SEPTA once again could be sick tran­sit

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION -

It may be one of the few times when words spoke louder than ac­tions.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, SEPTA and the union rep­re­sent­ing 5,000 em­ploy­ees who op­er­ate the city di­vi­sion buses, trol­leys and sub­ways were headed back to the bar­gain­ing table in a pro­longed ef­fort to stop still an­other work stop­page for the tran­sit gi­ant.

Their con­tract was due to ex­pire at mid­night?

If they do not agree on a new deal, this morn­ing’s com­mute will be­come some­thing SEPTA rid­ers have got­ten all to use to, some­thing akin to a night­mare.

All buses, trol­leys and sub­ways in the city will shut down.

Per­haps the key for the sub­urbs will be the 69th Street Trans­porta­tion Cen­ter in Up­per Darby, where ev­ery day thou­sands board the Mar­ket Frank­ford El as their pre­ferred way to get into the city. But a strike will idle the El, pro­vid­ing a hell of a prob­lem for com­muters try­ing to get into the city.

Luck­ily, the re­gional rail lines will con­tinue to op­er­ate. So will buses and trol­leys in the sub­urbs.

But be ad­vised. With­out city ser­vice and in the ab­sence of a main artery in the Mar­ket Frank­ford El, the re­gional rails will be jammed. That means cars will fill up early, with many rid­ers head­ing to the west­ern-most sta­tions to be sure they can get on a train. In past work stop­pages, many rid­ers stand­ing at their nor­mal stops far­ther east were dis­mayed to see trains al­ready packed to the gills sim­ply whisk by them on their way into the city.

Think­ing of driv­ing into the city? Good luck. At least you won’t be alone. The al­ready over­crowded ar­ter­ies such as the Schuylkill Ex­press­way and I-95 will be even more crowded. Once you get to your des­ti­na­tion in the city, good luck find­ing a park­ing spot.

Bot­tom line is this: Get­ting around is not go­ing to be easy, and it will clearly re­ver­ber­ate out into the sub­urbs. SEPTA’s city di­vi­sion, in par­tic­u­lar the Mar­ket Frank­ford El and Broad Street Line, ferry more than 311,000 peo­ple into and around the city ev­ery day. Any­one head­ing into the city who does not uti­lize the re­gional rail lines banks on the El. Take that out of the equa­tion, and you have the po­ten­tial for grid­lock. Trol­leys in the city carry an­other 83,000 peo­ple around the city.

Sick Tran­sit? These guys wrote the book.

In the city, noth­ing will be run­ning. Mean­ing kids won’t be get­ting to jobs, and peo­ple will be un­able to get to jobs, in­clud­ing those do­ing a re­v­erse com­mute, head­ing to 69th Street in Up­per Darby for a job else­where in the sub­urbs.

You have to won­der just how much SEPTA rid­ers can take.

This would mark only the lat­est in a se­ries of set­backs for the tran­sit agency.

Their re­gional rails would turned topsy-turvy all sum­mer when their fleet of Sil­ver­liner V cars were found to in­clude a se­ri­ous struc­tural de­fect. All the cars were taken out of ser­vice for the bulk of the sum­mer, mean­ing a con­stant strug­gle to main­tain on-time sched­ules. In­stead, rid­ers were too of­ten left late, ei­ther out of luck get­ting into the city, or with in­ter­minable waits try­ing to get back home at night.

Here in Delaware County, rid­ers on the Me­dia-El­wyn line had their own sum­mer of dis­con­tent. A much-needed cap­i­tal im­prove­ment project to re­place the Crum Creek bridge meant the line stopped and started at Swarth­more. If you wanted to go west of that point, you had to uti­lize a shut­tle bus./

The tran­sit agency con­tin­ues to strug­gle to im­ple­ment its smart card tech­nol­ogy, some­thing that puts it light years be­hind other ma­jor metropoli­tan tran­sit agen­cies.

We hope for suc­cess at the bar­gain­ing table, where of­fi­cials on both sides say large gaps re­main. A marathon ses­sion Sun­day failed to de­liver an ac­cord, nor east the minds of SEPTA’s much-ma­ligned rid­ers.

One rider af­ter an­other we talked to at 69th Street Ter­mi­nal threw up their hands when talk­ing about the ex­as­per­a­tion of deal­ing with SEPTA and its seem­ingly con­stant state of prob­lems. They de­serve bet­ter. We hope both sides can reach a deal.

As usual, it is pre­cisely those res­i­dents who can least af­ford it who will be hurt the most in a strike by city di­vi­sion work­ers.

And don’t think we won’t feel it in the sub­urbs as well. SEPTA is a key cog in the re­gion’s econ­omy. A strike will hurt us all. Keep your fin­gers crossed.

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