Water and SEPTA Online Public Input Opportunities

In the coming week, the Philadelphia Water Department and SEPTA are using the internet to seek public input. Neither appears concerned about citizens who don’t have access to a computer, the internet, or the knowledge of how to access the meetings. Studies have shown that relying upon the internet for public input skews the data. The November 2021 research paper by professors at Boston University state, “Recent research has demonstrated that participants in public meetings are unrepresentative of their broader communities.” Neither the Water Department nor SEPTA has announced plans to mitigate the online bias.

The effect of holding public hearings on the internet is more troubling for the proposed water rate increase hearings.
Unless you are a subscriber to Hall Monitor, there is little chance that you will hear about the hearings scheduled for Wednesday, March 22, and Thursday, March 23, at 3 and 6 pm on both days. And the Water Rate Board, the people who set the rates and, in conjunction with its paid staff, hold the hearings say, “If you want to testify at a virtual public hearing, you are encouraged to email WaterRateBoard@phila.gov by March 21, identifying the hearing and stating your name and call-in phone number. You may email written comments by April 25, including your name.

You may listen or participate via Zoom. To call in, dial +12678310333 and use meeting ID 2562489871 and password 12345. For a video connection, use the link and other information on the Rate Board’s website, www.phila.gov/departments/water-sewer-storm-water-rate-board, Meetings & hearings.

There are three things worth noting. First, the announcement doesn’t include the size of the proposed rate increase. It’s 20%. Nor has the paid staff of the Water Rate Board posted City Council’s letter requesting the Philadelphia Water Department withdraw its rate increase request.
Second, the hearings are held before all the testimony is filed. If this were a trial, it would be similar to the defense having to make its arguments before it knows the facts of the case. And third, Community Legal Services who is under contract to provide services to the Rate Board, but claims to be the public advocate, did not object to the notice failing to state the size of the rate hike, limiting the hearings to the internet or the timing of the hearings, held before all the facts are known.

There is little doubt that the Philadelphia Water Department has asked for more than it needs. That is how the game has been played for years. The Water Department asks for millions more than what it needs. The staff of the Water Rate Board collects its fees, arguing that it has saved millions because the rate increase was for less than what was asked, and the Rate Board, controlled by business interests, claims to have done an excellent job of the public.
If water rates had not been rising by such large amounts, it would simply be a parody of justice. But because water is necessary for life and one cannot legally live in a home without water service in the City of Philadelphia, the process would better be described as a tragedy.
On our television show, we will report why granting any rate increase, let alone a 20% increase, would be a mistake.

SEPTA’s proposed zoom meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 20, from 6:30 to 7:30. If it’s like the past meetings, the out-of-town consultants will drastically limit public participation. Unlike City Council’s hearings, SEPTA’s consultants, in the past, have refused to allow the public to speak at these types of meetings. They do allow some questions, but only questions they approve of. SEPTA says: “The updated draft of the SEPTA Forward: Bus Revolution Draft Network is here!

Thanks to your comments, we have been working to revise the Draft Network, to address your concerns and make the new bus network more useful for more people. This spring, we will be holding another series of Bus Revolution engagement events—including in-person Community Meetings, Open Houses, virtual Community Conversations, and pop-ups with our Project Bus at Transportation Centers and other busy locations in the region—beginning with the virtual Transit Talk detailed below.

Upcoming Event: Transit Talk – Updated Draft Network
Monday, March 20, 2023, from 6:30 – 7:30 pm (via Zoom Webinar)

This meeting is being held without first seeking the public input SEPTA promised City Council it would collect. Instead of opening the process and doing what it promised City Council, SEPTA’s consultants have gone behind closed doors and created another “draft.”

SEPTA says they will hold “public engagement events” in the spring. But what does that mean if they have already “revised the draft network”? Those interested in hearing what changes SEPTA made and what changes they didn’t make to its revolution should reserve a place in the online meeting by clicking here:

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