The Remarkable Story of How Philly Turned Around its Transit Agency

Over the last two decades, SEPTA has transformed itself from debt-mired subject of federal investigation to "the best damn transit agency in the U.S. of A." Dan Geringer explores how the agency's chairman has turned the ship around.
February 27, 2013, 12pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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By completely changing the office and business culture of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Pat Deon, chairman of SEPTA's board of directors, has executed one of the most remarkable transformations in transit governance.

When Deon joined the board in the mid-1990s, "The perception of SEPTA was that it was fat, inefficient, slothful, a black hole into which money was being poured," says Michael J. O'Donoghue, a board member for 18 years before retiring in 2012. But under Deon's leadership, SEPTA has not once run up a deficit, and "has been audited by government officials more than a dozen times and has come up lean and clean," writes Geringer. Last year, the agency was recognized by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) with the Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award - "the Oscar of the subway/bus/trolley world".

"SEPTA's chief financial officer, Richard Burnfield, said the Deon-era board's commitment to running SEPTA like a business with balanced budgets has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding that riders enjoy through new Silverliner V regional-rail cars ($330 million), 440 new hybrid buses ($232 million) and beautifully rebuilt subway stations such as Spring Garden and Girard ($30 million)."

"When I first came here, this was just a pitiful operation," Deon said. "For myself and the board, it was like turning around an ocean liner. But we did it."

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Published on Tuesday, February 26, 2013 in
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