Things in the South Jersey public transportation scene are a bit strange this morning. Paul Nussbaum writes in an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer today that the Delaware River Port Authority board approved $7.5 million worth of improvements and fixes for its PATCO train line into Philadelphia that includes upgrading electronic signs in stations that haven’t displayed relevant train information in years, replacing old security cameras that may not have been working this whole time (yikes), and creating a five year contract for SEPTA crews to fix and maintain PATCO’s regularly broken escalators.
Overall, good news. These are solid upgrades that improve customer satisfaction and safety. Unfortunately, the article ends on a frustrating note. Nussbaum writes that newly reappointed board member and infamous Philadelphia electrician’s union boss John Dougherty, last on the board in 2011, started his new role by asking for the results of studies he wanted done in 2010 regarding the feasibility of selling PATCO to a private company and investigating how many Pennsylvanians work for the authority.
Let’s put this into perspective. John Dougherty, a Democrat and union boss from Pennsylvania, is still harping on selling one of South Jersey’s greatest public assets, willing to put our only direct link to the heart of the region into the hands of a for-profit corporation, while John Hanson, a Republican from New Jersey and the new head of the port authority, focuses on customer satisfaction and upgrading the train line to better serve its riders. This is confusing, and somewhat infuriating.
I happen to firmly believe that privatization is not the right course for certain things in our country, and that for-profit motives sometimes do not line up with serving the general public good. Public transportation is one of those areas, so it’s maddening to see Dougherty bring this up years after this idea met with wide disapproval, even within the DRPA board itself. Putting a guy who obviously has no interest in serving public transit users on a board of an organization that has a long history of running public transit is a curious, frustrating move that honestly only looks political from where I’m sitting. Instead of filling the board with custodians of our shared transportation assets, friends of politicians once again get put into power positions when they have no qualifications of expertise in the area.
As Next City has written about the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, port authorities have the tendency to be a den of scandal, impropriety, and nepotism. DRPA has had it share of scandals over the years, most notably one involving toll and fare payer money being given to political connected organizations in the form of “economic development” (moves that the federal government is currently investigating). This move by John Dougherty shows that shenanigans that have nothing to do with improving regional transportation are hardly over.