Cynical Synapse

Wed, 14 Dec 2011

Detroit’s Woodward Light Rail Torpedoed

Detroit light rail sinks
Image by Jerry Paffendorf. HT: Detroit Curbed

Big news in the Motor City today is the “sudden” cancellation of the Woodward Light Rail project slated to begin construction within the next year. The line would run up Woodward Avenue from downtown Detroit to the city limits at 8 Mile Road. The US Department of Transportation had already awarded federal funds toward the program, with more promised. Awards included $2 million for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) to study expanding the line into the northern suburbs. The project, including its extension, seemed to have local, regional, state, and federal backing&ellipses;until now.

Known as M-1 Rail, for Woodward’s designation as Michigan state highway 1 (M-1), several years of planning and discussions, including such hurdles as environmental impact studies, are already done. Perhaps more significantly, the transit line represented a new era of regionalism and cooperation between city and suburbs. Add to that the $100 million in private seed money to jump start M-1 and you can sense the larger importance of Woodward light rail. Even now, the M-1 Rail consortium wants to build the 3.4 mile phase I line in Detroit. Full disclosure: I’m a rail and transit enthusiast. When entrepreneurs and private foundations still want to invest their money, civic leaders should pause and take notice.

bus rapid transit

Initially I had Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood cast as the bad guy. He met with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (D) and Gov. Rick Snyder (R) last week, so I presume this announcement has been festering since then. Even Detroit City Council had no clue, interviewing project managers just this week. It becomes apparent, however, Mayor Bing made the decision; perhaps under duress from Gov. Snyder who is not a rail proponent. In place of the Woodward light rail line is a proposal for several bus rapid transit lines. According to Bing, this is the right decision for Detroit and the region. Except no one asked the transit folks at SEMCOG, or Detroit City Council, or Detroit’s congressional delegation, any of which seem none too happy with this turn of events.

Mayor Bing contends the same money will buy bus rapid transit from downtown Detroit out Woodward and Gratiot into Oakland and Macomb Townships, a line between those suburban endpoints, and another connecting downtown Detroit with Metro Airport. There’s no question such a plan would serve more than Woodward light rail alone. As M-1 Rail points out, however, there’s been no work on funding, no environmental impact studies, or any other preparatory work. Bus rapid transit is, thus, at least a couple of years down the road—pun intended—before the first shovel-ful of dirt is turned. Never mind Detroit already has two dysfunctional bus systems. The “plan” is to overlay bus rapid transit so it complements the current Detroit Department of Transportation (D-DOT) and Suburban Mobility Authority for Rapid Transt (SMART) bus systems. Just what we need, a third metro Detroit bus system.

Besides my predictable chagrin at yet another nail in the coffin of Detroit rail transit, the region is left as the only major metropolitan area without an integrated transit system and, particularly, no light or commuter rail or subway systems. Taking a more pragmatic view, however, loss of the Woodward light rail line equates to a loss of an estimated $3 billion in development along the light rail route. Bus systems do not bring the same degree of transit-oriented development as rail. Did I point out the entrepreneurs behind M-1 Rail still want to proceed with at least phase I construction?

Previously on metro Detroit transit:


Sat, 29 Oct 2011

Snyder’s Romneyesque Approach to Michigan Transportation

Filed under: Driving, Government, Governor, Hypocrits, Michigan, Politics, Roads, Taxes, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 1:48 pm

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R)

Although I’ve got to give Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) credit for thinking outside the box, splitting hairs doesn’t change the growing deviation from his own campaign rhetoric. While more subtle than flip-flopping Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Snyder is still back-pedaling from previous positions. Regarding his proposals for road and transit improvements, the disconnects are more significant than they appear at first glance. As a reminder, here’s candidate Snyder’s view on transportation funding in October 2010:

Asked if he’d support increasing Michigan’s gas tax, given that the state has the nation’s worst-maintained roads, Snyder said no, “because we need to get efficient first” with the state’s existing transportation funds. …

“So let’s get efficient about where we’re deploying these dollars. There’s a much better way to do things, and that’s what we should focus on first.”

First, the Governor wants a revenue-neutral change in the fuel tax. Snyder’s plan eliminates the 19-cent “current gas tax on consumers”, shifting it to a percentage at the wholesale level. Wow! I won’t have to pay state gas tax anymore! Except, does anyone believe wholesalers won’t pass the cost of that tax onto retailers? Is the average retailer likely to discount his pump price by the amount of the wholesale tax passed to him? As the Brits would say, not bloody likely. While this proposal is initially revenue-neutral for the gas tax, a percentage tax on wholesale fuels will go up as prices rise. The proposal includes another hidden tax increase. Michigan levies sales tax, presently 6% on goods sold, including gasoline. Retailers don’t include the current 19-cent gas tax when calculating the sales tax. Since the wholesale tax will be part of the price retailers pay, it will now become subject to the 6% sales tax. On day one of a wholesale tax, Michigan will collect more than a penny per gallon in additional taxes from consumers. So much for “revenue-neutral”; never mind Michigan’s fuel taxes are already among the highest in the country.

fuel tax comparison by state

Next up, Snyder figures Michigan needs an extra $10 per month from every vehicle registration. Sounds minimal, but that’s $120 per year, on top of what you’re already paying for license tabs. As Stephen Henderson noted, it disproportionately impacts poor people.

It’s a big hit to people’s wallets in a state still struggling to rebound from a decade-long recession. A family with three cars registered to one person would have to fork over $360 extra all at once.

From my perspective, the increased vehicle registration fees are neither logical nor beneficial. Snyder says they will raise about $1.4 billion for roads. They will also price many out of their cars in a state with few functioning transportation options. Don’t be surprised if there is an increase in license plate thefts or cutting their corners off to get someone else’s current year tab. Here’s a novel concept: how about charging heavier weight vehicles for the road damage they cause? A 5,000-pound car exerts a mere 2,500 pounds per axle while Michigan allows up to 17,000 pounds—nearly seven times that of the car—per axle. Financing road repairs also needs to ensure non-resident users pay their share, not just Michiganians. Earlier this year, a bipartisan legislative report said Michigan needs $1.4 billion more for roads each year. Coincidence? I think maybe not.

road workers

Snyder also proposed voluntary elimination of county road commissions, folding their responsibilities into general county government. Such a move would save money by eliminating a separate bureaucracy and improve accountability, through county commissioners, to county residents. Since I absolutely abhor my road commission, I’m tempted to support this proposal. The only problem is Snyder wants counties to be able to levy their own $40 vehicle registration fees on top of the state’s. In the 3 car example, the cost now skyrockets to $780, based on a $100 per car average at present, plus the added $120 state and $40 county fees.

Having nothing to do with the state of Michigan’s roads, or fixing them, Snyder also suggested the red herring of so-called “high-speed buses” on key metro Detroit routes. What he means is rapid-transit buses, which often operate in dedicated lanes, but are still subject to speed limits, traffic lights, and road conditions, like standard buses. The concept of dedicated lanes means either removing lanes from availability to motorists or spending money to add sole-use lanes. Personally, I’m not sold on the idea of bus rapid transit, but what concerns me about the Governor’s plan is its creation of yet another transit agency in Southeast Michigan. Say what? Just over a week ago, I posted on metro Detroit’s two dysfunctional bus systems. How is adding another layer going to fix that? How does this fit with Snyder’s push for local governments to consolidate?

Let’s summarize.

  • Candidate Snyder said no new gas tax, but even his “revenue neutral” proposal increases taxes consumers would pay on fuel
  • Candidate Snyder wanted to eliminate transportation administration/funding inefficiencies, but the Gov. Snyder wants taxpayers to fork over $1.4 billion instead
  • Gov. Snyder wants to eliminate Michigan’s extra layer of county road commissions, but will allow counties to charge vehicle registration fees on top of taxes
  • Gov. Snyder wants local governments to consolidate services, but he proposes adding another transit agency to those already preexisting in southeast Michigan

Gov. Snyder ran on the claim he was a political outsider. What he’s showing us is the same smoke and mirrors approach used by seasoned politicians.


Mon, 17 Oct 2011

A Tale of Two Dysfunctional Systems

Filed under: Budget, Customer service, Detroit, Economy, Governor, Michigan, Politics, Stimulus, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 8:17 pm

city and suburban buses in downtown Detroit

Detroit and its suburbs enjoy bus service from not one, but two dysfunctional systems. Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) buses primarily serve the city while Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) buses serve the suburbs, including forays into downtown Detroit. It’s not at all uncommon to see buses from one, the other, or both, chasing each other—even leap-frogging as one stops while another goes to the next stop. As many as half of DDOT’s buses are in the shop waiting to be fixed. Even former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick knew way back in 2004 that DDOT was a broken system. As for SMART, individual suburbs can opt out, so the system has traverse these unserved areas to connect those that are served. Declining property values left SMART underfunded by its millage, so the system plans to lay off 123 and cut or eliminate service on 36 routes.

Nine years ago, Southeast Michigan was on the cusp of a solution called the Detroit Area Regional Transportation Authority (DARTA). After years of negotiating and political maneuvering, the Michigan House and Senate had passed the necessary legislation. Then, in a moment of extreme self-importance and political spitefulness, the Jaba-the-Hut-esque John Engler (R) vetoed the bill mere nanoseconds before his rotundness rolled out of office as his term as governor expired. Thanks, John. The region has been paying the price ever since.

Peter Rogoff, Mayor Dave Bing, Sec. Ray LaHood, Gov. Rick Snyder

Ray LaHood, US Secretary of Transportation, was in metro Detroit today to meet with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (D) and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) regarding transit in Southeast Michigan. During a press conference with Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, LaHood announced $928.5 million in grants to over 300 projects nationwide. For once, Michigan faired well, snagging about 5% of the grant money. Ann Arbor will get $3.8 million, DDOT $6.8 million, and SMART almost $5 million of Michigan’s $46.7 million share to fund 16 projects.

The elephant in the room is still getting city and suburbs to put their differences aside and craft a true, workable transit solution for Southeast Michigan. Imagine how much farther along we would be if Engler hadn’t been such a jackass.

Well! The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Previously on Southeast Michigan transit:

Sat, 19 Mar 2011

TSA Jackboots Assault Train Passengers

Filed under: Business, Citizen rights, Duh, Government, Life, Oppression, Passenger rail, Railroads, Rants, Transit, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 6:53 pm

VIPR team expands

Frequent readers may know that I am a railfan, meaning I like railroads. That may bias me, but I also believe passenger rail is essential to America’s prosperity. We cannot spend out way out of road congestion and there are physical constraints on air travel. A coherent rail passenger policy, including high-speed rail, is essential to our country remaining competetive in the not-so-distant future. Unfortunately, many myopic politicians can’t see past the measley Federal subsidies to Amtrak. That’s different from airport and highway subsidies how? Never mind Amtrak ridership has been rising since 2000. But, I digress.

Most frequent readers probably know of my disdain for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). On February 13th, the government thugs took over the Savannah GA Amtrak station to screen passengers. Two big problems. First, TSA was screening passengers after they got off the train. Second, passengers don’t have to go through the station to get to or from the train platforms. More pointless security theater.

subject to mandatory screening

While TSA claims they made prior arrangements with the rail passenger agency, the Amtrak police chief says TSA’s actions were illegal and a surprise to Amtrak. In fact, Chief John O’Connor thought initial blog posts on the TSA extremism were a joke. He noted Amtrak police operate within the Constitution and TSA agents have no right to go beyond that.

TSA justifies their actions, saying people didn’t have to enter the station. I’m sorry—doesn’t that prove the idiocy of TSA’s whole concept? If you don’t want to be screened, just go around the station. If you don’t want a full-body scan, just go to one of 85.6% of airports that don’t have the scanners.

TSA at Tampa bus terminal

February’s assault on Savannagh was part of TSA’s VIPR program. While it sounds good, VIPR—Visible Intermodal Protection and Response—teams are randomly executed and consist of ad hoc groups. These include Air Marshals—to provide TSA with armed agents on the ground—and bomb detection teams. They descend on bus terminals and wherever else they happen to want to.

Not satisfied with harassing the flying public, TSA has teams of shock troops running amok to subjugate bus riders and intimimdate train passengers. Didn’t we used to claim these were the evils of communism? Can anyone show any tangible security benefits to the TSA’s excesses?

Previously on security theater:

Fri, 21 Jan 2011

Back to the Future: Transit Returning to Detroit

Filed under: Detroit, Economy, Government, History, Life, Politics, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 4:38 pm

Concept M-1 light rail station at Grand Blvd.

On 20 January 2011, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a $25 million light rail grant for Detroit‘s M-1 transit project. The project takes its’ name from its route up Woodward Avenue which is state highway M-1. The grant is for the first phase to run from Hart Plaza, at the foot of Woodward by the Detroit River, and the New Center area, where GM’s headquarters once stood. Detroit’s Amtrak station is adjacent to Woodward in the New Center.

In announcing the grant, LaHood said:

Building this light rail system will create jobs for this great American city, and it will stimulate long-term economic growth by attracting investment to downtown Detroit and the New Center area.”

Most people opposed to the M-1 project point to the costly People Mover. Detroit’s People Mover is an elevated, automated train that runs in a loop around downtown. Opponents highlight cost overruns during construction, operating costs at least six times fare revenue, and low ridership. The naysayers say the M-1 project is doomed to the same fate. The People Mover has low ridership because its route was selected when Detroit’s downtown was vibrant. While there are still lively areas, many People Mover stops are not near businesses or attractions. From planning to opening day, it took 12 years to build the People Mover. Inflation certainly contributed to rising construction costs.

M-1 light rail project plan

Detroiter Thomas Page summed up the view of M-1 light rail proponents.

We have to have this if we want to be even a mediocre city, let alone a world class city. Real cities have rail systems. Even people who don’t use them want to live near transportation systems. If we don’t build this now, I don’t see much hope for Detroit or the state of Michigan.

As the saying goes, if you build it, they will come. Woodward Avenue has always been Detroit’s axis. It demarks the east and west sides. It is the address for Foxtown (the theater district), art and history museums (in the Cultural Center), and Detroit’s football and baseball stadia. There is commercial, office, and residential along most of Woodward in Detroit. Transit accessibility will help revitalize the areas in between the gems along Woodward. Detroit should incorporate\ transit-oriented development to manage redevelopment in between Woodward’s bright spots.

Street car on Woodward at 6 Mile

Rather than Woodward light rail becoming another white elephant like the People Mover, imagine the synergy of the systems feeding each other. Wouldn’t it be cool to park in a cheap lot, hop the M-1, transfer to the People Mover to Greektown for dinner? Then grab the People Mover back to the M-1 for a game or show at the Fox. And finally, take the M-1 back to your car and avoid the traffic jams around the lots by the stadium.

Planners of M-1 rail will start construction by the end of this year. They intend to have Detroit’s first light rail operational by 2016. Ironically, the Woodward street car line shut down 60 years earlier, the last of what once was the country’s largest street car operation. Who would have thought?

Wed, 08 Dec 2010

Engler, Part Deux! Rail Be Damned!

Filed under: Budget, Detroit, Government, Michigan, Passenger rail, Politics, Railroads, Transit, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 10:07 pm

High speed rail

Michigan stands to lose out on $161 million in Federal high speed rail money because Michigan Senate leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester Hills) did not allow the bill to come to a vote. Bishop’s cheap shot is almost as dispicable as former Gov. John Engler’s (R) last minute veto of regional transit for metro Detroit.

Bishop had said he’d allow the State Senate to vote on the measure already passed by the State House.

I don’t ask the state taxpayers to finance anything unless a business plan is presented that gives us some indication that it brings value.

Possible Woodward corridor transit

Apparently, anti-transit behavior is a Republican trait. Cece Grant, a native Detroiter and Michigan organizer for Transportation for America, summed it up this way.

The legislature failing to act is really putting us at a competitive disadvantage to the other states. It’s saying we’re stuck in the past.

There’s no way for your employees to get back and forth to work. We’re not a mobile society. We don’t have bustling thriving downtowns.

Amtrak train

I look at it another way. I don’t support the full body scanners or “enhanced” pat downs at airports. But at 5-1/2 to 6 hours for a train ride to Chicago, rail is not competitive. On the other hand, high speed rail, with travel times between Chicago and Detroit around 3 hours, is competitive with both air travel and driving.

Without transit, and without high speed rail, Detroit is neither attractive nor competitive. In fact, Detroit is no better off than Mogadishu.

Previously on high speed rail and transit:

Mon, 01 Nov 2010

Silverliner Vs Begin Service in Philly

Filed under: Customer service, Economy, Life, Railroads, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 6:49 am

Silverliner V pair

Philadelphia’s regional rail transit service put new Silverliner V cars into revenue service on Friday, 29 October. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority—SEPTA—operates the commuter rail, trolley, and bus system in Philadelphia and surrounding counties.

SEPTA ordered 120 of the railcars manufactured by Hyundai Rotem Company in South Korea. There are several Philly area suppliers and the cars are assembled in the US.

Silverliner V interior

Inside, the cars are bright and feature added space for bicycles and wheelchairs. The public address system is clear and LCD panels in the car can display real-time location, next stop, and station information. The Silverliner Vs seat 110 passengers compared to about 122 for the Silverliner IIs and IIIs they will replace.

The Silverliner Vs are the first new regional rail multiple-unit trainsets for SEPTA in 35 years. Attending Villanova University in 1974-75, I can still remember my first ride on a Silverliner IV. At that time, we even thought the Silverliner IIs and IIIs, both 1960s era cars, were great compared to the MP54 cars built between 1915 and 1939.

Previously on SEPTA:

Sat, 20 Feb 2010

Woodward Transit Project on Track

Filed under: Detroit, Economy, Government, Politics, Stimulus, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 3:04 pm

Detroit Amtrak station

Michigan doesn’t seem to get a lot of good news. Even when it does, it’s usually a mixed blessing. Like unemployment is down, but it’s still the highest in the country at 14.5%. Or last month’s $40 million Federal grant for the Pontiac-Chicago Amtrak line. The money is for station improvements, not upgrading the line itself to high-speed standards. Michigan had asked for $800 million to upgrade track and signaling.

On Wednesday, 17 February, though, the news was all good for metro Detroit. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a $25 million grant for M1 Rail, the light rail line planned for Woodward Avenue in Detroit. The funding comes of part of the Stimulus known as TIGER—Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. In announcing the grant, the USDOT press release said:

The project will have significant short-term benefits for Detroit’s beleaguered economy, including job creation and economic activity. The city also expects the project to provide for significant long-term economic growth in the corridor, while improving mobility on a congested portion of Woodward Avenue, which carries 27,000 vehicles per day, on average. The project is also expected to enhance mobility options in this corridor, and attract investment to Downtown Detroit and the New Center area.

Artist rendering of transit on Woodward Av

In raising the local match for the project, a public-private partnership almost certainly helped snatch the $25 million. Frank Rapoport, an expert with the law firm of McKenna, Long, & Aldridge, LLP said, “Your business community should be congratulated. Detroit is out front here. It’s a great example of public-private partnership.”

Detroit’s big names in business play a big role here. Penske’s Roger Penske, Peter Karmanos Jr of Compuware, Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch and founder of Little Ceasar’s, as well as Quicken Loans/Rock Financial founder Dan Gilbert are all involved. Detroit’s Downtown Development Authority and Troy-based Kresge Foundation also kicked in money.

Planned M1 light rail project

Phase 1 of the M1 Rail project runs 3.4 miles from Hart Plaza, at the foot of Woodward, northwest to Grand Boulevard in the New Center Area. The route takes it past Campus Martius, which hosts ice skating in the winter, Comerica Park and Ford Field, home fields of the Tigers and Lions, respectively. Also along the way are the Foxtown theater district, Detroit Medical Center, and the Cultural Center. The Detroit Science Center, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Public Library, Detroit History Museum, and Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History all call the Cultural Center home. The New Center area is a commercial hub north of downtown and home of Wayne State University and Henry Ford Hospital. Detroit’s Amtrak station is also in the New Center area.

Trains will average speeds of 31 to 47 miles per hour, aided by an in-street system with signal pre-emption to turn traffic lights green on Woodward as the train approaches. Pre-board fare payment will also reduce dwell times. Wait times between trains will be about 10 minutes. Trains will stop at Hart Plaza and New Center each trip, but at the other 10 stations only when summoned.

Cobo Center

Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the city plan to apply for Federal Transit Administration New Starts grant money later this year to fund Phase 2, envisioned to run to 8 Mile Road. Transit advocates hope to see the line extend into Oakland County in the future. Doing so will greatly expand ridership in my opinion. The present plan, however, stops short by not extending its southern terminus 3 blocks to Cobo Center. With a regional authority set to expand and renovate the home of the North American International Auto Show, not connecting it to transit seems short-sighted. Another mistep is DDOT’s newly opened Rosa Parks Transit Center that sits 4 blocks off Woodward and 5 blocks away from Cobo.

Construction could begin later this year or early next with Phase 1 beginning operations as early as 2012. Khalid Diab, manager of The Whitney, an upscale restaurant on Woodward, said, “This rail system is the start of a new page in the city’s growth and development. We haven’t received a lot of positive news over the years here in Detroit, but this is great news for the city.”

Previously on metro Detroit transit:

Mon, 30 Nov 2009

Regional Transit Takes Another Blow in Detroit

Filed under: Detroit, Government, Life, Politics, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 8:19 pm

DDOT and SMART buses on Michigan Avenue

Detroit is the only major metropolitan area without a functional, integrated public transportation system. The city has its Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the suburbs have the Suburban Mobility Authority for Rapid Transit (SMART). Far from being smart, the two systems don’t coordinate services and SMART doesn’t even service all surburban communities. DDOT buses don’t venture out of the city and SMART buses follow DDOT buses to downtown, often stopping at the same stops. Case in point: it’s not uncommon to see 2, 3, or more buses in line along Woodward Avenue, a main thoroughfare to downtown.

While many are advocating regional transit, something which former Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) put years behind when he vetoed a bill as his last official act, it’s definitely an uphill battle. Today, Oakland County Commissioners decided to keep the local opt-out millage plan rather than adopt a county-wide millage. While some argue that recognizes local autonomy, it really doesn’t. It allows city and village councils to decide on behalf of their citizens rather than allowing citizens to vote.

Two SMART buses in Detroit

The biggest problem is it stands as a large roadblock to developing a truly regional transit plan. Currently, Novi, which is home to many retail centers, does not participate in the SMART system. As a result, only people with cars can get to jobs there. If SMART buses went to the retail centers, the pool of available workers—and customers—would be much larger. That benefits both the city and the region.

And that’s the crux of metro Detroit’s problem. Until everyone can get beyond their parochial viewpoint and look beyond the end of their damn noses, the region is stuck in a kind of Groundhog Day that’s collapsing in on itself. We finally agreed to a regional authority for Cobo Hall, but we don’t really want regional transportation. Does that make sense? Not to me, but apparently we’re satisfied with the opt-out approach to transportation.

We cannot achieve a regional system when one of the region’s largest and most affluent counties does not support a county-wide system itself.

Sadly, even if the proposal had made it through the Oakland County Commissioners, County Executive L. Brooks Patterson likely would have vetoed the measure. So much for regionalism.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009

TWU Local 234 Thinks SEPTA is Wall Street or Something

Filed under: Behavior, Government, Politics, Transit, Unions — cynicalsynapse @ 7:03 pm

TWU members pass out picket signs

Not too long after the last Philadelphia World Series game finished, Transport Workers Union Local 234 went on strike. Picket lines went up at city transit division subway stations and bus terminals about 3 AM on November 3rd. This leaves some suburban Philly bus routes and the commuter rail lines running. The last time the union walked off the job was for 5 days in 2005.

Talks between the TWU local and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) have been going on for some time. Without a contract, the TWU was threatening to strike. They kept their promise to wait until after the Series, however. TWU pickets went up at the 69th Street Terminal the morning of the 4th, essentially shutting down service on the non-striking suburban Victory Division lines.

Get back to work

The union has been working without a contract since spring. While I’m not a pro-union guy, I do support unions having contracts. I also believe in fairness to workers and management, union workplace or not. Since I went to Villanova University my freshman year and truly enjoyed Philly’s mass transit system, I have an interest in SEPTA. I took regular advantage of Philly’s transit system to get to New Jersey where the drinking age was 18 at the time. But that’s another story.

Like issues facing many unions in today’s economy, maybe SEPTA is asking for onerous concessions. Well, no, not really. SEPTA must want reduced pension costs then. No, no they don’t. So, what are the agregious contract terms union members find so burdensome, then? SEPTA is offering a mere 11% in pay increases and increased pension contributions of 11%, with no increase in members’ 1% health insurance premiums during the 4 year contract. On top of that, SEPTA offered a $1,200 signing bonus.

Fat cat unions

SEPTA’s offer is unacceptable, why? Well, because the union wants 4% pay raises every year along with a 33% increase in pension contributions. Sheesh! These guys make about $52,000 a year!

Even Pennsylvania’s Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D) tried to get the two sides to agree. Concerning SEPTA’s offer, he said, “Whose pension has been increased in this day and age?” Even Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter (D) thinks union demands are unreasonable. When Democratic politicians think the TWU is all ate up, they should take a look in the mirror. Those clowns should be happy they have jobs!

Just one question. Gov. Rendell says the contract with TWU Local 234 will be done with no increase in fares. So, where’s that 11% pay raise and 11% pension increase coming from? Why, it must be from taxes. Voters should wonder what tax increase is coming next. And then they can thank a transit worker.

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