Monday, September 13, 2004


Since the Duo of Doom's announcement that SEPTA would make draconian cuts next year if Harrisburg didn't find more state funding (in the non-governmental world, some would call that extortion), quite a few articles have come out across the region. Here's a samping of the reaction to SEPTA's game of chicken with Harrisburg:

Friday, 10 September: Philadelphia Daily News (a fully-paid subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee) with comments from Emperor Street (and yet another dis at the suburbs for which he's become famous for):

But later in the day, Mayor Street said that the city opposes SEPTA's plan for drastic cuts.

He complained that the city uses SEPTA much more and pays a much larger share of the transit authority's local government subsidy than suburban counties do, yet is hit the hardest when SEPTA raises fares or cuts services.

In fiscal year 2004, Philadelphia contributed $53.5 million, which is 80 percent, of the region's $67 million SEPTA subsidy.

"We don't think it's fair for SEPTA to now gouge our riders," Street said. "These are the people who are helping to pay the freight for SEPTA."

Street recalled that Gov. Rendell initiated an external audit of SEPTA's books last year when the agency was threatening fare hikes and service cuts.

Rendell's office said yesterday that the audit, started in May, 2003, is still not completed.

While Street agreed that SEPTA needs a dedicated source of funding, he said he would urge Rendell to consider a "complete overhaul" of how the agency handles its finances and how it is governed.

The city has only two representatives on SEPTA's 15-member board of directors, which is dominated by appointees from the surrounding counties.

"We don't have much of a say in SEPTA anymore," Street said. "It's basically run by suburbanites. I don't think we get a fair share on return in our investment in SEPTA."
Someone send Emperor Street a crying towel.

The Emperor's reaction is par for the course, as Street comes off as more hostile to the suburbs than any other mayor in recent memory. Perhaps someone should remind the Emperor that a significant majority of people who work in Center City are from the suburbs. There'd probably be more people coming into Philadelphia to work if he had bothered to reform the city's tax structure.

Friday, 10 September: Bucks County Courier Times

"If these cutbacks are enacted, it's not only going to be an economic disaster for the Philadelphia region, but also very hard for people who never use public transportation," said Peter Javsicas, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Transportation Solutions, a mass transit advocacy group.

He predicted traffic jams caused by people who used to commute on SEPTA and difficulties accessing weekend events if the transit agency's proposal to hike fares and cut weekend service goes into effect.

SEPTA passengers take about 296.7 million trips a year, according to the authority's 2004 budget. And a large number of these passengers use SEPTA for all their travel, said Richard Voith, senior vice president of Econsult Corp., a Philadelphia consulting group that deals with transportation issues.

If the cuts are enacted, the whole region will be a less attractive place to live and work, he said. The communications industry, law firms and universities tend to locate in dense urban and suburban areas with good public transportation, Voith said.

"Usually we just complain about SEPTA, but they have done their best. They have been providing relatively high levels of service with less and less money," Voith said. "We, as a region, should get behind them to support additional funding."

People who depend on public transportation already are aware of the cuts' potential impacts, Javsicas said. But they're not the only ones who will feel the crunch.

"This is going to increase the number of people having to find other options, which will be cars," said Aaron Firestone, policy analyst for Pennsylvania's Clean Air Council. While his organization worries about the pollution that will result, Firestone said the proposal is worrisome for senior citizens who no longer can drive and workers who can't afford cars and depend on mass transit to get to work.

"Cuts like this won't be an acceptable solution to this problem," he said. "There will be environmental, social and economic impacts."

The proposed service reductions may deal a blow to the region's tourism. While most visitors drive to Bucks County, those going to Philadelphia for an evening excursion or a day trip often take SEPTA's regional rail service, said Keith Toler, executive director of the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau.

"It's bad enough that service stops at midnight," he said. (The current proposal would reduce service after 8 p.m.) "I understand that $70 million is a lot of money to make up, but I'm not sure if this is the right way to go about it."
Friday, 10 September - Norristown Times-Herald

While (Montgomery County Commissioner and SEPTA Board Member Thomas J.) Ellis said that efforts were made to "spread the pain," county Commissioner Ruth S. Damsker said the proposed service cutbacks and fare increases amount to "class warfare."

"Not everyone can afford a car and insurance," said Damsker, noting that many low-income residents in the region depend on mass transit to get them to and from their jobs.

Ellis said that about 80 percent of people living in the suburbs have cars while only about 40 percent of those living in the city own cars.

"We need a dedicated funding source," said Damsker, adding that state law bars any use of gas tax money for mass transit. "We do not need less mass transit, we need more."

Funding mass transit should be a high priority for both the state and federal government, said Damsker.

Without mass transit, fewer people can get to their jobs, she said. This can result in unemployment that then causes homelessness and other social problems such as alcoholism, she said. In the end, it is cheaper to fund mass transit than spend additional money to cure these social problems, according to Damsker.

"I would like to see a permanent funding source," said Commissioners Chairman James R. Matthews, adding that this "chest beating" by SEPTA each year for additional dollars from the state "is getting old."

"Mass transit is a quality of life issue and is essential to our economic status," said Matthews.
Perhaps Damsker has been taking public speaking lessons from Emperor Street...

Friday, 10 September - Delaware County Daily Times:

Tom Killion, R-168, of Middletown, a former SEPTA board member, said the only good news "..s that this is effective Jan. 1, so we have some time to see what we can do to prevent these devastating cuts."

"As a former SEPTA board member, I understand firsthand the position they’re in, in having to pass a balanced budget when they have no large base of dedicated funding outside the fare box," Killion said.

"The cuts as outlined (Thursday) by SEPTA would be devastating to Delaware County and the regional economy," Killion said.

"Therefore, we have to work together on a solution to SEPTA’s funding crisis."
Saturday, 11 September - Inquirer:

She doesn't own a car and she can't afford cab fare. Like many other public transportation riders, Tanya Hunter doesn't merely use SEPTA, she depends on it.

"If they take off the service on the weekends, people will suffer," said Hunter, 36, of North Philadelphia. "Especially low-income people."

Alice Carr, who has been using SEPTA for 18 years to get from her home in Southwest Philadelphia to her job with a catering company near the Philadelphia International Airport, said yesterday that she believes him.

"They're the only bus company in town," said Carr, 48. "When they say they're going on strike, they go. When they say they're going to raise fares, they do."

Irving Briddell said his job would be in jeopardy.

"Without SEPTA, I don't know what I'd do," Briddell, 52, of Germantown, said yesterday as he boarded the G bus at Broad and Oregon Streets on the last leg of his three-bus ride to work in Southwest Philadelphia. "I've been at my job for six years and I rely on SEPTA to get there."

Hunter, a single mother of nine children, said SEPTA enabled her to go from welfare to work.

"People are trying to get off welfare," she said. "They're getting jobs. But now, how are they going to get there?"
Other articles:

SEPTA riders react to the news Daily Times

Uneasy Riders Courier Times

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