Morning Headlines: Underground Transformer Fire Knocked Out Power in Center City

The Scoop: Plus, Blackwell proposes parking amnesty, audit says "brownouts" actually cost city money, more.


Photo | Philly 311

Good morning, Philadelphia. Here’s what you need to know:

An underground transformer fire plunged parts of Rittenhouse into darkness. What city officials called an underground transformer explosion caused a fire at the evening rush hour in the 2100 block of Walnut Street. According to a story on, the fire knocked out power to about 400 customers in the 2000 and 2100 blocks of Walnut Street; 6ABC reports that the outage even affected last night’s performance of Rain at the Merriam Theater. Several buildings surrounding the site of the fire were evacuated for about two hours. As of this morning, PECO’s outage map reports the probable cause as an “underground cable problem”; 91 customers remain without power, which the utility expects to restore by noon.

Blackwell proposes a parking fine amnesty. Got some old parking tickets that you never paid? If the tickets are three or more years old, a bill introduced into City Council by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell could take a load off your mind if it becomes law. But, as we reported, there’s a catch: The measure would forgive unpaid parking fines, fees and penalties from three or more years ago only if you pay the fines, fees and penalties on more recent tickets. Blackwell said the amnesty “will bring in money to the city and the School District,” the latter being the ultimate beneficiary of parking revenues. Should the bill become law, the amnesty would be offered in a 45- to 60-day window sometime before the end of this year.

Cabbies protest UberX and Lyft, again. Will this become a quarterly event? Yesterday at lunchtime, taxi and UberBlack limo drivers staged another drive-in protest against the UberX and Lyft ride-sharing services that tied up traffic around City Hall. This time, the drivers demanded a meeting with Mayor Jim Kenney, who sent a representative around 2 p.m. to hear their grievances. Those grievances were the same this time as last: They want the ride-sharing services to be regulated as they are or shut down. Protesters carried signs accusing Uber CEO Travis Kalanick of paying drivers poorly as well. Though the protest was peaceful, there were some minor altercations, including a contretemps between cabbies and a man who complained that cabbies didn’t pick up black passengers.

An audit finds “brownouts” cost the city money. In 2010, Mayor Michael Nutter implemented a policy of rolling temporary closures of city fire stations as a cost-cutting measure in response to a budget crunch; city firefighters criticized the move as endangering public safety. Yesterday, on the day Mayor Jim Kenney formally ended the policy, an audit released by City Controller Alan Butkovitz found that, instead of the $3.8 million in overtime savings Nutter said the policy would produce, the “brownouts” caused overtime costs to more than double over the four-year timespan of the policy. The report also repeated Butkovitz’s earlier finding that the policy increased fire response times, a charge Fire Department officials dispute. The department said the rolling closures were “the least bad option” available at the time.

True love will cost you big time around here. Valentine’s Day is Sunday, which means that lovers all over Philadelphia will have not only romance but big bills on their minds. At least that’s what a WalletHub survey of the 100 largest cities concludes. CBS3 reports that Philadelphia ranked 96th out of the 100 cities on the budget metric. Assuming one found a chocolatier or florist — the city also placed in the bottom half for gift accessibility — the chocolate hearts and flowers, it appears, will set you back, as will dinner and a movie. This year, on top of spending a ton of money, Valentine’s celebrators will also freeze their butts off celebrating, validating WalletHub’s ranking of Philadelphia as 46th in the Valentine’s Day Forecast category.

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