Transit for All PA! is a campaign supported by more than 100 elected officials, unions of working people and organizations who want to see Pennsylvania’s public transit systems expand to move families and towns all across our state. We seek to secure expanded, dedicated funding through progressive mechanisms, ensure construction and maintenance jobs are filled by unions of workers, create a low-income fare program, and encourage transit-oriented development. The Transit for All PA! platform focuses on establishing a robust public transportation plan that centers the needs of riders and transit workers and secures funding through progressive and sustainable mechanisms.
Transportation funding in our state needs serious attention. Rural and urban public transit systems across the PA rely almost entirely on funding from the state for the “operations” funding that keep buses running and people moving. But the current state transit funding scheme has a budget shortfall of billions of dollars. Declining revenues from traditional sources like the gas tax, alongside increased maintenance costs and inflation, compound the need.
To come up with some ideas to right this problem, Governor Wolf established the Transportation Revenue Options Commission (TROC), a bipartisan group made up of elected officials, businesses and advocates from all across PA. After meeting through the Spring & Summer to discuss possible funding options, the TROC released a final report detailing proposals for the future of transportation funding in Pennsylvania. This report recommends an integrated set of options: road user charges, tolls, funding redirection from state police, and transportation-related fees and taxes. They estimate that their proposal would generate an additional $11 billion over the next five years, as well as secure $4 billion in tax cuts by eliminating the gas tax.
Let’s start with the positive aspects of this report. We are happy to see that the commission believes public transportation, passenger rail, cycling, and pedestrian infrastructure (i.e. multimodal infrastructure) are underfunded by $1.2 billion. Even better is the commission’s acknowledgment that the multimodal need is possibly higher, at around $1.65 billion. Another positive aspect of this report is that the state police will no longer receive funding through the Motor License Fund. Instead, that funding will be directed towards transportation.
Transit for All P!A sees two main shortcomings in the TROC report:
First, although the report acknowledges the shortfalls in multimodal transportation spending, the $1.2 billion suggested by the commission is not nearly enough. We need $1.65 billion in dedicated funding for multimodal transportation. This amount and a dedicated funding stream for public transportation are needed to ensure every community’s transit needs are met across the state now and into the future. We also call for this transit funding to allow flexibility between capital and operational expenses to ensure funds can be allocated where they are most needed.
Second, there is a lack of focus on public transit. Only one paragraph and a few brief mentions discuss multimodal transportation in the 37-page document, with no mention at all about sidewalks and bike lanes. We can see this lack of focus in the disparate funding rates for multimodal transportation compared to highways. $1.2 billion for multimodal transit is a small figure compared to the more than $8 billion that the report identifies for unfunded highway needs. This means that 87% of the increased transportation funding that the TROC report is proposing is for highways. This skewed ratio is unacceptable, and will only produce inequitable and environmentally unsustainable outcomes.
Some elements of this report are a step in the right direction, but there is more work to do in order to accomplish our goals. Safe and accessible public transportation, funded through sustainable means, will provide all Pennsylvanians with a stronger economy and a healthier environment. More information about our campaign can be found at https://www.transitforallpa.org.