse from Assistant GM for Operations/Excuses Pat Nowakowski was that FRA regulations regarding rail car construction had changed from the time the initial RFP was issued until the time the revised RFP was issued.] While Rotem has never built rail cars for North American properties, one of the partners in UTS - NIAC - was the project manager for the Kawasaki Broad Street Line and LRV contracts in 1980.
Following the meeting of the "Committee of the Whole" (whatever that means) in which SEPTA staff gave a presentation on the Silverliner V project, "Don Pasquale" wasn't "took exception" when asked by reporters about some of the above links between Rotem and SEPTA Board members. "Where would the political payoff be?" he responded.
Okay, let's see, how about the creation of 200 jobs that Rendell and Emperor Street (assuming they restore diplomatic relations sometime this decade) can take credit for. Considering the state of the economy today, Rendell and Street need to see as many job created in the commonwealth as possible. That sounds like a pretty good political payoff. Never mind the fact that these jobs won't come to fruition until 2006, but hey, what's a couple years among friends...
As for Jack Leary's involvement with UTS/Rotem?
"He's not one of my favorites," "Don Pasquale" responded. "Why would I want to bring him back?"
Remember that Leary was hired when Tom Heyward was chairman of the SEPTA Board, and that Leary was brought in after that board, led by former Delaware County Councilman Wally Nunn, forced out Lou Gambaccini.
There's already talk of either legal action or possibly protests to the FRA and/or FTA regarding the questionable dealings behind the Silverliner V project. Federal rules prohibit "political intervention", though with the way SEPTA covers its tracks, that could be hard to prove.
Somehow, I get the feeling things are only starting to heat up at 1234 Market...
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THESE KIDS?
The Daily News reports that several incidents along the Broad Street Line and the El in recent weeks have raised concerns about groups of students who attend schools for troubled youths. Both SEPTA officials, school officials, and the Philadelphia Police deny that there's a pattern of assaults on the El, but you have to take those denials at face value.
On Tuesday, a 13-year-old student allegedly assaulted a videographer from Fox 29 at the 5 St El station during the PM peak period. A second suspect was also arrested, according to CBS 3's Walt Hunter. Hunter also reported that both suspects were students at the Community Education Partner School, Front St/Hunting Park Av, which caters to students with disciplinary problems. School District of Philadelphia officials downplayed the connection:
"...[V]iolence is not tolerated but added that often times CEP students are falsely blamed." CBS 3 report
(At least CBS 3 didn't have far to travel for this story, as their studios are right at 5 St/Market St.)
The operators of the school in question went into full Richard Maloney mode to the Daily News:
The 13-year-old was identified as a student at the Hunting Park CEP school by Kevin Feeley, spokesman for Community Education Partners, a contractor that operates the schools.
"There's no evidence that there's a pattern of assaults involving CEP students, at least that we've been told," Feeley said.
As for SEPTA's Minsitry of Mis-Information?
"In the past few months we've gotten reports of kids fooling around, but there have not been any serious assaults and there have not been any serious injuries," said SEPTA spokesman Jim Whitaker.
This might explain why police have started to maintain a stronger presence at some Center City stations, including the deployment of a bike officer normally assigned to the Zone 1 station at 69 St Terminal.
Apparently, that was only the most recent incident involving CEP students:
Veronica Joyner, founder and chief administrative officer of the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School, at Broad and Buttonwood streets, said yesterday that about 30 students from another CEP school at 12th Street and Allegheny Avenue attacked three girls from the charter school last week on the Broad Street Subway.
She said others had attempted to attack kids on a class trip recently until teachers and parents stopped them. Daily News report
Okay, maybe two incidents don't neccesarily constitute a pattern, but it should at least send up a few red flags along the way. Then again, there are times when kids tend to get violent anyway, regardless of where they go to school. There have been a few scirmishes between students from Bonner/Prendegast high schools in Drexel Hill and from West Catholic that took place in 69 St Terminal over the past few years (I personally observed one such incident two years ago). Yet, if this is a sign of things to come, people better be very careful when riding SEPTA.
Former SEPTA Board Vice Chairman Richard Voith authored yet another interesting piece on the state of SEPTA's finances in today's Daily News. His experiences in dealing with the 9 bus probably hits home to some of our regular contributers to the site.
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Schedules in the City Transit Division change this Sunday. Among the highlights (that have been noted so far):
ROUTE 1 New Saturday service to operate between Wissahickon Loop and Academy Rd/Red Lion Rd
ROUTE 14 Increased weekday service from Roosevelt Blvd/Byberry Rd during the evening peak
ROUTE 17 Weekday Navy Yard service cut back to Broad St/Pattison Av; weekend service to Navy Yard retained
ROUTE 20 Weekday AM inbound express trips to Bridge-Pratt will operate with limited stops along Frankford Av at Rhawn, Cottman, Levick, and Robbins
ROUTE 27 "Revised running times" to address on-time performance
ROUTE 28 Service adjustments between 6:00pm and 9:30pm
ROUTE 31 SHUTTLE Service starts earlier; now operates between 10:00am and 7:00pm
ROUTE 53 Extended to Broad St/Hunting Park Av
ROUTE 58 Increased inbound service to Bridge-Pratt between 3:00pm and 7:00pm
ROUTE 65 Boarding location at 69 St Terminal will return to the North Terminal
ROUTE 70 1:43am westbound trip from Torresdale Loop will be extended to Fern Rock; 1:46am eastbound trip from Fern Rock will be extended to Torresdale Loop
ROUTE 71 New Navy Yard Shuttle service to operate from 5:40am to 6:55pm, operating every 30 minutes; service will be bike accessible
The SEPTA press release also note service changes on the 8 and 52. More details will be posted about route changes on other lines when they become available.
RIVER LINE BLITZ BEGINS
The heavy marketing blitz for the River Line has begun in earnest. NJ Transit launched a web site which includes schedule information (once the service starts next month) and special promotions throughout South Jersey. According to the Trenton Times, the web site is only one part of the marketing blitz, which will include a mass mailing along the entire corridor and bus advertising.
Take this item for what it's worth...
We hear from a reliable source that shortly after the explosion at Ogontz and Olney on Friday, Fearless Leader was reportedly paged as she was about to leave for the weekend. Presumably, she was paged in hopes that she'd report to Olney Terminal to help coordinate the mass chaos up there. According to a spy down in Center City, she reportedly went home instead.
The knee jerk reaction would be to wonder why the chief executive officer of a major transit agency would not want to respond to what was a major operational nightmare in North Philadelphia. Yet, at the same time, that's why there's a control center. That's why there's supposed to be senior managers who are supposed to handle these things.
One area where SEPTA failed was in communicating to it's passengers via the internet. Though I didn't have a chance to confirm this, some of our contributors report that SEPTA made no mention of any detours around Olney Terminal (it was later learned that buses were diverted to Fern Rock) on its web site. Apparently, the people responsible for maintaining the home page of the web site only work during normal business hours; it didn't occur to anyone that not everyone may have been aware about the explosion and had logged onto the web site thinking all was well at Olney.
Of course, when you're dealing with a transit system that seems to place customer relations at the bottom of its priority lists, this can't really come as a shock...
Monday, February 16, 2004
The River Line is still not operational, but that hasn't stopped Burlington County from adding more services to it's wildly successful BurLink service. A new route - the B5 - began operation today, connecting the Florence Park & Ride/River Line station with employment centers at the Haines Industrial Center in Burlington Twp. Burlington County officials report strong ridership on the new shuttle services that were implemented last month. And that's without the River Line starting up when it was supposed to (namely, yesterday).
Perhaps the company that provides the destination signs for SEPTA's fleet knows something that we don't...
According to a press release issued by Digital Recorders, Inc., parent company of TwinVision, announced the following:
Canada-based New Flyer ordered TwinVision(R) amber all-LED EDSS for 100 bus vehicles in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Agency (sic) public transit fleet. Delivery is expected to conclude in April 2004.
Considering how fast some of the recent orders from New Flyer were delivered, it appears that the first of the 5700s should be arriving on SEPTA property in a matter of days. There's a possibility of delays with this order due to the change-over from an Allison transmission to a ZF transmission, starting with this order.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that they haven't been deployed yet, SEPTA is promoting it's new Champion cutaway buses on some of its timetables. 2070, which is apparently the prototype bus, is featured on the new timetables for the 92, 130, and 304. Despite initial reports that the buses would be on an International chasis, they actually are being built on a Freightliner chasis.
Sunday, February 15, 2004
In a rare meeting, the SEPTA Board's "Committe of the Whole" will meet on Thursday to listen to a presentation regarding the ongoing Silverliner V project. The meeting will be held in the board room at 1234 Market starting at 10:30am. This is the first time that I can recall such a meeting of this committee (which, in effect, is the full board, but don't expect any items to be voted on here). Two years ago, DVARP blasted SEPTA for holding a similar presentation out of public view.
FIRST PUBLIC HEARING OF THE YEAR
The first SEPTA Public Hearing of the year will take place on Tuesday, March 16 at the Overbrook Presbyterian Church, 6376 City Av, Philadelphia, to accept public comments on the re-routing of the northbound 65 bus to directly serve the 63 St/Malvern Av loop. The hearing begins at 1:30pm.
YET ANOTHER WEB GEM
The good news on the internet front is that the route maps of selected eliminated routes and a mystery schedule for a "Route 85" have been removed from the SEPTA web site.
The bad news?
Apparently when someone posted the northbound P&W schedules, they left off one very important timepoint...
The 69 St Terminal.
[Editor's note: As of Wednesday, 19 February, this was corrected to include the 69 St Terminal timepoint.]
SILLY SEASON BEGINS
TWU Local 234 president (at least for this week) Jean Alexander and Fearless Leader launched what is often known as the "Silly Season" - aka the contract negotiations between TWU and SEPTA. The collective bargaining agreement covering City Transit Division employees expires March 15.
Friday's Inquirer report gave the impression that this was more of a love-in rather than the start of a traditionally stressful period for management, employees, and the riding public. Following the traditional handshake after the exchange of proposals, Alexander and Fearless Leader embraced.
Ah, but there's more...
Still, asked what they expect between now and March 15 when the contract expires with about 4,700 city bus drivers, cashiers and mechanics, (SEPTA General Manager Faye L.M.) Moore and Alexander both spoke of a relationship forged over the last year as they fiercely lobbied for more transit funding in Harrisburg.
"I like the spirit in this room today," Moore, 53, said after trading contract proposals with Alexander. "We have worked together and we will work together."
Alexander, 67, said: "I am really confident we will be able to do this contract and things will work out well."
Too bad I was tied up in Media on Monday morning, otherwise I would've loved to have seen that scene. Meanwhile, Alexander offered a gem that has moved to the front of the "Richard Maloney Under-statement of the Year" award.
"We all know a strike is not good for anybody," Alexander said.
Duh. As if some poor schmuck from Fishtown actually thought a SEPTA strike was a good idea...
In any case, the big issue in this round of negotiations appears to be medical benefits and pensions. With Harrisburg in their annual "Let's bitch about other irrelevant things while the budget goes unresolved" portion of the legislative season, SEPTA's June 30 deadline for passing a budget, and the union's March 15 contract deadline, there's talk that in addition to the traditional one-week negotiation period extension, that contract talks could stretch out for nealry a year, depending on what the legislature and Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) decides to do.
There's also the domino affect involving TWU-represented operators and mechanics at Frontier - whose contract expires on April 15 - and the UTU Local 1594 represented operators and TWU-represented mechanics at Red Arrow - those contracts expire on April 1 - there's always the slim possibility that one of those two divisions could go out on strike if things get dicey with the CTD negotiations.
It's probably too early to start breaking out the strike plans, but that could always change in a few weeks.
ANOTHER CRY FOR HELP
The Phoenix presented a strong editorial supporting Rendell's preference to link future increases in the gas tax for highways to funding increases for mass transit. Yet, the legislature would rather travel to the far reaches of Canada rather than increase taxes in an election year. Stay tuned...
TRESPASSER DEATH RULED SUICIDE
A trespasser was struck and killed by an R7 train Wednesday evening. Details have been sketchy over the past few days (or they've been scattered among different news sources), however Philadelphia Police reported that a female was struck by the train shortly after 6:00pm (the train involved is believed to be the #4656 from Trenton). Click here for more details (warning: some of the details are not for the squeamish).
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
This is a preliminary listing of route changes that will take place in the Red Arrow and Frontier divisions next week.
FRONTIER (Feburary 15/16)
ROUTE 99 Service re-routed in Royersford via Main St, 10 St, and Royersford Rd en route to Limerick Square Shopping Center; service re-routed in Phoenixville via PA 29, Bridge St, Main St, and Nutt Rd
"Minor schedule changes" will be implemented on Routes 92/133, 94, 96, 97, 131, and 201 (details to be posted as soon as new timetables are obtained). Schedules for the 204, 206, 207/WHIRL, and 314 will not change.
RED ARROW (February 16)
P&W/ROUTE 100 A new Norristown limited will depart from 69 St at 6:00am, stopping only at Ardmore Jct, Bryn Mawr, Radnor, and Gulph Mills; added Norristown Express/Bryn Mawr Local services between 6:00pm and 7:00pm.
ROUTE 101/102 Early morning times will be adjusted to improve connections to other routes at 69 St Terminal
ROUTE 105 New Sunday service between 69 St and Suburban Square/Ardmore Rail Station in Lower Merion
ROUTE 109 New OWL service; Revised weekday evening schedules between 6:00pm and 7:00pm
ROUTE 110 Two weekday "express" trips departing 69 St Terminal at 5:15pm and 5:45pm will operate non-stop to Township Line Rd (US 1)/Lansdowne Av via West Chester Pike
ROUTE 115 New weeknight evening service to DCCC/Southeast Campus on Elmwood Av in Sharon Hill (the new Southeast Campus replaces the Collingdale Center on MacDade Blvd)
ROUTE 123 Weekday peak service will be diverted to serve the Gulph Mills P&W Station (this must be a I-76 congestion related move, since it seems to defeat the purpose of the 123 to connect with the P&W at Gulph Mills)
ROUTE 124/125 Re-routed within Center City due to reconstruction of 13 St El/Subway-Surface station; buses will now depart from N 10 St between Market and Filbert Sts (Market East Station/Gallery at Market East), operating via Market to 15 St/JFK Blvd, and en route to King of Prussia and points north; buses to Center City will operate via Market, 16 St, Vine St and 10 St, making all stops along Market, at 16 St/JFK Blvd (Suburban Station); Broad St/Vine St; and at Market East.
"Minor schedule changes" will be implemented on Routes 104, 106, 108, 111, 112, 113, 114, 117/119, 120, 122, and 305 (details to be posted as soon as new timetables are obtained).
City Transit Division schedule changes will be posted and made available next week, with those timetables to change on February 22/23.
Remember in one of my postings on Sunday how I wished I could be a fly on the wall on Tuesday as Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) addressed the Pennsylvania Public Transportation Association's Government Affairs Conference? Well, the Inquirer was kind enough to send Jere Downs to cover Rendell's appearance (though I had nothing to do with it...).
In today's Inquirer, the governor/sports commentator delivered some bad news to the commonwealth's nearly 70 public transit agencies.
"I will give you a guarantee that I will not let that (gas tax) funding occur without having corollary funding for mass transit," Rendell said at the Harrisburg Hilton meeting [insert your own Paris Hilton joke here - ed.].
But a gas tax/transit tax increase should wait until late fall, when Congress is expected to define future federal transportation funding, Rendell said.
"I am taking my lead from the legislature, but I think we should wait to see," Rendell told the group representing the state's 70 transit agencies. "What happens in Washington will affect us dramatically."
Rendell's shifting the blame from Harrisburg to Washington is not going to sit too well with Fearless Leader and the Rotating Resumes at 1234 Market St. The threat of DRACONIAN SERVICE CUTS and a fare increase will rear its ugly head yet again, and it's highly doubtful that anything will be resolved until after the election.
If you read between the lines, Rendell is essentially saying that gas and/or transit taxes will have to wait until after the legislative election, but is trying not to say it explicitly by blaming Congress.
The prospect of waiting for relief until late fall did not please transit officials. Decisions on whether to raise fares or cut service must be made when the fiscal year ends this spring.
For many legislators, (SEPTA's legislative counsel Jeanne E.) Neese said, "it is too difficult to do a tax vote before an election."
SEPTA faces a $61.5 million deficit that must be resolved by July 1. SEPTA officials privately said yesterday that they were still scraping together a short-term financial strategy. In Pittsburgh, the Port Authority of Allegheny County is coping with a projected $27 million shortfall.
If you recall, SEPTA did not pass a finalized budget for the current fiscal year until this past rubber-stamp session of the SEPTA Board. Either fare hikes and service cuts are on the horizon or it will be deja vu all over again...
MARKET ST MESS
Bus service in Center City was severely disrupted during the mid-day hours yesterday due to two separate incidents along Market St.
The first incident took place at 2 St shortly before 1:00pm when Philadelphia fire fighters responded to what was either a medical emergency or a false alarm depending on who you talk to. Fire apparatus took out the eastbound lanes at 2 St, forcing all eastbound 17, 33, and 48 buses to carefully weave their way into Penns Landing.
The second incident occured at 10 St a few minutes after 1:00pm, when 5637, covering a 17 trip to South Philadelphia (7326 block) - and carrying a full load at that - attempted to pass a disabled taxi that was blocking the "bus lane" in front of the Gallery. While the bus was attempting to navigate around the taxi, some idiot in a Chrysler Concorde attempted to pass the bus (ending up in the eastbound lanes), and in doing so, got struck. No injuries were reported, but the driver of the Concorde probably recieved a few "bad driving certificates" courtesy of the Philadelphia Police. What that bozo probably deserves is the "Bam Margera Jackass Driver of the Week award".
Fortunately, there was minimal damage to either vehicle, but both SEPTA and NJT buses were stuck in a traffic tie-up for nearly 20 minutes. Several buses ended up with standing loads as the approached 15 St/JFK Blvd, including a pair of 33s and a pair of 17s.
Sunday, February 08, 2004
And now, another page in the incredible book of SEPTA's Stupidest Criminals.
Today, we take you to the Audubon district of Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County, where two bank robbers were captured after allegedly robbing the National Penn Bank in Royersford and using a 99 bus (for the record, the bus involved was 5147/from the very grainy video feed from NBC 10, it appears this was 6149 block) to escape.
Today's lesson for criminals? Don't escape on SEPTA...
According to the Pottstown Mercury and other news sources, James Thomas Roberts, 38, and Alyson L. Stephen, 44, both of Royersford, entered the National Penn Bank branch on Main St in Royersford shortly after 1:00pm. The couple then escaped on the 12:25pm departure from Limerick Square to Norristown.
Bank employees activated a GPS tracker located in one of the money bags. At around 1:10pm, Royersford Police, with the assistance of several neighboring police departments, converged on 5147 at Egypt and Trooper Rds in Lower Providence.
All passengers were removed from the bus. While male suspects were interrogated at gunpoint, the women and children on board the bus were allowed to wait inside the Arby's at Audubon Square Shopping Center. After a lengthy investigation, a witness identified Roberts as one of the alleged robbers.
Meanwhile, police were still searching for Roberts' accomplice. Police were unaware that Stephen was allegedly in posession of the stolen money. An alert employee noted Stephen acting suspiciously while entering the women's restroom. Police recovered most of the money from Stephen's pockets.
Both Roberts and Stephen are being held at Montgomery County Prison on $250,000 and 10 percent of $30,000 bail respectively.
MORE DELAYS IN WEST CHESTER CONSTRUCTION
Thanks in part to SEPTA's foot-dragging, it appears that hell may freeze over before the West Chester Transportation Center/Chester County Parking Garage will ever be built.
According to Friday's editions of the Daily Local News, Chester County commissioners announced the hiring of Unruh Turner Burke and Frees to help in negotiations with SEPTA for the new bus station to be located at Market and New Sts. The delays are wreaking havoc with the county's ability to begin construction on the new Criminal Justice Center, which would be located across the street on the site of the current Dague Building. The garage was to have been completed last year, but, as one could expect from SEPTA when it comes to Chester County issues, that didn't happen.
Of course, by the time this gets built, there may not be as many routes serving West Chester, because...
Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) proposed a 3.4 percent increase in transit funding state-wide. The Inquirer reports that it will amount to $8.5 million in additional funding for SEPTA, simply a drop in the bucket when compared to the nearly $70 million budget gap that is staring Fearless Leader and the Rotating Resumes at 1234 Market in the face.
SEPTA money managers cannot relax, however. Even with Rendell's help, a $61.5 million hole would remain in the tentative $917 million budget for fiscal 2005 - equivalent to the cost of virtually all transit services in Delaware and Chester Counties.
Already, some board members are going into their "The Sky is Falling" phase...
"If we don't get the money [to cover] our shortfall, we don't have many places we can go," said James C. Schwartzman, vice chairman of SEPTA's board. "There are either service cuts or fare increases, or a combination."
The Pennsylvania Public Transportation Association, a lobbying group that represents the interests of virtually all transit operators in the commonwealth, was less than enthused about Rendell's "generosity".
"We are far behind," said Michael Imbrogno, chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Transportation Association, which represents more than 70 systems. "We need new taxes or other innovative ways of funding transit." ...
One idea, Imbrogno said, would be to reprise the 1997 package of tax increases, which raised levies on gasoline to pay for road repairs and sales taxes to help transit systems. (PPTA) officials also plan to press their case next Tuesday at a conference in Harrisburg devoted to transit funding. Rendell will speak, followed by a panel discussion featuring such key legislators as Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) and Rep. Richard Geist (R., Blair), chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that little pow-wow...
DIRT-DIGGING, NJT STYLE
It seems that the folks at NJ Transit have taken a page out of SEPTA's Ministry of Mis-Information handbook when it comes to the controversial River Line.
On Wednesday, the Cherry Hill Courier Post reported on NJ Transit's claims that dirt dumped in Camden that was reportedly contaminated is in fact clean fill.
"This is dirt that can be placed anywhere," Penny Bassett-Hackett, a spokeswoman for NJ Transit said Tuesday.
The Salem County Landfill is reported to be one of the recipients of the "clean fill", and reportedly planned to honor it's deal with NJT. Elk Township, Gloucester County, was to have been another recipient, however officials apparently had cold feet and backed out...
Perhaps Elk Township officials knew something that NJT didn't know or failed to disclose. Friday's Courier Post reported that at least one enviormental expert disagrees with NJT's "clean fill" claims.
"Heavy metals don't break down," said Rodger Ferguson, referring to one of the principal categories of contaminants in the dirt NJ Transit left while building the 34-mile Camden-to-Trenton light rail line, which is scheduled to start running March 14.
Also quite stable are polyaromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, he said. PAHs are another category of contaminants found in the 124,000 cubic yards of dirt that NJ Transit excavated from the light rail's right-of-way and dumped in East Camden.
"They do not break down readily. It takes decades," said Ferguson, operating manager of New Brandywine Environmental in Pemberton Township.
Not surprisingly, the NJT spokeswoman didn't comment.
LIFE IN "EL"
All is not well for business owners along the Market St corridor in West Philadelphia.
The Inquirer recently reported on the complaints of business owners in the El re-construction area. Some merchants have either been forced to cut back on basic expenses or close completely.
"Basically, there's no money, no salary at the end of the week," said Chuck O'Connor, owner of Bargain House at 52d and Market Streets. He has offered his store for sale after more than three decades of working there.
"I don't think my wife and I have gone out to dinner for a couple of years," said O'Connor, who has spoken for businesses along Market and 52d Streets at meetings and hearings about the reconstruction project.
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
When schedules change on City Division routes in two weeks, service to the Navy Yard will be restrucutred.
The 17 will now only serve the Navy Yard on weekends, with a new Route 71 being created to operate between Pattison Station and the Navy Yard on weekdays. The 71 is being funded by a CMAQ grant. More details will be posted later this week.
With apologies to Sports Illustrated's Peter King (the NFL beat columnist whose Monday Morning Quarterback is the inspiration for this post), here are 10 things that I think I think:
1. I think there is a major bus shortage at Red Arrow ... again. Either that, or there's a management or accountability problem. In any case, departing 69 St Terminal on-time seems to be a foreign concept for some operators out of that particular depot. To wit:
- The 5:45am 104 local to West Chester (3380/4220 block) - which is a pull-out for the first 119 from West Chester to Chester - did not pull into the center island platforms at 69 St until 5:55am. By that time, the 6:05am 104 express to West Chester (3265/4222 block) had already pulled into the terminal and was waiting to depart. Meanwhile, the 5:55am 104 Newtown Square local (5372/4215 block) had departed on-time. 4220 block did not depart 69 St Terminal until 5:57am - 12 minutes behind schedule.
- The 2:50pm 104 Newtown Square local (5589/4238 block) pulled out of the depot late and departed 69 St Terminal at 2:57pm; this operator is usually pretty good about leaving on-time.
- The 3:05pm 104 West Chester local (3450/4239 block) pulled out of 69 St Terminal 6 minutes late. A few minutes earlier, 3450 had pulled-in from the 118 (4631 block) before being sent right back out to cover the 104.
This leads me to my next point...
2. I think that Red Arrow management consider the 104 a low priority line. It seems that despite a shortage of buses, every other line start their respective runs on time during peak hours. Not the 104. It's almost a running joke that people are now starting to take over/under bets as to how late the 104 will be when departing 69 St Terminal during peak hours. Yet, with the way certain lines have their runs cut, no other route seems to have problems with buses departing terminals on time (ie. the 108, 109, 113, etc). Maybe I missed something, but didn't the 104 - or at least the West Chester Pike corridor - used to be one of the highest priority lines in Red Arrow? The 104 used to be the first line to get newer buses when Red Arrow was still run by the Taylor family. Now, we're lucky to see maybe 1 or 2 New Flyers during peak hours and a steady diet of slow running Neos during the rest of the day. And, despite bulletin orders that specifically prohibit using Neoplans on Sundays out of Red Arrow, the 4217 block on Sunday always gets a Neoplan. No other route can claim that distinction on Sundays; not even the 305.
3. I think there needs to be a few minor routing and major schedule changes to the 104:
- For starters, eliminate the loop through the Bull Center parking lot. Most operators already blow that part of the routing off, so why not make it official. It just adds about 2-3 minutes to the running time.
- Re-route the 104 off of West Chester Pike between US 202/322 and Bolmar St and operate it via Paoli Pike and US 202/322 (similar to the present 119 routing between West Chester and PA 352) to allow daily service to West Goshen Shopping Center. The present combination of the 119 and 314 (both of which only operate on weekdays) just isn't cutting it.
- All West Chester trips (save for peak hour expresses) would operate directly into the Edgmont Square Shopping Center complex. When SEPTA re-routed all trips after 7:00pm via Edgmont Square, the rationale was safety. Well, it's still pretty unsafe to cross West Chester Pike at Edgmont even during daylight hours.
- All peak hour Newtown Square Corporate Campus trips would be extended to Edgmont Square as follows: AM PEAK - Outbound from 69 St Terminal to West Chester Pike/Bishop Hollow Rd, then via Bishop Hollow Rd, Campus Blvd, and West Chester Pike to Edgmont, layover, depart from Edgmont directly to 69 St Terminal via West Chester Pike; PM PEAK - Outbound from 69 St Terminal direct to Edgmont Square, then inbound via Edgmont Square, West Chester Pike, Campus Blvd, Bishop Hollow Rd, and West Chester Pike.
- Some AM peak trips from Broomall to 69 St Terminal should be eliminated; and finally
- Give some of these West Chester to 69 St operators more than 4 minutes to recover at 69 St Terminal before heading right back out to West Chester.
Of course, hell has a better chance of freezing over before SEPTA makes any changes to the 104 that actually make sense, but that's just me...
4. I think there needs to be a supervisor assigned to Parkway Shopping Center during the PM peak period. More often than not, the 92 buses arriving from Exton have been getting in about 5-10 minutes late, then, instead of turning around and returning to Exton on time, are apparently taking their sweet time either at the McDonalds or Wawa along S High St. It has screwed me over big time when that happens on a couple of occasions. About 2 weeks ago, the 4:25pm departure (2055/6019 block) made it to West Chester a few minutes before it was supposed to leave Parkway Shopping Center. It didn't get to High St/Linden St until 4:37pm. As a result, it got to Exton Rail Station late, and I missed the R5 as a result. It's not fun to spend an hour in near arctic conditions at a station with no real amenities (ie. restrooms or heated shelters).
5. I think SEPTA should conduct a major inquiry into how poorly the ElDorados have been handling the recent cold snap. There are rumors through the grapevine, particularly at Frontier, that most of the ElDorados had been breaking down in recent weeks due to the cold weather. One theory, according to one operator, was that SEPTA recently purchased a less expensive fluid which is supposed to protect certain engine lines from freezing. Obviously, if these rumors are correct, it didn't work. This might explain why some 40-ft Neoplans had been showing up on the 92/133 on Saturdays. It also might explain why 40-ft buses are showing up on some of the lower volume Red Arrow routes on Saturdays and Sundays.
6. I think whomever designed the present 127 routing must have had a few screws loose. Instead of providing a relatively straight trip from Oxford Valley to Trenton via Morrisville, the 127 features one of the most bizarre routings of any bus route that I've ever seen (and yes, that includes the fact that the 98 has to serve Blue Bell before going to Plymouth Meeting Mall). After taking a straight shot up Lincoln Hwy from Neshaminy to Oxford Valley, the route zig-zags all over Lower Bucks to the point where it's very easy to become disoriented. After looping around Oxford Valley Mall and it's various office parks and Sesame Place, it heads down Oxford Valley Rd to the former Levittown Shopping Center, but not before diverting onto Hood Blvd and serving Pennsbury High School, then heads north on the 13 Freeway before exiting onto Mill Creek Rd and serving industrial centers and trailer parks along Bristol Pike before heading south on the 13 Freeway to Fallsington. Then, instead of staying straight on Tyburn Rd to W Trenton Av, it diverts yet again to serve Kings Plaza en route to Morrisville and Trenton. If you're not dizzy after reading that description, congratulations. In any case, the operator I rode with on the 127 told me that a lot of Frontier operators are avoiding working any of the Lower Bucks routes since they were restructured three years ago. After a dizzying ride on the 127, I can't say that I blame them...
7. I think NJ Transit owes the people of South Jersey a major apology. First, the River Line (aka the $1 billion boondoggle that was poorly planned from the start) was supposed to being operations in late 2002. Then, it was pushed back to last summer ... then to last fall ... then to Febuary 15 ... then to March 14 (hey, what's another month or two between friends, right?). By the time this line actually begins operation, Gov. James E. McGreedy (D-N.J.) will probably be out of office. To make matters worse, bus commuters in South Jersey have been forced to deal with older Flxible Metro B buses being imported from North Jersey on routes such as the 400, 403, 404, 405, 406, and other lines out of the Newton Av and Washington Twp garages. Haven't the people of South Jersey suffered enough?
8. I think someone from the City of Trenton needs to take a real hard look at the way traffic flows - or more accurately, doesn't flow - along State St during the mid-day hours. Yesterday, while riding on the 608 bus from the train station to the State House complex, it seemed to take forever to get from Clinton St to Warren St. And that was after the city re-opened the State St Commons, which had been closed to vehicular traffic for a long time. Then again, what do you expect from the State of New Jersey?
9. I think the people responsible for winter related maintenance along the R5 Paoli/Thorndale line should be investigated. This morning, the platforms at Paoli Station, particularly along the edge of the station, were icy. Is it going to take someone slipping, falling, and striking their head against a rail car before someone decides that it might be a good idea to lay some salt down on the edge of the platforms before the start of service? Or is that asking too much...
10. I think these are my non-transit related items:
- ABC should fire Justin Timberlake from his (ahem) "sideline reporting" job and his commercials promoting the network's NBA coverage after his role in that stunt during the Super Bowl half-time show. I think I speak for a lot of America when I ask, "Who knew that Timberlake was still even remotely relevant?" Does the NFL and CBS/MTV really expect us to believe that they didn't know what the hell was going to happen during the half-time show? Oh, and that excuse Timberlake gave was one of the most ridiculous I've ever heard in my life. "Wardrobe malfunction?" Sure, pal, and I've got a bridge in Tacony for sale. By the way, I missed the infamous "malfunction" in question, since I would rather watch paint dry than a Super Bowl half-time show...
- Despite a lot of outrage over Kid Rock's use of the American flag during the same halftime show, the one thing you can say is this: At least he didn't burn it. It wasn't exactly an appropriate use of the flag, but the way I see it, he was showing pride in the United States. Considering the attitudes of a lot of these Hollywood losers who bash this country, that says something...
- The only two people in that half-time show who are breathing a sigh of relief are over-rated rappers (then again, they're all over-rated) "Nelly" and Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy). Thanks for pointing out that you do in fact have the proper (ahem) body parts that men are supposed to have. We really didn't need you to point them out to the world...
- Bam Margera is an embarassment to West Chester. If you don't know who this loser is, you probably don't watch MTV. Margera was one of the featured (ahem) stars of MTV's "Jackass" and now has his own MTV show "Viva La Bam". The premise of both shows are basically a group of guys performing stunts that no rational human would ever think of trying. As someone who lives in West Chester, I'd rather claim American Idol I loser Justin Guarini as a favorite son (but then again, I'm glad he's from Doylestown, because his music career is basically over; Doylestown deserves to the added humiliation). And to think, some morons in West Chester actually think he's the biggest deal to hit town since the Iggles held training camp at West Chester University. Yipes...
- I'll gladly take the nightlife in West Chester over such over-rated snob-infested places such as Ardmore, Manayunk, Delaware Av, and South St any day of the week...
- The Sixers will not make the playoffs, but Randy Ayers will probably get one more season before Comcast fires him. It's not really his fault that almost everyone on that team has had some sort of injury over the course of the season, but still, to run the risk of having a worse record than the Cleveland Cavaliers (nee "Cadavers") is pretty embarassing. Then again, we don't have LeBron James...
- This will be the year that the Flyers actually make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Assuming they don't have to face New Jersey or Ottawa in the Eastern Conference playoffs...
- Andy Reid must have been taking public relations courses from SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information Richard Maloney. I mean, he still thought that the Iggles wide recievers were as good as anyone in the league? Todd Pinkston and James Thrash couldn't even make the practice squad of an XFL team, let alone an NFL team. And, finally...
- Well, Larry Bowa, there's no pressure on you this year. You only have to go deep into the playoffs now that you have a lot of talent and a new (taxpayer-funded) ballpark to open up.
Tuesday, February 03, 2004
From the "Dog Bites Man" file...
The Trenton Times reports that the start date for NJ Transit's River Line has been pushed back yet again. In December, the start date was announced as February 15, giving hope to the few remaining supporters of the line that it would finally be up and running...
Now, it appears the latest start date will be March 14. Of course, I'll believe it when I see it.
It appeared to be a bad omen when the Burlington County Times reported last Wednesday that there were still a few glitches along the line with regards to the crossing gates.
Speaking of which, there are three separate articles regarding the latest set-back in what has become New Jersey's answer to Boston's infamous "Big Dig" project:
Light Rail Delayed Again
Wry Humor and Concern for Safety Follow Setback
Rail Safety Comes First, Officials Say
Here's one headline I'd really like to see:
"Oops, We Made A Mistake"
Monday, February 02, 2004
Since this is the first time that I've had a chance to post at length since Friday, this next item doesn't appear to be that late. But, still, Friday morning's return trip home from work was nerve wracking at best...
The 6:20am 133/92 departure from Paoli (2034/6016 block) seemed to be running just fine down Lancaster until the driver sped past King Rd. The lame excuse I was told was that he thought he was working a 206. Whatever, just ignore the fact that you were picking up and discharging passengers between King of Prussia and Paoli. It would've seemed like no big deal, except for what happened after we left Exton Mall to run the 92.
There were several time where I thought we were going to be involved in an accident, including a couple of close calls along the PA 100 spur before the exit for Pottstown Pike. In fact, when we were at the traffic light on Pottstown Pike before turning onto Boot Rd, the bus was far enough out of the turn lane that we were almost struck by passing traffic heading north on Pottstown Pike.
Riding along Boot Rd and Phoenixville Pike wasn't exactly a picnic either. There were several spots when the bus was halfway onto the opposite side of the road. Making things worse was that the operator seemed to be mumbling to himself along the way.
Needless to say, I had to get off the bus several stops before I normally would. Suffice to say a couple calls later and SEPTA was fully aware of what happened. Or so I would hope that would be the case.
ANOTHER TAKE ON SCHUYLKILL VALLEY POW-WOW
The Pottstown Mercury had it's take on the recent sit-down between SEPTA, PennDOT, the Berks Area/Reading Transportation Authority (BARTA) and other legislative big shots regarding the Schuylkill Valley rail project.
"We were making such great progress and then we got kind of stopped on the tracks for a while," said Dennis D. Louwerse, executive director of (BARTA).
Well, begging for well over a billion bucks in federal money will do that to you sometimes.
"We had a (state) budget where transit got cut 6 percent and we were worried about just keeping what we had, and we were all getting kind of frustrated. ... I’m really encouraged by Gov. Rendell’s and Congressman Gerlach’s interest in this project," said Louwerse.
Well, funding for Schuylkill Valley probably wouldn't have been affected since it's a capital funding issues and the funding that Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) was threating to cut was operating funding. That said, the funding crisis in Harrisburg certainly took most of the "MetroRail" apologists off their game a little bit.
Congressman James Gerlach (R-6th) added his spin to the meeting in the same article.
"I think the meeting went really well ... We have hit the reality phase with this project," (Gerlach) said.
Nah. Ya think?
The article also pointed out DVARP's support for traditional commuter rail as opposed to the "gold-plated" boondoggle that SEPTA and it's parrots (stand up, Peter Quinn) have been advocating from the outset.
Yet, despite the efforts of SEPTA, Quinn, et al, to build a rail line and operate it under a wildly unrealistic operating plan, there appears to be some opposition to any rail service at all in the corridor.
State Sen. John Rafferty, (R-44th), who represents the Montgomery County towns through which the Metro would run from Norristown on into North Coventry in Chester County and into Douglass and Amity in Berks County, said he is not yet entirely convinced the project makes sense at all.
"I have constituents who are for this project and those who are against," said Rafferty, who said he personally leans in favor of it, but is mindful of the concerns of his constituents who are opposed.
Those opposed, primarily in rural areas of Chester County, fear the development a commuter rail line might bring to their townships, Rafferty said.
Those in favor, mostly in the already developed river town areas in Montgomery and Chester, favor the rail line for the same reason their rural neighbors fear it -- the development money it could attract.
So much for that "unified support" along the entire corridor...