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SEPTA Chief Renovating Agency for the 21st Century

Posted on November 18, 2010 by Janna Starcic, Executive Editor

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[IMAGE]MET11septa-bus-2.jpg[/IMAGE]The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is the nation's sixth-largest public transportation system. SEPTA's estimated 2,202-square-mile service area includes Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties. The system serves more than one-half million customers daily and provided approximately 330 million (unlinked) passenger trips in FY 2009. SEPTA's service also extends to Trenton and West Trenton, N.J., and Newark, Del., via its regional rail system.

SEPTA is one of the few agencies in the U.S. that operates a multi-modal transit system, with buses, trolleys, trackless trolleys, high-speed lines and regional rail.

In Philadelphia, its city transit operations serves a network of 84 subway-elevated, trolley, trackless trolley and bus routes. In FY 2009, approximately 928,000 (unlinked) passenger trips were generated per weekday.

SEPTA's railroad operations serves all five counties with a network of 13 regional rail lines, serving approximately 124,000 (unlinked) passenger trips per day.

Suburban operations (Victory and Frontier Divisions) provides service in the suburbs, north and west of the City of Philadelphia, with a network of 47 bus, trolley and heavy rail routes generating approximately 68,000 (unlinked) passenger trips per day.

SEPTA's paratransit service, Customized Community Transportation, serves Philadelphia and the surrounding counties and schedules approximately 7,100 customized weekday trips for seniors and persons with disabilities.

SEPTA's seven small bus circulator and shuttle services connect fixed-route operations to business, health and educational centers, as well as to park-and-ride facilities. In Fiscal Year 2009, these services provided transportation for approximately 4,000 passengers per weekday.

SEPTA GM Joseph M. Casey has headed the agency for the past three years and, come January, will have worked for the agency for 29 years. He began his career at SEPTA as a senior auditor, moving up the ranks to CFO before becoming GM. Casey spoke with METRO Executive Editor Janna Starcic about changes at the transit authority and his vision for the future.

METRO: where do things stand for you budget wise and how have you been impacted by the economy?

We are unique in the industry. Across the country, people are cutting service and having fare increases, well above inflation rates. We've been impacted by the economy, but not at the level the other agencies in other cities are. On the expense side, healthcare continues to have double-digit growth, prescription drugs and our claims have been higher, which I believe is due to the economy, but overall on the revenue side, our revenue has been holding its own.

Last year, aside from a seven-day strike and the winter storms we encountered, ridership was pretty much where it was the year before. And so far, it's up a little bit, so we are very encouraged that the economy didn't adversely affect our ridership.

However, on the subsidy side, it is a drop, the overall sales tax for the state is down and, therefore, the amount that we receive from the state is also down. So, that is a problem going forward. On top of that, the transportation funding package assumed that they were going to toll I-80 and provide much needed funds for both us and the highway folks. That was turned down by the federal government, which has created a big hole on the capital side for us. So, on the operating side, we are doing relatively well. But on the capital side, it's disastrous for us.

And as you know, we are probably one of the older systems in the nation and need significant capital dollars for state of good repair.

Tell me about SEPTA's state of good repair initiatives.

We have about 350 bridges that we are responsible for. Half of those bridges are over 75 years old and half of them are over 100 years old — they have to be replaced. I have 19 substations on the regional rail, 16 of them are over 75 years old and, generally, they have a useful life of 50 years.

I'm also replacing 70 of my railcars, which are 47 years old, with 120 new Silverliner V railcars [manufactured by Hyundai Rotem USA Corp.]

Unfortunately, we have spent most of our capital dollars on the brick and mortar of the system. We rebuilt the Market-Frankford Line from Market Street north and west of City Hall. So, we really spent a lot of capital dollars on that at the deference of some of the new technologies, such as smart cards systems. We needed to rebuild our systems from scratch.

We deferred a total of 22 projects until our funding on the capital is resolved. It's a lot of critical projects: City Hall Station is one of them, Jenkintown Substation is another. The Jenkintown Substation will be responsible for 50 percent of our regional rail passenger service, and, if that fails, half of the system will go down. So, those are critical projects that we have to proceed with.

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