I was waiting for an afternoon train at the SEPTA Market East regional rail station Friday, March 16, the day of the last winter storm. The icy weather motivated many people to avoid the roads in favor of public transportation that day. As the train pulled in a few minutes late, eager R6 riders watched as it came and went without stopping.
It was already filled to capacity at two stops into the ride.
This incident, though not completely uncommon in similar circumstances, typifies one of SEPTA’s major weaknesses: a lack of preparedness. With perennial budget problems comes the inability to make adjustments to changing daily demands. And, just in time for summer, next year’s coffer is looking bare once more.
Facing an anticipated budget deficit of $130 million for the upcoming fiscal year, SEPTA recently proposed two options to address their financial problems.
Plan A assumes SEPTA will receive $100 million in government subsidies and consists of modest fare hikes to generate an additional $29 million. For the transit division, this means tokens and transfers would cost a few extra cents. Regional rail fares would rise as little as 50 cents to as much as a dollar. Pass prices would rise accordingly. Service levels, however, would remain the same.
Plan B assumes SEPTA receives no help from the government, and results in 20 percent
service reductions, job layoffs and higher fares than Plan A.
Both plans have simplification proposals that would mitigate price increases by eliminating two regional rail fare zones and discontinuing transfers. Expect confusion to follow.If the state doesn’t come through with emergency funds or a long-term solution, one of these fine options will become a reality starting July 1.Gov. Ed Rendell’s solutions to state-wide transportation funding shortages are a proposed tax on oil profits and the leasing of the turnpike, neither of which would likely come into effect by July 1.
For now, it looks like gas prices won’t be the only thing to rise this summer. Of course, fans of hot, expensive commutes in close quarters need not worry.For a city and a region so dependent on SEPTA, it seems that politicians are failing to preserve and revitalize an integral part of this city’s ability to function and grow.
All the ambitious talk in the last year about making the city economically attractive with casinos, waterfront development and Center City expansion depends on a steady stream of workers and visitors.
A study by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission shows an increase in public transportation ridership since 2000 and the first decrease in automobile traffic in the city in decades. Just one rush-hour drive on I-76 or I-95 (or an attempt to find parking anywhere in the city) proves how unfriendly this city is to driving.
Subways and trains are often comfortably filled.
So how will all these new workers and residents that city planners are so desperate to attract get around on two subway lines? There’s more to Philadelphia than Broad Street and Market Street.
Imagine being able to take a subway to the Italian Market, a trolley to the Art Museum, or a train to just about anywhere in the region at a reasonable price. The point is to just use our imaginations and think of something better for the city instead of settling for less.
SEPTA service should be growing and fares should be dropping, not the opposite. Expanded, affordable public transportation is the only way to bring new businesses, investors and citizens to Philadelphia to help make this a truly great place to live.It’s time for this city to grow up.
It’s time for Gov. Rendell, the former mayor, to show some loyalty and find a solution for the city and its people. The long-term benefits will far outweigh the costs.
Brian Krier can be reached at