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Due to a $75 million deficit for the next fiscal year, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority may have to resort to raising its base fare from $1.60 to $2.25, according to SEPTA General Manager Louis Gambaccini. Gambaccini announced to the Philadelphia City Council last Wednesday that SEPTA is facing financial problems due to cuts in state and federal aid, the rising cost of unfunded mandates and revenue shortfalls. "In my 44 years of public service, I have never witnessed a more threatening financial outlook for public transportation," he said in his address to Council members. Gambaccini presented three methods of combatting the deficit. If SEPTA were to close the gap through fare increases, it would have to increase the cash fare by more than 40 percent, from $1.60 to $2.25. In order to cover the deficit by eliminating jobs, SEPTA would have to lay off 15 percent of its total work force. If SEPTA opts to raise $75 million by service cuts alone, it would have to abolish 32 bus routes and five rail lines. SEPTA spokesperson Barbara Siegel said it is too early to predict specific solutions to the budget deficit. "Raising fares is a last resort," she said. SEPTA raised the base fare from $1.50 to $1.60 last year to compensate for a $27 million deficit. Gambaccini urged City Council to continue its support of public transportation, including backing a transit funding package in Harrisburg that would provide short-term financing relief and a move to secure increased long-term state transit funding. "We cannot assume that a $75 million deficit can be eliminated without further internal cuts, and -- as an absolute last resort -- service reductions or fare increases," Gambaccini told City Council members. Gambaccini traveled to Washington, D.C., last Thursday to brief members of the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Transportation about his City Council appearance and asked for a halt to federal transit budget cuts. He told members of the subcommittee that closing the budget gap could mean fare increases, service reductions and significant layoffs. He also requested increased funding to restore operating subsidies. While federal operating subsidies for SEPTA were $24 million in fiscal year 1995, they were reduced to $13 million for fiscal year 1996 and $8 million for fiscal year 1997. "If current policy continues, our problems have just begun and the crisis of the present will pale in comparison to the crisis we will face in the future," Gambaccini said in his address to the congressional subcommittee. According to Gambaccini, $1.91 was spent on highways by the federal government for every dollar spent on mass transit in 1981. In 1996, the federal government will spend $4.93 for highways for every dollar spent on mass transit. "The last 12 months have been challenging ones at all levels of government and for regional public authorities, such as SEPTA, that are largely dependent on government support," Gambaccini told City Council.

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