Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro rides SEPTA in Bucks County to highlight public transit plan as fiscal cliff looms (2024)

Local News

By Dan Snyder, Will Kenworthy

/ CBS Philadelphia

BUCKS COUNTY, Pa. (CBS) – Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro chatted with SEPTA workers as he boarded a regional rail train at the Rydal station in Bucks County Thursday. The governor remembered this line fondly, saying it's where he spent a lot of time with the future first lady.

"I used to ride SEPTA in the 9th grade with my girlfriend when we would go to school. And when we were lucky, we would get those seats that would flip and we'd flip them up and put our feet up. I know you're not supposed to do that," Shapiro said.

But this ride was a business trip for Shapiro. He hopped off in Langhorne, surrounded by other state leaders, to pitch his plan to invest in public transit.

Shapiro's proposed budget would increase state funding in public transit across the commonwealth by $282.8 million dollars. Of that funding, $161.5 million would go to SEPTA, an agency desperately that desperately needs an influx of cash.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro rides SEPTA in Bucks County to highlight public transit plan as fiscal cliff looms (2)

"This is an investment that is absolutely essential for SEPTA," SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said.

The authority is staring down a $240 million operating budget shortfall that's set to kick in on July 1. According to numbers provided to state lawmakers in Sept. 2023, SEPTA says without any new money, the authority could have to increase fares up to 31% and cut service by as much as 20%.

Richards said this worry also comes at a time when SEPTA is seeing more volume. On Thursday, she announced the authority hit an average of 702,000 trips across its system daily, the highest number since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SEPTA has also dealt with safety concerns, but leaders say those numbers are coming down. SEPTA Police Chief Chuck Lawson says those dubbed "serious crimes" are down 45% from quarter 1 2023 to quarter 1 2024. SEPTA stats also show that while murders ticked up slightly — from one in 2023 to three in 2024 — robberies plummeted from 102 in the first quarter last year to 34 in the first three months of 2024.

Richards says much of the funding proposed by the governor's office would go toward continuing those safety trends.

"We will add 40 new police officers, hire 100 new cleaners and double the size of our system's safety division," Richards said.

Shapiro's proposed funding wouldn't fully cover SEPTA's shortfall. However, the governor said it's tied to a 15% local match, which could bring an additional $24 million to the agency. Richards said they're also looking at ways to fill the hole through advertising and naming rights and that the Transformation Office has identified more than $50 million annually where the authority can save and be more efficient.

But this funding is far from guaranteed to arrive on time, or at all. It has to make it through a divided legislature in Harrisburg, one that just went through a lengthy budget battle last year.

Still, new funding for public transit does have bipartisan support.

"It's not just about keeping the trains running or the buses rolling. It's important for our economy, for our educational sector, even our tourism sector," said Republican State Sen. Frank Farry, who joined Shapiro at Thursday's press conference.

Farry, along with Republican State Rep. Joe Hogan, joined Shapiro to say they were actively working with lawmakers to pass new funding for transit. Farry admits those conversations can sometimes be tough sells to legislators from more rural areas of the state, where transit isn't high on the priority list. He believes there's support for the plan, just maybe not at the governor's number.

"I'm not sure we get something as robust as the governor is looking for. I think he's aiming very high, and he should aim very high. But I do think we get something done ultimately," Farry said.

When asked if that funding will come through by the July 1 fiscal cliff, Farry was optimistic, saying lawmakers and the governor are more seasoned after last year's lengthy impasse. Shapiro maintains this money is needed not just to avoid the shortfall, but for the future as well.

"If we are going to be competitive economically in Pennsylvania, if we're going to be able to put our best foot forward as the representative alluded to in 2026 when the eyes of the world are on us for our 250th anniversary as a nation, we need people to be able to get to and from where they need to go," Shapiro said.

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Dan Snyder

Dan Snyder, a Lehighton native and Temple University graduate, is excited to return to his home area after spending over three years as the Evening Anchor in Oklahoma City.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro rides SEPTA in Bucks County to highlight public transit plan as fiscal cliff looms (2024)
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