SEPTA's like a train wreck (pun intended). We can't look away.
So when we got a press release in our inbox this morning regarding SEPTA's financial woes, we needed to share.
The American Public Transportation Association released a report that says SEPTA is part of a growing number of public-trans agencies facing budgetary challenges because of declining government funding.
The issue: The APTA says SEPTA will have to cut $110 million from its budget if a toll for I-80 is not OK'd.
Translation: If SEPTA doesn't get this money for the 2011 budget, say goodbye to much-needed repairs/renovations. Keep that coin purse handy because you can say goodbye to convenient payment technology (Smart Cards), too. SEPTA may also implement a "modest fare increase," but says it has no immediate plans to cut service if the guv money doesn't come through. Riders are going to be really, really unhappy. Hard to believe. Really.
This is an unfortunate circumstance that we hope gets resolved in some way that doesn't put added strain on riders.
But speaking of finances, remember when SEPTA went on strike in November?
The issue: Wages and benefits.
The end result: The provisions of the five-year contract included a $1,250 bonus upon ratification, a 2.5 percent raise in the second year and a 3 percent raise in each of the final three years.
You know where we're going with this. SEPTA officials have been quick to say that the contract is not to blame for the looming fare hikes.
Then who is? In a time of recession, don't we expect agencies to tighten their belts? City workers, including the mayor, have taken pay cuts. And if TWU wants to protect its workers (which is its primary responsibility, yes?), it needs to make concessions, compromises. There won't be anyone to protect if SEPTA collapses in financial ruin.
I should probably mention that I was a union worker for six years, and I respect what unions do. They offer important protections to workers, myself included. They helped me keep my job during hard times. But they are not above criticism.
Case in point: We published a piece back in October that shed light on SEPTA cashiers' salaries. Long, long story short, these workers make, on average, $55,000 a year, even though SEPTA's wage manual says they're supposed to make less. But the contract with the transportation workers union (TWU) allows the cashiers to carry over their pay from their bus and train operating days.
These cashiers were medically disqualified by SEPTA from performing the jobs they were hired for. While we don't want to see any of them jobless, they do very, very little for what they're paid. Why? There's no job description written anywhere in the contract or elsewhere. The story goes on to say that SEPTA spends $19 million a year to keep them on board.
"But the contract seems to permit cashiers to sit idly for hours, requiring little of them other than to show up. What’s more troubling is that SEPTA has not developed a mechanism to make sure the cashiers are earning their keep," the story says.
These are the kind of "loopholes" that contribute to SEPTA's woes. Please, don't make the "SEPTA experience" any worse than it already is. And we better not see any wage increases in the next contract. Not unless you plan on giving us those Smart Cards.
There won't be any tolls on I-80 in the near future. That means roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate. And SEPTA doesn't get its projects. And we don't get our Smart Cards.
PhillyNow was at SEPTA’s Youth Advisory Council meeting last night, and there was little talk of the transit authority's budget woes.