The following letter was sent by the Transit for All PA! coalition to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and leading legislators in the House and Senate on June 29th, 23:
Support Additional Operating Revenue for Transit
To: Governor Josh Shapiro
House Democratic Leadership
House Republican Leadership
Senate Democratic Leadership
Senate Republican Leadership
House Philadelphia Delegation, Chair, Rep. Morgan Cephas
House Southeast Delegation, Chair, Rep. Jennifer M. O’Mara
House Philadelphia Delegation, Executive Director, Ryan McIlmoyle
Senate Philadelphia Delegation, Chair, Sen. Nikil Saval
Senate Southeast Delegation, Chair, Sen. Tim Kearney
We are writing to ask Pennsylvania lawmakers to support additional operating assistance in the Commonwealth budget for public transportation. Transit systems across the Commonwealth are advocating for a 1.8% increase in the current allocation of Pennsylvania sales taxes to support operators, and avoid service cuts, fare increases, and job cuts. Public transit runs in all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties – moving millions of riders each day, employing thousands of workers, and bolstering urban and rural economies throughout the Commonwealth.
Importantly, this adjustment would not increase taxes, but would direct $295 million in sales tax revenue to the statewide Public Transportation Trust fund annually. Robust funding for Pennsylvanians’ public transit pays dividends: it mobilizes a workforce to power our economic recovery, revitalizes Main Streets, and reduces congestion, wear, and tear on our roads. Robust transit funding creates access for seniors and families across our Commonwealth.
In the wake of the I-95 collapse, there is a fresh awareness of the need for transportation resiliency, with SEPTA rapidly expanding service and seeing ridership on regional rail increasing by over 10% throughout the shutdown. Similarly, as the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas attract major events like the recent Taylor Swift concerts and the upcoming FIFA World Cup, we see the importance of transit agencies in providing sustainable transportation for the entire region through both expected and unexpected upsurges in travel demand. Opportunities like these drive economic growth and investment that benefit the entire Commonwealth.
For seniors, for people with disabilities, for families across the Commonwealth, public transportation serves as the primary connection to opportunity. Additional operating funds will allow the Commonwealth’s 37 transit agencies with fixed-route service to provide consistent and reliable service to all–as service reliability is continually touted as the most important factor in riding for those on transit. In PA’s major metropolitan areas, the need for quality and stable service is even more critical: 31% of Philadelphia residents and 25% of Pittsburgh residents live without access to a car, and for those
hundreds of thousands of households, public transit is a lifeline and a public utility. Moreover, by increasing operating funds, the Commonwealth can make the most of recent advancements like the City of Philadelphia’s brand-new low-income fare program, Pittsburgh Regional Transit/Allegheny County DHS’ low-income fare pilot program, SEPTA’s expanded free transfers, and the SEPTA Key Advantage program utilized by major employers like Wawa, Drexel University, Penn Medicine, and FMC Corporation.
As noted previously, the collapse of I-95 illustrated how essential and vulnerable our region’s transportation system is. Governor Shapiro and a litany of local, Commonwealth, and federal officials and workers deserve their praise for reopening the interstate with such speed and efficiency. After absorbing part of that impact and seeing opportunity for new paths forward, transit supporters are simply asking for lawmakers to help with another looming challenge.
Federal COVID-19 relief money is on the cusp of being exhausted across all public transit systems in the Commonwealth. But with commuting patterns permanently changed and ridership still on its way to pre-pandemic levels, more help is needed. In Philadelphia, this fiscal cliff hits next year, and a massive budget shortfall looms affecting all of the aforementioned jobs, routes and schedules, and fare benefits. If these cuts were implemented, it would only lead to a cascading spiral of ridership and revenue loss – a burden most acutely affecting low-income and disabled transit-dependent communities. This adjusted allocation of the sales tax would help considerably to address SEPTA’s impending $240 million budget shortfall, projected to begin in 2024, by including $190 million in additional operating funds.
We saw how SEPTA moved seamlessly to respond to the I-95 collapse, and how Pittsburgh Regional Transit did the same to respond to the collapse of the Fern Hollow bridge in 2022, which required major transit service changes to accommodate changes in resident commuting patterns. To continue to support these fluctuations alongside bedrock service, our transit systems are asking legislators to adjust the allocation of the Commonwealth’s sales tax receipts dedicated to public transit from its current 4.6% to 6.4%.
The economic recovery of the Commonwealth from the COVID-19 pandemic is fragile; lawmakers must protect our essential foundations of growth and resilience across urban and rural areas. And our historically-marginalized communities must be prioritized in a way that public transportation is best positioned to accomplish.
By ensuring healthy and stable transit systems, we can ensure these goals are achieved. We urge the governor and legislature to take swift action to increase this allocation for public transportation across Pennsylvania.
Transit Forward Philadelphia
Pittsburghers for Public Transit
Clean Air Council
Philly Transit Riders Union
Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadephia