Monday, February 28, 2005


After what seemed like weeks of delaying, Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) announced that he would make $68 million in federal flexible funding available to bail SEPTA out, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal:
Rendell proposed that $68 million immediately be made available to SEPTA, which provides service in the Philadelphia area, and the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which serves the Pittsburgh area. Transit agencies will have access to additional funds through Jan. 1, 2007.

"It is welcome news that we are going to keep the system running," SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said.

Not to mention the fact that the Minister of Mis-Information gets to keep his job...

The funding averts SEPTA's planned service cuts and a 25 percent across-the-board fare hike that was to go into effect March 6, Rendell said. But it is only a temporary fix to a long-term problem, said Rendell and SEPTA officials, who held a press conference at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.

"Although this is a good day in the sense we removed the immediate crisis...It isn't an entirely good day because in my judgment highway funds should be used for highways," Rendell said. "Some of this money will never go back to roads, bridges and highways."

How much of the funding is actually used will depend on how soon legislators act to provide permanent funding through a different source, Rendell said. Additionally, $530 million in new funding will be made available to repair roads and bridges, he said.

Transit agencies will receive the funding from federally provided transportation funds, a large portion of which can be used for either roads or transit. The new funding for roads will come from federal and state sources. Higher than expected revenues from federal and state gasoline taxes will boost funding to $942 million, $276 million of which is a result of the Oil Company Franchise Tax.

At Monday's press conference, Rendell also signed an executive order, creating a nine-member "Transportation Funding and Reform Commission" to study transit and highway funding needs and recommend ways to cut costs, improve efficiency and service, and raise needed funding. The recommendations will result in part from the findings of an external audit and outside management consultant review.

That is, if and when the governor can stop mourning the Iggles colossal choke job in the Super Bowl and actually release the damned report...

"We are always welcome to examinations of our costs and management by
government," said Maloney, who said SEPTA had conducted a number of studies.
Philadelphia Business Journal
Sure, SEPTA is open to the idea. If that's the case, why hasn't SEPTA implemented most of the proposals recently recommended in it's recently concluded, in-house audit?

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Philadelphia's two representatives to the SEPTA Board - Chris DiCicco and Jettie Newkirk - once again exercised the city's veto power to delay a fare increase for at least 30 days. This occured at today's "special" board meeting which followed the regularly scheduled "rubber-stamp" session.

This move had been hinted at in Dan Geringer's article in today's Philadelphia Daily News (a fully-paid subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee):

"What we need is a solution, not a destruction of the transit system," said a City Hall source who declined to be identified.

A second City Hall source said that this afternoon's board meeting would be packed with the transit system's most vulnerable captive riders, who need SEPTA to get them to jobs, schools and doctors but who can't afford sky-high fares.

This of course was before the Philadelphia press corps went into "Operation Over-hype" mode in advance of today's snowfall. For the record, only a handful of people were able to make it to today's meeting...

A veto today by city appointees Jettie Newkirk and Christian DiCicco will prevent the 15-member, suburbs-dominated board from passing a 38 percent fare increase for at least a month.

But the veto will not prevent the 25 percent fare hikes and the 20 percent service cuts that were approved in December when the SEPTA board overrode an earlier veto by the same two city appointees.

Those "doomsday" hikes and cuts will go into effect on March 6 unless: (1) The Legislature pays off SEPTA's $49 million deficit, or (2) Gov. Rendell "flexes" (transfers) highway funds to mass transit as a temporary bailout, or (3) The city wins its lawsuit against SEPTA, due to be heard Monday in Common Pleas Court, that argues against fare hikes and service cuts as unnecessary and legally questionable.

Had the veto not been exercised, the SEPTA base fare would've increased from the current $2.00 to $3.00 on March 6. The original plan was to increase the fare from $2.00 to $2.50 last month, then increase from $2.50 to $3.00 on March 6, but the city's pending lawsuit against SEPTA regarding the fare hikes put a crimp in those plans. As it stands now, barring a court order, the base fare will increase to $2.50 on March 6, with the $3.00 base fare on hold pending the expected override of the city's veto next month.

Even so, SEPTA's plan to hike the fares from $2.00 to $3.00 certainly would've ranked as one of the dumbest decisions to come out of 1234 Market in recent memory. And there sure as hell have been a lot of stupid decisions from that place...

Sunday, February 20, 2005


Less than two months after we recieved a tip from an insider regarding the SEPTA Transit Police department's decision to do away with plainclothes details comes word of an attack at a Broad Street Subway station this past week.

According to WCAU-TV:

A teenager who volunteers his time to help troubled teens was a victim of a gang of teens Monday.

The teen, whose name was not released, was attacked at the Fern Rock SEPTA station.

Police said about a dozen teens attacked the 15-year-old as he was walking to a nearby church where he volunteers.

He was rushed to a hospital for treatment for several cuts and bruises.

The victim's mother believes the attack could have been stopped if police were patrolling the area.

"I'm so upset that this was a pattern we could have prevented from happening had there been plainclothed police officers in the area," said Tanya Haynes.

SEPTA officials said there used to be several plainclothed police officers patrolling the area, but last year those officers were put back into uniform and back on the street.

Police said a 50-year-old man was attacked in the same area [the week of 7 February - ed], apparently by the same group of teens. WCAU-TV

Surprise, surprise, surprise...

Last December, we posted this comment from SEPTA Minister of Mis-Information Richard Maloney, who said this to WCAU-TV after that station aired a report on an increase in pickpocketing incidents on SEPTA vehicles:

"We have a pickpocket patrol at the SEPTA Police Department, and they're undercover police, and they make arrests," SEPTA spokesman Rich Maloney said. WCAU-TV
Along with that lie from Maloney (one of these days, it would be interesting to see a list of lies that Maloney has told in his capacity as SEPTA's Minister of Mis-Information, but that's another posting), we also posted an insider's account that not only reported the lie about the plainclothes details, but also reported that staffing levels during morning peak periods are far less than what they should be.

This raises the question - Was SEPTA lying then, or are they lying now?

For that matter, can you really tell the difference?


Lost amid the flurry of threats by SEPTA to hike fares and slash service, the Pennsylvania Senate approved a bill (SB 199) sponsored by State Sen. Robert Thompson (R-19th/Chester) that would temporarily suspend the current $75 million cap on the amount of state sales tax that can be dedicated for mass transit statewide retroactive to July 1, 2004 and effective for the current fiscal year. The bill passed the Senate 46-0 and was referred to the House Finance Committee on February 14. The Evening Bulletin reported that SEPTA's take from this would be approximately $14 million.

The problem is that the legislature is in recess until March 14, a week after the first phase of planned fare hikes and 20 percent across-the-board service cuts are supposed to take effect. Kudos are due to Sen. Thompson - a former SEPTA Board Chairman during his stint as a Chester County Commissioner - for getting this bill passed, yet at the same time, it may take at least a month for the House to consider this proposal. By that time, the damage may be done...

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


In yesterday's Philadelphia Daily News (a fully-paid subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee), State Rep. Keith McCall (D-Carbon) laid out his proposal that would benefit both transit and highways, a condition to any possible funding solution for SEPTA:

My proposal will:
  • Increase the realty-transfer tax by a half percent [like Fumo's Senate bill], which will give mass transit $200 million in dedicated funding annually, probably more.
  • Adjust the formula so that the [smaller]... mass-transit systems get a larger share of state funding. I'm confident that both SEPTA and the Port Authority in Allegheny County will agree to that.
  • Make the "floor" of the oil company franchise tax, which increased automatically as of Jan. 1 permanent, which means that an additional $280 million would continue to flow into roads and bridges without the need to raise the gas tax.
  • Increase some driver and vehicle fees: passenger-car registrations would rise from $36 to $43, SUVs to $50. Restoring a suspended license would cost $30 instead of $25. That would raise $100 million that would go solely to local governments to repair local bridges and roads. Daily News
According to McCall, his plan "is getting some legs. There's a lot of bipartisan support out there. This is a fluid process. By the time every member gets a chance to look at it, it will have some changes. It's not etched in stone. The important thing is to get this done."


In what appears to have been a first, Emperor Street actually rode the Broad Street Subway...

According to the Inquirer, the Emperor joined labor leaders in taking a trip on the subway during Monday's peak hour:
Street, who vowed in a year-end news conference that he and members of his cabinet would ride the cash-strapped transit system weekly in 2005, hopped a Broad Street train from City Hall to Pattison Avenue shortly after 5:30 p.m.

Onboard, he grabbed a seat next to Angie Grant of South Philadelphia, who was in the midst of a 90-minute trip home from her job at a Newtown Square nursing home. Responding to the mayor's questions, Grant said her three-hour daily round-trip aboard the system's buses and trains was crucial to keeping her job.

"It's about work," Street said. "You hike the fares enough and she's going to say, 'Hey, why should I go out there?' "

Street said SEPTA's riders were primarily working people such as Grant, whom he described as "the most deserving people there are to get a subsidy." He called on state legislators to fully fund the transit agency, which has threatened a massive fare hike if Harrisburg cannot solve its financial troubles.

On their journey from City Hall to South Philadelphia's stadium complex, Street and a party that included Lance Haver, Philadelphia director of consumer affairs; Pat Eiding, Philadelphia AFL-CIO president; and Thomas Paine Cronin, leader of the city's white-collar union, witnessed symptoms of SEPTA woes, including graffiti and trash on trains and platforms.

But some aspects of the ride were unique to a mayoral visit, such as a brief delay after a camera crew following Street's party blocked train doors from closing. Later, a subway passenger on a platform loudly banged the car window behind Street's seat.

Perhaps the person banging on the window was not exactly a member of the Emperor's fan club...
Street noted that it was his second public-transit ride of the week. On Friday, he took a bus to work from his North Philadelphia home.

But after reaching the line's Pattison Avenue terminus last night, he rode away in an official vehicle.

Haver said he expected 4,500 Philadelphia advocates to appear at a Feb. 14 transit rally in Harrisburg. Inquirer

It'll be interesting to see if Haver's predictions hold true...

That said, it's really interesting that the Emperor has finally decided to make SEPTA a major issue after years of virtually ignoring transportation issues during his first term...


Remember last year's Bonny and Clyde couple who had the brilliant idea of taking a SEPTA bus to flee from a robbery scene in Royersford? Apparently, they weren't the first rocket scientists who thought SEPTA would've made a good escape route...

Lou Sessinger, a columnist with the Lansdale-Doylestown Intelligencer related a story about a similar robbery a few years ago in Doylestown Township, Bucks County:

Doylestown Township Police Chief Stephen White remembers an especially dumb crook his department encountered a few years back.

The man held up the M&T Bank in the shopping center at Route 611 and Almshouse Road, which incidentally is a mere stone's throw from the Bucks County Prison.

Maybe that's fitting because the guy apparently was no stranger to the corrections system.

He had written a demand note and gave it to a bank teller, leaving it behind when he fled.

"The note was written on the back of an envelope," White recalled. "On the front of the envelope was the man's name and address. It had been sent to him by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections."

As it turned out, the holdup man had taken a SEPTA bus to Doylestown Township up Route 611 from his home in Elkins Park (the 55 - ed.). He was planning to take another SEPTA bus home after the robbery - I guess you call that a getaway bus - but he had to kill some time before the bus arrived.

For once, the lengthy headways north of Willow Grove Park Mall paid off...

His intention was apparently to get something to eat at a restaurant in the shopping center near the bank until the bus came. However, the restaurant wasn't open, and he couldn't get in.

Police arrested him within minutes. Intelligencer


The Philadelphia City Paper (which makes the Daily News look like National Review, and that may be a little generous) ran a cover story last week in which staffers offered 33 suggestions on how to improve SEPTA. I haven't had a chance to review the full article, but at some point this month, I'll try to offer a commentary related to this article...