The math of SB1: Pick up your damn phone

OK, this post is now 48 hours overdue, but mostly because I have no idea what is going on with Majority Leader Turzai’s sudden move to bring the SB1 transportation funding bill to the floor of the House. And as far as I can tell, nobody who knows is talking.

But here’s what I do know: SB1 is projected to bring in an additional $2.5B/year in transportation revenue, which works out to about $400M/year to SEPTA. In a comment on another message board, I ran the numbers:

$400M/year is $4B over ten years, which is the doomsday plan horizon.

From Jeff Knueppel’s presentation slides on unfunded capital needs to the SEPTA board:

Bridges and tunnels round to $1.3B
Power is another $0.6B
Shops are another $0.3B
Track is another $0.7B

That gets us to $2.9B. We still haven’t bought vehicles.

Current budgeting for replacement LRVs is $1.0B and the Silverliner VIs are $1.4B. One of those is more urgent and fits in the budget presented. Goodbye, Silverliner VIs.

That leaves $100M over 10 years for overruns, rounding errors, business cycle risk, PTC-style federal mandates, and Everything Else. If that money actually exists, you might be able to split that 50/50 between a new electric loco fleet, and overhauls of the [coaches], which means you can keep the push-pulls running and providing meager but adequate service on your four-line Regional Rail system, but you still lose the other nine lines when the Silverliner IVs retire.

Oh, right, and there are no improvements, no expansions.

Anybody want to check my math here?

There’s been rumors that Democrats in the House are going wobbly on SB1 because they expect Turzai to pull a fast one, or because they think they can get a better deal done in 2015. SEPTA cannot wait for 2015. If you are calling your state Rep, do so regardless of their party affiliation, and insist that half a loaf now is better than no loaf for eighteen months.

It’s go time. Start calling and e-mailing your PA State Reps. Right now. If you don’t know who your State Rep is or how to contact them, that’s what this link is for. Time to move.


Weekend Update

Happy weekend! Pennsylvania’s SB1 Transportation funding bill may be back from the dead; I’ll have more by tomorrow morning, or you can look in on the Pittsburgh Comet or Keystone Politics for the fast update, or if you’ve forgotten what SB1 actually does, there’s the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from June.

Meanwhile, we have a big weekend of construction and disruption around the weekend to look forward to. Here’s the roundup:

  • Lansdale/Doylestown is bustituting between Lansdale and Doylestown for catenary work. Shuttle bus schedule here. This is second of seven planned work weekends.
  • Media/Elwyn is a hot mess. On Saturday:
    • Trains will be operating on the outbound track only between 49th Street and Secane (inclusive), and will be operating on altered schedules, until 6:00pm. Evening service will be unaffected.
    • Inbound trains (before 6:00p) will run between 9 and 14 minutes later. Outbound trains (before 6:00p) will run between 21 and 14 minutes earlier. Consult SEPTA’s schedules for exact times.
    • Train #7303, the first outbound departure Saturday morning, is cancelled.

    On Sunday:

    • Due to emergency repairs to the Crum Creek Viaduct, instead of replicating the Saturday changes as planned, Sunday will instead feature bustitution west of Morton Station.
    • Inbound shuttle buses from Elwyn will run bewteen 25 and 13 minutes earlier than normal schedule, and inbound trains will leave Morton 5 minutes early before resuming normal schedules at Secane.
    • Outbound trains will arrive at Morton 5 minutes later than normal, and shuttle buses will leave 5 minutes after that. Outbound shuttle buses will run between 14 and 25 minutes later than scheduled times.
    • The repairs to Crum Creek Viaduct are spot repairs intended to forestall immediate closure of the bridge, and will not affect the scheduled 2015 closure of that bridge in the absence of subsequent major investment.
  • Chestnut Hill East, which runs through with Media/Elwyn on weekends, is getting follow-on disruption. On Saturday, inbound trains will run 21 minutes earlier, and outbound trains will run 14 minutes later, until about 6:30pm.
  • SEPTA City Bus routes 7, 39, and 54 will return to their newly-reconstructed homes at 33rd and Dauphin Loop at 5:00a Sunday morning. This will conclude the 13-month reconstruction process for that facility.
  • SEPTA City Bus routes 39, 47, 54, 56, 57, 60, and 89 will be detoured for the Puerto Rican Day Parade on Sunday. This map gives the best summary of all the extensive changes.
  • Atlantic City Line will be bustituted between Philadelphia and Cherry Hill on Saturday, 7:00am to 3:00pm, for an emergency preparedness drill in Pennsauken. Tellingly, the shuttle bus operation is not expected to take any more time than is scheduled between Cherry Hill and 30th Street.
  • Trackwork on PATCO is resulting in adjusted schedules, but no closures, on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Eight NJT 400-series Bus Routes are disrupted by street repair in Camden near Walter Rand until Tuesday.
  • Amtrak service on the Northeast Corridor is thoroughly boned by ConEd’s mishap restricting electrical power to Metro North in Westchester County. Trains originating and terminating in New York ought to be unaffected, but trains running through the affected area to/from Boston will see either delays or cancellations. Acela Express service is not running between New York and Boston until at least Monday, maybe later; Northeast Regional service is being towed through the affected areas by diesel locomotives. We expect to hear more on Sunday, but the prognosis from ConEd has been grim.

Act 44: Part 0: I DO NOT WANT your filthy money

To open the series on replacing Act 44, I feel I should put my cards on the table as to what my political goals are, as framing for readers. I am keeping liberal/conservative, Republican/Democratic politics out of this as much as I can, because I feel that they mostly contribute noise and bias versus signal, but they might creep in from time to time. My apologies in advance.

The topline summary is that this post is exactly what it says on the tin: I don’t want your money. I live in the city of Philadelphia, and if you live in the suburbs, or Pittsburgh, or Williamsport, I have no designs on taking your money to pay for any of the vital infrastructure that supports me and my ability to live in this city. If this sounds too good to be true, it might be; all (or rather, “all”) I ask is that I not have to pay for infrastructure where you live, unless I visit your neck of the woods and pay it in user fees.

I take this stance in large part because my choice to live here is more than a simple accident of convenience. I live in a city because I believe that cities, and especially large, dense cities like Philadelphia, are engines of growth and wealth creation for their inhabitants, and I’m willing to stake quite a lot on that proposition. I believe that my choice for where to live is an implicit bet that I can have a better quality of life here than anywhere else, for the same financial outlay, and that over time, despite the half-century of systematic sabotage, the normal order of wealth accumulating in cities will reassert itself. I recognize that these beliefs put me at odds with the median voter across Central and Northern PA, who see my city, and often all cities, as a vast poverty sink and welfare trough. I say let’s run the experiment out and see who wins out.

I think the vast majority of money that is collected by government in a jurisdiction for the purposes of building infrastructure should be spent in that jurisdiction. This is not a hard and fast ethical judgement; it’s a prudential judgement based on where American politics is today.

Too much of our political budgetary process has become a game of beggar thy neighbor. Every legislator who isn’t completely brain dead is looking to bring the most possible dollars (i.e. a disproportionate share of the whole) to their constituents. Thanks to the bizarre, unhealthy, incestuous, and byzantine cultures of our legislatures, both state and federal, this ends in one of two ways. Case One is that there’s a general consensus to just vote in favor of everybody’s wish list, with some kind of variably effective control algorithm to keep the big number at the end from reaching aleph-null, usually doing a poor job. Case Two, which we’ve seen in the U.S. House of Representatives since the 2010 election, is that a large minority bloc of self-styled “reformers”, have defected from the previous consensus to prevent the usual logrolling consensus, usually at the cost of all normal governance being brought to a screeching halt. We have never seen what happens when Case Two persists for an extended period of time, in America; we may be about to find out. Philadelphia is not particularly well-positioned to come out well in any event. However, there is a third way: if we set the amount to be spent at equal or very nearly equal to the amount collected from the dedicated stream, and prevent ourselves from deviating from that plan, we can remove the incentive to grab what can be grabbed, as well as the incentive to burn everything down in a fit of ideological pique, just to keep things in check. The number is what the number is, and it falls on the government of the day to set priorities within that framework. Continue reading Act 44: Part 0: I DO NOT WANT your filthy money

A Letter to the Past: Jonathan Chait, August 2002

Philadelphia-based freelance journalist (and one of many official reasons I will never have a paid writing gig) Jake Blumgart must have been doing some background reading last Wednesday, because he tweeted this excerpt from Jonathan Chait’s 11-year-old article on Delaware for The New Republic:

Because I am the type of person who falls for linkbait like this all the time, I clicked through and started reading. And immediately started gesticulating in rage towards my laptop screen. The opening two paragraphs, below the jump:
Continue reading A Letter to the Past: Jonathan Chait, August 2002

SEPTA’s capital doomsday plan looks like blackmail. It’s not, and that’s terrifying.

It’s sometimes hard to believe, but it’s been six and a half years since the last of former SEPTA GM Faye Moore’s “doomsday plans”, an annual exercise in political hostage-taking with the goal of obtaining more stable funding for SEPTA. The proposed cuts were severe and carefully targeted to inflame the most politically active communities, like the Airport Line (business travellers), the Chestnut Hill West Line (affluent city-dwellers in West Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill), and all weekend service (anybody who does things on weekends), while also having just as much cover as financially necessary to provide negotiating leverage. Eventually, the political brinksmanship worked, and SEPTA traded a fare hike on its riders every three years for Act 44, Ed Rendell’s deal with the Republican Legislature for the support of transit systems across all 67 counties of the Commonwealth, funded by the PA Turnpike Commission.

So when this week, Moore’s successor Joe Casey came out with his own “doomsday plan”, one that eliminated nine entire Regional Rail Lines, truncated two more, and eliminated all trolley service across city and suburb alike, and generally made Faye Moore’s threats look like a dinner party invitation, there was a strong feeling of deja vu among SEPTA watchers and veteran riders, and the reaction was muted grumbling punctuated by occasional howls of outrage. After all, with Act 44 broken by the failure to toll I-80, isn’t this just going back to the hostage-taking days of yore?

SEPTA today and projected 2023
SEPTA’s Rail network, before and after starvation

No. This plan is far, far more terrifying than any SEPTA has come up with before. Because after careful examination, I can only come to the conclusion that there was no political agenda at all in the formulation of this plan. This Doomsday Plan is a dispassionate listing of things that are going to fail that SEPTA does not have the money to replace.
Continue reading SEPTA’s capital doomsday plan looks like blackmail. It’s not, and that’s terrifying.

Labor Day service advisory reminders

Good morning, and happy Labor Day! Just a quick roundup of service changes for the holiday:

  • SEPTA Transit and Regional Rail are running Sunday schedules today.
  • Trolley service is restored on Route 10, and Route 15 west of SugarHouse Loop. New transit schedules are in effect as of yesterday.
  • Bus detours related to the Made In America festival remain in effect until noon, as cleanup and stage teardown continues on the Ben Franklin Parkway.
  • PATCO is running a special schedule, available as a PDF here.
  • NJ Transit Rail and Amtrak are on Major Holiday schedules. NJ Transit buses may or may not be on special schedules; consult printed schedules or
  • DART First State is not running at all today, with the exception of Resort Routes 201-208 and Beach Connection Route 305.
  • UPDATE: Here in the US, we celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday in September, instead of May 1st like the rest of the world, because of our long and ignoble history of Red Scares. Americans, especially left-identified Americans like Labor Unionists, are scared to death of anything that smacks of communism. This apparently does not include the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which does not enforce meter parking today.

Many thanks to the dedicated employees of this region’s transit services, especially those taking the time out of their holiday to keep the trains, buses, and trolleys running for us.