SEPTA could cut services by 20%, raise fares as soon as this fall, CEO warns

“SEPTA does not want to make these cuts, especially at a time when ridership is growing,” CEO Leslie Richards said during Thursday’s board meeting.

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A SEPTA bus travels down a street in Philadelphia

File photo: A SEPTA bus travels down a street in Philadelphia. (Bernardo Morillo for WHYY)

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As community concern mounts over possible cuts to SEPTA’s service this summer, the agency’s CEO revealed plans Thursday that could see service cut by 20% and increase fares by 30% as soon as the fall.

When federal pandemic funding ends in July, the transit agency will face a $240 million shortfall, likely leading to changes in transit service across the entire system and region.

State leaders from both major parties had hoped to supplement the losses using a state sales tax transfer that could have provided an extra $190 million for SEPTA. However, that tax did not make it into the final budget approved by Gov. Josh Shapiro.

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During Thursday’s board meeting, SEPTA CEO and General Manager Leslie Richards said the transit agency’s main priority is for elected officials to “understand the value of SEPTA to the economy and the people of the Philadelphia region.”

“I know many of you have made phone calls to elected officials voicing your concern, and we are so appreciative of your advocacy,” she said. “SEPTA does not want to make these cuts, especially at a time when ridership is growing. These cuts will mean crowded conditions on transit, more congestion on roadways and the loss of productivity throughout the region.”

Richards said securing state, local and federal funding is critical to the transit authority’s budget.

“Without it, service cuts and fare increases across all modes, across the entire region, are an unfortunate necessity for Fiscal Year 2025,” Richards said. “While we are hopeful that SEPTA may still secure the funds we need, we have to pull together a plan that reflects the funding that is currently available to SEPTA.”

In a story published Thursday in the Philadelphia Business Journal, Richards said SEPTA doesn’t plan on “conducting large layoffs” for employees. Currently, the transit authority has roughly 9,700 employees and about 600 vacant positions.

The article also notes SEPTA does not plan to dip into its capital budget, which is $976 million for Fiscal Year 2024, to backfill its operating budget. The capital budget, funded by state and federal grants, is necessary for the agency to continue with projects that implement safety measures and keep SEPTA stations in optimal condition.

Northwest Philadelphia residents have started the “Save The Train” campaign to keep the Chestnut Hill West Regional Rail line running amidst the budget shortfall. The West line, along with the Chestnut Hill East line, ranked among the lowest in daily ridership, according to 2023 SEPTA route statistics.

Last week, U.S. Sens. John Fetterman, Bob Casey and multiple Congressional leaders in the Philly metro area sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging more funds for SEPTA.

The letter says transit in the Philadelphia region could “undergo a death spiral” as services could be cut due to the lack of funds, leading to a drop in ridership. In a release from Sen. Fetterman’s office, the senator said “the collapse of SEPTA” would have impacts across Pennsylvania, as the southeast region generates 42% of statewide economic activity and 38% of state government’s tax base.

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Ridership across the entire transit system is still two-thirds of what it was pre-pandemic in October, according to data from SEPTA.

New Jersey Transit also announced plans to raise fares by 15% on July 1 and by an additional 3% annually. According to 6abc, the fare hike is the first since Governor Phil Murphy took office six years ago. Ridership has returned to only 80% of pre-pandemic levels, resulting in a reduction of nearly $2 billion in fare revenue.

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