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SEPTA Threatens Drastic Cuts


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SEPTA announces plans for drastic cuts

By Marc Schogol

Inquirer Staff Writer | Sep. 09, 2004

SEPTA said today it would have to eliminate all weekend service, increase fares by 25 percent and fire 16 percent of its employees by Jan. 1 if the state legislature doesn't increase the agency's funding and eliminate a $62 million deficit.

"This is not a bluff," SEPTA board chairman Pasquale T. Deon Sr. said at a news conference at the agency's headquarters in Center City. "We've made all the cuts we can make. . . . This is the worst crisis to face SEPTA in its 36-year-history."

In June, SEPTA adopted a $920 million budget for 2005, but with a $62 million deficit. If the agency did not receive money to close that gap by October, SEPTA said it would propose service cuts and fare increases to close the gap.

Area transit and development officials agreed that SEPTA is not crying wolf. But Gov. Rendell and some legislative leaders said they expect to come up with a solution to the financial problems of the state's public transit agencies.

In past years, SEPTA also has detailed dramatic service cuts to cope with funding shortfalls, but those measures never included reducing the workforce. And the agency eventually received or found enough money to avert the worst-case scenarios, such last year's threat to eliminate four regional rail lines and the C bus route.

This time, however, SEPTA officials insisted that there are no bandages or one-time fixes left.

Under SEPTA's if-all-else-fails plan, the base bus and subway fare would increase from $2 to $2.50. A token would go from $1.30 to $1.70, and a $70 monthly TransPass would cost $85.

About 1,400 of SEPTA's approximately 9,000 employees would lose their jobs.

Another unprecedented move under consideration: "SEPTA would be a Monday-through-Friday operation," said Richard Burnfield, the transit agency's budget director. Pittsburgh, also facing serious transit funding problems, has eliminated weekend service.

The lost weekends are part of a proposed 20 percent overall reduction in service. An example of what that would mean to riders is that a subway, bus or trolley that now runs every 20 minutes would run every 30 minutes. SEPTA said it also would look at elimating certain off-hour service, regional rail service after 8 p.m. and express service.

SEPTA estimated all these measures, if implemented, would result in 22 decrease in the number of weekday rides it provides - a 225,000 decrease from the approximately 1 million rides passengers now take. The approximately half-million rides on Saturdays and Sundays would go to zero.

In assessing the proposed cuts, SEPTA general manager Faye L.M. Moore said, "It is very distressing for us to contemplate acts that effectively dismantle public transit in Southeastern Pennsylvania."

Jean Alexander, president of SEPTA's biggest union, Transport Workers of America Local 234, said she didn't think workers and riders should pay for SEPTA's financial problems.

"Laying off 1,400 people, no service on the weekend, it's absolutely unacceptable. Everybody doesn't just have a job Monday through Friday."

But she said the state must establish dedicated funding for public transit, "and I will be out there fighting until the end. I will be calling legislators, they need our votes, now we need them."

A spokeswoman for Rendell said the governor questioned SEPTA's the draconion measures. "He doesn't believe all these cuts proposed . . . are necessary," said Rendell spokeswoman Kate Phillips. But, Phillips said, "the governor has long supported a funding stream dedicated to mass transit and is hopeful to work with the legislature in the coming months to develop a plan for that."

One such plan that was put forth at SEPTA's news conference today by State Rep. John Taylor (R., Phila.) and State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery). They have introduced legislation that would increase funding to SEPTA and similar agencies throughout the state by increasing the percentage of the state sales tax dedicated to public transit.

State lawmakers reconvene Sept. 27, it is unclear when the measure would be taken up and whether it has board support.

State Sen. Robert J. Thompson (R., Chester), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee said passing the legislation won't be easy.

He said sentiment has been growing among lawmakers to find a solution for SEPTA's money problems, and he believes the state will find one soon.

While lawmakers consider where the find the money, area transit and development officials agreed that the need is real.

"There's no bluff here, I don't see how it could be," said Leo Bagley, head of transit planning for Montgomery County. "When the money runs out, you either close the door or just start winding it down."

John Coscia, executive director of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, said a shrunken public transit system could dissuade potential employers from moving into the Philadelphia area and so have an enormous economic impact.

"If you start truncating the transit system, you begin losing the opportunity for economic growth."

As for people who depend on SEPTA, the Philadelphia Transportation Campaign, a riders' group, announced at today's news conference that it is urging people to travel to Harrisburg on Oct. 5 for "a day to campaign for public transportation funding in Pennsylvania."

But some people who've long complained about SEPTA service say it's responsible for its problems.

"Why can't SEPTA do their job . . . so they don't have to go hand in hand to the state, and riders in the state, who have to bail them out?" asked Rex Toto, 52, a longtime resident of Philadelphia's Port Richmond section now living in Perkiomenville, Montgomery County.

Toto said depended on SEPTA to get to work, even though he complained about its service.

"Why can't those people run a company properly? Why do they keep having a loss? Why can't SEPTA manage their business properly, like every other business?

From Philadelphia Inquirer

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