Riders Minutes from the SEPTA Board: Feb 2021

Riders Minutes is a summary of SEPTA Board meetings from a transit riders’ perspective.

Published: 5 minute read

Meeting opens with attendance and a pledge of allegiance to the flag.

Board chair Pat Deon announces two new board members: Esteban Vera, Jr. (Democratic House Minority Leader Appointee) and Thomas Jay Ellis (Republican Senate Majority Leader Appointee).

Esteban Vera, Jr. is a business manager of Laborer’s Local #57 in Philly; it’s great to see a Philly labor leader on the SEPTA board. Thomas Jay Ellis served on the SEPTA board previously, first as a Montgomery County appointee from 2001 to 2011 when he resigned in the wake of harassment complaints. He served again on the SEPTA board as an appointee of Republican Governor Tom Corbett from 2011 to 2015. This is his third stint on the SEPTA board.

First item is the election of board officers, which happens each year. John Cordisco nominates Pat Deon, seconded by Esteban Vera, Jr. There are no other nominations for chair.

Despite 90% of SEPTA’s ridership living in Philadelphia, neither Philadelphia board member runs for board chair this year.

Pat Deon for board chair passes unanimously.

Nominations for vice chair. Rob Fox nominates Ken Lawrence Jr., seconded by Bill Leonard. There are no other nominations for vice chair, Lawrence Jr. for vice chair passes unanimously.

Resolution to reallocate $40 million in CARES Act funding to planning the KoP Rail project

The SEPTA board is voting to reallocate $40 million to a construction project instead of running more buses during the pandemic. Four members of the public speak in opposition, from the SEPTA Citizens Advisory Committee and 5th Square (an urbanist political action committee). Speakers mention how this use of this money is inappropriate and could be used to address overcrowding and expand service.

Michael Bente, subway cashier and TWU 234 member says that SEPTA received the CARES Act money as a result of the personal sacrifices of SEPTA workers and that 40 million dollars could go a long way toward running more buses and trains so riders and workers can social distance, hazard pay, a COVID-19 family leave policy. He says “Forty million dollars could go a long way. Forty million dollars could save countless lives if we do the right thing with it.” Urges board members to think about this vote and choose safety over capital projects.

Jody Holton, assistant general manager of planning at SEPTA speaks, saying SEPTA has been able to maintain 85%-90% of transit service and an “appropriate level” of service on Regional Rail. Holton says they’ve investigated all crowded complaints they’ve seen and found some instances where crowding has occurred and that they can make schedule changes to add additional service. Holton says that many instances of crowding tend to occur because of a missed trip, traffic, or unpredictable issues.

The 85% mentioned contradicts previous statements by SEPTA officials who have claimed they’re running full pre-pandemic levels of service. SEPTA has also previously denied overcrowding. The online SEPTA complaint form has been down since at least early August 2020, replaced only with an email address. Collecting this information only through email may discourage riders because of concerns of retaliation and there’s no way to know if a complaint has been seen or resolved. An improved complaint tracking system and publicly published passenger count data would improve rider trust.

Holton continues, saying that it’s imperative to move forward with the KoP rail project at this time. “We still need to move projects like this forward, that advance our economy.”

It’s clear SEPTA officials and the board are going to choose planning a construction project over running more service.

The next item on the agenda is voting on the “consent calendar”, which bundles votes on several issues into one vote. The concept of a consent calendar is to bundle voting on several non-controversial items together to save time.

The resolution to use $40 million dollars on a construction project during a pandemic is clearly controversial; it’s part of the consent calendar nonetheless.

Kevin Johnson recuses himself from resolution #3, Ia. Tom Jay Ellis abstains from resolution #3, V3. Full text of the resolutions.

All resolutions are adopted unanimously.

Report of the General Manager

SEPTA GM Leslie Richards says “SEPTA moves the Philadelphia region forward by providing safe, reliable and accessible mobility choices” and “support equity and enhance quality of life”. Says 16 employees have been selected to lead SEPTA’s first “council on diversity, equity and belonging.” Mentions SEPTA’s tribute to Rosa Parks.

No mention of the “investigation” into the at least seven SEPTA Police officers who attended the Jan. 6th rally prior to the attempted coup in Washington DC. We’ve called for a full, transparent and public investigation.

Public Testimony

TRU member testimony was provided over the phone. Because SEPTA declines to play this testimony to the public, a transcript is provided below

“I’m concerned about the seven SEPTA police officers who attended the January 6 rally before the attempted coup at the US Capitol Building. What is SEPTA’s plan for removing white supremacists from their police department? SEPTA has a large ridership of people of color like myself and it is unacceptable to have white supremacists in the ranks of the SEPTA police force. They cannot be trusted to serve riders of color. So again, what is the plan to get these people out and to remove them from the SEPTA police force?”

“TRU members have testified about overcrowding conditions on buses since September. Riders regularly send us pictures and video of overcrowding. We’re months into this problem and SEPTA has done nothing. Nobody likes being ignored. Does SEPTA have a plan to run more buses where necessary to address overcrowding?”

More public testimony can be viewed in the video below: