SEPTA to hold hearing on fate NW Philly to Montgomery Mall bus route

If the proposed route change on SEPTA’s agenda for March 29 goes through, come June the weekday passengers who use the Route 134 bus to Montgomery County destinations as far as the Montgomery Mall will need new ways of getting there.

SEPTA is holding a public hearing about proposed transit service changes on Thursday, March 29, 3 p.m., at the Courtyard by Marriott, 544 DeKalb Pike, North Wales, located across from the Montgomery Mall. According to SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch, the proposed termination of the Route 134 is the only item on the agenda.

Northbound, the route begins at the Chestnut Hill Loop at Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike, continues through Flourtown, Springhouse, Horsham and North Wales, and ends at the Montgomery Mall in in Montgomeryville. Current SEPTA figures show that the route is used by an average of 116 passengers a day, according to Busch, and takes about an hour to go from one end of to the other. Five Route 134 buses leave Chestnut Hill every weekday, at 6:15 a.m., 6:40 a.m., 8:35 a.m., 2:05 p.m., and 3:05 p.m.

Busch said that funding for the 134 falls outside the normal revenue stream that pays for SEPTA bus routes. “Our general funding with the suburbs is done on a formula basis based on service levels, ” he said. “The route 134 is one of three routes, including routes 94 and 132, that has been serving Montgomery County since 1994. It’s been partially subsidized outside of the formula. Whatever Montgomery County gives us as per our charter, the funding was outside of that.”

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Busch said that Montgomery County’s annual subsidy for the 134 will stop at the end of March, and it has been substantial: $237,000. “Without that, we can’t do it. If we would try to do it on our own, well, the annual estimated income from the route is $16,500 . All the bus lines operate at a deficit. When you take in the operating costs our revenue for all lines is somewhere in the range that 40-44 percent comes from passenger revenue.”

Busch did not have information as to the reason for the subsidy cut by Montgomery County, saying only “It seems like it was a budget reduction.”

In its announcement of the proposed service cut SEPTA mentioned that a subsidy provided to the route by the Madlyn and Joseph Abramson Center for Jewish Life in North Wales had previously been cut but that does not seem to have been an influence on Montgomery County’s decision. According to Patty Tuberty, senior communications specialist for the center, that subsidy had ended in 2009. The Center, which provides post-operative and assisted living care for seniors, had contributed to the funding for weekend service for the line so that it’s employees could get to and from work. The center stopped its subsidy because few if any of them were using it. Weekend service on the 134 ended in 2009, she said.

The line began in 1994 to provide “enhanced commuting possibilities for Montgomery county residents,” said Busch. Most of the ridership goes to and from Montgomery Mall. “It operates at about half its capacity,” he said. 30-ft buses used to serve the line but were withdrawn from SEPTA service and it’s now served by normal 40-ft. buses, he added.

Busch emphasized that no final decision has been made yet as to the 134’s future, saying, “This is not a done deal. Tomorrow the board will take public input at the hearing. We’re always looking for other options, we never want to see service cut.”

Those who wish to comment on the proposed ending of the route 134 may do so at the March 29 hearing and may also e-mail their comments by visiting SEPTA’s public hearing webpage.

After the hearing, Busch said, the next step would be for the SEPTA board to consider the testimony and recommendations. There’s no set timetable for a final decision, he added, but if the decision is made to end 134 service it would likely happen in June at the time of the next schedule changes.

If the cut does go through, Busch urged riders to check out the route of the 94 bus, which also begins at Chestnut Hill and ends at the Montgomery Mall. The route is not the same but, he said, “There is some overlap. That’s something for people to consider. “

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