PATCO riders face more climbing

The escalator at PATCO's Ashland station is out of service, as are elevators and escalators at more than half the system's stations.
The escalator at PATCO's Ashland station is out of service, as are elevators and escalators at more than half the system's stations. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 19, 2013

PATCO train passengers face more stair-climbing, and handicapped customers are encountering more obstacles, as elevators or escalators are broken at more than half of PATCO's 13 stations in Philadelphia and South Jersey.

PATCO says seven stations have out-of-service escalators or elevators, or both, continuing a summer of frustration for customers of the commuter rail line. Two more stations have no escalators or elevators.

It may take a while to get things fixed, as PATCO's contract for elevator and escalator maintenance lapsed at the end of July.

In the meantime, passengers are fuming.

"It's getting worse and worse," said Constance Lyford, 70, who lives in Center City near the 15th and Locust station and who frequently uses the Ashland and Collingswood stations in Camden County. She described herself as overweight with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and said, "It's pretty hard to get up and down stairs, and it's always a surprise to find I'm facing three flights of stairs when I was expecting an escalator."

Julie Still of Glenside said she helped a woman with a baby in a stroller up the stairs at the Eighth and Market station on Thursday when neither the escalator nor the elevator was operating.

"I held the front of the stroller, and she held the back. . . . We took up over half of the staircase, creating an obstacle," Still said. "It isn't safe."

"In cases like that, wheelchairs and strollers are stranded," she said.

"I think the escalators being out this long is a new low," said Tony DeSantis, 59, of Collingswood, a transit advocate. "When is it going to get fixed?"

He said the Ferry Avenue escalator had been broken for two weeks.

"They've made it very hard for people to use the system," he said. "It's very inconvenient for anyone who is elderly."

PATCO's goal is to have all escalators in operation at least 90 percent of the time and all elevators at least 97 percent of the time.

Recently, the rail line has missed that goal by a wide mark.

In June, PATCO escalators were out of service one-third of the time. The south escalator at the busy Eighth and Market station in Center City was out of service the entire month. The Westmont escalator in Haddon Township was shut down after numerous efforts to repair it; it awaits replacement of key parts.

The escalator at the 12th-13th and Locust station was so badly damaged in June it will be demolished and replaced, said John Rink, who became PATCO general manager in late 2011.

The numbers are not in for July, and things do not seem to be better this month, as PATCO listed these stations with broken conveyances on Friday:

Ashland - The escalator is out of service. There is no elevator.

Westmont - The escalator is listed as out of service, though it was operating Friday afternoon. There is no elevator.

Collingswood - The escalator is listed as down for repairs, though it was operating Friday afternoon. There is no elevator.

Broadway - The elevator and escalator at the west end of the platform are closed, awaiting repairs.

Eighth and Market - The south and north escalators are out of service, awaiting repairs.

13th and Locust - The escalator from the platform to the concourse level is shut down, pending demolition and replacement.

15th-16th and Locust - Both the elevator and the escalator from the platform to concourse level are out of service.

PATCO, a subsidiary of the Delaware River Port Authority, no longer has a contract for maintenance of its elevators and escalators, DRPA spokesman Tim Ireland said.

The agency's previous contract, with Otis Elevator Co., expired July 31.

"We are in the midst of a bidding process to hire a new elevator and escalator maintenance contractor," Ireland said. "The bids are due just after Labor Day. In the meantime, we're trying to find an interim contractor to maintain our elevators and escalators."

Jonathan Latko, chairman of the DRPA's citizens advisory committee, said he understood passengers' frustration and wondered why arrangements for a new maintenance contract had not been made before the old pact expired.

In the long term, PATCO plans to install elevators at all its stations. The elevators are supposed to be installed by 2017, at a cost of about $15 million.

The DRPA board last month approved a $1.9 million contract for design and construction monitoring of the new elevators. The contract was awarded to Sowinski Sullivan Architects of Sparta, N.J. Eighty percent of the money will come from the Federal Transit Administration.

The six PATCO stations that have no elevators installed or under construction are Ashland, Haddonfield, Westmont, Collingswood, and City Hall in Camden County and the 12th-13th and Locust station in Center City.

Two elevators will be installed at the City Hall and 12th-13th and Locust stations, and one at each of the four others.

An elevator was opened at Ferry Avenue in April, and the delayed opening of an elevator at Ninth-10th and Locust is now scheduled for late this month.

Meanwhile, DeSantis said, "It's pretty damned obvious what ought to be done. . . . They've got to speed up the process" for fixing the broken machines.

Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or

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