SEPTA could lose $110 million, defer 20 upgrades

· April 15, 2010, 11:50 pm   ·  Updated April 16, 2010, 12:00 am

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- State’s request to impose tolls on I-80 was rejected - Tolls would have helped fund Act 44, a Pennsylvania funding stream for transit - SEPTA draws from Act 44 to fund various projects - The agency stands to lose about $110 million in potential revenue and will defer about 20 projects

SEPTA’s woes increased this month after Pennsylvania’s request to convert I-80 into a toll highway was rejected. As a result, the transit agency stands to lose a potential $110 million of funding, indirectly obtained from tolls and must defer about 20 projects.

SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch explained that “public transit wouldn’t have received money directly from the tolls.”

Instead, tolls would have helped fund Act 44, a statewide funding stream for Pennsylvania transportation, from which SEPTA draws for “capital projects, improvement projects and station rehabilitation,” Busch said.

The money from I-80 tolls would have gone toward I-80 maintenance, as well as other highway projects throughout the state, Busch said. “That would have allowed the state to free up some other money to fund mass transit. That’s the money we’re not getting.”

The money would have produced around 12,000 jobs, according to College senior Phil Dawson, chairman of the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council. SEPTA will also not have the money to upgrade 80-year-old electrical substations for its trains, according to Dawson.

Despite the agency’s project budget cuts, a six-percent fare hike may still be implemented, pending approval from the SEPTA board. The new fares, which would go into effect July 1, would generate an estimated $22 million in extra revenue.

Under the fare hikes, token prices would increase by 10 cents, from $1.45 to $1.55. The cash fare would remain unchanged, at $2.00 per ride.

The only project near Penn’s campus being deferred is the construction of elevators in the subway station at 40th and Market streets. The renovation “would have made it accessible by Americans with Disabilities Act standards,” Dawson wrote in an e-mail.

Two other projects that have been cut from SEPTA’s budget include the highly anticipated “smart card” fare collection system and the rehabilitation of the City Hall subway stop.

“It’s not that we’re abandoning those projects, it’s just that right now the funding isn’t there for it,” Busch said.

“The fact that it didn’t go through doesn’t change my opinion about [SEPTA],” Wharton sophomore Aneesha Narra said of the rejection of the I-80 toll. “But if it had passed, it would have increased my chances of riding [SEPTA].”

Regarding the smart-card system, SEPTA is “still moving forward with it in terms of the development phase and the bid phase,” according to Busch.

“If they’re not getting smart cards, then it seems like it’s making the system less efficient and harder for us to utilize,” Nursing sophomore Samantha Bondaryk said. She added that a smart card system would eliminate the inconvenience of getting tokens from a machine at 34th and Walnut streets or at the Fresh Grocer.

Narra said when she went to New York City — whose transit system employs reloadable “MetroCards” — she realized a card-based system is “definitely more effective.”

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