It's getting very very ugly in Philly as a massive fare increase and service cuts are just over the horizon:

Posted on Tue, Dec. 07, 2004

City needs mass transit, not SEPTA


ON DEC. 2, the city's two representatives on the SEPTA board vetoed a decision to raise the base fare to $3 a ride, which would be the highest in the nation. Fortunately, the two city reps have veto power though they only have two of 15 seats on the board. Unfortunately, the same rules allow that veto to be overridden by the rest of the suburban-dominated board on Dec. 16. The veto power is only symbolic.

The veto is symbolic of the fact that those two SEPTA board members are there to represent Philadelphia, which contributes the highest subsidy of the five counties served by the authority and the highest portion of the authority's fare revenue. It does not represent real power so Philadelphia does not have real equity in the governance of public transportation in the region. The city has been bound by state legislation that established and oversees the authority - and a 36-year-old lease agreement that luckily will expire next year.

Under the terms of the agreement with the now-defunct Philadelphia Transportation Co., SEPTA acquired properties from PTC and the rights to use transit facilities owned by the city.

The lease will expire when SEPTA has made the last payment, or on Dec. 31, 2005.

Last week, as SEPTA board members were planning to raise the base fare to become the highest in the nation, City Council unanimously passed a resolution to review the city's lease agreement with SEPTA. It is imperative that the city, in the interest of local SEPTA riders and all of its citizens, examine the city's stake in SEPTA's infrastructure through the lease agreement. The city controls a significant amount of transit infrastructure that can possibly be operated by a system other than SEPTA.

When the lease ends, the city could require SEPTA to purchase that infrastructure with state and federal capital dollars - not funds that would be used for operating expenses - or risk competition from another transit system. At the least, the city must use its leverage to negotiate a better lease agreement with SEPTA if it is expected to meet our mass transit needs in a way that benefits public transit customers as well as the city as a whole. Mass transit is crucial to our economic vitality and quality of life.

As the former chairman of City Council's transportation committee, I have both sued SEPTA on behalf of the citizens of Philadelphia and seized control of and transferred its local subsidy to create legal, legislative and political leverage against board decisions that might negatively affect the city.

So I now call on the governor and state legislature to create a dedicated source of funding for mass transit in Philadelphia. I also urge the state to remedy the inequity that exists with regard to Philadelphia's role in the regional governance of mass transit, considering that the city contributes both the highest subsidy of the five counties and the highest portion of fare-box revenue.

I also call on the mayor and my Council colleagues to immediately consider our options as our lease agreement with SEPTA comes to an end after more than three decades. We desperately need mass transit in this city, but not at any cost under the terms of an old agreement.

It's time to use all of the leverage at our disposal.

W. Wilson Goode Jr. is an at-large member of City Council.


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