Some in suburbs hit hard by SEPTA strike

Posted: November 04, 2009

The SEPTA strike didn't just wreak havoc in Philadelphia yesterday. It also stranded and frustrated city residents trying to reach jobs in the suburbs or get back, and worried some businesses that rely on reverse commuters.

Marquita Powell, a nursing assistant at Greenleaf Nursing Home in Doylestown, was surprised to discover that the walkout had blocked her route home - and angered to learn that it had been timed to accommodate Phillies fans.

"This is a bit much," said Powell, 32. "SEPTA doesn't care about working people. All they care about is the game."

Powell, on the night shift, had to ask a coworker for a ride home. As they were preparing to leave, they ran into a colleague who was arriving by cab from Philadelphia.

"She said it cost her $75. It's not fair. I only make $105 a shift. That's taking food off my table," Powell said.

Walter Gordon tried to adjust to the walkout by catching the last bus to his Bucks County building-maintenance job. Instead, he found himself staring at idle buses at 3 a.m. at the Frankford Transportation Center, and worrying that his job "is going to go down the tubes."

"What about us little guys who barely, barely make it?" asked Gordon, 45, who said he was unsure how he was going to get back to his South Philadelphia home.

At the end of the workday, the pattern was much the same.

At 5:30 p.m., Mimi Waites had already been stuck for more than an hour at the 69th Street Terminal, waiting for a ride home from a friend of her brother's.

Waites, 21, is studying to be a licensed practical nurse at Pennsylvania Institute of Technology in Media. But after school yesterday, she got back as far as Upper Darby, and no farther, because of the city's idled transit workers.

"I can't help it that I can't afford a car," said Waites, who lives near 59th Street and Lansdowne Avenue. "We pay taxes, and we use this transportation. It's just been a real hectic day."

The impact was uneven at suburban businesses.

At the vast King of Prussia mall, all 400 stores managed to open on time even though up to a quarter of the mall's 6,000 employees use public transportation to get to work, said general manager Bob Hart. Many were apparently able to make do with the Regional Rail and suburban trolley lines that are still operating, he said.

"It's going to take employees and customers longer to get to the mall, but it can still happen," said Hart, who said he did not know how many workers start their days in Philadelphia.

Mall officials provided employees and customers with a memo outlining transportation alternatives such as SEPTA's R6 Norristown line, which connects to the Norristown High Speed Line trolley and, via the trolley, to suburban locations such as Villanova University and Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Hart said High Speed Line passengers could reach the mall via the Route 125 bus from Gulph Mills, which he was relieved to learn was still in service. "We're going to monitor the situation closely and see if we have to do anything further."

Businesses at Willow Grove Park Mall also reported few disruptions.

Derek Dimmick, manager of a Ruby Tuesday restaurant there, said "only a couple" of about 40 employees rely on SEPTA to reach work. "They found other means - family or friends," he said.

If the strike continues, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission offers a potential solution for stranded commuters: its Share-a-Ride program.

Elise Turner, a commission spokeswoman, said commuters may call 215-592-1800 or go to www.pacarpool.com to sign up.

"We don't manage any carpools or van pools," she said in an e-mail, but the service provides access to "a ride-match database" coordinated by a transportation-management association in each county.

According to the Web site, a commuter should receive a list of potential matches in two business days.


Contact staff writer Jeff Gelles

at 215-854-2776 or jgelles@phillynews.com.

Staff writers Joelle Farrell, Jennifer Lin, and Robert Moran contributed to this article.

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