SEPTA Not Getting Totally Destroyed Now a “Gamechanger”

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Bureaucrats and activists have a tendency to pretend they got everything they wanted after big funding bills pass, and I’m never sure why that is. Perhaps it’s that this was a tough vote for politicians, and people don’t want to seem whiny and unappreciative of that. Perhaps they don’t want to depress their core supporters. Whatever the case, it seems like there’s always temptation to say whatever happened is historic or a game-changer.

That is what SEPTA general manager Joe Casey told Christine Fisher about the transit authority’s fortunes in the transportation funding bill that just passed. But if you look at what he says further down the page, it’s clear they got much less than what they need to operate decent service. What will we notice is different with this new money? Basically nothing! SEPTA’s still getting just enough in state and federal transfers not to totally shit the bed, and the Philadelphia region will continue to enjoy subpar-quality transit:

How will people see the impact of the new funding?

That’s going to be difficult. They’ll see some stations, but a lot of stuff they won’t see. They’ll see when we have service interruptions on the Media Line because we’ll be fixing the bridges. They won’t necessarily see the benefit of that, but that’ll preserve the system for years. That’s the difficulty because a lot of our needs are behind the scenes. They’ll certainly see improved reliability on the system from a power standpoint. We won’t be slowing down our service due to slow orders on bridges, but overall it’s going to be a mix. You’re going to have some visible projects and, quite frankly, some projects that aren’t quite as visible [...]

Part of the problem is we’re so far behind on the eight ball. This isn’t all of the sudden. It’s not like we’re spending $600 [million] and all the sudden we have $300 [million]. We’ve been operating on those scarce dollars for years and years and years, while everyone else has invested in new technology and fixing stuff. We’ve been on a short leash if you will, and now we finally have resources, but the first thing we have to do – and I know people want expansions here, expansions here – is fix what we have.

This entry was posted in Miscellany.

16 Responses to SEPTA Not Getting Totally Destroyed Now a “Gamechanger”

  1. Sean Kitchen says:

    Fucknig love it! I took the el 3 years and the R-2/R5 for a year to go to high school in center city. A zone 3 trail pass then was $120 now it’s over $160.

  2. Tim says:

    Don’t be so down.

    The point Casey is making is that so much of the major capital needs on the system are invisible to the riders. Bridge repairs, signal system upgrade, electric substations. These things are critical to make the system run, but passengers only notice when they go bad.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Yeah I get what he means, I’m just ticked to see people spinning this as the greatest thing ever. The greatest thing ever would be expanding service. We didn’t even get enough to get up to speed with life-or-death repairs, let alone start the conversation about boosting service. I just don’t want to see any Mission Accomplished banners getting rolled out yet, because a new Democratic Governor and state Senate really need to feel some pressure to rework this thing 2 years from now. This cannot be the 10 year funding bill.

      • Sean Kitchen says:

        Agreed. The subway line needs to go down to the Navy Yard and we should look at expanding rail service in Pennsylvania period. There needs to be commuter services going from Easton, the Lehigh Valley, Quakertown and other places going into Philly.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          The first thing that needs to happen to get LV service to Philly is upgrading to rapid transit standards on the Downingtown line. Level boarding platforms and turnstiles, so people can pre-pay and board with no conductors, like a subway. If we could increase service on that line to twice or thrice an hour, and increase train speeds, then an LV to Philly connection would make sense as a commuting option because you’d be able to justify it with higher ridership.

          • Michael Noda says:

            s/Downingtown/Doylestown/, I presume. Everybody makes that mistake at least once, and it was worse when the lines that went to both stations were both the R5.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            Haha yeah I meant Doylestown. What do you think about a Doylestown to Lehigh Valley extension Michael? Interest has been growing among Lehigh Valley’s big city mayors to try to get NYC or Philly rail connections again, but they’ve mostly been fixated on NYC for some reason. Philly seems more promising since Doylestown is like 37 miles from Allentown. I like the idea of connecting two of PA’s top 3 biggest metros, but is this actually impossible?

          • Michael Noda says:

            It’s not impossible, but the PTB in Bethlehem made it a lot harder by railtrailing the ex-RDG Bethlehem Branch. That’s going to be a bear to reverse, if it ever happens.

            The real problem is that there really just isn’t that much commuter traffic coming into Greater Philadelphia from the Lehigh Valley. There’s some from intermediate locations like Quakertown, but it really tails off when you cross north out of Bucks. Philadelphia just doesn’t have enough of a supercommuter culture, and I’m fine with that; NYC *does*, and that’s a good reason to focus on the LV-NYC rail link first. For LV-PHL, the focus should be on high-quality intercity bus service to Lansdale, Norristown TC, and Philadelphia, and ramping up the frequencies and the LV-side pickup points. To reiterate, you need good frequencies on the buses to drive ridership, and only when you’ve built a rider base can you think of rail reactivation.

          • Michael Noda says:

            As for turnstiles on RRD platforms, it’s one of two possible end states for fare collection, and it’s the less likely of the two. (The other is proof-of-payment.) You need a lot of ridership to justify the capital investment, and the only places likely to generate that level of traffic are also likely to NIMBY the required construction to death. High-level platforms, on the other hand, are not optional in the long term.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            I like proof of payment better too. Do you think NPT will foreclose on that possibility? What’s the status of NPT right now?

          • Michael Noda says:

            NPT’s transit divisions side is rolling out in alpha test. So far no signs of deployment on the RRD side.

            I don’t know if the plan to gate the five Center City RRD stations is going to be the catastrophe some are predicting, but I don’t think there’s any way it goes as well as SEPTA is intending. If and when SEPTA acknowledges failure of the CC-only gates, I think they have to go to PoP, but that will take time and money.

      • Tim says:

        Yeah, I think the apparent excitement on Casey’s part comes from two things: 1) the need to copiously thank the state for whatever they stand (state-chartered authority and all that) and 2) the long-running critical situation in SEPTA’s capital needs, where being able to fund things like the Crum Creek Bridge really /is/ exciting.

  3. Pingback: 12/12 Morning Buzz | PoliticsPA

  4. While I agree that the Navy Yard needs better traspo options, the Navy Yard is enormous and would still need options outside of the subway. Digging a subway would need to go almost all the way to the Del River to make it worth it. Also, consider the fact that it BARELY connects travelers to the Linc and the WFC, still a good walk to both without reasonable pedestrian options.

    What needs to be talked more about is a rail line on the Del River that connects the NE to CC through South Philly and up and around IN to the Navy Yard.

    So yes, people need to live on Broad St to help the BSL but the also need to move to the Del River neighborhoods.

    Sorry for the rant.

  5. Tom Halterman says:

    The best long term solution to transit funding for the Philadelphia area would be to institute a dedicated regional tax, most likely an additional percentage to the sales tax, as many other regions around the country have done. This would provide the steady, long term, inflation proof funding to support long range planning and service expansion as well as system maintenance. Unfortunately there are two major hurdles:
    1. Legislative approval in Harrisburg and,
    2. Voter approval in the region. Would voters approve? We talk the talk about the importance of transit to the region, but are voters willing to put their money where their mouth is?