WHYY: Senators, Philly congresspeople call for additional federal support amid SEPTA budget shortfalls

A joint letter from Sen. Fetterman’s office warned that “the collapse of SEPTA” would have impacts felt across Pennsylvania.

By Cory Sharber

A person looks out of a SEPTA Regional Rail train
A SEPTA Regional Rail train headed to Center City, Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators and Democratic House representatives from the Philadelphia region are calling for the Biden administration to invest more federal dollars into SEPTA.

The letter, addressed to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, said 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 Senator John 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.

“SEPTA’s service is essential for the entire southeastern PA region, providing more than 700,000 daily trips throughout a five county, city and suburban territory,” the letter read. “A high-quality transit system is essential to maintain growth and economic vitality, both downtown and throughout the region.”

Ridership last October was two-thirds of what it was pre-pandemic, according to the latest data from the transit agency.

Last month, Governor Josh Shapiro signed the state budget, which 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.

SEPTA is also facing a $240 million shortfall when federal pandemic funding ends in July, which could lead to service cuts and fare hikes. The letter said the cuts would “disproportionately hurt the lowest-income riders” and “the collapse of SEPTA would harm riders, businesses, tourism, and the economy at large.”

“How will we host major events in Pennsylvania, including 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in two years, without a viable transit system? As federal funding for capital expenditures continues to move, SEPTA should remain a priority,” the letter read.

Last December, it was announced PennDOT would receive more than $143 million to improve freight rail and Amtrak service along the Keystone Corridor.

In the same month, SEPTA struck a deal with its police union to end a strike. The Fraternal Order of Transit Police Lodge #109 made the move to strike after going months without a contract.

Fetterman was joined by U.S. Senator Bob Casey and Democratic U.S. Reps. Madeleine Dean, Dwight Evans, Mary Gay Scanlon and Chrissy Houlahan in signing the letter.