SEPTA Gives Kids the Runaround

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 22, 2010

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Last night, at SEPTA’s Youth Advisory Council meeting at Penn, we learned that lots of young people have a lot of things they want changed regarding SEPTA. We learned that SEPTA wants to follow the suggestions. And we learned that SEPTA has no realistic plan to do so.

It was 7 p.m. when I showed up at SEPTA’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) meeting in Claudia Cohen Hall at Penn. According to a press release we received, YAC is designed to give “the floor to young riders in a series of public forums designed to gather their feedback on issues and possible system improvements of importance to them.” The YAC was created by SEPTA in September 2009 for outreach purposes, especially to riders ages 14-22.

We (me, about 20 others, mostly area students) heard presentations from SEPTA Customer Service Manager Nilda Rivera-Frazier and YAC Chair Phil Dawson (a senior at Penn) about SEPTA’s website and future plans already in place. We were given lots of statistics about the transit authority, and tidbits on new SEPTA technologies, but a CliffsNotes version of the fact that SEPTA doesn’t have the money it was supposed to get from tolls off I-80 after the Obama administration blocked Gov. Rendell's proposal. This, as we’ve detailed in the past, would have included $100 million toward a new Smart Card system (which sounded awesome, by the way, when explained in detail by Rivera-Frazier), $100 million toward reconstructing the City Hall station and $450 million toward other capital projects, according to the Inquirer.

As Nina Sachdev explained earlier this month on PhillyNow, 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.” She put it in simpler terms when she said, “SEPTA will have to cut $110 million from its budget if a toll for I-80 is not OK'd”—and the toll for I-80 wasn’t OK’d. Yet SEPTA employees got raises, somehow, and we, the riders, are having our fares increased.

Those of us in attendance last night were assured that Smart Cards (which you’ll be able to supposedly fill and refill using your SmartPhone and online bank account, whenever you want) were “on the way” in spite of having to “scale back improvements” with the loss of the potential I-80 EZ Pass cash. It was implied that the I-80 money may still be viable, though all signs outside Terrace Room G14 point to the exact opposite being the case.

Moving on. We were split into two groups and YAC student-members in the audience were asked to lead in a discussion about what we, as young people, wanted from SEPTA that we currently aren’t getting. Adolescents with cameras (picture and video) walked around the room documenting the exercise and those pictures would be on YAC’s Facebook page within hours.

The main needs we discussed were: cleanliness, more late-night routes (local and regional rail), more public art within stations, Smart Cards, greener vehicles and more automated systems. Fair enough. One member of my group brought up the authority’s budget problems, though it wasn’t considered part of the exercise.

Before leaving, we were asked if there were any other questions or comments. I raised my hand. “Is there a Plan B outside of the I-80 toll money for SEPTA’s proposed projects as discussed earlier?”

Rivera-Frazier fielded the question. But she didn’t have much of an answer. After some circuitous strolls through a response, she told me she didn’t yet want to say whether there was a Plan B or not. There were too many uncertainties as of now.

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