Crumbling bridges, deteriorating platforms, ancient power systems. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the nation’s sixth largest transportation agency, provides safe, reliable service for 1.1 million people a day despite the serious challenges presented by an aging infrastructure with many vital components that are upwards of 100 years old.
On July 11, FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff traveled to Philadelphia to see firsthand the extent of SEPTA’s needs and to discuss the importance of investing in America’s aging mass transportation systems. In 2009, the FTA estimated it would cost $4.2 billion to bring SEPTA’s infrastructure up to a “State of Good Repair.”
[IMAGE]SEPTA-FTA3HeatherBlogAug192011EDIT.jpg[/IMAGE] “We do a meticulous job of maintaining our system, but we are running out of time,” SEPTA Chief Engineer and Assistant GM Jeffrey Knueppel said during a briefing attended by Rogoff, U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. and U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah at SEPTA headquarters. “The system will start to shrink if we don’t make improvements now.”
“We have a very old system, some of which has operated far beyond its useful life,” said SEPTA GM Joseph Casey. “We have an extensive list of needs and many projects ready to begin, but cannot proceed with the work without adequate funding.”
When it was established by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1964, SEPTA inherited the wire systems, bridges, substations, viaducts and stations originally built by the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co., Philadelphia and West Chester Traction Co., Philadelphia and Western Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad and Reading Railroad. Many of the incorporated facilities date to the mid-1800s and were not well maintained by previous owners.
Held in SEPTA’s Control Center, where supervisors and dispatchers from different transit modes monitor and keep the authority’s system moving, the briefing gave Casey and Knueppel the opportunity to describe the extensive renovation and maintenance projects SEPTA has been able to undertake with previous funding from the FTA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and other sources, as well as detail the most pressing of SEPTA’s infrastructure needs.
“Our 32 ARRA projects are about 90 percent complete and our customers have appreciated the work we have been able to do,” said Casey. “Our ridership has steadily increased over the last year. However, without funding for our infrastructure needs, we are not going to be able to serve our current and future passengers.”
[IMAGE]SEPTA-FTA2-HeatherBlogAug192011EDIT.jpg[/IMAGE] Following the briefing, SEPTA officials led Rogoff on a tour of some of the authority’s region-wide facilities: City Hall Station, Philadelphia; Jenkintown Traction Power Substation, Montgomery County; Paoli Station, Chester County; Norristown High Speed Line, Montgomery County; and 69th Street Transportation Center, Delaware County.
Rogoff was amazed by what he saw on his tour. He even took a piece of a crumbling Norristown High Speed Line bridge with him to show officials in Washington, D.C., the necessity of investing in mass transportation.
“I’m really struck by how fragile the infrastructure is that is supporting millions of passengers,” Rogoff told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We will continue to focus on state of good repair issues — they’ve been ignored too long.”
Funding cuts have forced SEPTA to defer dozens of improvement projects. This can lead to expensive emergency repairs and heavy maintenance work. Further delays could result in major service disruptions.
“At best, we face speed and weight restrictions and short-term service interruptions,” said Casey. “At worst, we have long term service disruptions with a major economic impact on the Delaware Valley. We need to get started on this work now.”
In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "'Economic situation feels like a bad movie" here.
Seeing a canine passenger on mass transit is not uncommon, but the reasons why a dog might catch the train or hop a bus are varied (remember Eclipse, the Seattle Lab mix that uses the bus, often on her own, to get to the dog park?). Most public transit pooches are working —as K-9 officers or service animals. In the Philadelphia region, other animals — in approved carriers only—are permitted to ride the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s buses, trains and trolleys. However, a new pilot program underway by SEPTA allows registered therapy dogs volunteering at two Philadelphia hospitals to use two designated bus routes to travel to their sites.
To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.
The Uber website proudly states that, “Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 200 cities today, Uber's rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.” Such hype is common on corporate websites, but when the braggadocio is backed up by an article in the Wall Street Journal that discloses a valuation of $41 billion their ambitious words take on relevance.
As the world changes with the rapid advancement of connected devices and technologies, so must the transportation industry. In a business area where change is sluggish, DOTs across the country must adapt quickly to the evolving technologies that are going to impact their operations and budget. There are at least three technologies that will have immense impact over the next two decades on how we travel and how state transportation departments react to provide mobility — connectedness, big data and automation.
Around the world, artwork of all forms adorns transportation centers, stations and bus shelters. While many of these statues, paintings, mosaics and sculptures are permanently installed as part of a station’s architecture, transportation organizations can use their spaces for art exhibitions that not only make transit hubs more aesthetically pleasing for commuters, but also inspire budding artists. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) recently partnered with two organizations to showcase the artistic talent of youth from the Greater Philadelphia region and around the world.