This Sunday Mark Bowden wrote about how chronic underfunding and suburban neglect prevents SEPTA from expanding its system to meet coming energy crisis. Though he dances around the reasons why SEPTA is expected to pay its own way, I think his point that yearly funding crises interrupt plans to prepare for a post-oil world is correct. This is a point I have made my own studies of SEPTA. As early as the 1970s, when the Authority was just beginning to integrate its predecessor private companies, the state expected SEPTA to tighten its belt and solve its own fiscal problems like a private corporation. Except SEPTA had to deal with a fragmented patchwork of companies, labor agreements, and operating systems, not to mention competition from cars. From 1968-1983 was a crucial period for SEPTA and massive infusions of cash could have created a more versatile system, a more multi-directional system, a less spokes-on-a-wheel type system. If you want to read more about these missed opportunities click here.
Everyone is down on SEPTA but no one has ever considered the difficulty of melding various independent private transit systems into a cohesive whole. From a “long view” of SEPTA one can truly say they are “Serious About Change.”
This is precisely what I argue in this paper: a history of SEPTA’s bureaucratic formation from roughly 1958 to 1983. I urge transit buffs, Philadelphia historians, ex-PRR, RDG, and SEPTA officials to comment.