A measure of a city’s character hinges on how well it treats its senior citizens. In Philly, one aspect of that is how easy it is for senior citizens to travel from their homes to the rest of the city. And on that front, Customized Community Transportation, the elderly-focused paratransit service supervised by SEPTA, leaves a lot to be desired.
CCT, a private service contracted to three different companies by SEPTA for about $80 million, provides transportation for challenged seniors, the disabled and those fraught with sickness. CCT transports over 3,500 riders a day, a disproportionate share of whom is indeed elderly, given Philadelphia’s growing aging population.
Reality Check recently received a sudden spurt of calls from frustrated listeners sharing experiences of lackluster CCT customer service, enough to prompt the need for further exploration into the contracted service’s performance. A quick, non-scientific Google review glance found a depressing 1.7 rating, with combined comments suggesting CCT drivers and dispatchers aren’t all that excited about what they do.
At the moment—and we hope this changes soon—neither SEPTA nor city government is making any effort to seriously capture transportation troubles faced by Philadelphia seniors, much less any insight into CCT performance. There are no annual reports, no occasional data points or infographics that offer us a snapshot into the populations served by the paratransit agency and how they’re being served.
That lack of transparency is telling; the most we get from SEPTA is the annual revenue and ridership reports, obligatory and hastily constructed PDFs that give little impression it’s a valued exercise at a major regional transportation agency. All we can glean from the latest report is that about 16 percent of transit and rail riders are senior citizens—curiously enough, it’s not clear how many disabled persons use SEPTA conventional services and paratransit.
But CCT Connect is so rife with issues that a stream of both users and advocates lined up to testify about it before the City Council Committee on Transportation and Public Utilities back in January, complaining about inconvenient scheduling, long wait times and unsympathetic drivers.
SEPTA, which said the percentage of on-time rides had increased slightly, hired a consultant to look into the issue and suggest changes, has not publicly released the results of its investigation.
Reality Check will follow up on this issue, with SEPTA and City Council, over the next few weeks, to get some answers.
Meanwhile, City Council itself isn’t making this a priority.
Reality Check spoke to Councilman-at-Large Al Taubenberger more than two weeks ago about it, right after one listener randomly called in to expose mistreatment by CCT Connect drivers. We thought that if anyone could offer official insight, it would be the Council’s Committee on Aging chairman. Taubenberger, however, had about as much information about CCT Connect and SEPTA’s overall performance on senior ridership as we did … which isn’t saying much.
Two weeks later, that same listener (“Sandra from West Oak Lane”) still awaits a response from Taubenberger staff to her email highlighting her own personal experiences with lapses in CCT Connect services. Reality Check reached out directly to Taubenberger by email for follow-up, as well, and has yet to hear back. We’ll chalk it up as a normal Thanksgiving holiday glitch.
CCT Connect is so rife with issues that a stream of both users and advocates lined up to testify about it before the City Council Committee on Transportation and Public Utilities back in January
It’s not like Council has any real oversight over SEPTA, despite the city’s $65 million local contribution to the tattered transportation system. But it doesn’t bode well for Philly seniors if one of their main representative bodies isn’t making much noise over SEPTA’s unwillingness to correct the issue.
Policymakers are looking mighty negligent at this stage. According to the Philadelphia Corporation on Aging (which doesn’t seem to do a whole bunch on it, either), there are more than 291,000 60-plus seniors living in Philadelphia; three quarters are dealing with a chronic illness, 33 percent suffer from a lack of basic necessities and nearly 47 percent live in poverty. Overall, seniors account for nearly 20 percent of the city population; seniors in poverty account for nearly 9 percent of the city population.
Based on SEPTA data, seniors are 16 percent of the 730,000 daily system riders or 116,800. More than 40 percent of the 60-plus senior population relies on SEPTA. Lack of transparency or clarity from SEPTA’s monthly revenue and ridership report and its contractor CCT gives us very little insight into how many out of that population rely on paratransit. No one at SEPTA is making any kind of effort to translate these numbers for public consumption. Forget about what the general public might want to know, the data we have is chicken-scratched for auditors, accountants and wonks only.
If you ask me, that’s a crisis. Pennsylvania already has the fourth-highest statewide senior population in the nation, and Philadelphia hosts the highest share. If we’re bracing for a global population scenario where 75 percent of the world’s seniors will reside in metropolitan centers, then Philadelphia isn’t prepared for that—despite the oddly-calculated 62 rating for senior livability from AARP. If current paratransit drivers can’t treat the senior and disabled population with the compassion needed then perhaps it’s time to either show them the door, axe the CCT contract or pursue creative partnerships with ride sharing companies, like in Boston.
SEPTA, seems ill-prepared—and lack of urgency on its part suggests it also seems okay with that. Increased oversight and penalties from both SEPTA and Council could alleviate the challenges, but the city just casually shirks the moral and practical economic responsibility it has to its seniors.
Everyone wants the senior vote, but no one is really interested in their cries for help. That has to stop.
Charles D. Ellison is Executive Producer and Host of “Reality Check,” which airs Monday–Thursday, 4-7 p.m. on WURD Radio (96.1FM/900AM). Check out The Citizen’s weekly segment on his show every Tuesday at 6 p.m. Ellison is also Principal of B|E Strategy, the Washington Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune and Contributing Politics Editor to TheRoot.com. Catch him if you can @ellisonreport on Twitter.Header Photo: Allan Bergman for Flickr