In the last night of the year, five things we’ll remember from 2014:
- The year of citizen action. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much when Conrad Benner launched a change.org petition to get SEPTA to run the subways overnight. But it worked, and now another petition has sparked progress on a second front, in Wilmington. Can we look forward to more petitions working in 2015? If the trend of well-informed riders asking for achievable, concrete, inexpensive improvements continues, then yes. And we’ll keep you posted.
- Bridges needing fixing. A once-in-a-generation maintenance project on the Ben Franklin Bridge has made this an annus horribilis for PATCO riders, but after the major work wrapped in the fall, it faded into the background noise of commuter complaints. A much bigger splash was made by the I-495 bridge, and only by the grace of higher powers did that not end with a literal splash into the Christina River. The traffic snarls around Wilmington started out on epic scale, but soon enough people found other ways to get around the closed bridge. And when the bridge reopened before Labor Day, it was a reminder that, in an emergency, when you don’t have to worry about keeping traffic open, work can get done very quickly. Something to keep in mind, or look forward to, as SEPTA prepares to replace the Crum Creek Viaduct.
- Communication über alles. PATCO’s troubles finally forced it to copy SEPTA and start monitoring and responding to people on its official Twitter account. (For the first day or so, whoever was working that desk was the unluckiest schmo in South Jersey.) In the modern world, this kind of real-time interaction with customer service is a requirement, not an option. (Hint, hint, NJT, hint, DART.) SEPTA’s successful app for iOS was joined this year by a counterpart for Android, but its copious APIs continue to put SEPTA in a clear technical lead over peer agencies.
- Labor brinksmanship. In the fractious relationships SEPTA has with its unions, the one thing we all thought we could count on was Regional Rail needing a very long lead time before a strike. SEPTA turned that axiom on its head by deliberately provoking a work stoppage from the BLET and IBEW. The first Regional Rail strike since the big one in 1983 only lasted 24 hours before President Obama could intervene. That assertiveness set the tone for the protracted negotiations and mutual threats between SEPTA and its largest union, TWU 234, whose contracts expired in March and April. TWU wouldn’t get a new contract until late in the night on Halloween, and it mostly just kicked the can down the road to 2016.
- Bringing the word to where people live. Dear well-off suburbanites: If you drive through communities of the oppressed, you should be prepared to hear from them. Just saying.
And five things to look forward to in the new year.
- SEPTA Key. The future of fare payment is coming, and in addition to convenience, it’s going to open up a treasure trove of data about how people use SEPTA, and how to adapt the system to the riders’ needs. Mmmm, data.
- PHL Bike Share. It’s late, it still doesn’t have a sponsor, but when it comes, it’s still going to be a revolution in how we make short trips around town. Spring can’t get here soon enough.
- The Papal Meltdown. Not all of the news is going to be good. When Pope Francis visits in September, the crowds on the Parkway are being predicted for the 1 million-2 million range. That will overtax every road and every transit resource in the area. Remember the 2008 Phillies parade and Live 8? His Holiness is going to be even bigger. Hope the planners are already crunching numbers to minimize the amount of agony going around.
- Don’t mourn, organize. The 2015 municipal election cycle will provide a lot of good fodder for discussion. For instance: the 22nd Street bike lane needs to happen, and Bill Greenlee needs to either stop resisting it or stop being in a position to resist it. I’m not saying that Greenlee doesn’t know that a bike lane will save lives, and is insanely popular in his neighborhood. I’m just saying he hasn’t done anything that would suggest that he cares. Even if Greenlee wins re-election, Darrell Clarke, may find it necessary to throw Greenlee’s pro-motor-vehicle fetish under the (metaphorical) bus to preserve Clarke’s own chances of ever being elected mayor. Good luck, everybody!
- Shiny new things with wheels. SEPTA’s Rebuilding For The Future program and ongoing Amtrak equipment orders will mean lots of new, unfamiliar shapes will be in and around Philadelphia. Although some of the new orders, like the SuperNova buses and the Viewliner II baggage cars, have already made their first appearances, many equipment orders will be either fulfilled or placed in 2015. But while the railfans and busfans will have their fun, the real joy will accrue to the the riders, who will get faster, more comfortable, and/or more reliable rides out of all the new equipment.
It’s been a pleasure writing for you all this year. See you in 2015!