Guest blogpost written by Connor Descheemaker, Coalition Manager of Transit Forward Philadelphia
Transit Forward Philadelphia joined our Transit for All PA comrades in Harrisburg to support the enabling of new revenue sources for transportation in Pennsylvania. In recent weeks, Representative Joseph Hohenstein introduced HB 1307 alongside Representative Ben Waxman’s HB 902, each seeking to open additional and dedicated capital funding streams for local governments to use to fund public transit projects.
For this journey, we were joined by representatives from Philly Transit Riders Union, Clean Air Council, Liberty Resources/Philly ADAPT, 5th Square, and SEPTA Citizen Advisory Committee, alongside Pittsburghers for Public Transit, and ATU locals 85 and 1436.
SEPTA faces a state-of-good-repair backlog of over $5 billion, and numerous new infrastructure projects in need of funding. But despite this abundance of worthy investments, SEPTA and its peers across Pennsylvania lack the local matching funds required by the federal government to even be eligible for many of its most competitive capital grants. House bills 1307 and 902 each seek to remedy this, allowing local governments to assess new fees or taxes to fund transportation.
Each bill varies slightly in the taxes and fees able to be levied, but feature both progressive and regressive options with attendant guardrails. No dollar amount is attached, but it allows us to directly push our local governments to create these additional, dedicated funds. And though currently limited to Allegheny, Lancaster, and Philadelphia and the collar counties, we’re optimistic for expansion to allow more local governments the ability to tailor revenue to meet the demands of their transportation infrastructure: from roads and bridges, to our obvious goal in public transportation.
Right now, southeastern Pennsylvania is hamstrung. While regions as diffuse and diverse as Cincinnati, Phoenix, Denver, and Seattle utilize local funding options, our state pre-empts local government. This leads to SEPTA ranking 28th in local funding for its system, despite earning the 7th-most in farebox revenue of any transit system in the country. As unprecedented federal funding becomes available through the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act, the time for our state to act is now.
A SEPTA that has access to local matching money is one that’s able to think big: want accelerated implementation of Trolley Modernization, a fully accessible subway, or a Roosevelt Boulevard Subway? These exciting projects only happen with more capital funding streams available.
With added local funding, we can better tell the story of public transportation: building popular support through residents seeing how taxpayer money can lead to major, local project results.
At last week’s press conference alongside representatives Hohenstein and Waxman, we were joined by fellow transit supporters Rep. Sara Innamorato, Rep. Tarik Khan, Rep. Jared Solomon, and Rep. Ben Sanchez. And presently, we’ve crafted a letter of support for organizational partners – currently endorsed by all who joined us at the state capitol alongside Philly DSA, PA Safe Roads PAC, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, ATU Pennsylvania Joint Council Board, and several Pittsburgh-based organizations including the operators’ ATU locals.
Are you part of an organization that would like to show its support for new revenue sources for public transportation? Click here to sign on.
If you’re an individual, another petition will circulate ahead of the state legislature’s return from their summer recess. For now, write your local representative and tell them you support new capital funding for public transportation.
Till then, we’ll be meeting with state legislators across Philadelphia and the collar counties to talk about these important, additional revenue sources. It’s time for Pennsylvania to get competitive, and take the steps we need to invest new money in our transit system!