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July 05, 2016

Hey commuters, please be nice to SEPTA this summer

Yeah, this whole Regional Rail debacle will be insane, but safety came first for the transit agency

Opinion Transit
02262016_SEPTA_regional_rail_train_generic_TC Thom Carroll, File/PhillyVoice

SEPTA Regional Rail train.

It’s a dreary Tuesday morning. Commuters throughout the Delaware Valley are already grappling with the effects of SEPTA’s decision to remove a third of its Regional Rail fleet from service thanks to the chance discovery of a structural defect.

In an effort to spread word about the “unprecedented” removal of 120 trains from the tracks, transit agency officials have already warned customers to expect delays, sardine-can conditions onboard and assorted other inconveniences expected to linger through, at a minimum, August.

"Losing 13,000 seats during the day … you can do the math. They'll be packed," said Ron Hopkins, assistant general manager of operations for SEPTA during an afternoon press conference on a Fourth of July holiday that he'd likely have rather spent barbecuing with friends and family. "This is an evolving type of schedule and we will be adding trains as we can."

Simply put, this is a nightmare for commuters heading in and out of the city. That goes for those who ride Regional Rails. That goes for people who drive from areas along those lines. The trickle-down effect will impact us all.

A modified Saturday schedule put into use on weekdays means more people taking their cars.

More people in cars means more traffic on streets throughout the region.

More traffic on streets throughout the region means more patience will be tested.

More patience being tested means a higher likelihood of anger and frustration.

And a higher likelihood of anger and frustration means more mud will be flung at SEPTA, already an easy target for transportation-focused haters.

Here’s the thing, and I hope this thing becomes a mantra for those most heavily impacted by the Silverliner V Debacle of 2016: Folks, take it easy on SEPTA, and your fellow commuters.

I say this from a safety bubble of living in the city, and having trusty shortcuts that enable me to avoid – to a somewhat effective extent – heavily traveled roads, but we should be profusely thanking SEPTA for taking the steps that unfortunately resulted in looming transit horrors.

Shut up, Hickey, you might be muttering as you stand outside under gray skies, wondering whether your train will ever arrive this morning. You don’t know our pain.

Already this morning, commuters are reporting trains skipping stations and riders standing in train aisles for the trip to Center City. 

But to that, I ask you this: You know what would have really sucked? Hadn’t SEPTA randomly discovered equalizer beam cracks in the trains’ suspension systems, we could be talking today about a commuter train disaster instead.

Remember the horrors when Amtrak 188 derailed in Port Richmond? Yeah. Me too. And those are horrors I’d rather our region never faced again. While different, this isn't an apples vs. oranges comparison, and I don't think it was an overreaction based upon that horrible derailment.

By taking the steps it’s taken, SEPTA put passenger (and employee) safety first. I’m no fancy big-city transportation expert, but it doesn’t take a fancy big-city transportation expert to know that that is the right way to go about business.

But I also live in Philadelphia, and I know what happens when the patience of Philadelphians is tested.

So please, people, take it easy on SEPTA this summer. They don’t want this any more than you do. It’s going to be just as frustrating for them to face the challenges that lay ahead.

I realize I’m pleading for unprecedented levels of SEPTA sympathy here this morning, but desperate times call for such measures.

Be nice to fellow commuters, whether at the Regional Rail stop or on any number of roads that will be packed to the curbs by cars with horns, whether those commuters be driving, bicycling or walking.

Be nice to the SEPTA employees you encounter, for it’s not their fault, and they're bound to hear a bunch of sass for the next couple of months.

A chance discovery of a structural flaw may very well have saved lives. Remind yourself of that at the beginning or end of a long, long day, for that’s the most important thing of all. 

We'll get through this, and the less ticked off we are while doing so, the better off everybody will be.