With no hope in sight of acquiring badly needed funds from the state, the South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is now poised to make drastic cuts that are going to make life more difficult for many students.
The legislative year ended last Tuesday night without approval of dedicated funding for mass transit, paving the way for SEPTA to make good on its promise to cut service, raise rates and layoff thousands of workers to cope with its $62 million budget deficit. At a meeting on Thursday, SEPTA’s board voted to postpone any decisions on the proposed cuts.
It’s not the first time SEPTA has found itself in a fiscal crisis, but it is arguably the most serious one in its 36-year history.
If emergency funding does not come through, the agency says it will cut all weekend service, scale back service during the week by 20 percent and raise fares by 25 percent. Under the new rates, a $2 subway or bus ride will cost $2.50. Residents of the city in need of a ride across town on a Saturday afternoon may soon have to rely on taxicabs or their feet to get them there.
Among many groups affected by the looming service cuts are college students, 15,000 of whom use public transit daily, according to SEPTA. Between students who commute to Temple from the suburbs and students living on campus without cars, SEPTA provides a necessary service to many Temple students.
“If they cut service, then I might have to drive in, because I have a job and I can’t really wait around for the train to come,” said Tina Indeglio, a broadcast telecommunications and mass media major who commutes to Temple by train.
“Driving is a pain, because I have to pay at least $9 to park on campus and then traffic is horrible, plus gas. The train is a lot more convenient,” she said.
Like many others, Indeglio is concerned about her ability to make it to classes on time next semester if a solution to the SEPTA crisis is not found.
“Some days, I have to wait almost an hour for the train to come,” said Indeglio. “If they cut service, there’s no telling how long I’ll have to wait.”
All hope is not yet lost, according to experts. Governor Ed Rendell has proposed cutting back on road projects in order to keep SEPTA afloat and state legislators like Senator Stewart Greenleaf and Representative Dwight Evans will continue their efforts to save SEPTA once the legislature reconvenes in late January.
“In the long run, I think a permanent solution will be found to this problem,” said Dr. Joseph McLaughlin, associate professor of political science at Temple and assistant dean for external and governmental affairs of the College of Liberal Arts. “But I think we’re talking at least June of next year before we get to that point. The governor may be the only one who can do something right now.”
In the absence of a successful intervention by Rendell, SEPTA riders will have to make do with less service and higher costs, with the earliest chance for relief coming at the end of the upcoming legislative session. Because the legislature tends to deal with major fiscal issues at the end of the session, the earliest the problem could then be resolved would be June 2005.
McLaughlin, like scores of other faculty and students at Temple, is troubled by the seemingly imminent cuts.
“I take SEPTA to work everyday, and I know a lot of students do,” McLaughlin said. “It won’t be good,”
John Titlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.