PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia is one of the major cities in the country. However, Philadelphia has a public transportation system that is woefully out of date. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, commonly referred to as SEPTA, has struggled greatly over the years. SEPTA has seen numerous work stoppages, fare hikes, and other issues due to a lack of funding. In addition, SEPTA has yet to add smart fare technology that is common in many other urban transportation companies, including the nearby PATCO system that connects South Jersey to Philadelphia. At the heart of the issue is funding that fell through for SEPTA in April. Recently, SEPTA went before the Pennsylvania Senate to express the need for more taxpayer money. The problem remains the most of the state has little incentive to fund the public transportation system in Philadelphia.
Current Governor Ed Rendell pushed hard for state funding to help move SEPTA forward. Facing massive fare hikes and reduced service, Rendell helped find a stop gap for SEPTA a few years ago that saw them increase fares less and maintain their service schedules. The thinking was that more money would be coming in that would help SEPTA develop smart fare technology and bring it up to the level of other major systems. In July of 2007, Act 44 was proposed that would bring money to develop roads and transit agencies. However, as the budget crisis has unfolded over the past couple of years, potential funding for SEPTA has been cut drastically. According to SEPTA, $400 million was lost from their capitol budget. This has caused them to halt several projects in addition to the fare technology, including a much needed update to Suburban Station, one of the major stations in the city.
The Senate counters with the fact that SEPTA received $554 million from the state last year, not counting money that went toward preventing a work stoppage. The state also says that SEPTA misused a lot of money on things such as parties and gifts for board members. As it stands, the SEPTA pleas are going unanswered and the projects remain on hold.
The issue facing candidates Tom Corbett and Dan Onarato is how to appease citizens of the Philadelphia area while not angering those in other parts of the state. Philadelphia relies heavily on public transportation, and potential fare hikes will cause outrage among those in the city. Meanwhile, people in other parts of the state are affected by the drastic budget cuts the state has gone through over the past couple of years. They have seen little improvement in the economy and are frustrated with road projects that take too long or are never completed at all. The failure of Act 44 sent a message that the rest of Pennsylvania has little desire to increase funding to SEPTA. Both Onarato and Corbett have presented ideas for fixing the dire economic situation in the state. But the SEPTA issue lingers in that discussion. Even if SEPTA is mismanaged and behind the times, the outcry for a more efficient and less expensive public transportation system for the state’s largest metropolitan area will not go away. Any budget issue will have to address those concerns. For those in the Philadelphia area, this is an important issue for the 2010 race that has lingered for far too long.
SEPTA Goes To Senate