A Tale of Two SEPTAs

On Monday, there were two very different meetings to discuss SEPTA’s Bus Revolution. One was held by City Council, chaired by Council Member Johnson; the other was a “Zoom” meeting held by SEPTA’s consultants.

SEPTA provided information to both meetings, but the information they provided was very different. To City Council, SEPTA acknowledged that they had failed to do adequate outreach and promised to reach out to elected officials, community organizations, schools, and clergy to help provide guidance and where meetings should be held.

Because of SEPTA’s acknowledged failures, SEPTA’s General Manager, Leslie Richards, announced that the project would be delayed for at least a year to receive more input. At SEPTA’s Consultant meeting, no such announcement was made. In fact, the consultants told those at the Zoom meeting that they would make changes to their draft now before they received any additional feedback from SEPTA riders. This was after it was announced at the consultant’s meeting that they would only meet with the schools whose students use SEPTA and the business owners who rely upon SEPTA to bring workers and consumers to their doors.

At the Council Meeting, SEPTA announced they had received 5,000 comments. At the consultant’s meeting, they said they had received 3,500 comments. At the Council Meeting, rider after rider said SEPTA failed to seek their input. At the consultant’s meeting, SEPTA said they had heard riders’ concerns and were adjusting the plan. The lead consultant from Boston announced that not everyone would be happy with the changes and that some people would have to make more transfers.

The commitments SEPTA made to Council to seek more input did not stop the consultants from stating that riders would have to accept some, if not most, of the changes the consultants were recommending.

At the City Council hearing, it was made clear that City riders are 80% of the system, 80% of the riders, and contribute 80% of the local subsidy. At the consultant’s meeting, that fact was never disclosed.

At the Council hearing, every rider who wanted to be heard was. Every rider who wanted to ask a question was allowed, and everyone listening heard what all the other riders were saying.

At the consultant’s meeting, the consultants controlled who was allowed to ask questions and blocked the people at the Zoom meeting from seeing what questions were asked by other riders and who was asking them. The consultants did not attempt to allow everyone who wanted to ask a question or make a statement. Unlike Council, the consultants were unwilling to give everyone a chance to speak.

For example, a rider of Rt 28, who has been trying to understand why his route is scheduled to be eliminated, has yet to get a response.

The lead out-of-town consultant said that her team had summarized the feedback SEPTA has received. She claimed there was support for the consultants’ recommendations but failed to make the responses public. She also insinuated that only 33% of the responses opposed the changes, with another 33% opposing the process.

Because Hall Monitor’s coverage of meetings showed an overwhelming number of riders rejecting the proposal, we have asked under the “Right to Know Act” to review the collected comments. SEPTA has yet to respond to the request.

At the heart of the issue is the question: Why are fewer people riding SEPTA? SEPTA, without stating how it came to its conclusion, decided the problem wasn’t safety, reliability, comfort, or price but the design of the routes. The consultants paid to re-design the routes came to the same conclusion.

The riders who have shown up and commented have said the opposite. The problem is the unreliability, safety, comfort, and cost. Cutting popular routes, and making many people wait longer so that others can have shorter wait times, doesn’t address any of the issues riders are saying are most pressing.

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