SEPTA

Water pouring from the Fairmount SEPTA station is even worse

Three years ago this month I wrote about water seen streaming in from the ceiling of the Fairmount SEPTA station, on the Southbound platform. Since then, it's gotten a lot worse. I was fairly shocked to see how bad it was this morning. This time, I made a video. You get a good gush of water in the video, toward the end.

If you look at the photo in the post I linked above, it's not nearly so bad. Just a serious leak. This video shows that whatever is failing to seal water out has gotten much, much worse.

Nutter, FOX News, and the SEPTA Strike

The mainstream press across Philadelphia is turning commuters against transit workers. Instead of practicing journalism and explaining to the public why transit workers have gone on strike, they have instead given a platform to one side of the contract negotiations and helped the Mayor pit working people across the city against the drivers and engineers who get us to work everyday.

Smart Cards are Here! Tokens are Gone! Candy Canes for Everyone!

The Daily News has a cover story about how SEPTA smart cards are on the verge of being here! Now, with our ultra smart cards, tokens are a thing of the past. Awesome:

THIS IS the dawning of the Age of SEPTArius!

Finally!

Philadelphia, the last major American city where transit riders line up to pay cash for tokens, is on the verge of getting a high-tech fare system that will make riding SEPTA as easy as using E-ZPass on the turnpike.

Or as easy as riding public transit in Chicago, Boston, New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle, where smart cards have replaced tokens, and long lines for tokens, and discovering too late that you don't have exact change for tokens and the toll-booth attendant doesn't make change for tokens and you're stuck.

Or as easy as buying morning coffee at Wawa, or a pack of gum at CVS, or a lawnmower at Home Depot or just about anything in Philly - except a SEPTA fare.

Finally!

Oh, so, without any context, there is also this little bit of info:

The token, which has been a pain-in-the-mass-transit here for decades, could go the way of horse-drawn trolleys by 2011, said John McGee, SEPTA's chief officer of new-payment technology.

Oh.... so tokens could be obsolete by 2011? Interesting. Why only 'could,' amidst this article about the fantasical, whimsical smart cards that will change lives?

Could it be that today is July 21, 2009, and on June 24, 2009, the Inquirer ran this little nugget?

SEPTA has postponed for a third time its deadline for a "smart-card" fare system.

The latest deadline is Aug. 18, five months later than the original March 17 requirement for manufacturers to submit proposals for an electronic system to replace tokens and paper tickets for its buses, subways, trolleys, and trains.

Or, how about this line, from November of 2007:

SEPTA took its first tentative step today out of the era of tokens and paper tickets, announcing its plan to award a contract for a "smart card" by the end of next year.

The end of "next year" was... 2008.

Which is all to say, that while I am all for positive stories on mass transit, it seems really strange that a project that has yet to even close a deadline for accepting proposals, now almost 2 years late, is touted as "finally" coming.

Or, how about this: Would anyone like to make a bet as to whether smartcards will be available and in use system-wide in 2011? If so, I can give you some great odds...

Stop me if you have heard this before...

And the beat goes on...

SEPTA has postponed for a third time its deadline for a "smart-card" fare system.

The latest deadline is Aug. 18, five months later than the original March 17 requirement for manufacturers to submit proposals for an electronic system to replace tokens and paper tickets for its buses, subways, trolleys, and trains.

With a smart card, passengers would be able to wave a card at a sensor on a turnstile or fare box and be on their way.

SEPTA says it wants a system that will allow passengers to use credit cards, prepaid SEPTA cards, and even cell phones to pay for their trips.

And the beat goes on...

What is another few months among friends?! SEPTA should delay implementing a smart card system until the smart card system tells you how far away the train is, gives you movies reviews, and does your laundry.

Where is our 21st century vision for transit?

So, we are in a crisis. And while we individually take some blame, we all know that much of this is the reality of America right now. I may argue that the Mayor has done some things wrong with the budget, but, it is pretty hard to blame him for the fact that the value of the pension fund has cratered by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, the Mayor is taking heat for all the new hires he has made in his office. Personally, I don't necessarily see hiring new deputies as a big deal, especially if they can earn their keep by generating savings or economic development or smart policies for the City. (For example, if Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison figures out a way to remove from our prison system the non-violent, alleged offenders, who simply can't afford bail, he will save us tens of millions of dollars every year.) Which brings us to transportation, where we have another one of these Deputy Mayors, Rina Cutler. Presumably, with someone devoted to transit full time, we will have someone thinking a lot about SEPTA, and how we can expand it and make it better.

And yet, I get a queasy feeling that with the Federal Government about to pass a stimulus package worth around 850 billion, and with the amount of money for mass transit increasing, we might miss a once in a generation chance to undertake an ambitious, productive, and expensive mass transit project that could generate jobs and economic expansion in Philadelphia for years. In this stimulus bill there are billions of dollars for transit. There are also rumblings that with Democrats in control, the next few infrastructure bills will also be very large, and there are a number of Senators and Congresspeople who are pushing hard to make sure that mass transit gets real funding.

In response to that, where is our plan for transit expansion? Not just new cars, but real expansion of the system? Where is our proposal for a light rail system that goes up and down Delaware Ave? Where is our proposal for another line (that connects to the Delaware one,) that goes from Front and Spring Garden all the way through N Liberties and Fairmount, to Mantua and through to the rest of W Philly? Where is our proposal for light rail up the Roosevelt Boulevard, where buses run approximately every 2(!) minutes, and are still filled to capacity?

As we know, and as the national media knows, much was made of the fact that in the Mayor's huge, 2.7 billion dollar wish list for Obama, there was a 125 million dollar ask to to prep East Market St. for the Casino. Here is what the Mayor has asked for in mass transit:

And here is what SEPTA says it wants:

In the Philadelphia region, SEPTA has a $480 million list of projects it would like to tackle, including $175 million worth that it says could be started within 120 days of funding.

The area projects include reconstructing the Fox Chase train station, upgrading stations along the Chestnut Hill West rail line, improving lighting in the Center City commuter tunnel, renovating restrooms at the 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby, and improving electrical substations and maintenance shops.

All worthy projects, I am sure. But really, that is it? Is expansion of the system not worth going after?

Deputy Mayor Cutler seems like knowledgeable person. But so far, she has made her mark by jacking up the cost of driving and parking into the city, all to deal with congestion, a problem candidate Michael Nutter addressed during the Mayoral campaign: (Inquirer, May 1, 2007.)

Brady, Nutter and Knox had harsh words for Fattah's proposal that Philadelphia ought to study imposing a congestion charge on suburban commuters driving into Center City.

Such a charge would reduce pollution and provide a funding source for SEPTA, said Fattah, noting that New York City is studying the idea for Manhattan.

Nutter said such a charge would be "devastating" for retail businesses and city-suburban relations. Brady quipped that "the only one thing worse than traffic is no traffic."

(Yes, I know, somewhat different plan, driving versus parking, but still certainly is effectively a congestion charge to suburban drivers, and is just as likely to be harmful to Center City retail.)

So, since we are paying all of this money for a Deputy Mayor for Transportation, instead of enriching parking lot operators, maybe we should start thinking really, really big. And, of course, maybe the big planning for all of this is happening behind the scenes. But right now, from an outsider's perspective, this seems a chance to make positive change that we are letting slip right by without even trying.

Much has been made about those salaries. But, if we get a new line of transit, with rail cars built here in the City, then Deputy Mayor Cutler will have earned her salary ten times over. I realize that there are many small things we need, for SEPTA and all over the City, but if we don't at least try for the big stuff, we sure as hell won't get it.

News and Notes

1) When we started our Open Records Request fax bank, I thought that 50 people asking for passwords would be enough to send a clear message, and force the City Commissioners' to come up with a commonsense solution to keeping election returns password protected. Instead, it got over 250, from Hallwatch's email, to mentions on Philebrity, the Clog, Clout, It's our City, and elsewhere.

So, 250 people requested to have the same access to election results as connected politicians. There is an easy solution, too: just set up something to spit out the data. How come I think it will not be so simple?

2) There is a story in the Inquirer today about the 10,000 men effort, which has so far not come close to living up to its goals. There is a lot to take away from it, but for people interested in progressive politics and organizing, this piece is instructive:

Outwardly, the organization appears to have stalled. It opened an office at 1501 Christian St. in a property owned by Kenny Gamble, the entertainment mogul and one of the organization's high-profile founders. But with no paid staff, the headquarters is open only by appointment, Bond said.

And the 10,000 Men Web site (www.10000menphilly.com) has not been updated in months. It still headlines an April 5 Community Action Fair to encourage volunteerism, the organization's biggest public event since its inaugural rally.

Lets say 10,000 men were really going to volunteer, for a mix of street patrols and mentorship/ community service. How can that happen without full time organizers? The answer is that barring a miracle, it cannot. And even here, where this is organizing about street violence that directly impacts people's lives in this City.

So, if you/we are instead trying to motivate people for your host of other progressive issues- all of which may be important, but most of which will have less direct tangible effects than violence, how can it be done without actually paying people to do it? Long-term, it cannot.

If we as progressives want change, we have to figure out how to pay for it.

3) I should have added a link to it a while ago, but, if you are not reading SEPTA Watch, you should be.

SEPTA and kids: "Not our issue"

Parents United for Public Education has been working for months to stop a District proposal to cut thousands of students off from free transpasses as part of a deficit-reduction plan.

Last fall, Gov. Rendell, Sen. Vince Fumo and SEPTA officials held a big press conference announcing that, for the first time, students in Philadelphia would get what students across the state already receive – free transportation for grades 7-12. For all students living more than 1.5 miles from school, the state and SEPTA would fund free transpasses. This applied to all parochial and charter students as well as public.

Unfortunately, after the media headlines the cost issue was a lot different. Because of the expansion of passes, the District’s transportation costs tripled to over $30 million. But the state refused to reimburse about $7 million in the District’s transportation costs, partly because they are reneging on the 1.5 mile requirement. State minimums are supposed to be two miles or more. So now the District is weighing how to save about $4.2 million by either instituting an 85% attendance requirement on transpasses (an issue that would impact only Philadelphia public school students, not parochial or charter) or extending the mileage requirement from 1.5 miles to 2 miles. Either way thousands of students lose.

The good news is that parents have gotten the attention of city and some state officials, but apparently not SEPTA. From today’s Inky :

Not so fast, said SEPTA general manager Joseph Casey. The agency already gives the district a discount for TransPasses, and it has agreed to pay the district $3.5 million for administering the program, per a deal cut with the state last year.

"If they have an issue with the amount of money or the distance, it's really between them and the Department of Education," Casey said. "They can go anywhere they want to, to try to get the money, but it's not our issue."

City Advocate Lance Haver pointed out to me that 80% of SEPTA’s local match is funded by city taxpayer dollars, and that SEPTA is sitting on a $130 million rainy day fund.

SEPTA, PATCO, and the chance for a new rail line

The Daily News notes some good news for SEPTA- and really, for all of us- today:

When SEPTA hiked fares 12 percent last summer, transit-agency officials said they expected ridership to decline, as it had after prior fare increases.

But when gasoline prices jumped sky-high and stayed there, SEPTA ridership escalated by 30,000 daily trips (4 percent) from July 1 to Jan. 1 over the same period in 2006.

Regional Rail ridership rose 12 percent, or 13,000 daily trips, while city transit (trains and buses) increased by 17,000 daily trips or 2.6 percent.

The ridership renaissance continued last month, up 51,000 daily trips or 6 percent over the previous January - up 32,000 daily trips on city transit; up 19,000 daily trips on Regional Rail.

SEPTA, while not totally funded, does now have reliable funding from the State. And, they have a general manager who rides the train every day. And, they are getting hybrid buses.

So, while the iron is hot...

I have been following with interest that PATCO is trying to get masive federal funding to build a line in New Jersey (likely along 42 from Philly to Glassboro/Pitman). Because they can't ignore our side of the river, PATCO is also talking about building a line along the Delaware. That sounds like a reasonable idea- who wouldn't like a new transit line? However, new rail lines come along at best, once in a generation, and cost in the billions to build. So, it seems crazy that our one and only chance might be as a sort of throw away plan because PATCO really wants to build a New Jersey line.

We have talked many times about new lines within Philly. I think it is time that SEPTA get on the ball, and really start exploring this in detail, with public input and comment. If we only get one chance at a new line, we mine as well make it one that we really want, not one that makes sense for PATCO.

We're getting there--really--serious about change

So the article about SEPTA's new General Manager is worth reading here.

Top lines:

  • The new GM rides the R3 ever day.
  • He wants to make customer service and cleanliness a priority.
  • Plans to extend peak service some to ease overcrowding.
  • Beyond that, a new smart-card fare system is top goal.

Sounds pretty good...but I want more!

SEPTA Wants Smartcards; PATCO Wants Philadelphia Expansion

This should have been done a long time ago, but still, this is good news:

SEPTA took its first tentative step today out of the era of tokens and paper tickets, announcing its plan to award a contract for a "smart card" by the end of next year.

Of course, its not exactly around the corner:

But it is likely to be three years or longer and to cost at least $100 million - based on other cities' experiences - before SEPTA riders can wave a card at a turnstile and be on their way.

Given their technology history (like the token machines) I think three years might be a little quick. But, hey, you have to start somewhere. However, assuming that the transfer is automated and maintained with these smart cards, then SEPTA really needs to just drop any pretense over the next three years of getting rid of them in the interim, once and for all.

The article also mentions that there will be a need for less ticket takers when this all comes. I feel very safe in saying that SEPTA could use a few more customer service representatives.

Transit is an issue where a popular regional Mayor, as we assume Nutter will be, should theoretically really make a difference. Rendell, however, was not really able to do much. Nutter's ability to get the suburbs on board where Rendell could not might center around whether suburbanites themselves are in a different place than they were ten years ago.

And, its not like regional transit expansion is exactly off the table in Philly either. Our local mass transit agency is actualy starting to push for lines in NJ and PA... it just is not coming from SEPTA::

If Philadelphia and its South Jersey suburbs each have just one new transit line to build, where should it go?

What might have once been a fanciful parlor game was transformed this week into an urgent policy debate by PATCO, the smaller of the region's two transit systems. The agency, which has long harbored expansionist dreams, launched a series of town meetings aimed at selling an ambitious extension of its bistate system to the public. Those meetings will continue next week in South Jersey, then resume in late January in Philadelphia.

I know I am pretty nerdy, but there is something fascinating to me about a feud or competition or whatever between the two agencies. (I prefer a feud, with the image of some sort of monster truck rally showdown between the Broad St Line and the PATCO high speed line.) Either way, if PATCO trying to expand will start to make SEPTA actually think about real expansion, I am all for it.

Memo to the Donald: we have a winner!

Ok, this is way late, but better late than never as they say…

As you may remember, back in the glorious hey-day of YPP, there was a contest to submit ideas to Donald Trump for a profitable use of the Budd Plant after the that location was nixed as a possible casino site.

The point of the contest was to encourage alternative uses of the land that would be profitable for an investor like Trump and also suggest some sustainable economic development ideas. The contest had…er…three submissions (myself, DeWitt and Ben I believe) and via Philebrity quoting the Inquirer a month ago (yea! timeliness), it is clear that I won the Trump Apprentice Challenge Philly:

Rotem and Sojitz Corp., a Japanese company, have formed a consortium to build 120 Silverliner V regional railcars for SEPTA for $274 million. The first cars are to be delivered to SEPTA in December 2008, and all 120 will be completed by June 2010… The lease … is for 20 years, and the plant will house Rotem’s U.S. headquarters and employ about 300 workers on an 11.5-acre site on Weccacoe Avenue between Snyder and Oregon Avenues.

This is awesome. Rotem, which seems to be a subsidiary of Hyundai, is opening its first US plant in Philadelphia. They have also signed a contract to build rail cars for a commuter line in California.

My entry to the Philly Apprentice Challenge was inspired by the Kawaski plant in New York that opened in Yonkers to build trolleys for SEPTA and subway cars for NYC. They have been there ever since. So, if we play our cards right, Roten could be around for a while too providing high-wage industrial jobs to Philadelphians in an industry totally poised to expand.

In haughty blog fashion, let me quote myself from my Budd plant entry:

So, to sum up, my proposal to the Donald is that he think about investing some serious resources into what could be a growing niche market: building rail cars for rapid transit lines throughout the country and also for some international customers.

Philadelphia is well located to get its product to any part of the US. We have a history producing rail products with some portion of a trained workforce still alive and able to work. We have a city and state government that might be willing to cut a deal with the right corporation and we have a transit agency in need of new rolling stock that could award a new rapid transit construction corporation with a contract,

I certainly don’t have an MBA, but I think there’s some value in exploring this idea more and helping Philadelphia become a leader once again as a rail car manufacturer and also providing employment for many Philadelphians not to mention a real boost to our local economy.

Well, here is a real life example. Mr. Nutter and Council: make it work; keep Rotem and help them expand.

Faye Moore must go

For the past 5 years, SEPTA General Manager Faye L.M. Moore (aka "Fearless Leader") has done something that I thought was impossible when I first started getting involved in transit advocacy. She has made me indifferent towards a regional transit system that is regressing while other transit systems are not only modernizing fare collection, but becoming more responsive to it's regional demographics. How, one wonders, is this possible?

"Fearless Leader" has managed to be more elusive than Waldo of "Where's Waldo" fame.

Anytime there's a major accident on the SEPTA system (such as last year's derailment on the R2 Warminster line in Abington Township), "Fearless Leader" is nowhere to be found...

SEPTA to City: Stick It

I did something unusual for a transit activist yesterday. I didn’t protest SEPTA’s new fare increases in tokens and transfers. Instead, I said that while I had some doubts about whether fares needed to be increased as much as SEPTA claimed, I thought it was much better for transit agencies to have regular, small increases than to sock riders heavily every five or six years.

And I also said that along with proposing small increases in tokens and transfers, SEPTA should drop its appeal of Judge DiVito’s decision blocking their plan to eliminate transfers.

The new fare increases are meant to make up for the revenues lost due to Judge DiVito’s decision. Until today SEPTA said that it would rescind these fare increases if the courts allow the elimination of transfers to proceed. At today’s meeting they adopted a proposal that brings the transfer decision back to the board if the court rules in SEPTA’s favor.

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