Tuesday, October 26, 2004


The following is portions of an email sent to me from DVARP's Matthew Mitchell regarding comments in the Bucks County Courier Times (emphasis added):

Please make sure the record on your blog reflects the fact that the CourierTimes reporter misquoted me regarding the impact of the proposed cuts on the SEPTA budget.

The cuts amount to 30 to 36 percent of SEPTA service(*), not 36 percent ofthe budget. As I explained to (Courier-Times reporter) Alison Hawkes at least twice in our phone call, the impact of the cuts on the budget is reduced because of lost fare revenue and because SEPTA has legitimate overhead and other expenses that are less dependent on the amount of service run. I thought I'd stressed the importance of that to her.

By the time you account for that, and for the ridership losses that will follow from a fare increase, I estimate the total impact on the bottom lineof the budget to be about $150 million (16 or 17 percent of a $900 million total), where the budget deficit is $62 million (less than 7 percent of the total). Thus DVARP's conclusion that SEPTA is significantly overstating the magnitude of cuts needed to balance the budget.

Also, the quote ending "we better make the threats louder" could taken out of context. DVARP has not drawn any conclusions about why SEPTA chose to threaten such drastic cuts, but the belief that the threats are being pumped up in order to scare people into action is what we hear most frequently. SEPTA has denied that this is their motivation.

The article did correctly note that we say SEPTA has a real problem and SEPTA has a genuine need increased state operating support. There is no painless way to close this gap in SEPTA's budget. See "Needed: Dedicated & Predictable State Funding for Transit"...

But we believe that SEPTA is hurting its own credibility by making such dire threats with so little justification. We think this is counterproductive to the interest of securing adequate and predictable state funding.

I hope the correction puts Maloney at ease, but if it doesn't, there's not much else I can do. The SEPTA response ought not be to shoot the messenger, but to level with the public about how cuts of this scale are justified, and to start implementing internal economies as the performance review suggested instead of continuing to trade on cuts made nearly a decade ago.

*--note that we've had to estimate the impact of these proposed cuts, since SEPTA provided so little documentation to justify them or to predict their impact. Obviously there's some uncertainty in these figures, but not so much as to cause any doubt that SEPTA's proposal is an overreaction to a genuine problem. Also, we are making a conservative estimate of the budget impact of these cuts, by assuming SEPTA does nothing to target the cuts so they have the least effect on the riding public. Matthew Mitchell; DVARP

There certainly seems to be a grain of truth regarding SEPTA's response to criticism. A follow-up post on the thin skin of Fearless Leader and the Rotating Resumes at 1234 Market is forthcoming...

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