5/14/24: Use SEPTA Budget Uncertainty to Show Its Priorities

This update was sent to Transit Forward Philadelphia (TFP) supporters via our newsletter. Want to sign up and receive these updates? Get involved! 

Budget season rolls on, and this year's SEPTA Operations and Capital budgets hang in the shadow of a crucial ask for state operations funding. Join us the week of May 20 to testify for thoughtful, equitable investments for our buses, trains, and trolleys!

But even with these constraints, our transit agency retains great discretion in ensuring its investments support students, respect riders, and increase reliability. 

Color image of the new Drexel at 30th Street Station headhouse with a street and traffic light in the foreground. Station is a glassed-in box elevated from the sidewalk with signage reading "Drexel Station at 30th Street" with the SEPTA "S" logo and a blue "L" and green "T"

Both of SEPTA's FY2025 budgets are dependent on the successful passage of Governor Shapiro’s state operations funding proposal to fill the gap brought on by the expiration of federal COVID relief money. But even if the increased budget from the state is passed, our funding structure remains in disrepair. SEPTA will need to pull into its Fare Stabilization Fund to complete the budget gap, while key State of Good Repair projects remain unfunded.

We're advocating this year for SEPTA to recognize these constraints, and use them to show riders what they are prioritizing build confidence in the agency. Read on below for what excites us in this year's budgets, and where we're pushing SEPTA to go further.



Capital Budget

New to this year’s budget is a dedicated “Safe, Clean and Secure” section containing capital projects to improve the sense of security and dignity for riders. $36 million is being invested into Vacuum Trains and $33 million into a 5,000 sq ft Cleaning Equipment Storage facility at Fern Rock Shop.

The capital budget also expands on infrastructure goals outlined in the Bus Revolution and Reimagining Regional Rail.  Included are bus stop improvements, additional transit priority infrastructure, and new SEPTA-owned bus loops at Neshaminy and Philadelphia Mills Malls.  The rail side contains station upgrades, additional tracks to run more service, and general infrastructure improvements between Fern Rock and 30th St to work towards a “Silver Line” vision of frequent Regional Rail.

Vehicles make up over 30% of SEPTA’s State of Good Repair Backlog. Despite this, over $1 billion is still unfunded for both Trolley Modernization and replacement of the Silverliner IV fleet of traincars. These new vehicles are not optional and are needed to keep service reliable and accessible - two of the most-cited challenges of riders on the system today.

As SEPTA is preparing to renew stations to meet ADA requirements, we want to make sure that passenger experience is prioritized in any new designs. Riders will respect a system where they feel respected! The recently completed Drexel at 30th St marks a major step forward in station design; SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards herself said "We want to have every station looking like this one." Then why are SEPTA's most recent designs for Lombard-South, Hunting Park, Wyoming, Logan, Ellsworth-Federal, 11th Street, North Broad, and 34th Street reverting to glass block and metal bars? These features limit visibility and mirror carceral architecture, rather than the open and inviting infrastructure riders deserve. We need to see the example set by the new 30th and 5th Street stations followed through as SEPTA plans to replace station entrances across the Broad St and Market Frankford lines.


Screenshot of a person in a tropical shirt with khaki shorts tapping their phone at the fare reader to enter a turnstile at a train station

Operating Budget

Under the SEPTA’s FY2025 budget, SEPTA would use the proposed funding increase from the state, combined with money from SEPTA’s Fare Stabilization Fund, in order to provide service for the next fiscal year without fare increases or significant service cuts. However, SEPTA is scheduled to consider a fare increases for the next fiscal year so we're keeping tabs.

This year, we continue our push for SEPTA to make common-sense improvements to make fares more equitable. Cash users, who are often the most vulnerable segment of riders, have had no access to transfers since the COVID pandemic, and must pay $2.50 for every leg of their trip. SEPTA should reimplement paper transfers, like transit agencies in New York, Phoenix and Seattle. Similarly, SEPTA should allow transfers between regional rail and other modes of transportation to lay the groundwork for the vision of an integrated system presented by Reimagining Regional Rail.

SEPTA should also heed the calls of students and Councilmember Rue Landau, and expand the Student Passes to serve all K-12 students at all times. Currently, the student fare card is only available to students living more than 1.5 miles from their school, and is only active on school days from 5:30 am to 8pm. These restrictions put a financial burden on families with kids doing extracurricular activities, who happen to live too close to their school, or who travel outside of school days. By doubling down on this existing program, we can build a culture of fare payment and provide stable income for SEPTA, encourage youth engagement, and promote ridership across the system.

None of these asks happen without collective advocacy! SEPTA hosts four Operating Budget hearings and two Capital Budget hearings during the week of May 20. 

Join us in demanding a responsible, equitable SEPTA budget. Click here to join us virtually or in-person to testify.