Friday, May 24, 2013

SEPTA defers budget, approves fare increases

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Board has approved a proposal to increase fares and simplify the payment process for customers in preparation for next year's move to a modernized fare system under the New Payment Technology (NPT) project.

The Board also deferred votes on SEPTA's operating and capital budgets, due to uncertainties in state funding levels.

The board plans to revisit the spending plans for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins July 1, 2013, at a meeting later this year. The agency is hoping that state lawmakers will soon reach an agreement for funding transportation throughout the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

SEPTA's proposed Fiscal Year 2014 Operating Budget of approximately $1.3 billion represents an increase of less than three percent compared to Fiscal Year 2013, but is projected to have a $38-million shortfall. In addition, the proposed Capital Budget would remain at approximately $300 million for the fourth consecutive year, a 25 percent decrease compared to Fiscal Year 2010 levels.

Overall, SEPTA's capital budget is at a 15-year low. A recent independent report by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia found SEPTA has made efficient use of the state and federal capital dollars it receives, but would require more than $450 million in additional funds each year during the next two decades to address state-of-good-repair needs. At current projected funding levels for the Fiscal Year 2014 Capital Budget, SEPTA will have no money for a number of vital projects, such as repairs to 1930s-era electrical substations or upgrades to aging bridges.

SEPTA continues to follow state recommendations designed to raise additional revenue through periodic fare increases and bolster efforts to generate new revenues through methods such as an expanded advertising program, which has grown significantly in recent years and is projected to bring in $14 million during Fiscal Year 2014. The fare increase approved by the SEPTA board today is also in keeping with this strategy, as SEPTA has adopted a policy of enacting cost-of-living priced fare increases every three years. This helps SEPTA ensure fare revenue will continue to increase and also helps customers prepare their personal budgets for these regular adjustments.

The fare plan approved by the board, is effective July 1 and includes freezing CCT Paratransit fares at the current level of $4, rather than an increase to $4.50; lowering increases to weekly and monthly TransPasses, which will go from $22 to $24 and $83 to $91; raising ride limits on weekly and monthly passes to 56 and 240 and continuing to accept TransPasses on the Airport Regional Rail Line to accommodate Philadelphia International Airport employees until the NPT system is in place on Regional Rail.

The new fare plan includes the first increase since 2001 to the base cash fare for buses, subways and trolleys. The cash fare will increase from $2 to $2.25 on July 1 and then to $2.50 with the implementation of NPT mid-next year. Discounted single-trip fares of $1.80 will be available with tokens and this price reduction will remain in effect under NPT with use of new smart media options.

As part of the effort to simplify fares and introduce an "open" fare payment and collection system under NPT, extra-fare zone charges will be eliminated on dozens of transit routes and there will be some consolidation of zones on regional rail.

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