DVARP's statement (pdf file) at the SEPTA hearing in Philadelphia recieved additional press coverage from the Courier-Times (full disclosure note: I am a dues paying member of DVARP, but post this blog with opinions and comments that are my own and do not represent their views as a group):
SEPTA has overblown its funding crisis by proposing service cuts and fare hikes well above what's necessary to meet its budget gap next year, a Delaware Valley public transit watchdog group said Tuesday.That sounds about right...
The Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers analyzed SEPTA's budgets and found that agency proposals to eliminate all weekend service, reduce weekday service by 20 percent and raise fares by 25 percent amounts to two to three times more in savings and increased funding than is necessary to close a $62 million shortfall.
While not disputing that the nation's fifth largest public transit agency faces a serious money crisis, the group said SEPTA hadn't bothered to implement some basic belt-tightening measures recommended by a management audit earlier this year. Among them, certain purchasing procedures and employee scheduling.
"It's somewhat unproductive because all that does is undermine their credibility about the real problem," said Matthew Mitchell, a DVARP board member and 10-year research analyst in healthcare policy. "The rationale for that explanation is that the threats from last year didn't do the job so we better make the threats louder."
SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney reacted with outrage on Tuesday at the group's claims, saying "to even infer that shows a lack of understanding of the process."Ridiculous would certainly describe the "outrage" from SEPTA's Minister of Mis-information...
"I have to say that when you're dealing with a $62 million deficit, any proposal to deal with that when you're reducing service is going to hurt," he said. "That we have overblown that for any kind of ulterior motive is ridiculous."
SEPTA has cut $420 million from its budget in recent years as well as 1,000 employees. It has also implemented ways to economize service, Maloney said. That management audit came in after SEPTA proposed its cuts and was forwarded to the state Department of Transportation for review.Why is it ridiculous? Because it's true?
Maloney wouldn't say whether any of the specific audit recommendations would be implemented, but added "we'll welcome anyone's ideas." That so far doesn't mean a battle over numbers with the DVARP (sic), which Maloney said he would not address directly. The group's rationale is that SEPTA's $62 million budget gap amounts to about 7 percent of the agency's $900 million budget. The proposed service cuts alone - not including the 25 percent fare hike - amount to savings totaling 36 percent of the budget.
"On the face of it, it's overkill," said Mitchell, who is urging SEPTA to lessen its service cuts through alternative measures.
The group recommended that SEPTA consolidate closely spaced peak trains and eliminate little-used off-peak trains, rather than gutting entire transit lines, as was proposed last year. Mitchell said the proposal lessens the impact on transit riders.
But SEPTA - in its quest to pressure Harrisburg for a permanent source of transit funding - has chosen a path that seriously punches the traveling public, he said.
"Again, I think that line of thinking is ridiculous," Maloney said. Bucks County Courier-Times
It makes me wonder if SEPTA's "doomsday" tactics might be having the opposite effect on the public. It's scarcely a coincidence that many key state representatives from the region - particularly from the city and Delaware County - have, as of yet, not signed on to the current Greenleaf/Taylor legislation.