200 southeastern Pa. transit police go on strike

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia police and public transit officials say increased security is planned in response to a walkout Wednesday by about 200 transit police officers who cover the system’s subways, trains, buses and trolleys.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority officials said supervisors, private security and police officers will help assure safety on the system in light of the walkout called by the Fraternal Order of Transit Police.

“We do not anticipate this labor action will affect any transit operations whatsoever,” SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said. “In the city, in the suburbs and underground all our systems will be operating normally.”

SEPTA is the nation’s sixth-largest public transportation system, with a weekday average of 1.18 million riders. It offers bus, trolley, subway or regional train service in Philadelphia, four Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey and Delaware.

Maloney called the walkout “totally unnecessary” and said the agency was given only 20 minutes notice. He said the key sticking point has been pensions, and he hopes negotiations will resume soon.

Police said they will deploy additional personnel at two dozen critical spots along Philadelphia’s Broad Street and at elevated line stops from about 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. to provide extra security at school dismissal times and during rush hour. Deputy Commissioner William Blackburn said police also plan frequent unscheduled checks on buses and other critical points on the system.

“We don’t feel this is going to have any impact on our staffing, as we speak. We don’t anticipate any types of problems,” he said.

SEPTA officials also said supervisors will work 12-hour shifts and a private firm will provide 20 security guards during the day and 20 more during evening hours. Additional security will be provided by suburban and New Jersey police forces, as well as officers from Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, officials said.

“In collaboration with Philadelphia’s police department and area police departments, and the utilization of non-represented supervisory police personnel, we think we have adequate coverage to protect all of our passengers until this action is completed,” SEPTA Transit Police Chief Richard Evans said.

Fraternal Order of Transit Police president Richard Neal Jr. said the union did not want to strike but the company had “forced our hand.”

Union spokesman Anthony Ingargiola said members are ready to return to the bargaining table but have not heard from management.

SEPTA was idled for six days in November 2009 when about 5,000 SEPTA workers walked off the job in a dispute centered around pension benefits.

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