More Trouble for SEPTA (And Us)

By Nina Sachdev
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 11 | Posted Apr. 2, 2010

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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.

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Comments 1 - 11 of 11
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1. MIKE! said... on Apr 3, 2010 at 01:07AM

“"These cashiers were medically disqualified by SEPTA from performing the jobs they were hired forthey do very, very little for what they're paid" If those lazy bums make more than 5 cents an hour, they are overpaid.”

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2. Mark said... on Apr 3, 2010 at 08:05PM

“After reading this, I'd like to see your pay reduced. Looks like you sat around and did nothing all day in my opinion. Union member? I doubt it, you just paid dues.

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3. Anonymous said... on Apr 4, 2010 at 04:09PM

“Why anyone is surprised ? with Obama in office, going left all the way, we will see more of this: under-qualified minority getting outrageous pay. And how is this will be achieved ? Well, we all know the answer , that would be ballooning deficit. Welcome to the Left World ! I'd say this country will be bankrupt in 5 years, and then decline will accelerate towards Mexico's standards.”

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4. Lurken said... on Apr 5, 2010 at 01:02AM

SEPTA you suck, you turn rail lines paid for by us into fair weather walking trails.

BYRON COMATI, you suck!”

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5. Rich said... on Apr 10, 2010 at 03:38PM

“Let's set the record straight on all the talk about wages and benefits for union workers at SEPTA. SEPTA's union employees are the lowest paid in almost every job classification among all the transit agencies in the northeast United States. SEPTA's union employees are among the lowest paid of all major transit agencies nationwide. Moreover, the transit riders, the tax paying public, SEPTA management, the SEPTA Board and the elected officials of this region have enjoyed the best bargain in the nation regarding the cost of transit workers wages and benefits. The problem has been that the elected officials of this state (PA) and the people who elected them, sat on their butts for the last forty years and never dealt with properly funding transit.”

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6. Rich said... on Apr 10, 2010 at 03:54PM

“Prior to Ronald Reagan being elected president, mass transit was funded on an 80% federal, 20% state and local match contingent upon the state and local amount. Of course Mr. Reagan handled this issue the same way he handled everything else by transferring the responsibility from the federal level to the state the state and local level without transferring the tax dollars the federal government was collecting. In other words, an unfunded mandate. The elected officials of this state never provided a predictable amount of funding and therefore approved last minute, just enough to get by funds, which in turn prevents proper planning and causes unpredictable operations. As a result, cities much smaller than Philadelphia such as Boston, Baltimore, Washington, D. C., San Francisco and Cleveland received a bigger piece of the federal pie.”

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7. Rich said... on Apr 10, 2010 at 04:06PM

“Predictable state and local funding during the 1960's and 1970's meant more federal funding, which in turn allowed the cities and regions with major transit systems to rebuild and upgrade major parts of their infrastructure and in addition purchase new equipment such as buses, trains, subways, trolleys, etc. If the public has the ability to open their narrow minded eyes, they can see that SEPTA has been drastically trying to rebuild its infrastructure and purchase new equipment during the 1990's and into the 21st century. However, this effort is only about 20 years behind all the other major transit system in this nation. As far as the fares, you voted for Reaganomics and now you must bear the fruit of those decisions. As far as this crap about making a profit, the interstate, state and local highways don't make a profit and if you want them too you'll have toll booths at every entrance and exit to every limited access highway in the nation.”

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8. Rich said... on Apr 10, 2010 at 04:17PM

“By the way, the privately owned airlines are subsidized too. It is the tax payers who pay for the air traffic controllers (remember Reagan fired them), the airports themselves, the runways, Homeland Security, the Federal Air Marshalls, the state of the art or non-state of the art air traffic control system. How's that for subsidies or socialism. However, for some reason it always seemed like the biggest curse under the sun to subsidize mass transit. The rest of the industrialized (I forgot we don't have any industries anymore, we don't produce nothing, just service jobs) and civilized countries of the world all seem to recognize the value of a balanced transportation system. So those of you who want to rant and rave about the unionized workers at SEPTA should shut up, look in the mirror and blame yourself for voting for the problem we now face in regards to public transportation.”

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9. Rich said... on Apr 10, 2010 at 04:36PM

“Another issue regarding the wages and benefits of union workers at SEPTA, remember the "great economic boom years" during the 1980's and 90's when the trickle down economy was doing sooooo good, many private corporation non-union workers were receiving wage increases far in excess of the normal 3% increases that SEPTA workers were getting. It was okay for them to get decent raises, but the SEPTA workers are allowed too. It's not the SEPTA union worker's fault because all the lying, cheating and greed has caught up with Wall Street and wrecked the nation's economy and hurt the working class people. Blame "trickle down economics (that's what you're getting now, doesn't taste good does it?), profits at the expense of quality, bottom line at the expense of everything (including workers), more taxes than ever (renamed user fees by the Congress of 1994 with its CONTRACT WITH AMERICA) and such legends as Bernie Madoff. I don't think he was union?”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jun 3, 2011 at 07:27PM

“Lazy bums huh? Well for your info I can call alot more other jobs lazy out there. How about the offfice workers who sit on there butts all day pushing a pensil or pen. How about you getting a septa job and fall on your ass in and on septa property trying to check in on time and getting your knee or back hurt to the point you need surgery and then we will call you a lazy bum and see what you think then. Oh, you got all the answers to something you know nothing about. Get a septa and see how easy it is to do a job you were hired to do with a rude and nasty public. Try getting spit on because the jerk in the back did not ring the bell for the next stop and see if you hold your temper or will you just smile and say sorry I did not stop and take all the blame. Septa pay is no ones business and if you say different then post your pay all of you. Tell us how much you make a year. Look people need to mind there business unless they are willing to tell there business too. I am sorry to be human”

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11. Peter said... on Jun 28, 2012 at 06:08PM

“Since I was just not allowed on a train with my bike - the train I planned to get on specifically because it was the first available train I was allowed to take my bike on, I have the time to write this comment.

Mass transit is awesome when it works. It's a fantastic idea, and I agree it is one of the best social investments a nation can make. But septa is a disaster, poorly managed, and often a nightmare for the populations it serves.

So I'd wish that septa would be dissolved and replaced with a properly managed mass transit system, frankly. I stopped riding the rails regularly because I couldn't take the rude conductors who make up rules, or the chronic lateness of the regional rail. And now when I do ride, I'm usually furious when I get to where I'm going - and folks will tell you, I'm pretty easy going.”


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