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My Day With GM Joe Casey

Alex Reiner
SEPTA Senior Project Engineer

After being notified by the Building a SEPTA Customer Service Culture's (BASCSC) Action Team Three that I had been selected to shadow General Manager Joe Casey, I was told to make sure that I had a suit ready and a pair of running shoes on hand to keep up with him. I arrived at Joe's office at 8:30 a.m. just as his executive assistant, Ann Gaffney, delivered his agenda for the day. His schedule had him addressing a number of pressing matters and attending meetings with executive staff and board members. Shortly thereafter, his office became a revolving door for many of the Assistant General Managers (AGM's) and higher-level management throughout the Authority.

SEPTA Chief Financial Officer, Rich Burnfield came in first to prepare Joe for his first meeting of the day with executive staff about the Authority's real estate taxes. After witnessing the interaction between Joe and his staff, it became clear that many of his decisions dealt with the Authority's financial matters. Having previously served as CFO of SEPTA, these matters were definitely within his area of expertise. Joe made it very clear that he maintains a high level of confidence in his staff and he routinely relies on their judgment and knowledge to make the best decisions on behalf of the Authority.

Soon after we stepped out of the meeting, Media Relations Director Jerri Williams walked in to discuss a news article which placed our company in a bad light. Joe said he occasionally has to defend the Authority against unsubstantiated claims. He told Jerri that he wanted to write a column to personally address the issue.

As much as I enjoyed getting to see Joe in action, I really appreciated the down time between meetings to converse with him about current issues facing the Authority and to gain deeper insight into his professional experiences at SEPTA. One such conversation was centered on how he plans to utilize the recent funding received by the passage of ACT 89, a dedicated funding source for capital improvements. Although SEPTA is in a much better financial situation than in previous years, we still must ensure that the capital funding is being handled in an effective manner. Joe said that he plans to make sure that his employees have all of the necessary resources and tools to do just that.

We also discussed the day-to-day interaction that he has with employees. He mentioned that he doesn't get to visit all of the facilities as much as he would like, but he admires the professionalism and pride that employees in the field take in their work. He informed me that the individuals on the front lines of SEPTA have a much larger impact on the customers overall experience than he does and he greatly appreciates their efforts.

Joe also asked what I most enjoy about working at SEPTA. I responded that although I work as a Structural Engineer within SEPTA's Engineering Maintenance & Construction (EM&C) Division's Buildings and Bridges group, I have really appreciated the opportunities to work in the field with the construction group's within the Regional Rail (RRD), City Transit CTD) and Suburban Transit (STD) Divisions. Although I might be responsible for the design of a repair on a project, it is the construction forces that get the job done. Having the hands-on opportunities to work with the welders, masons, carpenters and laborers in the field has definitely been the highlight for me at SEPTA. And I want to thank all of the foreman and EM&C personnel in the RRD, CTD and STD divisions for all of their hard work. It is greatly appreciated.

SEPTA's AGM of Operations Ron Hopkins met with Joe to review his upcoming presentation regarding CCT (Customized Community Transportation) for individuals with disabilities and Senior Citizens. During Joe's review of the presentation, I caught a glance of the "Current State of the Regional Rail Line" chart created by Deputy General Manager (DGM) Jeff Knueppel that detailed the lines with the most pressing issues. The Media/Elwyn Line needed the most work. It would have received reduced service and possibly service suspensions, if SEPTA had not received the dedicated capital-funding source provided by the passage of ACT 89. Fortunately, through the efforts of the Board, GM Joe Casey, DGM Jeff Knueppel and other executive staff members SEPTA's "doomsday scenario" never became a reality.

Next we attended Joe's executive staff meeting where he addressed all of his AGM staff and other senior level staff members. Joe quickly went through his agenda, and gathered all of the feedback from SEPTA's AGM's, and other high-level management personnel within SEPTA.

Later in the morning, Joe introduced me to Board Chairman Pat Deon who definitely eased the situation by making a few jokes prior to asking me a few questions about my background and how I have enjoyed working at SEPTA. He proceeded to ask me why I wanted to shadow Joe for the day and I replied that I wanted to become an AGM or possibly the GM of SEPTA one day.

Next we attended the executive session of the board meeting held prior to the public board meeting. At the meeting I took a seat next to a familiar face, Bob Lund AGM of (EM&C). During the executive session, Joe sits at one end of the conference table, and the Board Chairman Pat Deon sits on the other. Prior to giving his updates to the Board, Joe introduced me as SEPTA's GM Shadow for the day. Rina Cutler-Philadelphia's Deputy Mayor of Transportation, among others, asked me about my role within the Authority and about my experiences at SEPTA.

Joe informed the board about SEPTA's real estate tax issues, labor negotiations with the TWU local 234, and then introduced Ron Hopkins who gave a presentation on improving CCT services by implementing GPS tracking. Ron's presentation demonstrated how the implementation of tablets and cloud based software will make the CCT service more efficient, and reduce the number of default riders.

When it was time for the regular monthly board meeting, I took a seat with the general public. DGM Jeff Knueppel announced the authorization to award a contract for procurement for Media/Elwyn Line Superstructure repairs (at Cobbs and Darby Creek). And it was very rewarding to see the announcement of a project that myself and many others at SEPTA have been involved in for the past few months. The superstructure repairs at both Cobbs & Darby Creek Viaducts are part of a larger group of "Catching-Up" projects scheduled over the next few years to ensure the safe passage of customers for years to come. The funding for these projects can be attributed to the dedicated funding source provided by ACT 89.

Also during the board meeting, Joe announced that SEPTA's Executive Board Chair, Pasquale "Pat" T. Deon Sr. will be recognized by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) with the Outstanding Public Transportation Member Award at their October 2014 annual meeting in Houston, Texas. This is a well-deserved award for a man who has gone to bat for SEPTA countless times, and who has helped ensure a bright future for public transportation in the Southeastern Pennsylvania, and surrounding regions.

After the Board meeting Joe and I headed back to his office to share a few words about the day. We finished the day off with a conversation about the importance of family, and the role they play in supporting our professional careers.

GM Shadow Contest winner Alex Reiner sits behind General Manager Joe Casey's desk.

SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey informs Alex of their next meeting.

SEPTA AGM Of Operations Ron Hopkins (left) reviews his presentation about improving CCT service with General Manager Joe Casey and his shadow for the day, Alex Reiner.

General Manager Joe Casey introduces Alex to Chairman of the Board Pasquale T. "Pat" Deon.

AGM of EM&C Bob Lund (left), Alex Reiner (center) and General Manager Joe Casey (right) pause for a photo after the board meeting.