Time for one more Gambaccini story. James C. Schwartzman, a board member since 1991, once owned a company that sold advertising on jitneys down the shore, so he wondered why cash-poor SEPTA was the only transit agency he knew that had no ads.
"Lou told me, 'We will never have transit advertising at SEPTA while I'm here,' " Schwartzman said.
"I said, 'Why not? It produces millions in revenue.' Lou said something like, 'Transit advertising will ruin the aesthetics of my buses.' I thought, 'You got to be [frickin'] kidding me. Who thinks there are any aesthetics to your buses?' "
Eventually, the board saw Schwartzman's logic, and SEPTA has made more than $10 million a year from advertising ever since.
A big accomplishment during Deon's tenure has been the cessation of hostilities between the 15-member board's 13 suburban members and two city members.
Rina Cutler, who was appointed to the board by Mayor Nutter five years ago, said, "It was very clear to me that the city and SEPTA spent a long time poking each other in the eye, and that this relationship was not useful.
"I came from Boston, where people have such a love affair with transit, they wear T-shirts with an MBTA [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority] route map on them," Cutler said. "That model didn't exist here."
Cutler said she and Deon "have a healthy respect" for one another and "we don't poke each other in the eyes anymore."
Cutler (so famous for her combativeness that SEPTA's assistant general manager, Fran Kelly, quipped, "Pat should get a Purple Heart for dealing with Rina") said: "I could have decided I'm going to be a bulldog here, make a lot of demands. But it's better to be a sheepdog, herding folks in the right direction. Over time, trust develops."
Hearing Boston-bred Cutler's comments, Kelly cautioned a Daily News reporter, "Just make sure you spell SEPTA right, because she puts an 'R' at the end."
New trains, buses
SEPTA's chief financial officer, Richard Burnfield, said the Deon-era board's commitment to running SEPTA like a business with balanced budgets has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding that riders enjoy through new Silverliner V regional-rail cars ($330 million), 440 new hybrid buses ($232 million) and beautifully rebuilt subway stations such as Spring Garden and Girard ($30 million).
Burnfield said it's all about constant vigilance.
"We can't operate empty buses and go to Harrisburg and ask for money," he said. "So every year, we rank the bus routes from best to worst performing, and consider what to do about the worst. Even if only five people use a route, 100 people will come to the public meeting and tell us, 'We ride that bus.' You do? Well, gee, I haven't seen you there for a couple years."
Burnfield said SEPTA got $191 million in President Obama's federal stimulus funding because the farsighted board approved money to engineer big-ticket projects long before Congress approved the money to do them.
"We were able to do 32 projects because Pat and the board approved engineering them immediately after the  presidential election," he said.
There was no parade down Broad Street when SEPTA won its 2012 national championship, no Pat Deon sitting atop the Budweiser wagon pulled by Clydesdales like Pat "The Bat" Burrell when the Phillies won in 2008.
That's OK with Deon. SEPTA's riders make 339.4 million trips a year.
"When I first came here, this was just a pitiful operation," Deon said. "For myself and the board, it was like turning around an ocean liner. But we did it."
Of course, the ocean liner's captain never stops scanning the horizon, looking for icebergs.
SEPTA's next high-stakes gamble is the long-awaited, $180 million New Payment Technology debit, credit or prepaid smart-card system to make buying a ride as simple as buying a cup of Wawa coffee.
Buses, trolleys and subway stations are being wired now. Pilot testing begins this fall for a 2014 public debut.
Deon said the new brand-name smart card will be a godsend to SEPTA's riders, including those who don't use banks. "Why should they pay $900 a year in fees at check-chasing trailers?" he said, when they can directly deposit their checks into the new smart cards and pay all their bills without exorbitant fees.