SEPTA Acts On Employee Suggestions That Could Save $ 117 Million Per Year


SEPTA is sweating. This hefty federal pandemic aid will not last forever.

Thus, the transit agency adopts ideas of reducing operational costs generated by hundreds of employees, ranging from better timing of garbage collection at stations to reduce the cost of waste carriers to the software activation in 1,400 hybrid-electric buses to save diesel.

In total, SEPTA could save $ 117 million per year when the 150 suggestions are implemented, according to projections by officials in the authority and McKinsey & Co., the consulting firm that helped structure the effort to one-year brainstorming.

The task takes on a new urgency because ridership has not rebounded as much as SEPTA believed at the time, and the levels of transit funding at the state and federal levels are uncertain. Buses, subways and trolleys carry 49% of the passengers they carried in 2019, before the pandemic. Regional rail is at 29%.

“It is imperative that we become more efficient,” SEPTA Chairman of the Board Pat Deon said in an interview. “Time goes by and it all depends on how we manage our money. “

The state legislature has not budged on a new system for funding transit services, and President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill stalls in Congress amid power struggles over the limit national debt and conflicting priorities among Democratic lawmakers.

READ MORE: Will Republicans in Harrisburg save SEPTA and other transit agencies in time?

But SEPTA’s effort goes beyond political cycles and perennial transit funding issues. The agency hired McKinsey last October on a $ 7 million contract to help her make systemic changes to survive in the long term, even as she tries to figure out what a post-COVID transit agency should look like. 19, without a lot of data points.

“We could be hit by a meteor – after the last two years, who knows? Deon said, joking about the difficulty of making decisions during the ups and downs of the pandemic. “We need to be able to react faster and have greater agility [transit] service and staff.

Some transit advocates have ripped off SEPTA for spending so much on McKinsey’s advice as a shortage of bus drivers causes delays on many routes. Last year, the management company carried out a similar study for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York to explore possible post-COVID-19 scenarios. He has also worked with the Washington Underground System and the London Transit System.

»READ MORE: SEPTA votes a budget intended to push back the runners

SEPTA’s hybrid buses come with software that helps maximize fuel efficiency, in a way similar to “eco mode” in many cars, but it was not installed. Employees in the bus division suggested using the software, which switches between battery and diesel power to find maximum efficiency when a bus is accelerating.

“Acceleration uses a lot of fuel, so when you smooth that out you’ll save money,” said Erik Johanson, SEPTA’s director of operating budget, who worked closely on the effort.

Across the fleet, the software is expected to reduce diesel consumption by 5%, saving $ 1.6 million per year. Installation should be completed this month. About half of the buses at the Callowhill depot already use it, and SEPTA chief executive Leslie S. Richards said operators had not reported any decline in vehicle performance.

The agency also plans to check health benefits to make sure beneficiary information is up to date, potentially saving $ 4.5 million per year, based on the experiences of other agencies. public transport and government departments.

Other ideas: Ask SEPTA employees to make gearboxes themselves; the cost of the coin tripled during the pandemic supply chain growls. Expected savings: $ 193,000 per year. For years, agency technicians have been making parts for Market-Frankford trains that are safe but old enough that spare parts cannot be found.

“One way to look at the whole program is to tap into this culture and ethic of being disjointed and trying to export it throughout the organization,” Johanson said. “And give them the green light to do it.”

»READ MORE: SEPTA strives to bring regional rail fares closer to bus, metro and tram services

About 1,000 SEPTA employees contributed their ideas during the one-year process. McKinsey trained workers in creating a business case for a proposal and prepared 300 employees to become “initiative owners,” responsible for implementing changes, said Elizabeth Smith, executive director of SEPTA .

Ultimately, SEPTA hopes to save $ 48 million through employee schedule changes and redeployments between departments. No layoffs are expected, Johanson said. Streamlining purchasing is expected to save $ 22 million per year.

The 150 ideas should be implemented by October 2024. The idea is to continue to go beyond, which is why SEPTA is setting up an internal innovation office.

“We’re aiming for the long game,” said Smith, who also worked on the program. “It wasn’t an outside consultant telling people how to do their jobs better. It was an outside consultant who came in and helped them figure out how to do their jobs better.

Richards said: “There is a lot of uncertainty, but I can tell you that we are going to be different in the next few years.”


Margie D. Carlisle