When Joseph M. Casey first became SEPTA general manager in 2008, he quickly learned how to score points as the new guy in charge.
“One of the first visits I had was at the Callowhill depot,” Casey told me during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. “I’ll never forget it. Mr. James approached me and said, `I want to show you something.’
“I said, `Fine.’ He showed me the restroom facilities and they were similar to the City Hall [subway station], probably even worse. They were to me, unusable. I came back and I asked my facilities people what we could do. We went out there and within a couple of months, we had all new facilities. Don’t get me wrong, this is turn-of-the-century facility, but we went out and fixed them up.”
That’s when Casey pulled out a huge Thank You card, probably three feet tall, signed by SEPTA workers, including Mr. James, a bus driver.
Casey is going to need that good will now, as SEPTA negotiates with its largest union, Transport Workers Local 234. The contract, covering 5,000 workers, expires March 14. The union website describes SEPTA as the enemy.
“I feel I have a good relationship with the union leaders. I feel I have a good relationship with the rank and file,” said Casey. “I have an understanding that they have a job and no matter what the job is, driving a bus, fixing the vehicle or cleaning the stations, I feel that whatever their job is, at any point of time, it is extremely important to our customer.”
I asked Casey if he knows how to drive a bus. He said he doesn't have the right license, but every now and then, at a SEPTA rodeo, he is allowed to get behind the wheel. “I think the hardest thing about being a SEPTA bus driver, and I think it depends on the personality, but some people have difficulty dealing with general public,” he said.
“We have a focus on customer service and you can tell the people who really get it,” he said. “You have people who have been there 30-35 years. They get Christmas cards from their customers. They develop a relationship with the people. They know the people on the route. It makes their day a lot easier knowing that. You are basically driving friends back and forth, if you will.”
Casey said he personally likes dealing with the general public. He learned his lessons from being a bus boy and later a waiter. So he imagines that other aspects of the drivers’ jobs are more trying.
“I think the most difficult thing is operating within the traffic,” he said. “It’s a combination of the vehicles, and double parking, in and out of traffic, or simply the pedestrians jay-walking or walking against the light.”
Click here to view SEPTA's video of Joe Casey talking about his SEPTA memories in honor of the transit agency's 50th anniversary.
Tuesday: You can't please everyone