Senator critical of SEPTA's delay in raising fares

Posted: May 30, 2007

The chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee yesterday criticized the SEPTA board for delaying its approval of a fare hike, saying the strategy could endanger legislative support for more transit funding.

"SEPTA must do its share by raising fares and trimming costs - the state cannot be expected to shoulder the entirety of the funding problem," Sen. Roger Madigan (R., Bradford) said in a statement. "Delaying action won't change that fact and only raises further concerns about how we can come to a solution."

Also, House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Joseph Markosek (D., Allegheny) said he would unveil a proposal for transportation reform today.

A proposed 11 percent fare hike for SEPTA was vetoed Thursday by the two Philadelphia representatives on the 15-member SEPTA board, postponing approval of the increase for at least a month.

The board is expected to override the city's veto with a three-fourths majority and enact the July 1 fare increase.

"The perception here is that there is a belief at SEPTA, at least by the city members, that the state will bail SEPTA out entirely," said Craig Shuey, executive director of the Senate Transportation Committee.

"No matter what we do in Harrisburg, a fare increase must be part of the solution," Shuey said.

SEPTA is seeking about $100 million in additional state funding for the budget year that starts July 1. Shuey declined to say whether the money would be forthcoming if SEPTA's board approved an 11 percent fare hike.

"That's a political discussion that is still being had," Shuey said. "They could be better assured [of state funding] if they passed a fare increase."

SEPTA board chairman Pasquale "Pat" Deon said yesterday that he was confident the SEPTA board would pass the fare hike next month.

"SEPTA has always met its funding responsibility with the state, and I would hope the legislature would, for a change, meet its funding responsibility for public transportation in Pennsylvania," Deon said in a statement.

The legislature and SEPTA face converging deadlines. Both must adopt budgets by July 1, and each wants the other to chip in.

The city representatives on the SEPTA board, Christian DiCicco and Jettie Newkirk, said last week they hoped a 30-day delay in approving fare hikes would give the legislature time to act. But Madigan said yesterday that "SEPTA has made a decision that could significantly hinder efforts to build consensus on new funding, given the fact that the legislature has clearly indicated that transit users have to be part of any funding solution."

Mayor Street's spokesman, Joe Grace, said Philadelphia "is not against reasonable fare increases that impact all riders equally. As the mayor said last week, this fare increase would disproportionately affect city riders.

"We will continue to work with the governor and with all the members of the legislature . . . and we will support reasonable fare increases."

Under the proposal that the SEPTA board will reconsider next month, the base cash fare would remain $2 and tokens $1.30 for bus and subway riders. But 60-cent paper transfers would be discontinued, meaning riders who wish to transfer - most often within the city limits - would have to use an additional token or a daily, weekly or monthly pass. The cost of passes would rise about 11 percent.

For Regional Rail passengers, new fares would mean an increase in peak and off-peak ticket prices. For Zone 3, the most popular, a one-way peak ticket would cost $5, up from the current $4.50, while an off-peak ticket would cost $4.25, up from $3.75. Riders who buy tickets aboard trains would pay a surcharge even if there are no ticket sales at their stations.

SEPTA also is expected to approve its more draconian Plan B, which Deon said would take effect by the end of the summer if the legislature does not provide the extra $100 million for the agency. That plan would increase fares an average 24 percent above current levels, cut service by 20 percent, and eliminate about 1,000 jobs.


Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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