PATCO’s Saturday service will run more frequently starting April 9th, reducing headways between trains from 25 minutes to 20 minutes, said PATCO General Manager John Rink following this morning’s DRPA board meeting.
The increased service follows the completion of track rehabilitation work ends on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in January. Major track maintenance work on the Westmont Viaduct prevents running trains faster than every 20 minutes on Saturdays, said Rink, who added that PATCO was now running two-car trains on Saturdays, rather than single car trains. The increase effectively means three trains per hour instead of just two.
While official figures are still pending, Rink said that PATCO saw a big ridership boost over the last two weekends thanks to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s annual flower show. PATCO ran four-car trains every 15 minutes. For comparison, PATCO now runs 12 minute headways on weekdays.
The DRPA board authorized staff to apply for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to reopen the long-shuttered station underneath Franklin Square. DRPA seeks $14.2 million from the federal government to help pay for the $26.2 million project.
This is the DRPA’s second attempt in securing TIGER grants for Franklin Square station: A request last year for $21 million was rejected. Bill Shanahan, director of government relations at DRPA, said the authority was requesting less money to increase the application’s competitiveness. DRPA would cover the balance.
The highly competitive TIGER grant program is a lasting legacy of the 2008 stimulus package. Now in it’s 8th round, the program distributes $500 million a year in matching funds to local transportation authorities for “shovel ready” construction projects. In last year’s 7th round, a trio of trail and traffic safety projects in Philadelphia received $10 million.
The DRPA set aside $500,000 in this year’s capital budget to hire a design firm to draw up blueprints for the station’s rehabilitation and construction of new entrances, but that contract has yet to be put out for bid.
Franklin Square Station was closed in 1979 due to low usage. A feasibility study in 2015 estimated that a reopened Franklin Square would attract 1,300 daily riders, but that almost all of them would be existing riders who currently use the station at 8th and Market. The 2015 study, an $500,000 update of similarly expensive studies conducted in 2009 and 2003, found that overall PATCO ridership would actually decline slightly if the station reopened, due to longer commute times. Around 38,000 passengers take PATCO daily.
The Board also okayed one, single labor resolution allowing two top level employees take on side gigs. A 2012 board resolution requires any employee at the director level or above clear outside employment offers before taking on the work. Chief Engineer Mike Venuto will teach a civil engineering class at Rowan University as an adjunct professor, and Stephen Reiners, director of fleet management, will umpire baseball and referee basketball and soccer games.
That the DRPA labor committee takes both the outside employment and Little League seriously enough to require a formal board resolution isn’t really noteworthy. What the board didn’t consider is: union contracts.
Union officials effectively blocked a pay raise for DRPA CEO John Hanson back in January, when sympathetic board members with labor ties listened to their complaints regarding the lack of a labor agreement with the authority. The unions representing the DRPA have gone seven years without a contract, a period roughly coinciding with Governor Chris Christie’s tenure.
DRPA officials traveled to Trenton in February in the hopes of advancing labor negotiations with the Christie administration, which has used its power to veto DRPA board resolutions in the past to block the restoration of some employee perks. But, so far, no official progress has been made. Earlier this month, the DRPA’s labor committee met entirely in executive session, meaning no press were allowed or public minutes kept.
PlanPhilly was unable to ask DRPA Chairman Ryan Boyer or Vice Chairman Jeff Nash about the lack of developments on the union contracts before they left the meeting.
The union contract has been a major issue of contention for John Dougherty, the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 who often attends DRPA board meetings as a delegate on behalf of ex-officio commissioner Eugene DePasquale, Pennsylvania’s Auditor General. Dougherty, who was recently involved in a street brawl that police are still investigating, did not attend today’s meeting. Victoria Madden, the auditor general’s chief counsel, attended instead, via telephone.