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Thread: (Philadelphia, PA) Septa in DEEP DEEP Trouble

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Dharmster's avatar
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    (Philadelphia, PA) Septa in DEEP DEEP Trouble

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    Posted on Thu, Dec. 02, 2004



    SEPTA at a crossroads
    Vote on service cuts, higher fares expected today.
    By Jere Downs
    Inquirer Staff Writer

    Unless it gets an emergency infusion of cash, the SEPTA board is expected today to approve a drastic plan to end weekend service, lay off 1,300 employees, and raise the cash fare to $2.50 next month to close a $62-million budget gap.

    When lawmakers ended their session in Harrisburg just before Thanksgiving without acting on transit funding, they left Gov. Rendell with only one relief mechanism for SEPTA: to delay or abandon some road projects in order to keep buses, trains and trolleys running. However, yesterday there was still no sign of how much help might be forthcoming from the governor.

    "We haven't heard a word," SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said.

    An automatic increase of four cents per gallon in the wholesale gasoline tax next month is expected to add $133 million to state budget over the next 18 months. That money is to be used solely for road repairs, but Rendell could shift those dollars into the state's pot of federal highway funds. He could then use the federal grants to ease or erase crippling deficits not only at SEPTA but also at the Pittsburgh area's transit agency, which is hemorrhaging $30 million in red ink and threatening similar cuts.

    That juggling act, though, "is still viewed as an option of last resort," said Kate Philips, spokeswoman for Rendell.

    Even if Rendell rides to the rescue now, next year promises another transit panic attack - unless he and lawmakers agree on a way to fix serious flaws in Pennsylvania's system of funding public transportation.

    Roughly half of SEPTA's $920 million operating budget is supported by fares, advertising and parking fees. State appropriations and a bundle of dedicated taxes finance the rest. SEPTA depends more on the fare box than most transit systems, according to the American Public Transportation Association, the transit industry's lobby in Washington.

    The state law requiring that fares provide at least half of SEPTA's budget dates to 1991. The fiscal crises, however, go back as far as 1964, when the General Assembly began cobbling together bankrupt private transit companies into the new agency known as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority.

    In 1990, Charles Pizzi, then director of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, summed up the region's fatigue with the subject: "SEPTA has been in financial trouble for so long that perhaps no one is paying attention to it anymore," Pizzi said in a newspaper commentary. "But people should."

    Since the mid-1990s, the state's annual appropriations have increased only one percent per year on average. And the dedicated taxes that provide about one-quarter of SEPTA's budget have consistently yielded less than originally forecast.

    One example is the Public Transportation Assistance Fund, a group of taxes created in 1991 to produce predictable annual funding for transit agencies. It hasn't turned out that way. This year, for reasons ranging from utility deregulation to depressed car rentals and tire sales, the fund earned $66 million less for SEPTA than the legislature originally projected. Meanwhile, fuel costs and worker health-care expenses have steadily marched higher.

    Hired by Rendell last year to scour SEPTA's budget for waste, former Amtrak chief financial officer Arlene Friner focused not on where the money goes, but on its increasingly bleak sources.

    "Without changes in subsidy . . . operating deficits will continue to grow," Friner warned in a preliminary release of her work last year. Her final report was never made public.

    If trends in state funding continue, SEPTA projects a $92 million budget chasm in the fiscal 2006 year, which begins July 1; $131 million in fiscal 2007; and $180 million in fiscal 2008.

    "I am going to be suggesting that the [SEPTA] board offer to resign tomorrow," Peter Javsicas, director of PenTrans, a statewide transit advocacy group, said yesterday. "They should do it as a protest to make it very clear that it is not a sign of their failure. It is a sign that they cannot be expected to succeed if their legs are cut out from under them."

    Asked whether a mass resignation was in the offing, SEPTA board chairman Pasquale T. "Pat" Deon scoffed: "We have worked too hard to walk away."

    Since the late 1990s, Deon has presided over the nation's fifth-largest transit agency. Fiscal economy has been the theme of his tenure as chairman.

    The 15-member, GOP-dominated board took its cues from a blistering 1998 management report that portrayed SEPTA as inefficient and ill-managed, lurching from one budget crisis to the next.

    Since then, the SEPTA board has coped with a lack of consistent state funding by trimming the workforce by 1,200, to 9,000 positions; shifting capital funds to pay for operating costs; and imposing limited fare increases. SEPTA general manager Faye Moore, once the agency's chief financial officer, also boasts of some $420 million in cost reductions since 1995.

    Last week, Republican leaders were still urging Rendell to use the federal highway money to save transit, and asserting that they would take up transit reform later. "The governor does have the authority to just tide over these agencies until June," Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said last week.

    In mid-January, a new two-year session of the legislature will convene. "We will discuss and debate dedicated funding during the budget process," Miskin said. "The General Assembly has not walked away from the problem."

    Some SEPTA critics are hopeful that long-awaited change will come.

    "Something will happen next year," said Don Nigro, president of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, the region's largest riders' group. "Legislators are beginning to realize that reform is warranted at SEPTA . . . something that is not only more permanent, but more thoughtful."



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    Contact staff writer Jere Downs at 610-313-8128 or jdowns@phillynews.com.





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    © 2004 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
    http://www.philly.com

  2. #2
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    It is a shame, but I can see how it could happen. I was not impressed with them. I had hopes that the rail would extend to Reading, the plan to make it happen was there, but they had so many other problems that I don't think that it would ever happen.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Sure, SEPTA has problems, but four of the five largest transit systems in the country (New York MTA, Chicago CTA, Washington DC Metro, and Philadelphia SEPTA) are all facing budget crises this year. The only one of the big five transit systems that isn't in crisis is Boston's. So honestly, you can't pin this on SEPTA, it's a national crisis that, to a significant extent, is caused by the government in Washgoton and their bankrupt-the-cities-to-pave-the-country transportation policy.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Sure, SEPTA has problems, but four of the five largest transit systems in the country (New York MTA, Chicago CTA, Washington DC Metro, and Philadelphia SEPTA) are all facing budget crises this year. The only one of the big five transit systems that isn't in crisis is Boston's. So honestly, you can't pin this on SEPTA, it's a national crisis that, to a significant extent, is caused by the government in Washgoton and their bankrupt-the-cities-to-pave-the-country transportation policy.
    This is just the beginning...It doesn't take a genius to figure out which government programs will be cut, and which won't. It's all a product of who puts Congress and the President in office. The ostensible free marketers who run Washington will in effect drain the central cities in order to produce the next generation of sprawl.



    The Cost Of Being Blue

    By David S. Broder
    Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page B07

    The division between the red and blue Americas has become a familiar topic for political talk shows. But it is a lot more than that. It has real-world consequences, effects that can be measured in hundreds of millions of dollars in federal spending.

    The county-by-county maps, displaying vast expanses of red where George W. Bush prevailed for the second time in the Nov. 2 election, show a spreading Republican tide big enough to produce his overall 51 percent majority vote. Those blue dots on the map are the pockets of Democratic resistance, where John Kerry was able to win.

    The blue dots are not just political blotches, however. They are the cities from Atlanta to Seattle, home to tens of millions of Americans. They are also the places where in the past federal programs -- subsidies to schools, police departments, transit systems and, most notably, housing agencies -- were vital.

    The impact of these election returns was exhibited vividly and in damaging fashion in the catch-all government spending bill the Republican-controlled Congress cleared three weeks after Election Day.

    The legislators who fashioned that bill and the president who will sign it get their votes from red America. The legislators and advocates who counted up the consequences come from the blue-dot city constituencies.

    Listen, for example, to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Baltimore, the former social worker who sits on the Appropriations Committee, where the bill was assembled. Her subcommittee increased funding for veterans' medical care and found money to enable NASA to send a servicing robot to save the Hubble Space Telescope.

    "However," she said on the Senate floor, "those increases came at a price. To provide those needed increases for veterans and NASA, we had to cut essential programs. . . . We were forced to cut housing for the elderly by $26 million. Housing for the disabled is cut by $10 million. The Community Development Block Grant program, one of the most important programs in this bill and one of the most important programs for state and local government, is cut by $200 million compared to last year. . . . Thanks to the Republican budget cuts, we are shifting the burden of environmental protection to state and local governments. Overall, EPA is cut by over $300 million compared to last year. . . . That means every state will get less money for sewer construction."

    Sheila Crowley, a longtime housing advocate, wrote to the members of her organization, "People who need or rely on public housing, Indian housing, elderly housing, housing for people with AIDS or who are disabled, block grants for affordable housing and community development, and even homeless assistance will have to do with less in the coming year. . . . Tougher times are ahead for low-income people in the United States."

    But presidents and members of Congress respond to those who put them in office. As Ronald Brownstein and Richard Rainey wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Bush's biggest gains came in 100 fast-growing exurban counties, on the far fringes of metropolitan areas, where the countryside is giving way to new housing developments. Many of the families filling those homes are transplants from the cities.

    It is no coincidence that the part of the federal government most closely attuned to urban problems is the Cabinet agency most remote from this White House. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has been run -- even in Republican administrations -- by prominent and dynamic figures, from George Romney to Jack Kemp. Today, few in Washington can even name the man in charge of the city agenda.

    Recognizing this change, the U.S. Conference of Mayors -- the most potent of the city lobbies -- is adopting new tactics. After lamenting the losses in programs that subsidized police hiring and encouraged urban development projects, Tom Cochran, the veteran head of the mayors group, said it was shifting its focus from the cities themselves to entire metropolitan areas -- highlighting their economic power and hoping to harness their political clout with Republicans.

    On Dec. 8, 30 mayors and major business leaders will meet for a "summit" in Washington, Cochran said, in hopes of putting some muscle behind urban programs from a corporate constituency that the White House will have reason to heed.

    Because business has a huge investment in America's downtowns, the alliance makes sense. By themselves, those who live in -- and lead -- the blue-dot cities are clearly the big losers in this election year. Unless they get help, their programs are on the chopping block.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis
    It is a shame, but I can see how it could happen. I was not impressed with them. I had hopes that the rail would extend to Reading, the plan to make it happen was there, but they had so many other problems that I don't think that it would ever happen.
    No offense to those who live(d) in Berks and western Montgomery but i think the train to Reading (as planned) would've been a terrible waste. It should've been regular commuter rail to Phoenixville or maybe even Pottstown and then eventually to Reading. The cost would''ve been about 1/4 and would've had a much better change of getting funded. With the old plan the feds just looked at it and laughed. There was no need for a $2 billion hybrid light-rail system - especially when $2 billion was the price tag on the Roosevelt Blvd. extension of the Broad St. Subway that was projected to carry twice as many people.

    I think Don Nigro and the people at DVARP have done the best job of balancing their criticism of SEPTA with the call for dedicated funding. Javsicas and the folks at PTC, on the other hand, muted all criticism of the agency and tooted on the funding horn - which i find dishonest. While 70+ transit agencies in PA are facing a meltdown SEPTA has repeatedly squandered countless opportunities to use its immense capital budget to trim operating costs. There is plenty of technology and proven procedures out there that are known to reduce operating costs and increase ridership at the same time but SEPTA is stuck in 80's.



    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Sure, SEPTA has problems, but four of the five largest transit systems in the country (New York MTA, Chicago CTA, Washington DC Metro, and Philadelphia SEPTA) are all facing budget crises this year. The only one of the big five transit systems that isn't in crisis is Boston's. So honestly, you can't pin this on SEPTA, it's a national crisis that, to a significant extent, is caused by the government in Washgoton and their bankrupt-the-cities-to-pave-the-country transportation policy.
    NJTransit is actually the 4th largest transit agency in the country. Behind Chicago and ahead of Philly, DC, and Boston. NJTransit is funded from the State Transportation Trust Fund which is primarily the gas tax and a few other vehicle related taxes rolled into one. The point of it was to avoid bonding for capital projects and thus hefty interest payments. The Whitman Administration sold it out completely and now it's so over-extended they can't even issue new bonds from it. The operating budgets are fine for now but they can't continue much with their capital programs until the State passes the 5 cent gas tax hike that's been talked about for 4 years now. I'm not holding my breath for that one.
    Last edited by giff57; 06 Dec 2004 at 10:42 AM.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

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