Concerned citizens gathered at the Regency Ballroom in the Loews Hotel Tuesday evening to voice their concerns over SEPTA’s planned rate-hikes and service cuts.
Facing a $62 million budget shortfall for 2005, SEPTA proposed raising fares by an average of 25 percent and cutting all weekend service, among other measures, to balance their budget. A panel of four SEPTA administrators and a moderator presided over the public hearing.
The hearing began with testimony from SEPTA in the form of a slide presentation.
“SEPTA’s fiscal dilemma results from the lack of a dedicated, predictable subsidy sources to meet operating expenses that grow every year,” the presentation explained.
Administrators said SEPTA’s operating budget is funded by revenue received from fares paid by customers and subsidies from state, local and federal governments. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires that revenues cover at least half of SEPTA’s operating expenses.
One of the first in the audience to speak was Peter Javsicas, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Transportations Solutions and a member of the steering committee for the Philadelphia Transit Coalition, an organization of community activists working to improve public transit in the Philadelphia area.
Javsicas asked if there were any legislators or city council members in attendance; one of the panel members replied that he is a county commissioner in Bucks County. Javiscas echoed SEPTA’s statement saying that funding from a dedicated source, provided by the state, is the only way to save public transportation in Philadelphia.
Another member of the Philadelphia Transit Coalition, Marc Stier, said citizens should not be talking to SEPTA, they should be talking to Governor Rendell and Pennsylvania state legislators because “they’re the ones who hold the fate of SEPTA in their hands.”
Participation from those in attendance was often heated as people described their SEPTA woes. Erica Brown, a Temple student who works two jobs and depends on SEPTA to get to campus, emphatically asked the panel, “What are you doing? What are you doing?”
Olina Walker, a healthcare worker in Philadelphia, expressed her frustration at SEPTA for “making the public bear the brunt every time they have a crisis.”
Lucille Bell of Philadelphia said she remembers when two tokens cost 35 cents. “My father drove a bus for PTC. It took him 15 minutes to get from 54th Street and Woodland Avenue to Center City. Now it takes 25 minutes, and the driver’s got an attitude.” She added, “You want us to pay more, but you’re not giving us any more!”
According to the Brookings Institution Series on Transportation Reform, published in June 2004, SEPTA received only 13.75 percent of its funding from a dedicated subsidy last year. The rest of the subsidies come from money appropriated by the state on a year-to-year basis, without any guarantee according to SEPTA’s testimony.
Philadelphia gets much less funding than other cities like Boston, which gets 49.3 percent of its funding from a dedicated source, and Dallas, which gets 86.8 percent, according to the Brookings Institution.
SEPTA’s panel said without a dedicated funding source from the state, their budget shortfalls will continue to grow. With no additional state funding, the budget shortfall for next year is projected to be $92 million and to grow to $296 million by 2010.
For more information visit www.phillytransit.com.
Brendan Keegan may be reached at email@example.com.