Daniel Rubin | Not so dumb, SEPTA says

SEPTA's reaction to last week's column ("Smart people, dumb SEPTA") about the mysteries of the transit system?

"Dumb."

Then spokesman Richard Maloney went on. "God bless the person who wanders into Suburban Station and can't - in five minutes' time - figure out how to find a train."

So he didn't care for my piece on how inscrutable schedules and nonexistent station announcements make it hard to find my way home, let alone become a regular user.

He said his kids could understand the railroad schedules when they were 7 years old.

I asked for their cell phone numbers for the next time I get lost, but Maloney didn't get back to me.

But I did hear from a few dozen SEPTA riders - all too happy to share their own frustrations with the financially strapped agency.

Bob McCann praised the new bus terminal in West Chester, but wondered why, after more than a year, there are still no bus schedules to be found. Or signs that tell when or where the buses come and go.

"ALL they have is 'Berth #4, 92,' " the West Chester man wrote. "That's SEPTA code for, 'Come to this island if you want to go wherever route 92 takes you, whenever that will be.' "

 

Road trip

So I took a little drive. "No schedules, no tokens, no nothing," groused a man who works for the adjoining parking company. He complained that passengers routinely interrupt him for information.

As if on cue, Thelma Williams, 69, walked up and asked, "Where do I get the bus to Philadelphia?"

He showed her, then pointed me to a sign that read "Transit Info." There was nothing written underneath.

Then there were complaints about barking. Marie Logue of Rosemont wrote about watching her non-peak Bryn Mawr local roar by because it was full. By the time the next one came, it was peak time, and the conductor shouted, in front of the other passengers, "You owe me 75 cents," then lectured her on SEPTA's shaky finances.

"I was so embarrassed - I nearly burst into tears - I was physically exhausted and normally I would have had a sharp retort for him - I could not muster the courage," she e-mailed.

John Barnett of Lionville in Chester County used to ride the R5 train. He complained about missing his stop, particularly at night, when it's harder to see. "Many times, no announcements are made for station stops, and good luck trying to find the one, lonely, battered station sign as the train slows to stop, so you know where you are!"

Money troubles


Craig Wallen of the Art Museum neighborhood told of a rainy Saturday at the Second and Market station. The newspaper-reading attendant informed him she didn't sell tokens. After several attempts to feed a $10 bill into the coin machine, the attendant then barked, "I don't make change."

Wallen used that bill to hail a cab.

James K. Goodwin, who is deaf, wondered why those with yellow, handicapped passes can't use the system at a discount or for free 24 hours a day, as in they do in Boston and New York.

We even heard from a SEPTA consultant, who asked that he not be named:

"SEPTA's Regional Rail System still operates under the delusion that it is 1954 and most wives still drop their husbands off at the train in the morning with the family car. THERE IS NOT ENOUGH PARKING. Try going to Glenside, Jenkintown, Wayne, Radnor, Bryn Mawr or any of the major train stations after 8:00 AM and try to find a parking spot."

Finally, Dan Sulman, Center City attorney: "Can you believe that ticket-vending machines were removed from stations in an age where most modern transit systems have all sorts of automated ticketing and rechargeable fare cards?"

The good news is that SEPTA had planned a move to a fare-card system, says spokesman Maloney. The bad: Funding problems imperil the improvement.

 


Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917 or drubin@phillynews.com. His columns run Mondays and Thursdays. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/danrubin.