The Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, better known as SEPTA, faces a $62.2 million dollar deficit. If the proposed cuts are implemented, trains would not run to Swarthmore after 5:00 p.m. or at all on weekends. While the cuts have been pushed back to February 27, they still are a distinct possibility if SEPTA does not receive additional funding.
SEPTA operates at a loss, and requires state funding to make up the difference. The state requires that they end the fiscal year (June 30) with a balanced budget, so either massive cuts or additional money is needed. The state legislature has been slow to act, and early proposals fell short of the money required.
The proposed cuts would raise fares 25 percent. Trains would be cut 20 percent, with all trains running after 5:00 and all weekend trains eliminated. Subway fares within Philadelphia would rise from $1.25 to $2, equal to those of New York City’s much larger subway system. SEPTA expects to lose 18 percent of its passengers if the cuts are eliminated, spokesman John McGee told the Associated Press.
The board voted on the cuts last November, and the original date on implementation was January 24, next Monday. In late December, Governor (and former Philadelphia mayor) Ed Rendell promised $13 million to SEPTA, and the board voted on December 30 to delay the cuts until February 27, in the hopes that a full solution will materialize by then.
On January 10, state Republican leaders met with Rendell to discuss the issue. Rendell has pushed for additional funds, even offering legislators a pay raise in exchange. However, no deal was made, and the Republican-dominated Legislature (whose power comes mostly from rural areas) claims that Rendell cares only about urban issues. Rendell supports a plan by Democratic legislator Dwight Evans that would raise motor vehicle fees, and would benefit both SEPTA and Pittsburgh transportation.
On January 12, the new Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, composer of labor and business groups and led by the AFL-CIO, began a campaign to stop the cuts. They are spearheading a massive call/write/e-mail your legislator campaign, and plan a Valentine’s Day march on Harrisburg if the situation is not remedied by then.
Note: This is the first of a two part series of articles on the SEPTA crisis. The second will explore the impact the cuts would have on the Swarthmore community and what students are doing to stop it.