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Exhausted SEPTA Warrior Still Believes SEPTA Is Great

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Tongues are still wagging about that SEPTA award for best transit agency. Here's a response by the appropriately screen-named MarketStreetEl:

I've been stranded at 1:15 a.m. at Arrott Terminal when the driver of the last Route 59 bus of the night skipped his run - and walked home from there. (See? Frankford isn't THAT dangerous.) I've arrived at an El station four minutes before a bus is set to depart according to the schedule, only to see said bus pulling away from the berth in the distance.

I've been caught in the middle of revival meetings, implored by homeless beggars, cursed at by crazy riders, and ignored by change booth clerks, all on the Frankford El.

I've smelled scents they'll never carry at Macy's fragrance counter and caught people using subway entrance stairwells as urinals in broad daylight in Center City.

And you know what? I think SEPTA DOES deserve this award.
You can travel well into Philadelphia's hinterlands on SEPTA at most hours of the day. I can name you several large American cities, including my hometown, where doing this on public transportation is difficult if not impossible. (Doylestown is about 35 miles from Center City, I think. You can take a train OR a bus there from Philly. I'm not sure you can catch a local bus to Leavenworth from downtown Kansas City any more.) I'm sure many of you love "America's Subway," the Washington Metro. I know I do, and I can't wait to give my SmarTrip card a workout on my next visit while we wait for NPT to become reality here. But the agency that runs that subway has been exposed in the DC press as concerned more with protecting its slackers than with keeping the system running - and it's falling to pieces as it reaches the end of its design life, and nobody has figured out how to pay the repair bill yet. And its buses have left much to be desired for years. (Curtis Tate, C Patrick Zilliacus, PLEASE back me up here.) They haven't had any horrific accidents in San Francisco due to defective automatic train detection circuits, granted, but that city faces the same repair bill and the same quandary over who's paying it. SEPTA, meanwhile, has managed to bring its rapid transit and light rail network back to a state of good repair in a reasonably efficient manner over the past decade. We haven't had to endure the indiginities Chicago Transit Authority patrons had to a few years back, when 'L' trains were limited to speeds of 10 to 15 mph on large segments of its system, trains derailed while standing still, and riders were stranded in a subway tunnel for nearly two hours after a power failure - until they evacuated THEMSELVES.

SEPTA may have its Issues ordering rail rolling stock - I recently referred to the M4 Market-Frankford fleet as "one huge rolling equipment problem" to a friend, and I still think the Silverliner Vs are craptastic - thanks to the bid requirements the agency must follow and the political pressures the SEPTA Board sometimes applies to management. But SEPTA has managed to handle its fiscal affairs quite well over the past few years. Would any of you trade SEPTA for Pittsburgh's Port Authority, which has actually become a pension adminstrator rather than a transit agency and has cut nearly half the service it ran as recently as five years ago while spending a ton on a lovely subway extension of somewhat questionable need? Or for the MBTA, where riders have been forced to swallow large fare hikes to help pay for the Big Dig? (Not to mention that even with those hikes, the T's farebox recovery ratio - the portion of its operating costs that do not come from public subsidy - is a good bit lower than SEPTA's, which is one of the highest in the industry overall.)

To paraphrase that famous marketing slogan, "SEPTA isn't as bad as SEPTA riders say it is." Or to paraphrase Winston Churchill, "SEPTA is the worst transit agency in the country - except for all the others."


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