SEPTA proposes new $1.32 billion budget

Posted: March 23, 2013

Higher labor and benefits costs are the biggest increases in SEPTA's proposed $1.32 billion operating budget.

The budget released this week for fiscal 2014 assumes a $25 million increase in revenue from higher fares scheduled to take effect July 1, at the start of the new fiscal year.

But the new income would be more than offset by a $38 million increase in costs, including $34 million more for labor and benefits, driven primarily by scheduled wage increases and higher health costs. Wages and benefits make up 70 percent of SEPTA's expenses.

The next year will be pivotal for SEPTA, with fare increases, the advent of a "smart card" fare-payment system, and the expiration of most of the contracts with its union workers, including bus drivers and subway operators.

SEPTA is seeking more money from the state to fill a $38 million hole in the proposed budget, which is about 3 percent higher than the current $1.28 billion operating budget.

Without additional state subsidies, SEPTA's operating deficit is projected to grow rapidly in future years, which would mean additional fare hikes or service cuts - or both - to close the gap.

The proposed operating budget includes the last $24 million from SEPTA's rainy-day fund. That "service stabilization fund" was created in 2007 and once held $130 million, which SEPTA officials had hoped would suffice for a decade.

SEPTA is also proposing to spend $308 million for its fiscal 2014 capital budget, up slightly from the current $303 million. The capital budget pays for major construction projects and vehicle purchases.

The state's annual contribution to SEPTA this year, for the operating and capital budgets, is $683 million, said Steven Chizmar, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

The proposed fare increases would be SEPTA's first in three years.

The proposed increase would hike the cost of a cash bus, subway, or trolley fare to $2.25.

The cost of a weekly bus and subway pass would go up 11 percent, to $24.50 from the current $22. The cost of a monthly transit pass would also go up 11 percent, to $92 from the current $83.

The cost of a monthly Zone 3 rail pass would go up 5 percent, to $163 from $155, and the cost of a Zone 4 pass would go up 9 percent, to $191 from $176.

A token would cost $1.80, up 16 percent from the current $1.55, but tokens would be eliminated when the smart-card system is fully installed on the bus, subway, and trolley lines in 2014.

Hearings on all the changes and on SEPTA's proposed new operating budget are scheduled for these locations:

Delaware County: April 15, 2 and 6 p.m. Delaware County Courthouse, 201 W. Front St., Media.

Montgomery County: April 16, 2 and 6 p.m. Montgomery County Human Service Center, 1430 DeKalb Pike, Norristown.

Philadelphia: April 17, 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. SEPTA Board Room, 1234 Market St.

Chester County: April 19, 2 and 6 p.m. West Chester Borough Hall, 401 E. Gay St.

Bucks County: April 22, 2 and 6 p.m. Bucks County Free Library, 150 S. Pine St., Doylestown.


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

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