Community petition to ‘Save The Train’ gains traction as SEPTA faces massive shortfall later this year

“We cannot let SEPTA be decimated,” one resident said. “I could only imagine what else is on the chopping block.”

A person looks out of a SEPTA Regional Rail train

A SEPTA Regional Rail train headed to Center City, Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Community members voiced concerns about a potential budget shortfall impacting SEPTA during a Zoom meeting on Tuesday, specifically how it may affect the Chestnut Hill East and West Regional Rail lines.

The transit agency is facing a $240 million shortfall when federal pandemic funding ends in July.

State leaders from both major parties hoped to supplement the losses using a state sales tax transfer that could have provided an extra $190 million for SEPTA. However, that tax was not included in the final budget. SEPTA has repeatedly said additional government support is needed to avoid dramatic cuts to service as early as this spring.

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A petition, started by the “Save the Train” campaign, calling on Gov. Shapiro to provide additional funding has received more than 2,000 signatures, with a goal of reaching 25,000.

West Mt. Airy Neighbors president Anne Dicker said along with the Regional Rail lines, she believes the 23 bus route on Germantown Avenue could also see service cuts.

“We cannot let SEPTA be decimated,” Dicker said. “Sure, we all want to save our neighborhood, but I could only imagine what else is on the chopping block.”

The Chestnut Hill West and East lines had the lowest daily ridership, according to the 2023 SEPTA Route Statistics. Councilmember Cindy Bass said she’s asked SEPTA officials if service would be axed on those lines once July hits.

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“They wouldn’t say it, but if you ask me, I would bet money that this is where they are heading,” Bass said. “They wouldn’t answer the question directly, but I think this is sort of an all-hands-on-deck effort. We have got to really reach out to the Governor and let him know this is a priority.”

SEPTA provided the following statement to WHYY News ahead of Tuesday’s meeting:

“Without a solution to the looming fiscal cliff, SEPTA will have to look at all options for closing a $240 million operating budget deficit. This would include significant fare increases and service cuts. No decisions have been made yet regarding specific lines and routes, but this would impact customers systemwide. SEPTA is working closely with its funding partners in Harrisburg, and we are hopeful that there will be a funding solution.

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

Last week, U.S. Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey, along with 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, he 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.

Tuesday evening’s Zoom meeting was co-hosted by multiple organizations including the West Central Germantown Neighbors, Chestnut Hill Community Association, Pomona Cherokee Civic Council, Mt. Airy CDC, West Chelten Neighbors, and East Mt. Airy Neighbors. Roughly 1,100 people registered for the event.

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