By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia’s regional transit agency will get a $643 million federal bailout stemming from the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) will use the bailout funds to make up for lost revenue from a severe drop in ridership and the anticipated shortfalls in state grants, said Andrew Busch, a spokesman for the transit agency, on Friday.
“This is certainly a lifeline,” Busch said, adding, “We’ll be able to stay in operation.”
The money is tied to a massive $25 billion in emergency funding grants for transportation agencies in response to the virus. Congress approved the funding last week.
Pennsylvania is expected to receive $1.13 billion in emergency funding to support transit systems. The financial lifeline will be made available in the coming weeks.
SEPTA initially projected its losses tied to the coronavirus would reach $550 million through 2021.
“We think that’s on the conservative side,” Busch said about the deficit estimates. “There are so many unknowns at this point. None of us know what things are going to look like a month from now.”
The remaining $93 million in emergency funds for SEPTA are expected to be used for cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment and other unforeseen losses, Busch said.
SEPTA officials originally asked for $150 million to make up for lost revenues attributed to the workers ordered to stay at home during pandemic. Ridership has plummeted 80 percent system-wide since the start of the outbreak in Philadelphia, and regional rail ridership has fallen 97 percent.
Revenue losses were expected to hit $150 million through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, Busch said. Next fiscal year, revenue losses were anticipated to reach $150 million again.
SEPTA officials expected another $250 million in losses due to reductions in state funding, much of which is generated from sales tax revenue in Pennsylvania that also was expected to drop.
SEPTA has slashed salaries 15 percent for its general manager and senior staff, and cut salaries 10 percent for managers and administration employees, Busch said. The move was expected to save $1.76 million through June 30.
The transit agency has laid off some temporary employees but resisted mass layoffs.
The emergency funding will go to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, which will distribute it, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in an email.
Casey, a Democrat and the state’s senior U.S. senator, says in a statement the state’s public transit systems are the “backbone of our communities.”
The state emergency funding will go toward ensuring transit operations continue during the pandemic.
“During this time of great uncertainty and difficulty, Pennsylvania’s rural and urban areas alike need support to respond to COVID-19,” he said.
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.