Pa. Transit Fare Hikes Anger Commuters
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Tyra Hayes’ two-hour commute to work is likely to get even longer.
Hayes, 32, of Philadelphia, relies on public transportation to get to her job at a Strawbridge’s department store in the suburb of King of Prussia. But her bus would disappear as part of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s plan to close a $55 million deficit.
``I will have to get up extremely early to go downtown to get a seat on another bus. It’s going to hurt a whole lot of people,″ Hayes said Wednesday morning as she waited for the bus.
Across the country, most of the nation’s largest public transportation systems are raising fares, reducing service and delaying capital improvement projects to deal with huge deficits.
Riders, especially those who rely on mass transit to get to work, are unhappy.
The industry blames the weak economy, reduced ridership, declining state and local subsidies, and higher security costs since Sept. 11.
The industry is spending about $6 billion to tighten security on bus, train and trolley lines, but there has been no additional government funding, said Amy Coggin, spokeswoman for the American Public Transportation Association, an industry group whose 350 members provide more than 90 percent of all public transit trips nationwide.
An APTA survey of the largest U.S. transit agencies found that 90 percent had already raised fares or were considering it. A third were providing less service and nearly 20 percent had dropped routes.
_ New York’s transit agency _ the nation’s largest, with 7 million bus and subway riders a day _ raised one-way fares from $1.50 to $2 this month to help eliminate a budget deficit. A judge Wednesday ordered the increase rolled back, saying the agency had misled the public about its financial condition. The ruling is hold while the agency pursues an appeal.
_ Denver’s transit agency reduced service on 31 bus routes this week to save more than $6.5 million a year. The cutbacks were blamed on declining revenue from the local sales tax.
_ In San Francisco, fares were raised 5 percent in January, with officials blaming extra security costs and a mounting budget deficit.
While federal funding for mass transit is guaranteed years in advance and is fairly predictable, state and local governments are targeting public transportation for spending cuts as a way to deal with their own budget problems.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell’s 2003-04 budget cuts mass transportation funding by about 6 percent, from $270 million to $254 million. The cut comes on top of several years of flat state funding. As a result, nearly all of Pennsylvania’s 39 transit agencies are contemplating service reductions, fare increases or both.
SEPTA, the state’s largest transit agency, plans to eliminate four of its 13 regional commuter rail lines, including the train to the Philadelphia airport, and merge or eliminate dozens of bus lines.
The proposals have been denounced at public hearings. College students, disabled people and welfare recipients looking for work say they would be stranded, and low-wage employees from Philadelphia say they would be unable to get to their jobs in the suburbs.
Nationwide, it is a pivotal year for mass transit. The 6-year-old Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which includes funding for public transportation, is up for reauthorization, and billions of dollars are at stake. The industry is lobbying the Bush administration to double transit funding from $7.2 billion to $14.3 billion in 2009.
``Without an increase in government assistance, transit fares would have to nearly double over the next five years alone″ to address projected deficits, said a report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
For their part, riders say transit agencies are unwisely targeting their most loyal customers.
``This is not our fault,″ said Hayes, the department store employee. ``We take SEPTA every day.″
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