A few words with SEPTA's general manager

Posted: March 04, 2014

How can it be that, even in the middle of winter, an underground concourse near SEPTA's Market East regional station smells like urine?

Because that's not SEPTA's space to maintain, replied Joseph M. Casey, 57, general manager of the transit agency.

"People say SEPTA stations smell like pee, and I say, 'Tell me where.' That has always irritated me," he said. "SEPTA's stations are clean."

SEPTA will soon take over concourse maintenance from the city, Casey said.

The nation's sixth-largest transit agency celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. For 32 of its 50 years, Casey has been an employee, moving up the ranks until he became general manager in 2008.

Question. Is this one of the worst winters?

Answer. Yes, the amount of snow. You get hit and you get hit and you get hit again. People don't understand. The first snow gets in our traction motors. Then it melts and burns out our traction motors. Then we are short cars the following week. These things are expensive and time-consuming to repair.

Q. In December, you and SEPTA received a nice present from the state legislature, dedicated capital funding that will, by 2018, allow you to double your capital budget to more than $600 million.

A. I'm just thrilled that for the first time in years, the future of SEPTA is extremely bright. It will help us rebuild the system.

Q. That was December. In September, you weren't singing the same carol.

A. The alternative was the dismantling of the system. For me to preside over that, it was disheartening. I don't know how I could [continue] living in this region if this [had] happened under my watch.

Q. How did the finances work?

A. Our capital budget was only about $300 million. Most properties our size spend about $1 billion in capital a year.

Q. What's first on your to-do list?

A. We have to fix our bridges. There are four bridges on the Media line. You literally had steel bars [on one bridge] that never tied in because they were corroded. We would have had to shut down the system within a year-and-a-half if we didn't get money. That was the worst.

Q. Any plans for the Center City subway station?

A. It's an absolute disgrace. It was built in 1928 and other than a coat of paint here or there, nothing's been done to it, so that has to be done.

Q. You commute by train from Elwyn on the Media line. What do you like to do while riding?

A. It used to be Sudoku. Now I'm on the iPad more.

Q. Since you now have a working commute, do you sit in the quiet car?

A. No. Because it's eerily quiet. You have 100 people in that car and you don't hear a sound.

Q. What irritates you most as a commuter?

A. People leaving trash on the vehicle. A woman left a cup of coffee on the train. Someone kicks it and I have coffee all over.

Q. When you see someone littering, do you speak up?

A. No, I go over and pick it up. It sends a message.

Q. What kind of car do you drive?

A. Kia Sorento.

Q. Does your car matter to you?

A. No. It has to be reliable and I need the trunk space to be big enough for my golf clubs.


JOSEPH CASEY

Title: General manager, SEPTA

Hometown: In Delaware County

Train station: Elwyn

Family: Wife, Carol; children, Lauren Hogan, 32, Colleen Evjen, 31, Michelle, 25, Sean (deceased). Three grandchildren.

Diplomas: Cardinal O'Hara High School, Drexel University, accounting.

Resume: Certified public accountant. Worked at Conrail before joining SEPTA.

Childhood ambition: Airline pilot.

Favorite beverage: Belgian beers.


SEPTA

Headquarters: Center City, Philadelphia.

Riders: 337 million annually, one million daily.

Vehicles: 2,350

Coverage area: 2,200 miles

Annual budget: $1.28 billion in operations, $308 million in capital.

Employees: 9,300

Next up: Contract expires March 14 for 5,000 members of Transport Workers Union Local 234. Negotiations in progress.


MORE ONLINE

Speaking of bathrooms, Joe Casey on building morale. www.inquirer.com/jobbing


Questions and answers have been edited for space.

jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen

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