Facing discontent, DRPA seeks public relations agency

Broken escalators at PATCO stations are a focus of complaints since a maintenance contract was allowed to lapse. Construction outages have caused delays, breakdowns, and crowded trains.

Facing a summer of discontent from unhappy commuters, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) is looking to burnish its image by hiring a public relations agency.

Track reconstruction work on the DRPA's Ben Franklin Bridge will inconvenience commuters on the PATCO rail line and motorists on the toll bridge, especially during a two-month period that will start May 30.

Commuters already have been complaining about delays, breakdowns and crowded PATCO trains during construction outages on Fridays and weekends, and the DRPA is still dealing with customer outrage over broken escalators and elevators after a maintenance contract was allowed to lapse last July.

To make matters worse, PATCO has fallen far behind in getting refurbished train cars back in service from the factory in New York that is rebuilding the 45-year-old fleet. That leaves the commuter line without spare cars to replace those that break down.

The DRPA's communications chief, Tim Ireland, resigned earlier this month, and the agency's new chief executive, John Hanson, has been scrambling to improve communications with disgruntled customers, both on social media and in a series of public meetings this month.

The DRPA's request for bids from public-relations firms says the authority seeks a company "to provide day-to-day general corporate communications services including press releases, press advisories, media and messaging advice, etc."

The work "will also include marketing, messaging and public relations concerning the on-going PATCO Benjamin Franklin Bridge Track Rehabilitation project."

DRPA deputy chief executive Michael Conallen said the agency wants a firm with "expertise in crisis communications," as well as the ability to "raise awareness about the services we provide."

The winning bidder will get a one-year contract, according to the request for proposals posted on the agency's Web site.

Conallen said the DRPA hopes to hire a firm within the next month.