In today's editions - nearly two weeks after SEPTA's bombshell announcement of draconian service cuts and fare hikes - the DLN finally got around to running a story on SEPTA's embarassing situation:
SEPTA, however, never seems to get that message...
SEPTA’s recent announcement that it may have to increase fares and to reduce services to balance its budget could have repercussions for Chester County residents.
"Balancing a budget by reducing services or increasing costs to those people least able to sustain existence is just totally misguided," said Bob Holliday, manager of business development for United Way of Chester County.
Residents who rely on public transportation will lose access to their jobs and to the services they need, he said.
"In Chester County, the people who will be hurt the most are those who are poor, young or elderly who depend on the public transportation to get to work or to church or to do other activities," said Commissioner Andrew Dinniman.Fortunately, Dinniman's comments aren't as divisive as those of fellow Democrat and Montgomery County Commissioner Ruth Damsker.
SEPTA must pass a balanced budget by law. As a result, its combined savings from its proposed measures must equal $62.2 million, the estimated deficit of its 2005 operating budget.This, we already knew.
"Accessibility, especially in Chester County, is just far and away mentioned as a limitation," said Holliday. "It really does hurt all of us even though it takes a while to catch up."
However, he said the consequences of the cuts could be felt in a matter of weeks.
According to a press release, SEPTA would implement the cost-cutting measures no later than Jan. 1.
"The problem lies in the failure of the state Legislature to provide adequate funding for SEPTA," Dinniman said.As to whether Mr. Holliday's "leadership issue" remark was directed at SEPTA or at Harrisburg is a little unclear, but either way, it's fairly accurate.
In June, the SEPTA board adopted a $919.7 million budget with a $70 million deficit. The state Legislature adopted a budget in July that included an additional state and local subsidy of $7.8 million more than Gov. Rendell’s budget proposal.
"I think it’s a leadership issue, not a budget issue," said Holliday.
There's even some debate in Harrisburg within the State Senate that could derail the two bills currently under consideration.
State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-12th, of Montgomery County, has introduced legislation that would redistribute a portion of the sales tax to bail out more than 70 cash-strapped mass transit agencies, including SEPTA, statewide.Thompson, by the way, is one of the co-sponsors of Greenleaf's bill in the senate.
However, said state Sen. Robert J. Thompson, R-19th, of West Goshen, the proposed legislation would set aside money that has been earmarked for other expenditures.
"We do need an overall solution to the issue," said Thompson, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "But we also need one that doesn’t play havoc with the rest of the general fund budget."
Dinniman said reduced public transportation services will be as detrimental to motorists as they will be to those without cars.As noted before, there really hasn't been anything fair about Fearless Leader's management of SEPTA...
"The solution to traffic congestion is not going to be solved by simply building more lanes of highways," he said. "There has to be a strong public transportation system, as well."
SEPTA officials said they are reluctant to implement the proposals.
"These contingency measures are contrary to every aspect of the mission of this transit authority. We should be expanding the system -- not dismantling it. There is nothing fair in this agonizing process," said Faye Moore, SEPTA general manager, in a press release.
Thursday evening, commuters at the Paoli train station on SEPTA’s R5 line, which carries 17,900 passengers between Philadelphia and Thorndale on weekdays, were dismayed about the proposed rate increases. However, some said SEPTA still would remain their best option for transportation into Center City.Bear in mind that most of the interviewees can probably afford to pay the fare increase. The rest of transit riders living in the county - mainly those who take the 92, 99, 104, 133, 204, 206, and 314 - can't afford this fare hike. It's interesting how the DLN forgot to ask bus riders for their views.
"I’d probably have to just bite the bullet and do it," said Doug Miller of Willistown, who teaches at Temple University School of Law. "We’re a one-car family, and my wife needs the car during the day."
John Kyle of East Goshen, an internal auditor for Sunoco, said he still would prefer to ride on SEPTA than to drive into Philadelphia.
"I really hate driving in because of the traffic," he said. "I think it’s bad for people that they don’t have transportation, especially people that live in the city."
Even with a 25 percent rate increase, Kyle said, it would be more economical for him to take the train than to pay for parking in Center City.
Stephanie Newcomb of Phoenixville, who was waiting in her car to pick up her husband, Craig, said he just started riding the R5 train two weeks ago.
"Right now we’re weighing the stress of driving into the city with the ease of taking the train," she said.
She said her husband, a program analyst at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, was thinking of buying a monthly pass.
Even though Penn might pay a percentage of his rail pass, she said, the rate hikes might make him reconsider.
Under SEPTA’s proposal, the cost of a $126.50 monthly rail pass would increase to $154.
Chester County's hearing will take place on October 18 at West Chester Borough Hall. I presume that the DLN will be there, but don't count on it...