Thursday, November 10, 2005
Monday, October 31, 2005
SEPTA's City, Red Arrow, and Frontier divisions are officially on strike. The strike began shortly after 00:01, when TWU 234 and SEPTA couldn't reach an agreement on a new contract. The union claimed it had made progress with SEPTA in agreeing to a sliding scale payment plan for health care, based on a proposal by Philadelphia City Controller Jonathan Saidel, who floated the idea late last week. As of right now, no talks are scheduled...
There are reports at 01:20 that there are still passengers stranded on the subway-surface platforms at 15, 19, 22, and 30 St stations. Also, white-shirts are reporting approximately 40 picketers at the north gate at Midvale.
There will be a lot more to come over the next few days...
Saturday, October 29, 2005
The 97 will officially be split into two routes - the west end of the 97 will become the 90, and will operate between Norristown and Plymouth Meeting, via Norristown State Hospital and Penn Square. Sunday service to Norristown State Hospital would also be eliminated. As a result of the 90 terminating at Plymouth Meeting Mall, the 95 will be cut back accordingly. Also, the 95 will no longer serve the IKEA off of Ridge Pike.
The east end of the 97 will be extended from Spring Mill station in Conshohocken to Barren Hill. There will also be a re-routing of the line to offer direct service to the Conshohocken Rail Station.
The 98 will see some routing adjustments, mainly on weekends and evenings. Westbound evening service will operate via Germantown Pike instead of via Blue Bell, however, eastbound service to Blue Bell will still operate during the evening hours. All weekend service will bypass Blue Bell.
In the North Penn area, the 94 and 96 will see significant restructuring. The 94 express service via Bethlehem Pike (PA 309) will now be designated Route 134. The 94 local service via Ambler and Montgomery County Community College will remain unchanged. The 134 routing will remain virtually the same, however there will be a re-routing to serve job sites along McKean Rd in Horsham Twp.
The 96 will be cut back to Lansdale; service between Lansdale and Telford will be replaced by new Route 132, which will be extended to serve the Montgomery Mall. Service levels between Norristown and Lansdale will remain unchanged.
The 132 will operate over most of the existing 96 routing between Telford and Lansdale, but will be re-routed off of Penn St and Souderton Pike in the Hatfield area onto County Line Rd (PA 309) and Unionville Pike. There will also be a routing change in the Souderton area, with service operating via Main St and Reliance Rd instead of via Summit St and School Ln. New evening and Sunday service will be offered, marking the first Sunday service between Lansdale and Telford in recent memory.
The changes will take effect tomorrow, but, with the threat of a strike, riders may only have one day to adjust to the new services...
According to the Norristown Times-Herald, SEPTA is seeking an increase in the county's subsidy from $6.13 million to $6.28 million for next year.
The good news, said county SEPTA Board member Michael O'Donoghue, is that the proposed increase is less than the approximate 5 percent increase requested for this year by the transit agency.
And the bad news? SEPTA may have to return to the county in the spring, seeking additional dollars for the final six months of the year to keep service intact.
To prevent major service cutbacks, Gov. Ed Rendell earmarked flexible highway funds for mass transit use, explained county Commissioner Thomas J. Ellis, the county's other representative on the SEPTA Board. These funds, which do not require a local match, will continue through June of next year, Ellis said.
The state hopes to have some type of dedicated funding for mass transit in place by that time, he said. It is likely that the dedicated funds would require matching local funds, which would mean that SEPTA would need additional dollars from participating counties, according to Ellis.
He added that there is no guarantee that the governor would be inclined to, or even able to, use more highway funds to offset transit operating losses if a dedicated funding source is not in place.
"By this time next year, we will be on our way to solving the funding problem or it will be a big mess," said county Transportation Planning Chief Leo D. Bagley. Norristown Times-Herald
Yup, business as usual...
Meanwhile, the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association announced plans to operate shuttles for its employees. I don't think they're quite as familiar with West Philly as one would expect:
The West of City Hall Route will run on Market Street from the 69th Street (sic)
to City Hall. The West of Market Street (sic) route begins at 68th and Market (sic) with stops along Market Street at 63rd, 58th, 50th, 42nd, 32nd, 22nd, ending at 15th and Market.
West of Market Street? Since when did Market Street run north and south? One presumes that they're referring to Broad Street instead of Market. And, I know I haven't been around 69 St Terminal as much as I used to be, but I don't recall there being a 68 Street in Upper Darby.
I wonder if SEPTA loaned this group their proof-readers...
Thursday, October 27, 2005
The proposal calls for all members of the Transport Workers Union Local 234 to pay 5 percent of their medical plan premiums. That is down from SEPTA's initial demand of a 20 percent contribution.
According to SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney, the contribution would amount to $3 to $12 per week for each employee, depending on the health plan and the number of dependents covered.
Meaning that we, the riders and taxpayers, are still getting hit with a substantial bill...
TWU's 5,000 SEPTA employees, whose newest hires already pay part of their premiums, have thus far refused to budge on the issue, arguing that they have long sacrificed raises and other benefits to keep healthcare costs low.
The new contract offer also calls for annual raises during the next three years, totaling 9 percent.
SEPTA did not reveal many additional details, and that is the problem, said TWU spokesman Bob Bedard. For example, he said, the proposal calls for increases in limits on out-of-pocket expenses. A family's annual cap, he said, would rise from $4,000 to $9,000.
"One hospital stay and your whole raise is gone," Bedard said.
Maloney, however, called the offer generous, given SEPTA's financial problems and the rising cost of health care.
Compared to the private sector, it's probably too generous, particularly those who work and do not have health insurance.
"Even with these changes, SEPTA employees will continue to enjoy one of the best-compensated jobs in the region," Maloney said.
That's nothing compared to what some senior managers are making...
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
The apparent intent of the story was to expose lax security at SEPTA's regional rail yards on the heels of mass transit bombings in Madrid and London. Apparently, SEPTA learned nothing from the Powelton Yard fiasco last year.
The NBC 10 Investigators went to work when some SEPTA employees called them to tell them that they are worried about security.
The SEPTA trains you might be boarding tomorrow are sitting in an unsecured train parking lot tonight.
"We could have a picnic here, technically, and plant anything we want under one of these (trains)," said a SEPTA employee who did not want to be identified.
There are no cameras, no security guards and no fence to stop anyone from getting into the Warminster train yard. No one questioned the NBC 10 Investigators and the SEPTA whistleblower as they climbed onto the train. If The Investigators could get on board the train, anybody could -- even a terrorist.
Or, for that matter, vandals who happen to "accidentally" release brakes and send a train rolling unattended down the tracks.
"Anybody could easily plant something on this train all night and wait until it hits Center City," said the undercover SEPTA source.
"No signs telling you to stay off the property," the source said.
Perhaps at Warminster, that's the case, but at some stations, there are signs warning trespassers to stay off the property.
The SEPTA source took The Investigators to the Doylestown station where, once again, there was no one to see them or question what they were doing.
"You want to put a biochemical agent in that? Piece of cake," the source said.
The British found out how easy it was when terrorist bombs took a deadly toll on the London transit system last summer. SEPTA responded with pamphlets telling riders that security is tighter while you're on board and that employees are trained.
"That's a bold-faced lie. We're not trained in any kind of security for these trains as far as anything like 9/11 or the bombings in London or Spain," the SEPTA source said.
Surprise, surprise, surprise...
The Investigators and the SEPTA source went to Roberts Yard in Philadelphia and found one security camera, but nobody stopped them. The train doors were open. After about 45 minutes, The Investigators finally went into the office to alert security that they were on the premises.
"You're a supervisor?" (NBC 10's Lu Ann) Cahn asks.
"Yeah, stand by," the supervisor said.
While she stood by, Cahn talked to a SEPTA mechanic.
"What's your worst fear?" Cahn asked.
"Someone could come in here, put a bomb on the train, something like that," the mechanic said.
The supervisor makes calls to report the presence of The Investigators, but nothing happens.
Apparently, the "Transit Police" on duty were busy on other high priority calls, or were doing what they normally do - virtually nothing.
The Investigators showed Congressman Curt Weldon the video of their trip to the train yards. Weldon is the vice chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
"That's ridiculous. It's outrageous," Weldon said. "That's just waiting for a disaster to occur."
And if anyone is qualified to make such a statement, it's Congressman Weldon, the former chief of the Marcus Hook fire department.
The Investigators also showed the video to SEPTA.
"So, what are you suggesting?" asked Richard Maloney, SEPTA's spokesman.
How about firing the morons in charge of public safety, starting with Hack Extraordinare James B. Jordan, and "Transit Police Chief" Richard Evans?
"I'm not being sarcastic. I have never heard of any terrorists planning an attack on, essentially, a train parking lot."
One, the Minister of Mis-information probably is being sarcastic; two, I highly doubt the NYPD or FDNY had heard of terrorists hijacking planes and slamming them into buildings either.
"That's a cop out. If you're a terrorist, you're going to plant something separate from the passengers, and you're going to leave a device, especially if it's a remotely-activated device, like they used in London," Weldon said.
And more than likely not get caught doing so...
"Why are train doors just wide open?" Cahn asked Maloney.
"Because we have had no reports of it being a vulnerable area," Maloney said.
Well, a**hole, now you do...
Maloney said that SEPTA has spent $7.5 million federal dollars on beefing up security where passengers come and go. But SEPTA admitted it hasn't spend any money on securing the rail yards.
As far as training is concerned, Maloney said the company spends one day a year on emergency procedures -- some in mock exercises -- that prepares employees for all types of emergencies.
"If I had people in those positions telling me that they had not had the training?" Cahn asks.
"Mistaken," Maloney said.
Does anyone else see Maloney's nose growing with each passing lie?
"I'm going to today ask for SEPTA's homeland security plan," Weldon said.
Good luck, Congressman. You'll have an easier time finding Jimmy Hoffa...
Riders want answers, too.
"It's terrible. It's a disgrace," one rider said.
"I'm shocked. You can walk right in," another rider said.
"This is America. We're supposed to have a free society and people aren't supposed to just wander in where they're not supposed to be on private property. There's a basic honor system here," Maloney said.
Honor, huh? Now there's a foreign concept at 1234 Market...
"If you really want to show these passengers you care about them, protect the yards because I don't think they're very safe," NBC 10's source said.
Local rail systems in New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles all told the NBC 10 Investigators that they have taken measures to secure their rail yards. Weldon has fired off a letter to SEPTA demanding to know what the transit system in Philadelphia is going to do to secure their rail yards.
Probably what SEPTA always does... virtually nothing...
In an alternate universe, however, SEPTA should at least reach out to the townships and boroughs that host rail layover yards at terminal points. This would include Warminster and Doylestown Boro in Bucks, Norristown (ha ha ha) and Lansdale boroughs in MontCo, Media (or Nether Providence) in DelCo, and Ewing Twp, New Jersey (for West Trenton station). It might not hurt to have East Whiteland do some supplemental patrols at Frazer Yard, nor for Philadelphia Police to check out the two Chestnut Hill stations and Fox Chase as well.
I remember one semi-regular contributor to the pre-blog site who was a Philadelphia Police officer who occasionally did patrols through SEPTA facilities to supplement any "security" that SEPTA may have. Don't know if SEPTA took too kindly to it, but hey, every extra set of eyes and ears helps. Right?
Meanwhile, rail yards aren't the only facilities that have security issues...
Some of SEPTA's bus facilities are also as vulnerable. In the past, I've personally seen, among other things, buses at Comly Depot parked along a side street adjacent to Bustleton Av. Additionally, one could just as easily walk onto the Frontier bus yard in Plymouth and either tamper with vehicles or even drive a bus off the property without anyone noticing.
In fact, over the past several years, there have been a few buses stolen from the Red Arrow bus yard in Upper Darby, the most recent being October 26, 2000 - five years ago today, as a matter of fact - the account from the pre-blog archives:
Two teens simply walked onto the Red Arrow bus lot in Upper Darby at around 23:30 on Thursday, October 26, and took off with 8859, which was in the fueling lane following that day's runs. Red Arrow operator Julius Major followed the stolen bus down Market St to 63 St, where he flagged down a Philadelphia Police officer. The chase ended at the corner of 62-Walton Sts in West Philadelphia, when 8859 crashed into a PPD cruiser and eventually struck a building. One Philadelphia Police officer was taken to the Hospital of the Univ. of Pennsylvania for minor injuries. 8859 suffered damage to the left windshield, front bumper, side panel, and frame.
This incident brings back memories of a similar incident [in 1997 - ed.] when Allegheny (at the time) #5267 was hijacked on Lehigh Av during a 54 trip early one weekday morning. 5267 - the only NABI to be officially listed as scrapped on the SEPTA roster [at the time - ed.] - crashed into the El structure at Kensington and Lehigh, and is now stored at Berridge, awaiting disposition.
... Maloney said that this was the third SEPTA bus to be stolen [in 2000 - ed.] (the other two buses were taken from Callowhill and Midvale), and that 8859 would be out of service temporarily, however may be scrapped, as a few 8800s have been retired recently. Maloney also told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "If neccesary, we could add more security, but it would come at the expense of ease of operations."
Nearly five years later, the lax mentality of SEPTA as is pertains to security still exists... God help the passengers...
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Local 234 is the only source for information that you can trust. We will do UPDATES as the negotiations continue. Please visit the Local website for additional information.
The last update? June 15...
Good looking out, Brooksie...
30 September - DAILY NEWS - TWU threatening strike 'to get a fair contract'
"We are tired of waiting," declared Local 234 president Jeff Brooks in his notice to members, which appeared on the union's Web site yesterday. "To get a fair contract, we are prepared to act. We can and will strike."
This is a sudden, ominous change from Brooks' long-held and oft-stated belief that SEPTA management was trying to "bully" the union into striking but that the union "refused to take the bait."
Look in the mirror, Brooksie...
Since the old contract expired in March, talks between Local 234 and SEPTA management have gone nowhere.
The bone of contention is that SEPTA wants all Local 234 members to co-pay for health care.
The union maintains that its members have historically co-paid only during their earliest years of employment and have sacrificed substantial pay raises in later years in exchange for SEPTA-funded health benefits.
Brooks has often said that members refuse to "pay twice for decent health care" by co-paying for benefits after having sacrificed pay raises to get SEPTA-paid health care.
No new contract means no pay raises for TWU members. So hostilities between the two parties are building toward a climax: Either there's agreement on a new contract or there's a union strike that would cripple the city's public-transit system.
"There will be news coming out of Sunday's meeting," union spokesman Bob Bedard promised. "SEPTA has not changed its position at all, and we're running out of options as to how to help SEPTA change its position."
Said SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney, "We haven't changed our position and we're not going to. It is obvious to the public that the prime issue is health care and that [union] employees will be contributing in some measure to their benefits.
"Are we panicking? No. At some point in time, reality has to hit and [union] employees will have to start paying something for their health care. We believe we can do a contract."
The only time SEPTA's Minister of Mis-information panics is when his tailored suits aren't perfectly pressed...
Bedard was skeptical. "We expect to make a major announcement Sunday about our next steps to secure a contract that SEPTA has dragged its feet on for almost a full year," he said.
"SEPTA is forcing us to act by not making any compromise, any movement in the negotiations. If SEPTA won't act with us, then we will act alone."
Maloney disagreed. "It has been the union that has extended this contract repeatedly since last March, time and time again," he said. "We have tried in every possible way to get them to the table.
"We believe, as we have said since April, that they certainly know, in intimate detail, the parameters of an agreement, and it's now a matter of sitting down and negotiating those final items."
Sunday's expected strike threat has put a damper on this week's good news that, in the wake of soaring gasoline prices, SEPTA's weekday ridership is up an average 25,000 as drivers realize that public transit can be a much cheaper way to commute to work than their automobiles.
"Last September, we had 750,000 riders per weekday; this September, we have 775,000," Maloney said. "The biggest jumps are in the city transit division. Subways are able to absorb the increase, but we do have some standing-room-only on bus lines.
"If ridership continues to grow like this, we will have to consider expansion of our lines." Daily News
I'll believe THAT when I see it...
2 October - SEPTA Ministry of Mis-Information press release:
The Transport Workers Union has deliberately chosen to threaten a strike at a time that would create the greatest hardship to the people of the regional community.
- Hundreds of thousands of daily commuters whose jobs depend on SEPTA
- Tens of thousands of school students -- a strike would impact not only the student's transportation but also the work schedules of their families
- The business community at the start of the economically important holiday shopping season
- Thousands of new SEPTA commuters who cannot afford skyrocketing gasoline prices
- The beginning of the winter weather season
On April 13, 2005, SEPTA publicly stated its fundamental position on the major contract issues, and said this position would not change in the future. For six months the union has refused to address these basic issues.
The union leadership is intimately aware of the parameters for a contract agreement, and SEPTA's positions. The threat of a strike is not only unnecessary, but is also a slap in the face of the very people the union claims to serve with its Community Partnership program.
SEPTA is prepared -- and has been all along -- to provide a fair and realistic contract for our highly valued employees.
It is time for the leadership of the TWU to finally face its responsibilities to its membership and the public, and come to the bargaining table to complete an agreement as quickly as possible. SEPTA
3 October - DAILY NEWS- TWU threatens strike over health care $
Vowing that SEPTA's 4,600 Transport Workers Union members will strike on Oct. 31 if they don't get a new contract, Local 234 president Jeff Brooks yesterday angrily declared, SEPTA "can't gut our health care."
He accused the transit agency of "buffaloing and bullying us out of what we have" by insisting that union members co-pay for health benefits.
In english, please?
Then he promised the thousand union members packing yesterday's meeting, "It's not going to happen in this lifetime."
Local 234 members have been working without a contract since (March), and without a raise for almost two years. But the hot-button issue isn't raises.
"Since this started in March, you have never heard me say anything about wages," Brooks said.
But, we know how things can change, right? Then again, since March, we haven't exactly heard Brooksie say anything intelligent...
For almost two decades, union members have co-paid early in their careers, then enjoyed SEPTA-paid health benefits for most of their employment and during retirement.
SEPTA claims that sharply rising costs of health care now require all union members to co-pay throughout their careers.
But Brooks asked what happened to the nearly $100 million that he says union members have saved SEPTA by foregoing years of raises and by co-paying for health care early in their careers.
Brooks said, "We will continue to negotiate in good faith, but I need somebody on the other side of the table to do it with. Unfortunately, the [SEPTA] people sitting at the table are... asking for something that is obscene."
SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney accused the union of threatening to strike when it would cause "chaos" by disrupting the lives of 700,000 daily commuters - schoolchildren and their working families, city business people who depend on holiday shoppers and 25,000 new workday riders who are taking transit to cut down on their use of high-priced gasoline.
Maloney said that SEPTA's position on health care hasn't changed since April - when he publicly said, "The health insurance issue is the elephant sitting at the bargaining table... It's time for Mr. Brooks to look the elephant in the eye."
Maloney said then, and repeated yesterday, that SEPTA's position on union members' co-paying for health care "would not change in the future."
Brooks characterized SEPTA's unchanging stance as dealing with "mannequins" at the bargaining table.
How does he think the riding public feels when dealing with, among other people, Customer Dis-services?
"How do you sit down with people who treat you like a disease?" he asked. "If SEPTA wants to save money, they should cut back on the amount of people who are dead wood," instead of demanding that "working people" give up their SEPTA-paid health care. Daily News
12 October - DAILY PENNSYLVANIAN (UPenn) - Counting down to a SEPTA shutdown
Currently, union workers do not pay their health-care premiums.
SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said that it is not economically feasible for this situation to continue.
"Every single business in the United States right now that offers health insurance to their employees is ... in a crisis," he said.
Maloney added that SEPTA is in the midst of a budget crisis that is "threatening the very survival of this transit authority."
Of course, mis-management has nothing to do with it, right, Richie?
The control of health-care spending, he said, will help to curb the crisis.
But union spokesman Bob Bedard said workers have already paid for these premiums as a result of a contract made 25 years ago.
"SEPTA wants to break the deal that they made with their employees ... and that was, 'If you guys take a little less in hourly wages and benefits, we will provide you with decent health-care benefits,'" Bedard said.
He added that the union is not willing to give in on this issue.
"Concede is not a word that transit workers know," he said. "We made a covenant with these people."
Both Maloney and Bedard said they hope that agreements will be reached before the strike deadline.
Bedard, however, said he is not optimistic.
"I don't own a crystal ball, but if I was going to give some advice to the citizens of southeastern Pennsylvania, I would tell them not to buy a rail pass for November because the trains probably won't be running," he said.
Apparently, Bedard is also a psychic...
The entire city will likely suffer the effects of such a strike, Penn professor of Transportation Engineering Vukan Vuchic said.
"A sizable number of the people cannot go to work," he said. "Students cannot go to school, patients cannot go to their doctors. Restaurants and local businesses suffer. So there is economic impact and social impact."
Vuchic added that there are tactics besides striking that would more effectively smooth the issues between SEPTA and its employees.
"The whole situation of labor and management relations in SEPTA is archaic, and it is a disaster," Vuchic said.
And, as Dr. Vuchic has probably seen over the years, any such suggestions will go in one ear and out the other...
He added that a strike will not benefit any party involved.
"They lose riders and lower their revenues, and of course the city loses," Vuchic said. "It is a lose-lose-lose proposition, very irrational, very backwards, and the responsibility resides with both SEPTA management and SEPTA labor unions and [with] an inactive mayor and political leaders." Daily Pennsylvanian
An inactive mayor? That's the understatement of the century...
18 October - DELAWARE COUNTY DAILY TIMES - Another SEPTA union threatens strike
A union backed by more than 300 SEPTA workers has given the transportation company a deadline for a new contract.
Ronald Koran, president of United Transportation Union Local 1594, which represents 320 workers, dispatched a letter Monday to SEPTA’s chief labor relations officer, Patrick J. Battel. The letter threatens a strike.
"We gotta do what we gotta do," Koran said.The letter states in plain language that stalled contract negotiations -- the workers’ last contract expired April 1 -- have left union negotiators with little choice.
"Your inability to negotiate with this union has put us in a disadvantage with our members and the riding public," the letter states. "It is unfortunate that you have forced this strike."
Of course, whatever the city workers are stuck with, the Red Arrow workers will get stuck with as well. The lone exception was 1998, when some back room dealing between SEPTA and the UTU led to an agreement with Red Arrow operators before the TWU got their deal.
The deadline, one minute after midnight Oct. 30, coincides with that threatened by another, much larger group of union workers. Transit Workers Union Local 234, which has several thousand members, has given SEPTA similar notice that, if an acceptable proposal is not given before that date, Halloween will be accompanied by a stalled transit system on which 1 million commuters rely.
The sticking point in negotiations has been health care. SEPTA wants its employees to start contributing toward health-care premiums, and the workers don’t want to pay. Currently, SEPTA employees contribute to their health care for their first four years on the job. SEPTA has proposed workers pay 20 percent of the premiums, and continue to do so every year. Delaware County Daily Times
17 October - SEPTA Ministry of Mis-Information press release
SEPTA is disappointed with the announced intention of UTU Local 1594 to strike on October 31. Local 1594 has traditionally followed the economic pattern set by the terms of agreement with TWU Local 234. TWU Local 234 has previously announced its intention to strike on the same date and time.
"Neither of these announced service interruptions is necessary," said SEPTA General Manager Faye Moore. "A strike hurts everyone in the region, the riding public, the employees and their families, as well as the economy of the region. We have presented a fair and realistic contract proposal to the unions and are awaiting their return to the bargaining table," she said.
If the unions strike only SEPTA regional rail lines would continue to operate. SEPTA
23 October - Inquirer - A strike may push SEPTA off course
The threatened walkout by two unions on Halloween would halt virtually all SEPTA service except on its regional rail lines, stranding nearly 400,000 passengers.
It comes as ridership, already at a 13-year high, got an added boost last month when gas prices spiked. A lengthy strike could wipe out those gains.
At the same time, public-transit advocates, cheered on by Gov. Rendell, are renewing efforts to secure a dedicated source of state funding to end SEPTA's annual high-wire budget contortions. An ugly labor impasse, they warn, would only bolster some state lawmakers' view of SEPTA as a financial black hole.
Not to mention a lot of locally elected officials...
"A strike of any duration would be destructive," said Richard Voith, a former SEPTA board vice chairman tapped recently by Rendell to help solve the state funding dilemma. SEPTA riders, Voith added, "are weary of the threat of constant disruption; it makes them look for alternatives."
Disruption, however, is what the public may get.
Hell, we're used to it by now...
Vowing to walk unless new contracts are reached are about 5,000 members of Transit Workers Union of America Local 234 and 320 members of United Transportation Union Local 1594.
Local 234's contract expired in April, Local 1594's in May. Frustrated with the dearth of progress since then, both set strike deadlines this month.
The knottiest issue is SEPTA's insistence that all union members be required to pay 20 percent of their health-insurance premiums. Union officials say that would cost each worker, on average, at least $2,200 per year.
The transit unions are among "the very few large organizations in the country where the employees are not making any contribution to the basic health-care premium," SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said.
Union officials counter that members have already saved SEPTA plenty of money by forgoing raises and making other concessions in past contracts.
"Health care is something that we have paid for," TWU spokesman Bob Bedard said. "We're not going to let some thief in the night come and take it from us."
If there has been any give on this issue, neither side will acknowledge it.
Maloney: "Our position has not changed since last spring."
Bedard: "If I owned a bicycle, I would start double-locking it."
The barbs are sharpening just as SEPTA is adding new riders.
About 15,000 to 20,000 more people per day took SEPTA last month than in September 2004, the result of Hurricane Katrina pushing gas prices past $3 per gallon. Most of that 5 percent increase came on buses and subways that would be idled by a strike, said John McGee, SEPTA's ridership chief.
How much of the gain would be lost depends on the strike's duration, Maloney said.
"A few hours or a few days, [ridership] bounces right back," he said. "A week, two weeks or longer, that has a profound effect, and it takes months to gain it back, if not years."
Area politicians have yet to step into the fray, at least publicly, but that may change as the strike deadline nears.
State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), a longtime public transit supporter, said a quick resolution, whatever its terms, is essential.
"We kind of lurch from crisis to crisis, unfortunately," Evans said. "These people should lock themselves into a room, seven days a week, to negotiate a fair contract.
"Both sides know what the fiscal realities are," Evans said. "You can't spend what you don't have."
Ask anyone who has payments out the wazoo due while paychecks get delayed...
That much was evident in February when SEPTA, faced with a $49 million deficit, was poised to raise fares by 25 percent and cut 20 percent of its service.
To the last-minute rescue rode Rendell, who earmarked $412 million in unexpected federal highway money for transit agencies.
The governor also ordered up the nine-member Transportation Funding and Reform Commission to find ways of averting such brinkmanship in the future. Among its members are legislators, transit experts, and Jeffrey Brooks, president of TWU Local 234.
The commission is auditing SEPTA and other state transit agencies to root out any waste. In November 2006, it also is supposed to propose a plan for dedicated funding of transportation needs.
Selling that plan to state legislators could be tougher if SEPTA's labor talks go awry.
"The workforce should understand the effect [a strike] would have in Harrisburg," the governor said on Feb. 28.
State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery), who represents Senate Republicans on the SEPTA board, said a contract exempting workers from contributing to health-care premiums could undermine prospects for dedicated funding.
"There are people in Harrisburg who don't support mass transit, and they are looking for something like that to give them a reason not to give us the funding," Greenleaf said.
Bedard, the TWU spokesman, has little patience with such talk. SEPTA's "management mistakes are what creates the budget shortfalls, not the workers' benefits," he said.
He predicted that the state commission's audit will prove his point, though it is not expected to be completed until spring.
Translation: It'll be done after Rendell gets re-elected, assuming that happens...
For now, preparations for a tense week have begun.
TWU officials spent Thursday and Friday filming and editing TV commercials to run this week. SEPTA has rented rooms at the Crowne Plaza, anticipating a resumption of talks tomorrow.
25 October - Daily News - Strike Out
Here we go again.
As the transport workers' Halloween deadline fast approaches, SEPTA yesterday started issuing the life vests, telling its 400,000 daily riders to prepare for the worst.
"But I do remain hopeful that a deal can be reached," said General Manager Faye Moore.
And I'd like to go out on a date with Jessica Simpson. I don't see that happening either...
We wish we could be as confident. So far, neither side seems to budging over the big issue of health care. The union wants to continue its free ride for workers. SEPTA wants union members to start making sizable contributions.
If history repeats itself, we're facing a long strike. The last one, in 1998, went for 40 days during the peak summer tourism season. This time, a transit strike could hit during the pre-Christmas shopping season.
We've already made our position known: Given SEPTA's bailout from the commonwealth, the union members have to start picking up some of the system's burgeoning health-care costs. Otherwise, Gov. Rendell will have to engineer another rescue on the backs of taxpayers.
But why wait for Rendell to get involved? If they aren't already, the governor, Mayor Street and others should be talking sense to the union. Eventually this mess will land on their desks anyway. Daily News
25 October - Daily News - SEPTA, TWU talk face-to-face
With only a week left to derail a Halloween transit strike that would paralyze the city, SEPTA and its largest union - deadlocked for months on the issue of who will pay for workers' health care - moved into rented hotel meeting rooms yesterday for face-to-face talks.
"We met with SEPTA this afternoon for about 15 minutes," said Bob Bedard, spokesman for Transport Workers Union Local 234, last night, "after which we gave them our comprehensive, nine-page, A-to-Z, soup-to-nuts proposal.
"At this point the ball is in their court," Bedard said. "They could sign it tonight and we could put this thing to bed."
Although the two sides met for a second time last night at the Crowne Plaza on Market Street near 18th, there was no agreement, and bargaining was to continue this afternoon.
Earlier yesterday, SEPTA General Manager Faye Moore grimly unveiled the transit agency's service interruption plans, saying, "One of these days, I'm going to call one of these [press conferences] and we'll be discussing good news - but today is not that day."
Hopefully, one of these days, a Fearless Leader press conference will include the words "I resign."
SEPTA negotiators also met yesterday with United Transportation Union (UTU) Local 1594, which represents 320 bus and trolley operators on 25 lines in Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties, but union president Ron Koran said last night there was no progress to report.
Paying for health-care benefits is the main sticking point in those negotiations, too.
SEPTA GM Moore said she wanted to dispel the rumor that SEPTA would profit from a strike because it would continue to get state funds without the expense of running a transit system.
Moore said that because half of SEPTA's operating budget comes from the farebox, the agency does not profit from a strike. "If we are lucky, we break even," she said. "That's the best we can hope for." Daily News
Of course, SEPTA isn't lucky...
25 October - Inquirer - SEPTA union launches TV ads to gain rider support
SEPTA's largest union, likening its relations with management to a marriage gone bad, today ramped up its custody fight for the hearts and minds of area transit riders.
Transport Workers Union Local 234 today began airing the first of about 100 television commercials to run this week on local stations.
The spots, part of a $70,000 media buy, cast SEPTA "bosses" as heavies who shortchange riders with management gaffes and workers with broken promises. They urge riders to flood SEPTA headquarters with phone calls demanding a fair contract for workers.
"SEPTA is cheating on us, and we won't have it," TWU spokesman Bob Bedard declared at a morning news conference called to preview the ads. "The next few days, we'll have the opportunity to talk with a marriage counselor and try to get things resolved."
Failing that, Bedard warned, "there'll be an ugly divorce." Inquirer
Has there ever been a pretty divorce? Perhaps if the unions would come up with better proposals as opposed to one-liners, we might not be at this point today...
To be continued...
SEPTA is now planning a new ad campaign, according to a press release by SEPTA's Ministry of Mis-Information:
A new SEPTA ad campaign offers a unique sample of the language, traditions and "ad-di-tude" (sic) that is "Genuine Philly." The primary message of the series of print ads is that SEPTA is the driving force and fabric that holds the Greater Philadelphia region together.
Really? And all this time, I thought it was a 1,000 square mile piece of cloth that was the "fabric that holds the Greater Philadelphia region together", but what do I know. And, by the way, it's "ad-dy-tude"...
In one of the ads SEPTA's JoAnne Nuttle, who drives the Market-Frankford Owl bus, says, "There's no debate, its called gravy, not pasta sauce."
Another example of Genuine Philly comes from SEPTA's Toni Foster, "It's spelled Passyunk. It's pronounced Pashunk, don't ask me why."
Why? Because english is not neccesarily spoken too well in Philly...
Both ads include the line, "Millions of things make this our home. She'll take you to every one."
I guess that means they'll also take you to Rick Mariano's corruption trial as well...
Other SEPTA employees featured in the ads include regional rail Conductor R. D. Murray and Assistant Conductor Tia Kennerly as well as Bus Operators Angel M. Davila (Comly [depot]) and Brian Kelso (Southern).
The "stars" of the ads were selected through an internal open casting call held over two days.
I guess Fearless Leader and the Rotating Resumes at 1234 Market have faces better made for radio...
In a bow to one of Philly's oldest traditions, its beloved sports teams, SEPTA will also produce trading cards featuring the stars.
In another bow to it's "beloved sports teams" SEPTA will suddenly forget what the hell they're doing and run the system into the ground, much like Andy Reid's offensive (in both senses of the word) play calling in the past couple of Iggles games. Oh, wait, they already do that...
The trading cards, which will be available at SEPTA Sales locations in Center City, contain a money-saving coupon that can be used at participating merchants at Reading Terminal Market.
Well, I guess these will be more valuable than that Freddie Mitchell rookie card in a matter of weeks...
SEPTA has also created television ads with the Genuine Philly message. The "Love" statute, Mummers string bands and cheesesteaks are featured in the spots that will air on cable networks throughout the region. The television ads feature actors from the Greater Philadelphia region.
Also reportedly featured are Emperor Street's cronies who are about to become part of the federal prison system, and the various union fools who artificially drive up the costs of doing business in the region (hello, Johnny Doc).
The ad campaign is SEPTA's most ambitious in years and is meant to increase ridership and improve the image of the transit Authority.
Well, that and an extreme makeover couldn't hurt...
On September 27, 9072, working a westbound 13 trip, was involved in an accident with a tar truck at 48-Chester. The incident occured shortly after 17:00, according to the Inquirer.
Police and a witness said the truck ran through a stop sign at high speed as it headed south on 48th, apparently trying to beat the westbound trolley through the intersection. "He tries to swing around [the trolley], but he couldn't make it," said witness Kalik Lance, 29, who was sitting outside his apartment building at 4725 Chester when the accident happened. The truck scraped the front of the trolley, then flipped, taking the kettle along with it. At that point, hot tar spewed against the front doors of the trolley, leaving a sheen of molten tar on the street.
"Good thing those doors were closed," said a police sergeant coordinating cleanup operations at the scene last night. SEPTA workers using jackhammers had to forcibly cut the hardened tar from the track rails while others using scrappers pried it from the street and from the area between the rails.
Police said 65 passengers were on the trolley. They all walked off the conveyance via the rear door, with the operator the last to leave. Damage to the trolley, which included a broken head lamp, appeared minor. It did not derail. No names were immediately released. It was unclear whether citations would be filed. Inqurier
The day before, a shooting occured on the 36. At around 05:00, the victim boarded an inbound 36 streetcar from Island Road loop to 40-Market. The suspect got up from his seat shortly thereafter, shooting the passenger point blank. The passenger died sometime later. It's unknown as to whether the suspect was apprehended. There wasn't any service on the 36 until 07:00, since the Elmwood Avenue section of the depot was closed off.
A second homicide took place on the 13 on October 6. According to the Inky:
Yeadon police said a man, whom they did not identify, and the assailant boarded a SEPTA trolley at 58th Street and Chester Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia. When the trolley stopped at Chester Avenue and Church Lane in Yeadon about 8:40 p.m., the suspect attacked the victim, stabbing him with a knife repeatedly, police said. The suspect fled on foot. The victim died at a local hospital.
The suspect was described as 25 to 30 years old, 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1, with a slim build and a light mustache, wearing a white T-shirt, gray sweatpants, and black sneakers. Anyone with information is asked to call Yeadon police at 610-259-1228. Inquirer
Of course the system is still safe. Maybe once SEPTA finally installs those cameras at its stations, they'll get around to adding cameras to the vehicle fleet. But, that would probably be asking too much...
Residents in the Trevose district of Bensalem Township were complaining about R3 commuters using residential streets near the Trevose station are now complaining about SEPTA's proposal to solve the problem:
Bill Kennedy, whose house sits near the bottom of a nearby hill, worried about drainage. "If they blacktop that field up the hill, where's all that water going to go?" he asked.
Charles Brinkerhoff, 71, said exchanging a glade of tall trees for a parking lot across the street would ruin the value of his house. Brinkerhoff also objected to building the project with tax money, diverted from federal highway funds by Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet)to bail out mass transit.
"Now, they're going to use this money to ruin my neighborhood," he said.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has obtained a series of special zoning variances for the 120-car lot. SEPTA needs further approvals from the (Bensalem) township council and zoning hearing board. AP
People, get a grip...
Mr. Cassidy, a native of East Lansdowne, served as chief of the Yeadon Fire Company from 1987 through 1991, after first joining in 1973. He also served as a Lieutenant in the East Lansdowne Fire Company.
Mr. Cassidy was named to fill one of Delaware County's two seats on the SEPTA Board after Tom Killion was elected to the State House of Representatives to fill the seat of the late speaker Matthew Ryan. There is no word as of yet as to who will replace Mr. Cassidy on the SEPTA Board.
(More tributes to Mr. Cassidy's life are available in this article from the News of Delaware County weekly paper.)
Oh, and let's not forget that there have been some wonderful incidents ranging from shootings on the subway-surface trolleys to runaway trains to a report on NBC10 due to air tonight about lax security at SEPTA rail yards...
And the 15 returning to trolley operations... sort of. There have been reports of bus-bridges being used on the 15 due to downed wires and the occasional truck blockages along Richmond St...
And, then there's the highly controversial route changes in the Norristown area.
Lots of stuff to cover, which will take me a while to get to. But, that said, Fearless Leader and the Rotating Resumes at 1234 Market should be aware of one thing...
Monday, August 01, 2005
The days of blurry, black-and-white, first-man-on-the-moon images from SEPTA security cameras designed to catch turnstile jumpers are giving way to digital recorders focused on life-and-death crimes in these terrorist-scarred times.
In a federally funded pilot project, SEPTA has installed 16 digital recording cameras throughout its Cecil B. Moore [Temple University] subway station on Broad Street that relay the kind of crisply detailed color images to its Center City control room that enabled London police to identify suspects soon after the transit-system bombings there.
There will be 21 more "Smart Stations" here by 2007, and all 60 SEPTA stations will have full digital surveillance by 2010, said James Jordan, SEPTA's assistant general manager for public safety. The federally funded price tag is $80 million to $100 million.
"This is not something you can just go out and buy at Radio Shack," Jordan said. "We need to build a fiber-optic network in 25 miles of tunnel and bring 21st- century high-tech engineering into 19th-century architecture."
SEPTA's police and operations personnel in the central control room can see a continuous rotation of real-time images from station platforms, turnstiles, escalators, elevators and tunnels.
"I have three cases now where we were able to make arrests because of the digital cameras," said SEPTA Police Detective William B. Saunders Jr.
"We coordinate with Temple University, which has cameras focused on the street outside the station. We ask, 'Which way did he go after he left the station?' and they can tell us.
"We help them, too. If there's a retail theft and the suspect runs into the station, we've got him on camera and we work with Temple police to apprehend him."
Digital cameras also are running and recording at the Susquehanna-Dauphin, Allegheny and Erie stations.
These stations are in the particularly heavy crime areas of North Philadelphia along the Broad Street Line.
Images are stored on CD for a week to 10 days.
David Scott, SEPTA's deputy chief of police, said that the strength of Smart Stations is their ability to coordinate all security functions.
"If a fire alarm goes off, a red light on a diagram of the station pinpoints the location and a camera zooms in on the fire," he said.
"Intrusion alarms in the tunnels tell us if security is breached.
"We have 360-degree pan-tilt-zoom cameras that we can maneuver from central control.
"We are looking into cameras so smart that if someone leaves a briefcase for 10 seconds and walks away, there will be an audible alarm in the control room while the camera focuses on the briefcase."
SEPTA's Smart Stations compare favorably with new surveillance systems in other major East Coast cities.
That is almost hard to believe. In fact, that would almost be a first for SEPTA...
At Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Jeffrey Parker, director of subway operations, said a similar conversion to digital images transmitted by fiber optics was under way, hand-in-hand with the city's rebuilding of its 65 ancient stations.
Boston's unique twist is that images are monitored inside glass-enclosed booths at its major "hub" stations, allowing riders to survey the surveillance.
"Instead of putting the monitors in the basement of our control center so that no one would see them, we put our monitoring in very public places," Parker said.
"We want to be out in front of the public to show that we are keeping an eye on things."
There's a lot of scepticism about that statement, considering that many in Boston consider the T's Police Department almost as disorganized as SEPTA's ... and that's saying a hell of a lot.
Steven Taubenkibel, spokesperson for the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said that all its 86 stations have digital video-recording cameras that transmit both to a central control and to a manager's kiosk at every station entrance.
Unlike SEPTA, Washington's Metro also has digital video cameras in 100 buses and has just allocated part of a $49 million federal grant to install them in 125 more.
Recently, Taubenkibel said, a camera installed above a driver's head captured footage of an assailant hurling a brick through the open bus door and hitting the driver in the face.
"We showed images from the tape to the public and were able to apprehend the suspect," Taubenkibel said.
"We rely on the eyes and ears of our riders, but those cameras really help."
Recall that SEPTA reportedly had a similar bus surveillance project on the Neoplan artic fleet a couple of years ago. There were stickers on several of the Allegheny artics that indicated that cameras were in place. Haven't heard much about that in recent years, particularly since the VOH program went into effect.
DART First State and LANTA in the Lehigh Valley both have or are in the process of installing video cameras on their respective bus fleets. The DART buses have both interior and exterior cameras - at least on the NABI fleet (I haven't had a chance to look at their Gilligs that closely), while LANTA installed cameras on their New Flyers but not the soon to be retired 8900 series Orion Is (and yes there are still a few of those active).
As far as stations go, I can't speak as to whether or not similar technology would be implemented at key Regional Rail stations (ie. Suburban, Market East, Glenside, Paoli) or at the surface terminals (Bridge-Pratt, Olney, 69 St, Chester, Norristown), but that would make sense in the long run.
Monday, July 18, 2005
Did you know that our regional train-and-bus system, that beloved model of crack public-sector efficiency, operated "flawlessly" during the Live 8 concert?
Not "pretty good." Not "about as well as could be expected." Not even "beyond our expectations." Flawlessly. As in without flaw; perfect; incapable of being improved upon.
SEPTA. Flawless. No kidding.
That would be the same SEPTA that left thousands of tired and frustrated concertgoers waiting for interminable periods. The one that seemed caught off guard by the crush of humanity, as if no one had mentioned the fact that there was going to be a little gathering of, oh, about 700,000 people on the Ben Franklin Parkway July 2 and that city officials were urging everyone to leave their cars behind and take public transit.
Not to mention the same system that routinely botches subway-surface service after the 4th of July fireworks on the Parkway...
Who gave this A-plus assessment? Why, none other than the transit agency's top dog himself, Pasquale T. "Pat" Deon Sr., chairman of SEPTA's board.
He was so thrilled with his system's performance, he wrote a testimonial, which appeared in Wednesday's Inquirer. In it, Deon described a finely tuned people-moving machine rising to the challenge of transporting "people by the tens of thousands."
And who exactly tuned this machine, William Hung?
He praised the "dozens of yellow-vested SEPTA employees" who filled the stations, pleasantly helping tired concertgoers find their way.
Then thecoup de grace: "The rail system operated at its absolute physical capacity and it worked flawlessly."
Only one problem: Many passengers offered a starkly different version of reality. And they did it through gnashing teeth, so disgusted were they with SEPTA's performance during the concert rush.
They obviously have never riden the system during the week...
Chairman Deon, meet satisfied customer Lewis Ostrander, 30, a software engineer, who decided to ride SEPTA to Live 8.
Take it away, Lewis: "We were waiting for the R6 in Manayunk around 9 a.m. We were waiting and waiting for the train." When none arrived, Ostrander and about 50 other commuters walked to a nearby bus station.
"There was a woman at the bus station, whom we all assumed was in charge. She had her uniform on along with her walkie-talkie," he wrote. "The woman had no idea what was going on and why there were so many people waiting for a bus... . There were two buses in the lot behind the transfer station. Both drivers were sitting in the front seat reading the paper."
Finally, another bus pulled up. "Everyone is relieved that we are finally going to get to the event. It is now 10:30 a.m. We have been waiting for a train or bus for 1 1/2 hours," Ostrander recounted. "The bus driver pulls up to the entrance and flips on his 'Out of Service' light. About 50 people were about to go 'postal' on SEPTA. The bus driver refused to take anyone anywhere."
It's called rush hour deluxe...
The return trip was even worse.
"At the end of the day we took the R6 train from Suburban Station," he wrote. "It was jungle hot, no information and mass chaos. I think I saw about three SEPTA employees in the entire station. People were running around like chickens without heads."
...and it worked flawlessly.
Then there was Jan Waldauer, 36, of Media, who kept a minute-by-minute journal of her ill-fated commute home, which began at 11:15 p.m. at the Market Street East station and did not end until 2:30 a.m.
"We could have walked faster," she wrote. "Nice job, SEPTA; you actually made US Airways look good."
Anyone who has ever flown can probably agree with that assessment...
She described waiting with her fellow passengers for more than an hour just to make the hop to Suburban Station, where she continued to wait.
My favorite of her entries: "Suburban Station, 1:40am: Train pulls in going our direction, but doors do not open. Conductor walks through the train, ignoring people as they knock on the doors. Good God, are they going to leave us here?"
Of course they are. It's SEPTA...
Meanwhile, on Friday, Grogan wrote a follow-up column which in effect suggests that anyone who thought SEPTA was so "flawless" should be committed to Norristown State Hospital for a psych eval...
SEPTA is sticking with its story.
It operated "flawlessly" during the July 2 Live 8 concert, and that's all there is to it. No ifs, ands or buts.
I know this because SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney told me so the other day. I had called to ask him, in light of numerous complaints from concertgoers, some of whom waited at stations for hours to get home, whether he thought his description had been just a tad over the top.
And of course, anything that comes out of the mouth of SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information has to be true. That's just the way it is...
Not at all, Maloney said. "We were able to move a historic number of people in a very short period of time. I am not the least bit apologetic."
Nor, sir, are you sane...
I wondered aloud if perhaps it was that word flawless that rankled so many. Not only had Maloney used it, but so had SEPTA board chairman Pat Deon. A poor choice, perhaps?
"No, it's not, because it was," Maloney said. Flawless, that is.
I am desparately trying to stifle laughter at that statement...
If you were one of the thousands of concertgoers crammed into Suburban Station on July 2, you might wonder from which planet Maloney just arrived.
It sure as hell isn't Earth...
He concedes that many had to wait in hot, crowded conditions, but argues that SEPTA rose to the challenge. "We had every single piece of equipment out there operating, and operating at ultimate capacity," he said. "We couldn't have possibly done more."
I have heard from dozens who asked why SEPTA did not, for example, organize park-and-ride lots with express buses. Or borrow extra trains from New Jersey Transit. Or abandon its normal Saturday schedule. Or spread patrons out among stations.
Because that would've made sense. And, as we all know, common sense doesn't exactly prevail in the alternative universe that is 1234 Market.
Maloney said some of those suggestions are impractical. Traffic was banned in a quarter of Center City, and train capacity is limited by the four-track tunnel running out of 30th Street Station. After the concert, SEPTA dispatchers ran trains as frequently as every six minutes, he said, adding, "We ran it like a subway."
Isn't that the normal mentality of those who run the Regional Rail Division at SEPTA?
Brian Gralnick, 26, of Elkins Park, was typical of the disgruntled commuters I heard from. He said he began his trip out of Center City at 11:15 p.m., was directed to the wrong train by a conductor, and got waylaid at the Fern Rock station in North Philadelphia, where he waited in vain for a train until 1 a.m. He finally gave up and called his parents for a ride.
"And SEPTA says it performed remarkably?" he asked.
No, Brian, they never said that. Flawlessly. That's even better!
Similarly, after spending 3 1/2 hours in SEPTA's clutches, Deborah Ebbert, 35, of North Wales, was forced to call her mother to rescue her, "like a 15-year-old stranded at the mall."
"They have some pretty skewed definitions if that was 'flawless,' " she wrote.
That's not the only skewed definition SEPTA has in it's book, Deb...
Robert Ciervo, director of academic strategies at Drexel University, complained: "Pat Deon is in fantasy land. They were totally unprepared on Saturday morning. Then they had to adjust on the fly and the only thing they did was add more cars to each train."
We haven't confirmed that Don Pasquale was in fact in "fantasy land" as Mr. Civero reports, but there are similarities to "fantasy land" and Lower Bucks. Perhaps Don Pasquale was day dreaming about his annual hack-o-rama fishing trip to Alaska. I'm sure there are more than a few people who wouldn't mind if his ticket to Alaska this year was one-way...
Meanwhile, as Maloney and I talked, I began to realize how he and his SEPTA bosses define flawless. Not as perfect, but rather as, "It sure could have been a whole lot worse."
Maloney pointed out that no trains broke down, no lines went out of service, no tracks had to be closed. That's a little like a brain surgeon bragging that he remembered to wash his hands before operating.
It all raises questions about SEPTA's grounding in reality. And its credibility - not just regarding its Live 8 performance, but its preparation for far more serious contingencies.
Credibility is apparently not in the dictionaries at 1234 Market...
In the wake of the London transit bombings, SEPTA officials have assured the public they are taking all steps possible to protect the public while keeping the system freely running. I want to believe. And yet...
When SEPTA tells lawmakers it has done everything in its power to cut costs and maximize efficiency - and still needs more money, I want to believe. But again...
Leaving people waiting during a post-concert crush is one thing. Preparing for the unthinkable is something else again. On that front, I pray SEPTA and the police who guard it do perform in the truest sense of that much-abused word: flawlessly.
So why do I tie the Live 8 complaints with the safety of the system?
Three days after Grogan's second column bashing SEPTA's Live 8 service (or lack thereof), a serious crime takes place on the Broad-Ridge Spur (from the Inquirer):
Drifting in and out of consciousness, a woman who was beaten and apparently sexually assaulted under a Center City SEPTA platform this morning told police officers around her hospital bed that she was certain of one thing about her attacker: "He tried to kill me."
The victim, whose identity was still unknown, was in stable condition at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital this afternoon, said Sgt. Dan Bagnell of the Special Victims Unit.
The woman was attacked about 6:30 a.m. in the Chinatown station at Eighth and Race Streets. The station is diagonally across the street from Philadelphia Police Headquarters.
A train operator told officers that he thought he saw two mannequins under the platform as he was pulling into the station and that he tapped his brakes to slow down.
That squeal may have alerted the assailant. Witnesses saw him stand up, pull up his pants, and run, shirtless, from the station. He was later seen running southbound on Seventh Street.
Police will try to interview the woman again this afternoon, Bagnell said. She was passing in and out of consciousness when investigators spoke to her earlier, he said, but she did repeat, "He tried to kill me."
The suspect is described as a thin male about 5-feet-8.
It is unclear why the victim was in the station this morning. Investigators pulled paper bags filled with possible evidence from the area under the platform this morning and afternoon. The victim had also undergone tests to determine if she had been sexually assaulted.
The Broad-Ridge orange line spur was closed during the morning as police searched the crime scene. Service resumed about 1 p.m. SEPTA spokesman Jim Whitaker said commuters had been diverted to parallel buses that run along the same route.
Nicole Whitney, 23, said she usually uses the station to get to her job at the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine, which is across the street from the station. Instead, she was rerouted and had to walk from City Hall.
"It just made me late," she shrugged.
She was not worried about increased danger at the station, noting that such a thing could have happened anywhere. But, she said, there are rarely SEPTA workers in the station. One day, she said, she got off the train and found one set of station doors locked.
The logic apparently is that since the Broad-Ridge Spur is lightly used, why bother making access easy?
The station is also across the street from the new Metroclub Condominiums. Resident Ellen Reese, 26, said she and her boyfriend moved from Rittenhouse Square to the luxury condo last month.
Despite the proximity to police headquarters, she said, "This area needs heightened security," such as more foot patrols and better lighting.
"At night, I'm scared to walk alone out here," Reese said. "You don't see the actual police presence."
One can assume Ms. Reese is referring to Philadelphia Police, but you could also make the same arguement for SEPTA Police to be more visible systemwide.
Meanwhile, there's word that Juan Covington, the 43 year old disgruntled former SEPTA driver accused of killing a Montgomery County woman in Center City after getting off a 33 bus, is reportedly the triggerman in the shooting of Odies Bosket at Logan Station on the Broad Street Line, according to the Philadelphia Daily News (a fully paid subsidiary of Moveon-dot-org):
A father of four described by family members as friendly and jovial is expected to be added to the list of people allegedly slain by Juan Covington, a source said yesterday.
Covington, charged last week with fatally shooting hospital worker Trish McDermott and his cousin, the Rev. Thomas Lee Devlin, recently confessed to killing Odies Bosket four months ago at a North Philadelphia SEPTA subway stop, the source said.
Philadelphia police spokesman Cpl. Jim Pauley last night declined to verify Covington's confession and said only that he had not been charged with another murder.
Bosket, 36, was shot once in the head and twice on his side March 7 at about 2 p.m. near the entrance of the Logan Station subway stop on the Broad Street Line. Bosket was on his way to pick up his 4-year-old daughter from preschool, his widow recalled yesterday.
"That was his routine," said Audra Bosket, Odies' wife of 15 years. "He'd drop her off at Broad and Olney in the morning, go to work, then head back up there on the subway in the afternoon."
Covington's alleged motive for killing Bosket, a clerk in the city's Revenue Department for the past three years, remains a mystery to the victim's family.
"It just didn't seem to make sense at all. Odies was a funny guy. Everyone knew him," said Audra Bosket, 34. "I had to walk around looking behind my back, worrying that someone was after our family."
A neighbor familiar with Covington, whom family members said has a history of mental illness, said that a funny facial expression could have set him off. He had been off medication for his illness for more than a decade.
Previous articles in the past few days indicated that Covington had worked for SEPTA as a bus operator out of Allegheny Depot. One article noted that he wasn't particularly well liked by his fellow operators and that his termination was as a result of an alleged assault of a co-worker.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Today's Daily News (a fully paid subsidiary of Michael Moore, Inc.) reports friction between a TWU representative and SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information Richard Maloney over the re-start date for trolleys to return to the 15:
"If they really wanted to do this? It shouldn't take any more than two weeks, tops," said Willie Brown, executive vice president of Transit Worker's Union Local 234.
Of course, SEPTA doesn't seem to want to restart trolley service along Girard Av...
This is lucky, since one of the 18 antique cars, which cost $1.3 million each to rebuild, is due to go off its two-year maintenance warranty in August. And a second warranty is due to expire three months later.
But it's also strange, since SEPTA has insisted the cars can't be launched until September.
No, it's par for the course for these clowns...
Last month, when City Councilman Michael Nutter helped end the yearlong political standoff that had stalled this $84 million public works project, SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said union work rules would force another delay of at least three months. He also said there weren't enough trained operators to get the trolleys moving right away.
"Of the 30 operators who were trained and qualified last year, most have been dispersed," Maloney told me.
Turns out both those statements are false.
What a shock...
In fact, Brown said that at least 29 of the operators who were trained for the Route 15 line last year are still assigned to that route, and have been driving the Route 15 bus. All they need is a four-hour refresher course and they're ready to get the trolleys rolling.
And the contract rules that Maloney said would cause the delay?
They simply don't apply, Brown said. And even if they did, the transit agency could easily speed them up, and does so all the time.
Of, Maloney is just making it up. That might work well if this were "Calvin-ball" but not a major capital project...
All of this would be inside baseball, except for the alarming and potentially expensive matter of the two-year warranties that came with these cars when they were delivered.
At first, SEPTA told me all the cars would be under warranty until late 2006.
But later, after I'd seen a roster that showed the first car coming off warranty this summer, Maloney admitted his "error."
"We must have overlooked that," Maloney said.
Of course you did, you stupid f**k! What other possible explaination can there be other than the fact that this is the most incompetent transit agency this side of Boston?
Frankly, warranties on expensive equipment like this ought to be a little harder to miss.
Not if you work for SEPTA...
As any good mechanic knows, the kinds found on new machines can get expensive, particularly on complicated electrical machines like these rebuilt trolley cars.
San Francisco, for instance, has been using refurbished Philadelphia trolley cars on its wildly successful streetcar lines, and officials there say the first six months are critical.
"The more you can use a warranty, the better off you are, especially since SEPTA's using all new propulsion components in their cars, and this is brand-new technology that hasn't been tested," said Karl Johnson, assistant supervisor at the San Francisco Municipal Railway.
Johnson said San Francisco's cars had numerous problems, all of which were fixed under warranty.
"We had some breakdowns, due to problems we didn't find out about until they'd been running," Johnson said. "We had some nickel-and-dime stuff, like roof leaks, but then we also had some wiring problems.
Luckily, all this happened while the cars were still under warranty.
"They were lucky to hire this one guy who really worked hard to find the problem, and fix it, because he dug them out of a hole and saved them a lot of money, " Johnson said.
In Philadelphia, it looks like we won't be so lucky.
Between the Live 8 meltdown on the railroad (and I'll be commenting on that within the next few days) and the latest chapter in the Girard Av fiasco, what legislator in Harrisburg in his or her right mind is going to stick their collective necks out on a limb to provide dedicated funding for SEPTA?
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Monday, June 13, 2005
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Is it the councilman who wants to be mayor?
Is it SEPTA management?
As reported in yesterday's Philadelphia Daily News (the fully-paid subsidiary of Michael Moore, Inc.), there appear to be plenty of fingers of blame being pointed over the 15/Girard trolley fiasco, but no apparent solution in sight:
This year, amid all the parades and fireworks of the July 4th holiday, Philadelphia will celebrate another, more embarrassing anniversary:Oh, boo hoo hoo...
It will be exactly one year since this city's political leaders shelved the Route 15 trolley - an estimated $82 million public works project that was already paid for, and ready to resume its historic route along the Girard Avenue corridor.
Because Carol Campbell, a ward leader who also happens to be an officer in Philadelphia's Democratic City Committee, didn't want to lose parking on one side of a block in her neighborhood.
"I don't think anyone would really have objected to the trolley itself, but when they started talking about taking away the parking, well, that was a different story," said Campbell, who lives on the adjacent block.
Of course, the spots aren't exactly legal.Of course, this is Philadelpia. Illegal parking is as much a part of the culture in this city as corrupt politicians (see: Street, John F.).
But residents had grown accustomed to parking on both sides of the 400 block of 59th Street since the trolley stopped running in 1992. This narrow stretch isn't wide enough to accommodate both the parking and the trolley, so something has to give.Well, as we shall see, those calls got a response...
A compromise position, which would have made room by turning this block into a one-way street, was also rejected by the neighbors. So City Councilman Michael Nutter, who could have forced the issue by introducing a city ordinance to change the traffic pattern, opted not to do so.
That was a year ago.
And until last week, it was the last word on the subject. The fleet of antique trolley cars, which cost some $24 million to refurbish, sits gathering dust in a SEPTA parking garage, and millions in city street improvements are being wasted.
Then I called Nutter, to ask him what was up.
I called SEPTA.
I called party chairman U.S. Rep. Bob Brady.
I called Gov. Rendell, who got this project rolling, back when he was still mayor.
And I called Sen. David Brightbill, Republican leader of the state Senate and a key player when it comes to state funding for SEPTA.
"All of a sudden, after you called, out of the clear blue sky, here they are on the phone, telling me they need to talk to me about the Route 15," Campbell told me yesterday.Apparently, Don Pasquale was too busy planning his annual fishing trip with other Bucks County hacks to respond.
She still says she won't budge.
"Last year, when this first happened, [SEPTA board chairman] Pat Dion called me and left a message. Well, I returned his call three times, and he never got back to me. So to hell with them. I'm not going to kiss their a----."
"As far as I'm concerned, this is something that has lain dormant for over a year, they really didn't bother with it," she continued. "Now all of a sudden it's an emergency, and everybody's supposed to jump through hoops?"Um, yes.
Roger Kern, director of the Girard Avenue Coalition, says all 50 of his member organizations are frustrated, and disappointed. The trolley line had been the centerpiece of the avenue's revitalization efforts, he said, which stretch from Route 95 to the Philadelphia Zoo, and beyond.That's not news...
"Other cities, like Houston, are digging up the whole city just to put in a trolley line, and here we already have one," said Kern. "And we know that trolleys, where they've been tried, have brought an immediate improvement in the business community."
Meanwhile, all the responsible parties are pointing fingers.
"We've had innumerable meetings with the people on that street," said SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney.Of course you have.
Nutter, in turn, blamed SEPTA.So who do you believe, Councilman Nutter, or SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information, who wouldn't know the meaning of credibility if it hit him in the ass...
"There was some work that should have been done on this that just wasn't," Nutter told me. "There was a need for SEPTA to talk to the neighbors who would also be directly affected by the proposed return of the trolley to Girard Ave., given the fact that the trolley has to get out of the Callowhill barn, and go right down their street."
Kate Philips, spokeswoman for Gov. Rendell, said it was the city's responsibility to fix, adding:Fine, except for the fact that a substantial amount of funding came from Harrisburg. Apparently, Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) is too busy attending the opening of an envelope in DuBois to worry about this issue ... or for that matter any other state government issue.
"The governor certainly thinks the trolley should be up and running, and the city should do whatever it can to rectify the situation."
None of this squabbling, and waste, has been lost on the Republican leadership in Harrisburg, which controls state spending for the regional transit agency.Not to mention some people in the Philadelphia area...
"There needs to be some kind of accounting for this," said Erik Arneson, Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader Brightbill.
"The next time mass transit gets discussed in a serious manner, which is likely to be June, this is going to be a big issue," Arneson continued. "This is exactly the kind of thing that people from the middle and western parts of the state think of when they think about SEPTA's waste, bad management and bad decisions."
If it wasn't so sad, it would almost be funny.Actually, it's neither. It's rather embarassing...
Clearly, Campbell is doing her job as ward leader, representing her neighbors' wishes. And they have a right to feel put out by SEPTA. The transit agency hasn't exactly been the perfect neighbor.And you wonder why people have no desire to lay down long-term roots in Philadelphia?
But how can our elected officials allow this spat to stymie a major public works project, which was supposed to help revitalize a critical swath of the city's core?
How can they be so cavalier about $82 million wasted dollars?
The shame in this story is not just that one powerful party leader is holding the entire city hostage over a handful of parking spaces.
It's that the rest of our leaders are letting her get away with it.
Meanwhile, in today's Daily News, Arneson attempted to clarify some of his statements:
It was not my intention to imply that SEPTA management is solely responsible for the problems related to the Route 15 trolley.I can't help but wonder if State Sen. Stuart Greenleaf (R-12th) - a SEPTA board member - may have re-educated Arneson to the point where the clarification was needed...
I don't know who should shoulder the blame. In fact, it doesn't really matter. Many legislators will rightly focus on this basic fact: $82 million was wasted.
No matter whose fault that is, the current status of the Route 15 trolley project will make developing a long-range solution on mass transit significantly more difficult.
In any case, stay tuned. If we're lucky, trolleys will be on the street by 2008...
Thursday, May 26, 2005
09:12 - Control Center confirms that the bomb scare is at the Gallery. There's no word on the status of Regional Rail service at this time. There are a lot of detoured bus routes this morning, with an accident earlier this morning at 17-Snyder forcing the 2 and 17 to divert (the 17 was already diverting as it was).
Monday, May 23, 2005
The incident occured between Spring Mill and Conshohocken on the R6 Norristown shortly before 22:00 last night, when the victim was struck by outbound #4630 en route to Elm Street. It is unknown whether the victim was a trespasser or simply a wayward passenger, nor were details available about the victim's identity or condition.
On a related note, SEPTA reports that the R6 is suspended the entire length between Center City and Norristown, forcing commuters to transfer to the El and P&W to reach NTC. The offical reason listed is downed wires.
Not too long after that incident, service on the 36 is operating shuttle buses between 49-Woodland and Penrose Plaza loop due to an accident at 68-Elmwood. As of 15:36, Control Center was attempting to round up buses to cover a bus bridge. So far, there was an attempt to raise at least one deadheading 21 bus to cover the bus bridge. In addition, because of the stalled trolleys along Elmwood, bus service on the 108 and school trippers from Southwest Philadelphia has also been impacted.
At 15:51, the Control Center declared the line open with service returning to normal, though there are residual delays along the 36.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Was it bus-driver error or a blind spot behind the huge side-view bus mirror that killed two pedestrians, months apart, in eerily similar SEPTA accidents last year?
The transit agency blames the operators for the fatal accidents, in which pedestrians were struck by the driver’s side of the 40-foot New Flyer Low Floor buses as they turned left through major intersections in daylight.
But Transport Workers Union Local 234 blames the operators’ extra-large side-view mirrors — the target of driver complaints to SEPTA management for months before the fatal accidents because they create a blind spot that hides pedestrians during a left turn.
The union argues that because drivers can’t see a pedestrian who has “disappeared” behind the largest side-view mirror in SEPTA’s fleet, the transit agency should take responsibility for the accidents instead of scapegoating operators.
A picture by Alejandro Alvarez in the Daily News on Monday (posted along with this article) appears to prove the union's point...
On the morning of May 15, 2004, one of SEPTA’s 518 New Flyer Low Floor buses, which have been in service here since 2001, was turning left off 9th Street when it struck and killed a pedestrian in the middle of Erie Avenue.
“As I was turning onto Erie Avenue off of 9th Street, I saw a man at my left driver’s side mirror,” the bus driver told SEPTA. “I hit the brakes, screamed and called for help via control center.”
The victim, Pedro DeJesus, 62, of Kensington, who was not in the crosswalk, was hit by the driver’s side of the bus and died of head wounds at Temple University Hospital.
Seven months later, on the morning of Dec. 6, 2004, another New Flyer Low Floor bus struck and killed a pedestrian in a crosswalk as it turned left onto Washington Lane from Ogontz Avenue.
The victim, Ernestine Clemmons, 67, of West Oak Lane, was also hit by the driver’s side of the bus.
SEPTA safety inspectors restaged the second fatal accident “in response to complaints received that the New Flyer Low Floor Bus has blind spots that may create a hazard to pedestrians and other motorist\[s\]” according to a SEPTA memo.
Um, any particular reason why they didn't do so after the first incident?
After re-enacting the accident, SEPTA inspectors reported that “if a pedestrian is exactly aligned with the left side front windshield support structure divide, there may be a moment where visual obstruction is experienced.”
But the transit agency’s report concluded that “the allegation of an engineering flaw creating a visual obstruction for bus operators operating the New Flyer Bus is unfounded.”
“The safety investigation concluded that the cause of the accident was operator error,” said James B. Jordan, SEPTA’s assistant general manager for public and operational safety.
“I did not see how anything other than operator carelessness could have caused these deaths,” he said.
Somehow, it's doubtful Jordan was present for the actual re-enactment, so how could he see anything in the first place?
SEPTA has one of the largest fleets of New Flyer buses in America. It’s unclear whether other transit authorities have had problems.
Jordan said SEPTA checked with other transit agencies, “looking for accidents under similar circumstances with the same type of bus. We found none.”
The driver in the West Oak Lane accident is out on leave for an unrelated injury and has not had a hearing. SEPTA fired the bus operator in the Erie Avenue accident for what it called “reckless and inexcusable” driving.
“We make safety suggestions, SEPTA doesn't act on them and then there’s an accident and SEPTA says it’s all our fault,” said a visibly angry Jeff Brooks, president of TWU Local 234, hoping to win upcoming arbitration, and get the fired bus driver rehired and placed in a nondriving job.
“They didn’t take her good driving record since 1994 into consideration,” Brooks said. “They didn’t consider the fact that bus operators had complained for more than a year about that mirror creating a blind spot, and SEPTA didn’t do anything about it. They just made her the fall guy.”
So, in addition to being president of TWU 234, Mr. Brooks apparently has the ability to magically change an operator's gender? (Sorry, but one has to admit that was a rather odd phrasing that last sentence...)
SEPTA Assistant GM Jordan says he did not know that drivers had complained before the fatalities about the blind spot created by the mirror.
But the TWU gave the Daily News documents showing that SEPTA’s mid-level safety managers knew.
On March 5, 2003, Tony Bednarz, a union official at the Comly depot, sent a safety hazard report to SEPTA manager R. Martinez stating that “many operators are complaining about a sizable blind spot in all New Flyer buses.
“The size of the driver side mirror combined with the current location of the AMDT \[electronic messaging\] screen greatly obstructs \[the\] view of the left side of the bus. This obstruction increases the risk of accident.”
On Oct. 22, 2003, Comly depot’s joint union/management safety committee minutes note: “The issue concerning outside mirrors on New Flyers has been sent to Jim Fox/Director of System Safety.”
Midvale depot’s safety committee has a paper trail stretching from September 2003 (“Mirrors on buses are blocking view of the drivers”) to September 2004 — after the first fatal accident but three months before the second one — when the union/management joint safety committee was notified: “New Flyers — driver side mirror blocks driver’s line of sight.”
How Jordan - or for that matter, Fearless Leader and/or any of the Rotating Resumes at 1234 Market responsible for risk management - couldn't have been made aware of this fact is completely mind boggling... until you consider the way that SEPTA Transit Police have practically become a joke in recent years thanks in large part to what many consider to be incompetent management (read: Jordan)...
Asked why SEPTA doesn’t replace the big mirrors with smaller ones, SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said, “When ordering new buses, we do not specify any design features for rear-view mirrors. We accept mirrors provided and designed by the manufacturer, which meet federal safety standards.”
Add this line to the latest series of canned replies from our beloved Minister of Mis-Information...
At the fired bus driver’s state unemployment-compensation hearing in March, the referee noted that there had been “numerous complaints from drivers regarding the side-view mirror on the type of vehicle that the claimant was driving,” that she “checked her mirrors and proceeded slowly, but struck a pedestrian from the left front side of the vehicle” and that she “did not drive recklessly.”
In awarding the bus driver unemployment benefits, the referee wrote that she “credibly testified that there appears to be a blind spot in the mirror on the vehicle which she was driving, and that the employer was aware of complaints regarding this mirror.”
The referee concluded that “the employer has failed to prove that the claimant willfully or deliberately caused the accident, or that the claimant was reckless in her driving.”
Take away the rhetoric from both SEPTA and TWU, and it certainly sounds an impartial evaluation of the facts to me...
After reviewing SEPTA's “line of vision checks” on the controversial mirror, the Daily News ran its own tests at a depot.
[Geringer] and [Alvarez] took turns sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked bus while union officials acted as pedestrians crossing in front of the bus from right to left.
Both reporter and photographer saw pedestrians on the driver’s side “disappear” behind the mirror, which is installed very close to the thick driver’s window frame, creating even more of a visual obstruction.
For the record, it appears that the pictures were actually taken at Ogontz Loop, though I sure someone will correct me if I'm mistaken. That said, in tribute to Yogi Berra's 80th birthday (celebrated last week), it's living proof that "You can learn a lot by just observing."
“I’ve driven all kinds of SEPTA buses,” said union vice president Allison Cooper, who is representing the fired bus driver in upcoming arbitration. “The New Flyer blind spot is not like anything else on any other SEPTA bus.
“SEPTA says the driver was trained to deal with that blind spot. Not true. I took the training. They only teach you to deal with blind spots on the right side, where people board the bus,” Cooper said.
“There’s no training to deal with that huge blind spot caused by that left side mirror. I’m almost six feet tall, and I had to raise up out of my seat to see over it during a left turn. That’s not what we are trained to do.”
Which, sadly and tragically, seems to be SEPTA's SOP as it pertains to training, at least in some cases...
Willie Brown, Local 234’s executive vice president, said, “All those complaints about that driver’s-side mirror before the fatal accidents came from near-misses that scare a bus operator to death.”
“SEPTA ignored those complaints,” Brown said. “Then there’s two fatal accidents, and SEPTA blames the driver, not the mirror that drivers have been complaining about for months.”
“That,” Cooper said, “is crap.”
That, is an accurate assessment.
With all of that out of the way, it certainly seems odd that this story would come out not too long after SEPTA filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the union, accusing TWU leadership of not negotiating in good faith.
Meanwhile, it may not be such a bad idea for SEPTA to get a refresher on one of the most embarassing legal fiascos (and there've been a lot of those in the past several years) since I've lived in the area...
Escalators ... Cecil B. Moore station ... Sharif Hall ... SEPTA's mis-handling of the case ... lawsuit ... heads rolling (but not the right ones)...
Ring any bells, Jordan?