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Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro announced plans Sunday to increase statewide public transit funding as hundreds in Philadelphia rallied to ensure their local train line doesn’t go away.
The 1.75% increase in funds, a $282.8 million investment, would be nearly $1.5 billion over five years. If approved, it would be the first increase in the state’s share of public transit funding in over a decade.
According to a statement from the Governor’s Office, the funding would help SEPTA “avoid immediate service cuts or fare increases on SEPTA and would create a more balanced and stable funding structure for SEPTA for the future.”
“Ever since I was a State Representative and County Commissioner in Montgomery County, I have supported SEPTA and the critical services it offers to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians every day,” Shapiro said in a statement. “SEPTA has presented plans to address safety and cleanliness throughout their system, and county officials have entertained a willingness to step up to the plate and increase their support – as a result, my Administration is prepared to make a major investment in SEPTA.”
The announcement follows growing public concern after the state’s 2024 budget, signed by Shapiro last month, did not include a boost to state public transit funding through a sales tax transfer that could have provided an extra $190 million dollars for SEPTA. The transit agency faces a $240 million shortfall when pandemic funding runs out in July, which SEPTA CEO Leslie Richards said Thursday could lead to services cut by 20% and increased fares of up to by 30%.
“I want to thank Governor Shapiro – who has been proactively engaged with SEPTA and our partners for months in order to construct this strong funding proposal to address our most pressing needs and enable SEPTA to continue serving our communities,” Richards said in a statement Sunday. “The Governor knows how critical public transit is for Southeastern Pennsylvania, and his proposal would deliver the critical funding we need – providing additional support for SEPTA for the first time in over a decade.
“In these discussions, the Governor has also made clear his expectations that we at SEPTA step up to address our community’s serious concerns about cleanliness and safety. We are committed to addressing these concerns so that all SEPTA riders can feel safe as they travel where they need to go.”
Hundreds rallied and rode the Chestnut Hill West Regional Rail line Sunday to “Save The Train,” including West Mt. Airy Neighbors president Anne Dicker. During a rally at the Richard Allen Lane station, she told supporters to keep calling the Governor’s Office to demand transit funding is the “No. 1 priority.”
“Call him today, call him tomorrow, call him every single day, call him twice a day until February 6,” Dicker said. “Then we’re going reach out to the Republican Senators on the Transportation Committee … and we’re going to make sure that they fund our trains and our bus and our public transit all over Pennsylvania.”
The West line, along with the Chestnut Hill East line, ranked among the lowest in daily ridership, according to 2023 SEPTA route statistics.
After speaking with SEPTA officials last week, District 8 Councilmember Cindy Bass said she couldn’t get an answer if service would be cut on the Chestnut Hill West and East lines. During the rally, she said she would be meeting with Shapiro to discuss the next steps for securing funds.
“This is not a fire drill,” Bass said, whose district includes the Chestnut Hill, Germantown and Mt. Airy neighborhoods. “This is not an experiment. This is the real deal y’all. This is really something that we’re going to have to fight for, tooth and nail, day by day to make sure they don’t take away this line.”
Long-time resident Bert Schultz called the Chestnut Hill West Line a “vital part of the urban fabric in Philadelphia,” adding the hundreds gathered Sunday were there to “make people know that we’re just not going to sit down.”
“They picked the wrong line to cut because Germantown, West Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill has always been activist to the core,” Schultz said. “So I think in some ways, they picked the wrong neighborhood to mess with.”
Future rallies at other stations along the Chestnut Hill West Line are being planned and will be announced on the “Save The Train” Campaign’s social media accounts.
On Saturday, Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker and City Council President Kenyatta Johnson sent a letter to Shapiro urging him to provide SEPTA additional funds.
“SEPTA is responsible for transporting each day, 750,000 residents of southeastern Pennsylvania,” the letter said in part. “Without SEPTA’s interconnected and unified transit system, covering 2,200 miles of service across five counties, this would not be feasible … In addition, SEPTA’s continued operations are also paramount to the success of the Semiquincentennial celebration, when the world will travel to Philadelphia to celebrate the Nation’s 250th birthday, as well as other large-scale, high-profile events that will take place in the city in 2026.”
Earlier this month, 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.
Ridership across the entire transit system is still two-thirds of what it was pre-pandemic in October, according to data from SEPTA.