Thursday, September 07, 2006


While SEPTA can't be held totally at fault for this issue, there still seems to be a Scrooge like mentality when it comes to public safety on the system. Never mind the stabbings, shootings, and violent assaults that seem to have cropped up over the past several years (while other larger urban rail systems such as WMATA have reported relatively few violent crimes, and no murders in at least 2 years on its MetroRail system).

Currently, in the event of a major catastrophy - or for that matter, a BS call - underground, neither Philadelphia Police nor Fire can communicate within the subway or regional rail tunnels due to an obsolete radio system. So, while SEPTA spends money on James Bond-like bomb detection equipment, the underground radio system's shortcomings are glaringly ignored, or, in typical fashion under "Safety Czar" James B. Jordan, pushed to the back burner, as pointed out in today's Ink-waster:

Five years after 9/11, the Philadelphia region has a good grasp of what it must do to make itself safer:

Secure its international airport, patrol its port, guard its power grid, protect its refineries, safeguard its subway and trains, stockpile food and medicine, plan a large-scale evacuation, even prepare for mass cremations.

Knowing all of that is one thing. Doing it is another matter entirely.

Take the problem with SEPTA and its tunnels.

After commuters died in attacks on Madrid and London trains, the danger here is well understood.

If terrorists set off subterranean bombs, responding police and firefighters face a huge problem: Their communications don't work underground.

But rigging the tunnels for communications would cost millions. And SEPTA's security chief says that any fix would likely be obsolete by the time it was installed.

SEPTA's problem is a metaphor for disaster readiness in the region: Key problems have been identified, but solutions remain expensive and elusive.

With the terrorist threat ever-morphing and money tight, the region struggles to prioritize risk and make smart choices for an attack that might never come.

In June, a mayoral task force identified SEPTA's tunnel dilemma as one in a host of regional shortcomings. Should catastrophe strike, its report warned, Philadelphia might be "quickly overwhelmed."

Or, Philadelphia could be overwhelmed by thousands of concert-goers trying to get home after a major event on the Parkway. Oh, wait, I forgot about Live 8...

The task force's report zeroed in on SEPTA's communications troubles as an egregious failing. The FBI, too, has studied mass transit in a classified report shared with local police.

James B. Jordan, SEPTA's security chief, called the issue the agency's "highest threat area."
His explanation why is chilling because it is so matter-of-fact: "The use of an explosion has the greatest impact in an underground environment."

Jordan said it would cost $18 million or more to solve the communication problem, a sum almost as great as the entire regional Homeland Security federal grant for the coming fiscal year.

"Nobody has that kind of money," he said. "Our fear is that it would be obsolete by the time it took to install it."

SEPTA does. Problem is, it's just tied up in garbage projects such as the Cross-County and $chuylkill Valley rail corridors/boondoggles, or for other ridiculous projects requested by the political hacks across the region.

SEPTA has made stopgap fixes. In the last year, it bought a relatively inexpensive transmitter that police or firefighters could lug to an explosion or accident site to permit communication. But it might take up to 30 minutes to deliver and set up, Jordan said.

Here's a concept. How about just purchasing more SEPTA-issued portable radios as reserve and issue them to officers or fire-fighters when responding underground? Or would that make too much sense?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


NO CHANGES TO ROUTES 90, 91, 93, 97, 131, 132, 204, 206, and 304

Merged with Route 133, now a one-seat ride between West Chester and King of Prussia
New peak hour express service between King of Prussia and PA 252/Chesterbrook Blvd
Weekday peak headways 60 minutes, off-peak and Saturday headways 90 minutes

Run times increased 5-7 minutes due to new routing at Montgomery County Community College/Whitpain campus
Weekdays to Chestnut Hill: Trips from Montgomery Mall between 08:35 through 17:35 depart 5 minutes later

All trips now routed to directly serve Conshohocken Rail Station (R6 Norristown)
Peak hour short-turns now originate at Swedeland Rd/River Rd, Upper Merion
AM and PM "Reverse-peak" short-turns between Conshohocken and Gulph Mills eliminated
Run time adjustments across the board
Weekdays to Gulph Mills: 06:00 from Conshohocken extended to Plymouth Meeting Mall, departing at 05:40, 06:38 departs Plymouth Meeting Mall 2 minutes later, 07:23 through 08:55 depart Plymouth Meeting 15 minutes later, mid-day service between 09:45 and 14:45 depart 20 minutes earlier, 18:25 departs Plymouth Meeting 10 minutes later, 20:20 departs Plymouth Metting at 20:00, 22:20 departs Plymouth Meeting 10 minutes later
Weekdays to Plymouth Meeting Mall: 06:10 departs Gulph Mills 5 minutes later, AM peak trips from 06:25 through 08:50 depart 5 minutes earlier, 09:35 trip eliminated, mid-day service from 10:30 to 14:30 departs 20 minutes earlier, 20:12 departs at 20:35, 21:12 departs at 21:55
Saturdays to Gulph Mills: 07:45 through 09:45 and 11:41 depart 3 minutes earlier, 15:40 through 17:40 depart 2 minutes earlier, 19:47 and 20:47 depart 7 minutes earlier, 21:45 and 22:45 depart 5 minutes earlier

Run time adjustments northbound north of MCCC and southbound south of MCCC due to new routing

Weekdays to Willow Grove: New 10:06, 11:05, 12:05 and 14:05 short-turns from Jolly Rd/Union Meeting Rd, Whitpain to Plymouth Meeting Mall
Weekdays to Norristown: New 09:55, 10:55, 11:55, and 13:55 short-turns from Plymouth Meeting Mall to Jolly Rd/Union Meeting Rd, Whitpain, 15:30 and 16:30 depart Willow Grove 5 minutes earlier, 16:29 depart Ambler 1 minute earlier, 17:30 departs Ambler 3 minutes later, 18:40 departs Willow Grove 10 minutes earlier, 19:40 departs Willow Grove 5 minutes earlier
Saturdays to Norristown: 11:20 departs Willow Grove 10 minutes earlier

New routing via Trooper Rd, Shannondell Blvd, and Egypt Rd; all run-times adjusted accordingly

New routing via Swedesford Rd, eliminating Chesterbrook Blvd service; all run-times adjusted accordingly

ROUTES 127 and 128
Minor weekday run-time adjustments

Weekday and Saturday run-time adjustments; seasonal service to Sesame Place ended

Weekday and Saturday run-time adjustments
Saturdays to Franklin Mills: 08:45 departs Newtown 5 minutes earlier, 09:50, 10:50, 13:55 through 17:55, and 18:50 depart Newtown 10 minutes earlier, 11:52 and 12:52 departs 12 minutes earlier

Weekdays to Montgomery Mall: Run time adjustments with no changes to departure times
Weekdays to Chestnut Hill: 16:30 and 17:50 departs 5 minutes later

18:05 departs Fort Washington Rail Station 5 minutes later, 18:16 departs 601 Office Center Dr, Upper Dublin, 4 minutes later


NO CHANGES ON ROUTES 106, 109, 114, 116, 117, 118, 125, and 305

Weekdays to Norristown: New 09:15 Bryn Mawr local, 18:48 Norristown local departs 3 minutes later, new 18:55 Hughes Park local
Weekdays to 69 St: New 09:40 local from Bryn Mawr, new 19:23 express from Hughes Park, 19:22 departs Norristown 1 minute later, 19:38 departs Norristown 2 minutes later

Weekdays to Media: 07:00, 07:20, and 07:40 locals now express, 07:43 local to Springfield departs 1 minute earlier, new 08:00 Media local, 08:13 Media local departs 7 minutes later, 08:43 Media local departs 3 minutes earlier, mid-day service (pre-construction) restored, departing 69 St at :00 and :30 between 09:00 and 13:00 and every 20 minutes between 13:00 and 15:40
Weekdays to 69 St: 08:06 departs Woodland Av 1 minute earlier, 08:28 departs Scenic Rd 2 minutes earlier, new 08:40 Media local, 09:02 departs Media 2 minutes earlier, new 09:20 from Media, mid-day service departs 5 minutes later between 09:32 and 13:02; 20 minute headways between 13:40 and 16:20

Weekdays to Sharon Hill: 07:10 and 07:25 Sharon Hill locals now Express, 07:45 departs 2 minutes later, new 08:30 Sharon Hill local, mid-day service restored to depart at :15 and :45 mid-days 08:45 to 12:45 and 20 minutes from 13:10 to 15:50, add 14:15 Aldan local (school tripper)
Weekdays to 69 St: 07:59 departs Sharon Hill 1 minute earlier, 08:22 departs Sharon Hill 2 minutes later, 08:35 departs Sharon Hill 5 minutes later, new 09:00 Sharon Hill local, mid-day service 30 minutes between 09:29 and 13:23 and 20 minutes from 13:42 to 16:20

Weekdays to Ardmore: Minor run-time adjustments
Weekdays to 69 St: 07:18 and 14:20 depart Ardmore 2 minutes later, 16:26 departs 2 minutes earlier, 18:52 departs 3 minutes later, 19:22 departs 8 minutes later

Weekdays to Newtown Square/West Chester: Overall run-time adjustments all day
Weekdays to 69 St: 06:16 departs Newtown Square 2 minutes earlier, new 06:48 from Springfield Rd, 07:17 departs Newtown Square 4 minutes earlier, new 08:00 local from Newtown Square, 08:25 departs Newtown Square 2 minutes later, new 09:19 local from Newtown Square, 08:55 departs West Chester University 10 minutes later, 09:25 departs WCU 5 minutes later, 10:20 through 13:50 from West Chester depart 5 minutes earlier, 13:15 Friday only non-stop express from WCU restored for the school year, 14:20 local departs Newtown Square 3 minutes earlier, 14:45 and 14:55 depart Newtown Square 2 minutes earlier, 14:20 local from WCU departs 2 minutes earlier, 15:20 express from WCU departs 5 minutes earlier, 15:50 express from WCU departs 3 minutes later, 16:11 departs Newtown Square Corp Campus 1 minute earlier, 16:20 express from WCU departs 8 minutes later, 16:50 express departs WCU 3 minutes later, 18:00 and 18:28 depart Newtown Square Corp Campus 5 minutes earlier, 17:20 express departs WCU 3 minutes later, 17:50 and 18:20 locals depart WCU 5 minutes later, new 18:49 local from Newtown Square , 20:05 and 21:05 depart Newtown Square 1 minute earlier, 22:06 departs Newtown Square 1 minute later
Sunday: 17:35 to Newtown Square and 18:14 return trip eliminated

Weekdays to Ardmore/Paoli: 05:20 departs 5 minutes earlier, overall run-time adjustments
Weekdays to 69 St: 06:40 departs 63- Malvern 2 minutes later, 08:35 departs City Line/Haverford Av 2 minutes later, all trips between 08:10 and 19:15 depart Paoli 5 minutes later, 09:05 from Ardmore eliminated, 10:17 departs Ardmore 6 minutes later, 11:18, 12:18, and 13:18 depart Ardmore 5 minutes later, 14:09 departs Radnor 4 minutes later, 16:16 departs Radnor 2 minutes later, 17:15 departs Radnor 5 minutes later, 18:27 departs Ardmore 6 minutes later
Saturday to Paoli: Run-time adjustments
Saturday to 69 St: All trips between 07:50 and 11:50 depart Paoli 10 minutes later, all trips between 13:00 and 16:00 depart Paoli 5 minutes later

Service merged with former Route 122, operating over the 122 segment between Clifton Heights and Springfield Mall with an extension to Lawrence Park via Sproul Rd, late evening round-trips added

All runs now assigned to Red Arrow; school trippers in service for school year
Weekdays to Philadelphia International Airport: 15 minute mid-day service to 84-Crane between 08:55 and 13:55, service to Airport Business Center reduced to one trip per hour, 20:25 to ABC departs 5 minutes earlier, 21:00 to UPS departs 10 minutes earlier, new 21:10 to UPS, 21:25 to UPS departs 5 minutes later, 21:40 to UPS departs 10 minutes later, new 22:15 to 67-Elmwood, overall run time adjustments
Weekdays to 69 St: 06:37 from Airport Business Center departs 3 minutes later, 07:20 departs 67-Elmwood 5 minutes later, major departure time adjustments entire day

Weekdays to 69 St: 06:30 and 07:30 from Springfield Mall cut back and originate at Pilgrim Gardens, 20:00 from Springfield Mall eliminated

Weekdays to Penn State/Chadds Ford: 22:22 to Chadds Ford cut back to State Rd/Township Line Rd, overall run-time adjustments
Weekdays to 69 St: 06:25 departs Chadds Ford 15 minutes later, 07:30 from State Rd/Township Line Rd departs 12 minutes later, 07:10 and 07:45 express from Chadds Ford depart 5 minutes later, 14;10 and 15:10 depart Chadds Ford 5 minutes later, new 14:30 from PSU/DelCo, 15:05 departs PSU/DelCo 15 minutes later, 17:00 and 18:00 depart Chadds Ford 5 minutes later, 17:30 from Chadds Ford departs 5 minutes earlier, 20:31 from Franklin Mint cut back to PSU/DelCo, 21:35 from PSU/DelCo cut with service replaced by 21:05 express from Chadds Ford

Two additional express trips to Delaware County Community College in both directions, departing 69 St at 10:10 and 11:10 and departing DCCC at 13:05 and 16:05

Overall run-time and inbound departure time adjustments to accomodate new routing to Harrah's Chester Downs complex

Weekdays to Brookline: 19:35, 20:10 and 22:05 depart MacDade Mall at 19:05, 19:50, and 21:35
Weekdays to MacDade Mall: 20:50 departs Brookline at 20:30

Weekdays to Chester: 07:05 from Boothwyn now originates at Cheyney, departing at 06:45
Sunday to Chester: Run-time adjustments

Full school-year service restored, all weekday trips with the exception of one early evening short-turn trip, to provide one-seat ride to Cheyney

Weekday, Saturday, and Sunday run-time adjustments
Saturday to 69 St: 11:05 departs King of Prussia 5 minutes earlier, trips departing King of Prussia from 11:40 through 19:40 depart 10 minutes earlier, 20:20 departs King of Prussia 5 minutes earlier


Early Saturday's morning unwelcome visit from the remnants of Tropical Depression Ernesto wreaked less havoc than originally threatened by the TV weather bobble-heads, however there were some localized issues west of the city...

R5 Paoli-Thorndale service was suspended during the morning due to unknown issues that have yet to be identified (possibly a tree down along the tracks, but there's be absolutely nothing about it in any media outlet). Unfortunately, your fearless blogger found out the hard way, after wasting an hour at Downingtown station, only to have a fellow passenger inform everyone else at the station that KYW had reported that service was suspended. Bear in mind there are speakers at the Downingtown station. Gee, it would've been nice if someone from SEPTA could've made an announcement to that effect, but I guess the moron responsible for that was probably on vacation. Barring that, it would've been at least common decency to send a white-shirt out to the stations along the line and post signs indicating that service was suspended. Wait, that would've made too much sense...

Meanwhile, a downed tree along Phoenixville Pike near Saunders Ln in West Goshen forced the detour of the 92 via US 322, Pottstown Pike, and Green Hill Rd. The incident was initially reported at around 05:00, yet at 17:45, the road was still closed. Way to go, West Goshen Twp/PennDOT!

The weekend wouldn't have been such a disaster, except for the tiny little matter of the 15:10 104 bus from West Chester that for reasons unknown, never made it to West Chester, which of course caused a bit of an overflow on the 16:10 departure out of West Chester. A call to SEPTA's Customer Dis-services proved fruitless as the operator was unable/unwilling to explain why the bus never made it.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, your SEPTA fare dollars at work...

Friday, September 01, 2006


Anyone who isn't aware that SEPTA is in a financial crisis apparently has been living in another planet (or, for a more regional perspective, Kensington). Well, apparently, SEPTA has taken its ability to sell advertising to new levels that were unforseeable two years ago.

First, SEPTA began plasterning ads on the tops of its buses, which are about aesthetically appealing as vomit on the stairways of City Hall station. Then, SEPTA dropped it's policy prohibiting alcohol advertising, against the loud protests from Philadelphia officials. Now, comes the latest ad blitz - a single company/product purchasing all the advertising at a particular transit hub.

The transit hub in question is 69 Street Terminal. And, in a move that should really make those who were less than enthusiastic about alcohol ads even less so, the company that has pulled this off - by not only buying every available ad spot but also hanging at least two very visible banners of the barrier of the upper level of the main hall and brand new hanging ads in the main waiting area - is none other than that great, wholesome, family friendly beverage...


Yes, that's right, SEPTA has all but sold out 69 St Terminal to a beer company.

Perhaps SEPTA could put some of that suds money to use by making the restrooms inside the terminal, well, less of a bio-hazard. The restrooms at 69 St are so bad, that if Upper Darby's L&I officers saw the same conditions at a privately owned building, restaurant, or bar, I guarantee you those places would be padlocked.


And now, from the same people willing to think "outside the box" with famously disasterous results (see: $chuylkill Valley rail service), SEPTA apparently thinks that the trendy new fuel du jour among the enviro-set - biodiesel - is, to be kind, half-baked. Of course, when you consider the source is the Philadelphia City Paper (a paper so far to the left, it makes the Daily News look neo-conservative), well, then it has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Despite a small dip in crude oil costs since the cease-fire in Lebanon, rising demand in India and China and ongoing violence in the Middle East have pushed per barrel costs to $70 and above, meaning biodiesel — a mixture of vegetable oil or grease and diesel — is now no more expensive than regular diesel. So earlier this month, the state started accepting applications from transit authorities, government agencies and nonprofits for Alternative Fuels Incentive Grants (AFIGs), which would offset extra costs associated with switching to biodiesel. Since 1992, the program has allocated nearly $30 million for the production and use of clean-burning fuels; there is no cap on individual grants.

So, SEPTA, why not give biodiesel a try?

SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney hadn't heard of the grant until a reporter told him, but even after reviewing the specifics, he declared that no one can provide the five-county agency the 15 million gallons of diesel fuel a year it needs.

Sounds like it took our beloved Minister of Mis-Information and Shadow GM about 10 minutes to review the specifics, naturally with very little research.

But a few calls to providers proved the opposite is true. Massachusetts-based World Energy sends more biofuel to Philadelphia by rail car than anywhere else in the country. An official at a biodiesel company in Pennsylvania (who asked to remain anonymous in case the company applies for a city contract) says it could easily fill an order SEPTA's size. In fact, within a year, Pennsylvania could be the nation's leading producer of biodiesel, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Still, since SEPTA gets its fuel via pipeline directly from the Sunoco refinery in South Philly, Maloney says, it has no place to mix the "bio" parts with the diesel.

"We will not be applying for the fundamental reason that it is at the moment logistically impossible for us to mix the fuels at the capacity we need," he says.

That may be the case now, but Sunoco spokesperson Gerald Davis said the company would consider carrying biodiesel if customers like SEPTA requested it. (SEPTA says it hasn't asked for it because Sunoco doesn't offer it.)

While buses could run on biodiesel with no equipment changes, a preliminary report released last week by the state Transportation Funding and Reform Commission confirms Maloney's assertion that the cash-strapped agency couldn't ask taxpayers to pay for upgrades needed for fuel mixing.

"For us to retool a huge infrastructure for 1,300 buses is something we can't turn on a dime," he says, adding that SEPTA would be open to a biodiesel plan that is "economically and environmentally practical."

Considering that SEPTA has already phased in a different type of diesel fuel (Ultra Low Sulfer Diesel) aleady at Southern Depot with plans to convert all depots to that type in the near future, there's no reason why one of the depots - possibly Allegheny or Frankford, which have relatively small fleets compared to the rest of the system - couldn't be the test depots for biodiesel.

But the real problem isn't biodiesel, says Lance Haver, the city's director of consumer affairs. It's SEPTA.

Although SEPTA's service planning and purchasing departments are supposed to research the best fueling options, Haver would like to see an environmental officer dedicated to these solutions.

"There is no one at SEPTA who is in charge of greening SEPTA and that is an indication of how little they care," he says. "If they were really concerned about these issues, you wouldn't have to talk to the same person who tells you why the trains are late."

You'd probably also have to talk to the same person in charge of everything else at SEPTA, from lying about crime stats to whining about a lack of support for dedicated funding from Harrisburg. That, of course, would be Maloney.

SEPTA has made some attempts to go green. Of its 1,300 buses, 32 are diesel-electric hybrids, which use less fuel than traditional diesel buses. Maloney, however, cautions that the hybrids are not as fuel efficient as expected, cost about twice as much as conventional buses and, because they are in high demand, take time to procure.

Cost and availability are some of the reasons public transit authorities, large and small, have embraced biodiesel.

In Seattle, King County Metro, which runs as many buses as SEPTA, put half its fleet, or 675 buses, on B20 (a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent regular diesel fuel). While maintenance manager Jim Boon wasn't quick to make the change, he says the fuel has proved reliable.

Small systems such as RabbitTransit, York County's public transit authority, which runs just 74 vehicles, have phased in biodiesel concentrations. In February, executive director Richard Farr put the whole fleet on B5. Six months later, 20 vehicles were running on B20, and by year's end, he wants to upgrade all vehicles to B20 to reduce diesel usage.

Farr noted that the alternative fuel lubricates engines, making them more efficient, which could help SEPTA use its buses beyond their typical 12-year life.

The switchover has also given RabbitTransit a shot of positive PR. (Think SEPTA's "Genuine Philly" marketing campaign minus the cheese factor.) "The more cars we can get off the road and the cleaner our vehicles run," says Farr, "the better it is for everyone."

Cheese factor? How about the "pointless" factor? Or the "irrelevant" factor? Or the "what specific services do we offer" factor?

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and Valley Forge Park use biodiesel, too, proving that the fuel is available locally. SEPTA riders already save on fuel by leaving their cars at home, but Bob Grey, a World Energy vice president of business development, says environmentalists need not feel twinges of fuel guilt when buses run on biodiesel.

Well, since the Turnpike is using biodiesel, perhaps Maloney and Don Pasquale - who last time I checked was a Turnpike Commissioner - should have a little chat before SEPTA closes it's doors to biodiesel.

"You can't deny that putting the farmer back in the field is a good thing," he says, "or that reducing foreign dependency on oil is a good thing."

SEPTA's Maloney remains skeptical.

"Many, many times when these proposals are really studied through," he says, "their benefits do not meet their initial promise."

Yeah, like the way you thoroughly studied this proposal?

But if a local company succeeds, SEPTA could one day run on grease discarded from city eateries. Philadelphia Fry-o-Diesel plans to make fuel from trap grease, which, unlike used fryer oil, is the slime leftover when restaurants wash dishes. Having just garnered the mayor's support for a state grant, the company expects to produce the fuel in 2008.

For now, the city plans to apply for the AFIG grant SEPTA rejected. Fleet manager James Muller says the biodiesel would fuel the 3,000 diesel vehicles used by the city, the School District, the Parking Authority and the Housing Authority.

"Anything that comes down the pike, we're interested," he says. "We need to start doing something, with the condition of the world today."

What does it tell you that the City of Philadelphia, which is not known for it's ability to think ahead of the curve, is actually light years ahead of SEPTA on anything? And how does SEPTA, which whines about a lack of money to do anything while at the same time pushes a $2 billion boondoggle down the collective throats of this region pass up an opportunity to investigate alternative fuels?