SEPTA: Budget Cuts Creating Grim Outlook

After the Eagles and Phillies, bashing SEPTA is the third-most-loved sport in Philadelphia, which is kind of unfair, because moving tens of thousands of people around the region every day, in a timely fashion, is really very difficult. Really. So the news out of budget hearings is somewhat alarming: The agency says its proposed $308 million capital budget—the money it uses to build new stuff and do major repairs on old stuff—isn’t enough.

In fact, the number represents a 25 percent cut since 2010. The Inquirer reports on the consequences of the proposed budget:

Most of the money in the $308 million capital budget is earmarked for overhauling existing vehicles ($56.5 million); buying new buses ($40 million); installing a federally required automatic train-control system ($45 million); repairing bridges, stations, and other facilities ($35.5 million); and paying principal and interest on debt ($51 million).

What it won’t do is buy new rail cars, subway cars, or trolleys. About half the Regional Rail fleet is 37 to 39 years old, even with the recent purchase of 120 new Silverliner V cars.

And SEPTA won’t fix the decrepit City Hall subway station, the busiest stop on the Broad Street line.

It won’t extend rail lines to Wawa or King of Prussia. It won’t restore rail service to Newtown or Quakertown. It won’t put trolleys back on the tracks in Chestnut Hill, Germantown, or South Philadelphia.

You can argue that some or many of these items can wait a year or two or more, but eventually the bill will come due. And the truth about capital projectsis that they almost always get more expensive, as the cost of materials and labor increases. What you don’t pay to do today will just be a more expensive thing you choose to do tomorrow.