Monday, October 25, 2004


And now, after 5 days of hearings over a two-week period, the circus known as the Contingency Plan hearings are finally over. Here are some of the highlights as reported by area newspapers, starting with the October 14 hearings at Media Courthouse:

"Service cuts would be inhumane... and catastrophic to our community," said Roderick T. Powell, who is blind.

"We must take this... to the governor and our legislators," said Powell, chairman of a Chester group called the Center for the Visually Impaired and a member of a SEPTA advisory committee on disabled riders.

Others said city-to-suburb and suburb-to-city commuters who work nights or weekends would be especially hard hit.

Robert E. Walhquist, regional manager of a firm that owns and operates the Gallery in Philadelphia, the Plymouth Meeting and Willow Grove Park Malls in Montgomery County, and the Exton Square Mall in Chester County, said 3,500 of the 8,500 employees at those malls ride SEPTA at least once a week.

And many of the 34,000 shoppers who come to those malls on the weekends also travel on SEPTA, Walhquist said.

Cuts in SEPTA service would have a major effect on those people and the area economy, he said. "As they [SEPTA] succeed, so will our region."

Larry Schall, vice president of Swarthmore College, said cuts "will have a dramatic effect" on many of the college's 1,400 students and 1,000 faculty and staff members, whose major city-to-school route is SEPTA's regional rail system.

Susan Wright, a member of the Swarthmore Planning Commission, said, "Many residents located in Swarthmore because of the availability of rail service." That includes a large senior population, she said. Inquirer
Commuter Albert Achtert Jr. of Upper Darby asked why none of the elected state representatives in Delaware County were at the public hearing regarding the possible dismantling of the public transit system.

Achtert said the proposed cutbacks in service would pit one group of riders against another group who aren’t affected.

By cutting down evening and weekend service, "..the guy who works 9 to 5 Monday through Friday (will say), I made it, I got my train to go to work," Achtert said. "Poor slob that works on the weekend, he’s out of luck."

He said SEPTA’s contingency proposal wasn’t acceptable. "It will destroy the authority, and it will destroy the economy of the Philadelphia area," Achtert said."This will no longer be a decent place to live or work. We cannot attract businesses and quality people to move into the area to help development here in this area if we don’t have public transportation."

Douglass Diehl, a representative of Tri State Transit 21, a commuter advocacy group, said, "Imagine in January if the Philadelphia Eagles make it to the NFC Championship game.

"It is played here in Philadelphia at the same time a blizzard dumps a foot and a half of snow," and the only way to get to the game is the Broad Street subway, he said.

Diehl also described a similar worst-case scenario for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Pennsylvania would be the laughing stock of the nation when only a few hundred fans show up for the games," he said.

"Public transportation should not be an afterthought," and only for those who can’t drive, Diehl said. "Public transportation should be thought of as a solution to highway congestion bringing into our state new jobs and businesses, a way to revive depressed areas of our state by giving residents access to new jobs and businesses in nearby cities and towns."

Swarthmore Mayor Eck Gerner and Lisa Aaron, borough council president, cited the passage of a borough resolution supporting dedicated funding for public transit in the state, specifically Senate Bill 1162 and House Bill 2697.

Judy Rice of Haverford, an official of the League of Women Voters, said, "there’s a diverse public making use of public transportation: senior citizens no longer able or wishing to drive, people with disabilities who are much more mobile today than they used to be because of public transportation, the welfare-to-work participants, students, the family with one car well as the commuters we hear about every day on the radio stuck in endless traffic jams.

"All of them could make use of good public transportation if it’s available," Rice said.

Tom Dorricott, a representative of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said the union doesn’t support the service cuts and fare hikes which will lead to "destruction of the regional economy," citing the need for predictable adequate funding. Delaware County Daily Times
DOYLESTOWN - October 15

It wasn't clear if the choice of jazz musician Norah Jones' "Seven Years," which returned at the slideshow's conclusion, was intentional or not.

But since 1997, the transit authority has reduced its operating budget by more than $420 million and slashed the size of its work force by almost 1,200 positions.

The majority of those cuts took place under Jack Leary; there have been relatively few layoffs since Fearless Leader took over.

The 15-minute slideshow warned that even more drastic cuts could be on the way - including 25 percent fare hikes, 25 percent regional rail service cuts and no weekend bus or train service - if SEPTA doesn't get a new source of dedicated funding from the state legislature.

"Although SEPTA remains committed to do whatever possible to provide quality transit services to our loyal customers, we are out of money, we are out of options and we are out of time," the narrator said.

Upper Makefield resident Thomas Ragan of SEPTA's Citizens Advisory Committee said the proposed reductions of services are "not a viable option," particularly for Bucks County.

"This will further erode ridership," he said. "We should be looking at ways to find more riders."

SEPTA already has some of the highest fares in the country, Ragan said. The advisory committee endorses calls on the legislature to increase its subsidy.

Is anyone else surprised that the CAC is parrotting the rest of the Save Transit propaganda? Have these people even considered asking SEPTA to look at their own house first?

Todd Tranausky of Langhorne called the plan "an abomination and completely unacceptable." The Temple University student said he already pays $163 a month worth of fares, and the proposed increases would cost him $31 more.

Tranausky said SEPTA already has dedicated funding in the form of a tax on public utility properties, as well as a 1.2 percent share of the state's sales tax. If the legislature would lift a $75 million cap on SEPTA's sales tax take, the authority would get $64 million next year - enough to cover its $62 million shortfall.

Johannes Brevis said he has disabilities and relies on public transit to get to both work and college.

"You already know what you need to do. You already know how this impacts people," Brevis said. "So, I want to send a strong message to you and the legislators that we need service on the weekends. We don't need reductions."

Irv Johnston, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, owns a home in Doylestown and commutes to Center City each day for work. If weekend service is cut, he said he would have to stay with co-workers or sleep in his office when he attends Saturday or Sunday functions.

"If you enact your contingency plan, my contingency plan will be to take myself and my family away. And I won't be alone," he said. Bucks County Courier Times
WEST CHESTER - October 18

SEPTA officials said the financial problems resulted from the lack of a dedicated, predictable subsidy source to meet rising operating expenses.

But Mary Lou Sander, a Malvern senior citizen, said the people will not use public transportation if it is unreliable and unpredictable.

She remembered the 1998 strike that paralyzed transit riders in the region."

I took the bus to work. Before the strike, it was full," Sander said. "After, when the buses started running again, there was five people."

She blamed revenue losses on faulty equipment and unrealistic routes.

"It is a lifeline for me," Sander said. "But you are driving your riders away. Once you lose them, they’re gone. They’re not coming back."
I think Ms. Sander hit the nail right on the head...

(West Chester) Borough resident James Schustrich came to the hearing for an update from last year when SEPTA proposed one-time cuts in service, only to find the agency was now considering more extensive reductions.

Greg Steele, of Exton, said the reductions would have a dire affect on the region’s economy."Try to picture a Chester County without rail and bus service," Steele said. "Picture what it would do to the economy and the tax base."

At Exton Square mall, 400 employees ride buses to work at some of the mall’s 140 retail stores, said Mary Kay Owen, marketing director.

She was especially concerned about the proposed elimination of weekend services."The negative impact would be felt immediately," Owen said.

Michael Herron, executive director of the Transportation Management Association of Chester County, called for immediate dedicated transit funding.

"We do not close roads or roll up sidewalks on weekends, as work, commerce and recreation continue," Herron said. "So, why stop the buses and railcars on these days?" Daily Local News
"Access to services and access to employment aren't just things we think our community needs, we know it's something our community needs," said Claudia Hellebush, president of the United Way of Chester County. "I ask that you keep these people in mind when you think about making broader cuts. To not do that will create a domino effect that will be devastating to them." Inquirer

Even veteran SEPTA observers muted their usual critique.

"To quibble with the details of this proposal would be like visiting a dying friend and proposing a new exercise regimen or diet," said Irv Acklesberg, a lawyer from Community Legal Services. ...

Tom Muldoon, president of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted that the hospitality industry is the city's foremost job engine, employing some 55,000 people - 90 percent of whom ride transit.

"This is the biggest growth industry in the last 10 years in Philadelphia," Muldoon said. "If we cut service, we are cutting our own throats."

Daniel Brook, a 26-year-old freelance writer from Center City, testified that he moved from Long Island to Philadelphia for a quality, car-free life.

"I will leave here if there is no weekend transit in this city," said Brook, who spoke on behalf of Young Involved Philadelphians, a nonprofit group.

Many senior citizens, working poor and disabled riders have blasted SEPTA for making them pawns in what they say is a high-stakes gamble that the state will come through by year's end.

"We know that SEPTA is making drastic threats as a tactic," Danette McKinley, 46, of West Philadelphia, said.

About 70 percent of downtown office workers commute to work on SEPTA, noted Paul Levy, executive director of the Center City District.

"The state has largely refused to meet its responsibilities to its citizens," said John Solether, 58, an architect from Queen Village. "We need statesmen, not politicians. We have to increase taxes. That is reality." Inquirer
And then, there's Dan Geringer's border-line sarcastic (but on the money) recap in the Philadelphia Daily News (a fully-paid subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee):

Merging mass hysteria with mass transit, SEPTA brought its "Show Me the Money!" doomsday hearings to Center City yesterday, threatening to goose fares and slash service if the state doesn't cough up $62 million to patch a budget hole.

Freddy Kreuger and Jason Voorhees are just a couple of crazy, mixed-up kids compared to the sadistic bloodletting that SEPTA plans this winter: 25 percent fare hikes, 20 percent service cuts and totally transitless weekends.

Naturally, the riding public testifying at yesterday's hearings was not pleased.

The woeful weep-in saw the disabled and the able-bodied, the disadvantaged and the advantaged, the sweatsuits and the three-piece suits raise their voices together in a collective chorus of "It's My Trolley and I'll Cry If I Want To!"

Sadly, their audience was a panel of SEPTA pros just slightly more stone-faced than Mount Rushmore.

Even while allegedly teetering on the brink of Transit Armageddon, SEPTA management's obvious disconnect from the folks who foot the bill explains the skepticism among the grassroots grunts who spoke.

Lance Haver, the mayor's consumer affairs director, argued for dedicated state funding for SEPTA but added, "There are stops along the Broad Street Line that smell worse than any barnyard. Parts of the El that were scheduled to be repaired years ago are still under construction... Buses run late. Paratransit doesn't work.

"The City of Philadelphia is 80 percent of the system, 80 percent of the riders are from Philadelphia, the city contributes 80 percent of the local funding and yet, city representatives make up less than 15 percent of the SEPTA board.

"We cannot allow SEPTA to shut the city down, discriminate against city riders and shut the city out of the decision-making process."
Isn't it nice to know that Lance Haver is continuing to act like the Village Idiot, only this time, at taxpayers expense? Thank you, Emperor Street...

Patricia Nigro from the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers supports dedicated state funding but called SEPTA's slasher scenario an "overreaction" based on "sketchy" documentation.

SEPTA, Nigro said, "did not take the time to document the need for and the effects of its proposed service cuts before scheduling these hearings."

She said that her organization "is afraid that SEPTA is overstating the degree of trouble it faces as a ploy to raise the political stakes and bring more pressure on the legislature.

"Regrettably, this has only served to further weaken SEPTA's credibility with the public and with its elected officials."
Bingo. As we've noted for the past few years, SEPTA's credibility was weak coming into this round of hearings.

Gregory McKinley, a community activist from Cobbs Creek, asked why SEPTA hasn't responded to his suggestions during past public hearings: 1) raise millions by selling the naming rights for stations, and train and bus lines, to corporations; 2) send busloads of senior citizens and school children to lobby for dedicated funding instead of relying only on professional lobbyists.

He received no response from the SEPTAcrats yesterday. After testifying, he told the Daily News that he never has.

"Enlist grandmom and the school kids," McKinley said. "Get the grassroots involved. They want the masses to support SEPTA, but they don't get the masses involved. In politics, the muscle is the masses. I've tried to get SEPTA to understand that. It's like pulling teeth." Daily News
Mr. McKinley is preaching to the choir. It seems SEPTA would rather reach out to the business community and elected officials as opposed to the rank-and-file people who ride the system every day.

NORRISTOWN - October 21

The cuts, if enacted, could further effect the competitiveness of the region's university's, whose students select area colleges because of close proximity with Philadelphia's cultural amenities, state Sen. Connie Williams, D- 17th Dist., said.

County Commissioner Tom Ellis warned that the cuts could "destroy the mass transit system."

Williams and Ellis were the only two elected officials to attend the hearings yesterday. ...

Rob Hart, general manager of the Plaza at King of Prussia, said the cuts would wreak havoc not just on sales, but also on the mall's ability to attract employees.

"We need to keep service going seven days per week to the King of Prussia Mall," Hart said.

He said that of the mall's 3,400 employees, 34 percent take public transportation to work.

Without SEPTA employers might have a hard time finding employees in Upper Merion Township, which had a 2.6 percent unemployment rate in August of this year, Hart said.

Seventy percent of workers in Center City arrive to their workplaces via SEPTA. Retired Montgomery County transportation planner Richard Byler testified that if SEPTA follows through with cuts in evening service, those employees could be affected because some would drive to work to avoid missing the train.

Other transit experts testified that the cuts could add 30,000 cars to the region's highways and that cuts to the regional rail lines would not just affect local retail businesses.

Large employers that operate shuttle buses for their employees to alleviate traffic would also have trouble attracting employees, said another transit planner.

If the cuts go into effect, they will begin in 2005. Norristown Times-Herald

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