‘C’ ya?


Right now, the fate of the Broad Street Route C bus lies in the hands of 15 people.

Those people — three women and 12 men — make up SEPTA’s board of directors. When the board meets again on June 26, one of the decisions it could make is whether to grind the Route C bus to a screeching halt, confirmed SEPTA spokesperson Jim Whitaker.

On Monday, SEPTA held two public hearings on its highly publicized proposed fare increases and service cutbacks. Petitions bearing thousands of signatures to oppose the plan were submitted at the forums.

One of the most contested proposals is the elimination of the Route C bus. The bus operates in two branches: one from Cheltenham and Ogontz avenues in West Oak Lane to Olney Terminal or City Hall; the other from Fern Rock Transportation Center to South Philly.

According to Whitaker, 17,500 people ride the C bus daily, and it connects with about 40 other bus routes in the city.

In addition to the Route C bus, SEPTA is considering a halt to the 47M bus route and the permanent conversion of trackless trolley routes 29 and 79 to diesel bus. The ax is also posed to fall on the R1 Airport line, the R6 Cynwyd and the R8 Chestnut Hill West lines.

SEPTA has maintained that cuts and fare increases are needed to steady its staggering budget.

Whitaker said SEPTA expects a $55-million budget shortfall for the fiscal year 2004, which begins July 1. The solution, according to the transit agency, is to slash $25 million in services, raise $15 million through fare hikes and realize another $15 million with cost-cutting in the next fiscal year.

SEPTA contends C bus riders can simply take the Broad Street subway. But if only it were that easy, advocates argue.

The subway is not a viable option for the elderly and physically challenged, many of whom cannot climb or have trouble climbing steps, according to the Action Alliance for Senior Citizens, which has vocally protested the changes.

Council President Anna Verna also has opposed the proposed cutbacks in SEPTA service and testified about the impact on older residents at Monday’s hearing.

But it’s not only senior citizens and the disabled who have issues with the subway.

Saaliha El lives in Germantown, but plans to move to South Philly soon. For the past couple of months, she’s been looking for a job here. She also attends a mosque at 15th and Catharine streets, so El relies on the Route C bus to get her to the many places she needs to go.

The 34-year-old said she would rather avoid the subway, even though it travels the same route as the C bus.

"A lot of people just feel more comfortable taking the bus," El said.

For her part, El prefers being above ground where she can see everything around her, and said it’s more convenient. When she attends religious classes at her mosque several times a week, El gets off at the bus stop at Ellsworth and Federal and then walks the short distance to the religious center. One time, she took the subway to her mosque and had an eight-block walk from the stop, she said.

El will ride the Broad Street Line if she has to, but she’s not happy about it.

"Cut something else! Why do you always have to cut the things that affect commuters the most? Why are they taking away something we need and use the most?" she posed.

If SEPTA’s board decides to do away with the Route C bus, a lot of South Philly commuters will have to rearrange their lifestyles.

Rebecca Jones turns 70 next month. The senior lives in North Philly, but relies on the Route C bus to get to her heart doctor in South Philly. Should the route disappear, Jones said she might resort to taking Paratransit — something she’d rather not do because the SEPTA-contracted service hasn’t been completely reliable in the past. Jones, who suffers from numerous health problems, added she is not opposed to taking the Broad Street subway and will do so if she has no other option.

In the end, commuters might not be the only ones affected by the proposed elimination of some routes. It would stand to reason that some SEPTA jobs are in jeopardy.

But Whitaker says "that’s a question that has not been addressed at this point. We have not determined if anybody, or how many people, will lose their jobs yet. It all depends on what the SEPTA board decides to do."