Monday, October 31, 2005

IT'S ON...

The worst case scenario has come true...

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


Tomorrow, route changes in the Norristown and North Penn areas will take effect. Riders may not have long to experience those changes, as the threat of a strike is still looming.

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...


SEPTA isn't letting a little thing like a threatened work stoppage keep it from doing what it seems to do best - beg for money...

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...


With slightly more than 24 hours left in the current CBA, SEPTA and TWU 234 continue to negotiate in hopes of avoiding a strike. The current line (as of 22:20) is that the union is willing to negotiate "non-economic" (work rules, et al) issues before dealing with the "economic" (health care, wages, et al). SEPTA, however, wants to deal with everything at the same time.

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


SEPTA appears to be desperately avoiding a strike if they're going to making this big of a consession offer to the unions, at least according to the Inquirer in a story that should appear in Thursday's editions...

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


NBC10 ran an investigative report (with video) on Tuesday night regarding security - or lack thereof - at SEPTA rail yards. As expected, and given SEPTA's track record, the results weren't pretty.

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


From the TWU web site:

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...


Oh, in case you missed it, the TWU and UTU are threatening to strike. It's rather hard to avoid all the coverage, so here's a sampling of reports, commentaries, and editorials over the past few weeks:

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.

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."

See 1998...

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."

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...


I can't help but laugh after reading this...

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...


It hasn't exactly been a good month for riders on the subway-surface lines, particularly in Southwest Philly...

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.

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.

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...


You just can't please some people...

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.

People, get a grip...


Cornelius "Con" Cassidy, who represented Delaware County on the SEPTA Board since July 2003, passed away on September 24. Mr. Cassidy, 52, of Upper Providence, was the Darby Borough Republican leader, a former Darby Borough police officer and a former chief of the Yeadon Fire Company, and was also owner of Cassidy and Sons construction company in Yeadon. In addition, Mr. Cassidy was active with the Delaware County Workforce Investment Board, the Archbisop Prendegast High School advisory board, as a member of the Make a Wish Foundation, and the Donegal Society.

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.)


On September 22, at around 21:30, a westbound El train derailed at the 15 St Station. The #3 car of the train (1176) reportedly jumped the tracks at the 15 St crossover west of the station. Four people were injured, and service was restored the following morning. The cause of the incident is unclear, but there remains a slow-order leaving 15 St station. According to one poster at the forum, the 1176 car had some wheelwork done earlier in the day. Funny how the rest of the media missed that one...


Wow... You don't post for nearly 2-3 months, and all of the sudden, all hell breaks loose on the system. In any case, we are now less than one week away from the first SEPTA strike since the infamous 1998 strike in which the City and Frontier divisions went out of service in the early part of the summer. Now, the unions are back at it, only this time, Red Arrow is threatening to walk as well.

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...