Hey, Daryl Metcalfe: Here’s Proof That SEPTA Isn’t Welfare—It’s An Investment

Remember this little gem?

Funding for SEPTA and other public transit is “subsidizing a minority of our population’s bus fare, which is just more welfare,” said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), according to an e-mail discussion obtained by the Capitolwire news service.

It made us angry then—the numbers suggest that Philly taxpayers are picking up the dime for state roads in and out of Butler—and it makes us mad now. And a new study shows the folly of Metcalfe’s thinking.

In a new paper set for publication in Urban Studies, Chatman and fellow planner Robert Noland of Rutgers University use concrete numbers to make the case that transit produces agglomeration. They report that this hidden economic value of transit could be worth anywhere from $1.5 million to $1.8 billion a year, depending on the size of the city. And the bigger the city, they find, the bigger the agglomeration benefit of expanding transit.

Every time a metro area added about 4 seats to rails and buses per 1,000 residents, the central city ended up with 320 more employees per square mile — an increase of 19 percent. Adding 85 rail miles delivered a 7 percent increase. A 10 percent expansion in transit service (by adding either rail and bus seats or rail miles) produced a wage increase between $53 and $194 per worker per year in the city center. The gross metropolitan product rose between 1 and 2 percent, too.

In other words, spending the money to let SEPTA meet its maintenance backlog—and do things like expand service to King of Prussia—should properly be seen as a smart economic development tool, rather than a means of subsidizing bus fares for minorities “a minority of the population.” So, gosh, Rep. Metcalfe—do you want to grow the economy, or do you want to keep railing against Philly?

We’re pretty sure we know the answer. Too bad it’s the wrong one.