Congress members from Philly, Pittsburgh want $150M bailout for SEPTA

    (Photo via Philadelphia Tribune photo)

    By Michael D’Onofrio

    PHILADELPHIA — Members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation want to give SEPTA at least a $150 million bailout to make up for lost revenues due to the coronavirus outbreak.

    In a letter to top congressional leaders on Friday, 11 members of Congress from the state and Philadelphia region called for emergency funding for public transportation systems throughout the state.

    An injection of $150 million was needed for SEPTA to make up for the steep reductions in ridership since the start of the outbreak. Ridership is down 60% for buses, trolleys, and subways, and 86% for Regional Rail, according to the letter.

    “The fiscal impact of the outbreak on SEPTA’s operations will be devastating,” the letter said.

    SEPTA had anticipated fare revenues to hit $165 million between March 1 and June 30, according to the letter.

    The congressional members said the state’s public transportation agencies provide vital transportation for dependent residents and essential service providers during the pandemic.

    The letter was sent by U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District; Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District; Dwight Evans, D-3rd District; Madeleine Dean, D-4th District; Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District; Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th District; Matt Cartwright, D-8th District; Lloyd Smucker, R-11th District, and Conor Lamb, D-17th District. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is also a signatory.

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    On Thursday, Scott Sauer, SEPTA’s transit agency’s assistant general manager for operations, said leadership was having ongoing discussions about requesting a government bailout due to reduced revenues tied to the pandemic.

    The American Public Transportation Association already has requested $16 billion in direct financial aid to help the nation’s public transportation agencies offset lost revenue and to ensure reliable service, according to the letter.

    “Funding shortfalls of this magnitude jeopardize public transportation service in every corner of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said the letter.

    Other transportation agencies face financial problems, too, including the Port Authority of Allegheny County, and Beaver County Transit Authority. Funding for those agencies was not included in the letter.

    The letter said much of the operating funding provided to Pennsylvania transit agencies from the state is generated from state sales taxes and other funding mechanisms, all of which will be “significantly compromised by the broad economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, creating extensive financial burdens.”

    “The effects of the COVID19 outbreak are widespread and having an unprecedented impact on every facet of American life, including essential services like public transportation,” the letter said.

    The letter was sent to Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ; U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and U.S. Sen. Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

    Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared