SEPTA is facing a deficit of more than $70 million for the fiscal
year that begins in July, and that does not include money for
well-deserved raises for SEPTA workers.
New state funding for public transportation in our region remains
a critical need. The relatively low level of funding Pennsylvania
historically has provided for public transportation has not kept
pace with inflation over the last decade.
Whether or not we take public transportation, we all depend upon
it in some way. If SEPTA is forced to drastically cut back service,
our roads could become horribly clogged with cars. Our hopes of
spurring economic development, particularly in older, established
communities, would be stymied. A healthy environment would be
impossible to sustain. And low-income residents and senior citizens,
as well as students, would suffer unfairly.
This year, SEPTA has dispensed with the theatrics over its
budget. Last year, the agency threatened to adopt a budget that
contained draconian reductions in service, including shutting down
the R8 and R1 trains and the C bus in Philadelphia. SEPTA's threats
led to some increased pressure on Harrisburg, but there was an
SEPTA generated an enormous amount of anger in the city. But most
of it was directed at SEPTA itself, not at the state's failure to
adequately fund transportation. Some of that anger was well
deserved. SEPTA has long been criticized for its inefficiencies, and
some of its proposals - such as its plan to cease operating the R8
train - were justified by faulty analysis and dubious accounting.
(The decision SEPTA made in November to cut off-peak service on the
R8 line was based upon the same errors.)
The outpouring of anger distracted residents and some community
activists from focusing attention on the immediate problem we faced
last year, when Gov. Rendell proposed, and Republicans in the
General Assembly adopted, a budget that reduced transit funding.
Those of us who have been lobbying in Harrisburg found that
SEPTA's charade had untoward effects in the capitol. SEPTA has a
terrible reputation in Harrisburg. And the prime reason is that
senators, representatives and their aides most often read about
SEPTA in the newspaper when we community activists are criticizing
SEPTA has come to recognize that its dysfunctional relationship
with residents in our region has undermined support for public
transportation. This year it has avoided scare tactics and sought
help from residents, businesses and some community activists in its
effort to get new funding from the state.
SEPTA could do more to repair its relationship with the
communities it serves, particularly by working with activists to
encourage new ridership. But right now, we have to work together to
win more state support.
Legislative support for transit remains strong among those
closest to the issue. Republican and Democratic leaders of the
transportation committees recognize the need. Serious proposals have
been floated for increasing the sales tax revenue dedicated to
public transportation and for increasing the taxes on tires or
rental cars. Other proposals have been put forward so that any
increase in the gas tax to fund road construction or repairs would
also shift funds to public transit.
To make these proposals reality, we need our legislators to work
together to create bipartisan support for public transportation. We
need the leaders of the General Assembly to become engaged in this
issue. We need Gov. Rendell to recognize that his hopes for a New
Pennsylvania will flounder without adequate public
Most of all, we need the residents of Greater Philadelphia to
match SEPTA's newfound political maturity. We need to fight
alongside SEPTA for new funding for public transportation. Our
political representatives need to hear from us. Write, call, and
e-mail them. And join transportation activists who plan to
demonstrate at the State Office Building, Broad and Spring Garden
Streets, at 4:30 p.m. on June 8.
Marc Stier is president of the community
group West Mount Airy Neighbors and founder of the Northwest
Campaign for Public Transportation.