SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel on Body Cameras and Cheese Sandwiches

On Twitter, at least, SEPTA Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel might be the most gregarious police officer in the city, virtually palling around with journalists and regular citizens alike. (He runs neck and neck, digitally, with Philly Police Detective Joseph Murray.) He regularly posts photos of fare-jumpers being caught by his officers, appended with the #cheesesandwich hashtag — the cheese sandwich being what they serve you as a meal in jail.

But Nestel also takes his job seriously. He recently announced a pilot program to put body cameras on his officers — a move that should cheer civil libertarians who point out that similar programs have resulted in steep drops in complaints against officers where such systems are already used.

“I’d like to see a reduction in the incidents where we have to respond to resistance. I’d like to see a reduction in the number of complaints,” he told Philly Mag recently. “And I think that this would also be a tremendous tool to help us reduce court overtime, because with audio and video evidence, offenders are going to be more likely to plead guilty and minimize the number of times that we have to send officers to court.”

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SEPTA Trolleys Won’t Run Downtown for Half of August

J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

In order to do extensive work in the trolley tunnels, SEPTA will not be running trolleys underground from August 1st to August 18th. The trolleys will divert to 40th and Market streets. Riders will have to transfer to and from the Market-Frankford El at those spots. The route diversion effects the 10, 11, 13, 34 and 36 trolleys.

They’re calling it the “Trolley Tunnel Blitz.”

SEPTA says on its website that doing this track work over nights and weekends would take almost a year. But it can get all of the work done if it shuts down the trolleys downtown in one 17-day chunk. There are also El stops at 13th, 15th and 30th; riders who would’ve liked to board at another station will have to go to the El there.

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SEPTA Transit Cops to Test Out Wearing Body Cameras

Three SEPTA transit police officers will wear cameras on their bodies as part of a pilot program starting this week. They’re wearing cameras from VidMic, the most common officer-mounted camera, which clips on to the shoulder radio cops already wear.

Officer cameras, SEPTA Transit Police Chief Thomas Nestel says, can actually cut costs for police departments: “Having video evidence can help us reduce complaints, help us reduce use-of-force incidents and reduce court overtime.” But, were all 275 SEPTA cops to wear cameras, the force would need additional staff to go through and catalog hours and hours of footage. Yo, the city could be hiring soon!

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North Philly Residents Chase Down Driver of Cadillac That Hit Bus

Residents of North Philadelphia chased down the driver of a Cadillac that had hit a CCT bus, causing it to overturn. The driver has been arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

According to witnesses, the driver ran a red light at Sixth and Cambria, slamming into the bus. Five were sent to area hospitals after the paratransit bus overturned.

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Transit Roundup: Fans at PATCO Stops, Delaware SEPTA Petition and More

There’s so much tiny little transit news today I’m compiling it all into one post. Let’s do this, people.

PATCO Will Soon Have Fans

No, PATCO doesn’t have a large cheering section headed to a station. But it is installing actual fans — the kind that circulate air — at two Center City stations. The 9th/10th and 12th/13th stops will get fans by the end of next week.

Due to reduced service caused by the extensive track work on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, PATCO is operating fewer trains this summer. Riders are being forced to stand on the platforms longer and, well, it’s been quite hot recently. The fans should help a little, I guess.

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DUI Arrests Are Going Down in Philadelphia, Especially for Millennials

Computer wonk Nate Good recently released a few infographics about DUIs in Philly. Here’s the trend: From April 2013 to the end of the year, DUIs declined 11 percent. Looking at Good’s charts, DUIs have been trending downward for the last few years.

Anecdotally, this makes sense. First, the obvious: Mass transit ridership is way up — SEPTA had its highest ridership in 57 years in 2013 — and fewer people driving means fewer DUIs. But even if a side effect of fewer people driving is a reduction in DUIs, that’s a nice side effect.

Good is from Pittsburgh; there, he’s a proponent of (sigh) “e-hailing” services like Uber and Lyft. They were both recently banned in that city by the state’s Public Utilities Commission. He believes the drop in Philadelphia is partially due the ubiquity and availability of these apps. In Philadelphia, unlike Pittsburgh, the PPA regulates taxis — and only Sidecar was kicked out of Philly. (UberX, the company’s lower-cost option, only operates in South Jersey; Lyft doesn’t operate here.)

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10 Commandments of Riding SEPTA in a Heat Wave

SEPTAbus48-driving-behind-taxi

When Martha and the Vandellas sang, “It’s like a heatwave, burning in my heart,” they weren’t talking about Philadelphia in July. In Philadelphia, the heat waves tend to burn every where except our hearts: On the sidewalks, on our skin and in the crowded public corridors of city living. Nowhere is this more evident than on public transit. Frequent commuters know that the rules of riding SEPTA are often unspoken, but they hang in the air even when the humidity level drops below 98 percent. These rules, like our affection for the Phillies, change seasonally. (For the winter dos and don’ts, click here.)

Here, a rundown of how to keep your commute peaceful and, hopefully, just a little bit less gross:

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Morning Headlines: City Is Giving a Pass to Its Worst Tax Deadbeat

Photo | Ben Schumin.

Photo | Ben Schumin.

When you think of people who owe property taxes, you imagine an out-of-town landlord who doesn’t care that his blighted building is falling apart. You don’t tend to think of a major public agency that owes millions of dollars, but that’s the story here: SEPTA owes the city almost $22 million. Given that much of the city’s property taxes go to the schools, and given that the city is ready to sell its soul to fund the schools, it’s a bit of a surprise to learn it’s giving SEPTA a pass on that hefty bill.

It doesn’t seem as though the city necessarily wanted this to become public. Here’s how philly.com’s Sam Wood puts it:

A new 30-year agreement between the transit agency and city goes into effect on July 1 and it absolves SEPTA of the requirement to make good on the delinquency, which came to light in data collected by an economist at Penn’s Fels Institute of Government. Philly.com recently obtained the data.

And here’s the least persuasive answer to the question of why SEPTA hasn’t paid its taxes–an answer that sounds like something a kid would say when asked why he didn’t turn in his homework:

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SEPTA Overnight Trains a Hit: Ridership Up 40 to 59 Percent in First Full Weekend

Photo | Ben Schumin.

Photo | Ben Schumin, Wikimedia Commons.

Apparently, all those people who signed petitions asking SEPTA to run the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines all night really did prefer taking the train rather than the bus home after a night on the town.

According to SEPTA spokesperson Manny Smith, figures for the first full weekend of overnight rapid transit service show ridership jumps of 40 to 59 percent compared to baseline ridership for the Night Owl buses.

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