Campus & Region

By Monica Burke
November 12, 2009

Commuter’s tempers flared and patience was running low at the start of day two of the SEPTA transit strike. Just after 7 a.m., whatever patience travelers had left for the SEPTA organization went up in smoke with the first car of the R5 Paoli-Thorndale line. Leaves have been blamed for the fire that suspended all service on the R5 Paoli line until after 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

The Septa strike, which began at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, left commuters throughout the city and the surrounding counties stranded and scrambling for ways to get to and from where they need to go. The car fire on the R5, which services Cabrini students at the Radnor station, only created more problems and delays for the overly crowded regional rail, the only public transit running during the strike.

SEPTA’s regional rail connects the suburbs with service to Center City, Philadelphia. There are stops at 30th Street Station, Suburban Station and Market East Station. The scene inside Suburban station on Wednesday evening was chaotic with frustrated commuters packing the cattle-pen like structures that led to the platforms. Delays were as long as 90 minutes for the Chestnut Hill East train going to Trenton.

“There isn’t anything we can do about the situation so I’ve just been making the best of it. One thing I have noticed is that the delay has people slowing down, not by choice, but you are getting a chance to talk to your fellow commuters,” Jack Crawford, a graduate student at Villanova who works in Center City, said.

His observations were correct. Conversations on the R5 platform could be overheard with some commuters commiserating on the length of what is normally a speedy and efficient commute. Some were discussing the Phillies’ loss, the stock market and business in their respective fields.

One thing the strike did was bring people together. “During a normal trip home I would move as quickly as possible to get on the train, put my headphones in and have a quiet ride home, this week is different for some reason. I guess it’s nice to know that everyone is in the same boat as me,” Crawford said.

By Friday the morning trains were running with minimal delays, grumbling passengers had settled into a routine of being inconvenienced by the strike and SEPTA workers were better prepared to handle the influx of additional traffic. “I have been through three strikes since I came to work here in 1998. They all start the same, very disorganized and chaotic because we aren’t entirely sure what to anticipate. Passengers who aren’t familiar with regional rail have a rough time learning routes that are new to them. Usually, in my opinion by the second or third day things are routine. You know what to expect,” Jeanne Robinson, a SEPTA employee for 10 years who works in the Wynnewood ticket office, said.

The evening rush hour on Friday was a scene of controlled chaos with SEPTA employees shouting over massive crowds flocking to the lines for their platform. Commuters seemed to know the drill by the end of the week and joined long lines armed with more patience then at the start of the week.

SEPTA has been on strike three times since 1998, a track record that is alarming when big cities like New York and Washington D.C. are touting the efficiency of their public transportation systems. It has also affected an estimated 54,000 public and parochial school students who take SEPTA to school. “Our expectations are for students and employees to do their best to come to school,” school district spokesman Fernando Gallard said. “We’re just hoping for the best here.”

The strike ended on Monday, Nov. 9 following union negotiations.

Monica Burke

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