SEPTA funding opponents target bus drivers' pay

Posted: September 20, 2013

SEPTA bus-driver salaries are the latest target for opponents of more state funding for public transit.

Rep. Brad Roae (R., Crawford) last week blasted SEPTA for giving bus drivers 10 percent raises annually.

SEPTA officials said Roae was misrepresenting a long-standing practice that pays new bus drivers 40 percent less than experienced drivers and then increases the rookies' pay over four years to reach the regular rate.

New drivers get $32,900 a year, compared with $54,000 a year for veteran drivers, said Richard Burnfield, chief financial officer for SEPTA. Until 1998, new drivers started at the full rate.

The current five-year SEPTA contract, approved in 2009, provided experienced bus drivers with no wage increase the first year (but included a bonus of $1,250), a 2.5 percent raise in the second year, and a 3 percent raise in each of the final three years.

Roae, in an e-mail to fellow House Republicans on Friday, said: "The people at SEPTA complain, gripe, moan, and bellyache that they need more state funding, but they are giving out 10 percent raises!"

". . . [Gov.] Corbett says we all need to vote for a 28 cent per gallon gas tax increase. Why, so SEPTA drivers can get 10 percent raises paid for with taxpayer dollars . . . ?

SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said, "He had been made aware of the reality, and he continues to circulate this."

Rep. Thomas Killion (R., Delaware/Chester) wrote to Roae on Monday: "This is actually a savings to SEPTA. . . . SEPTA saves per employee 40 percent year one, 30 percent year two, 20 percent year three and 10 percent year four."

SEPTA calculates that without its "wage progressions," SEPTA would spend an additional $8.3 million each year.

Of 1,962 bus drivers, 447 have less than four years of experience.

Roae stuck to his position Tuesday:

"Virtually all employers pay new employees a lower starting salary than what is paid to employees with several years of experience," he said in an e-mail.

"Only heavily taxpayer-subsidized, irresponsible, reckless-spending government monopolies give new employees 10 percent raises four years in a row.

"Most employers give 2 percent or 3 percent raises a year as employees gain more experience. Most employers use 2 percent and 3 percent raises and it takes 15 or 20 years for employees to make 40 percent more. SEPTA does it in four years."

State legislators, regardless of years of experience, are paid $82,026 per year, plus $159 per day for expenses.

The verbal dispute over bus-driver salaries comes as state legislators prepare to return to Harrisburg after their 85-day summer recess to consider proposals to increase funding for highways, bridges and public transit.

Roae was reacting to SEPTA's announcement of a doomsday plan for severe service cuts if more state funding is not forthcoming.

Faced with the governor's proposal for $1.8 billion in additional funding, a $2.5 billion bill approved by the state Senate, or a $2 billion plan offered by House Republican leaders, state lawmakers recessed July 1 without approving any of them.

Amid wrangling over how much to provide for public transit, how much to increase gas taxes and motorist fees, and linking transportation to efforts to privatize the state liquor business, lawmakers could not come to agreement.

Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or

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