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For now, PATCO to pay SEPTA to again fix escalators

Stymied again in their efforts to fix broken escalators at commuter train stations in Center City and South Jersey, PATCO officials on Wednesday agreed to pay SEPTA $100,000 to do the work.

Stymied again in their efforts to fix broken escalators at commuter train stations in Center City and South Jersey, PATCO officials on Wednesday agreed to pay SEPTA $100,000 to do the work.

By Wednesday afternoon, SEPTA crews were working on escalators at the Ashland and Lindenwold stations in New Jersey and on an elevator at the Eighth and Market station in Center City.

A $1.39 million maintenance contract approved in September with the escalators' manufacturer has fallen through, leaving PATCO back where it was after the previous repair contract was allowed to lapse in July.

PATCO's inability to keep its escalators and elevators running has angered commuters and prompted the Federal Transit Administration to investigate whether PATCO was failing to meet federal requirements to make its trains accessible to handicapped customers.

On Wednesday, six of PATCO's 14 escalators were out of service. At the 11 escalator-equipped stations, five had broken escalators.

Some escalators have been out of service for months, leaving riders to trudge up crowded stairs or seek out elevators, which can carry only a handful of people. Two elevators were broken Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the board of directors of PATCO and its parent, the Delaware River Port Authority, approved a $100,000 repair contract with SEPTA through June 1.

Unlike PATCO, SEPTA has its own maintenance crews, who attend SEPTA's 49 escalators and 87 elevators.

PATCO officials said Wednesday that they were considering asking SEPTA to permanently take on repair duties on at least some of PATCO's escalators and elevators.

"We are discussing it," said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams. "It may be feasible in Philadelphia.

"A lack of maintenance was what created this issue," Williams said. "We now recognize the amount of work that needs to be done."

DRPA chief executive John Matheussen said PATCO would begin the process of seeking bids for a long-term escalator and elevator repair contract, now that a $1.39 million contract approved by the board in September has collapsed.

It could take six months to get a new contractor.

The contract with Fujitec America Inc., the manufacturer of most of PATCO's escalators, fell through when the company declined to agree to all of PATCO's requirements, Matheussen said.

PATCO said this week that some escalators might be beyond repair and could have to be replaced. That process could take nine months or more.

Jeffrey L. Nash, the Camden County freeholder who is vice chairman of the DRPA, said Wednesday that commuters "are so frustrated" by broken escalators and a lack of information from the agency about what it was doing to fix them.

Matheussen promised that PATCO "will do more" to inform riders with signs, fliers, and electronic media. He said, "There will be some inconveniences ... but there is nothing much we can do about it."

Commuters were not happy.

Bill Patterson of Somerdale, who uses the Ashland station with its frequently broken escalator, said he and his wife "are sufficiently healthy to be able to use the stairs, but as we age, we become much more conscious of the difficulties that others have in using the stairs.

"It is beyond my comprehension how we can allow this to be done to our elderly and handicapped."

Center City legal secretary Lynn Lukaszewski, who commutes from Cherry Hill's Woodcrest station, said:

"Amazing, nine months. They could build a new station in less time than that. ... I think they should change their name to Abbott and Costello Transit Authority."