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Fetterman & Casey urge Pete Buttigieg: Save public transportation

By Jake Beardslee · January 18, 2024

In brief…

  • U.S. Senators and Congress members urge investment in SEPTA amid fiscal crisis
  • Last year's state budget did not increase Pennsylvania public transit funding
  • Lawmakers say federal support needed to maintain service and improvements
  • Letter sent to Transportation Secretary Buttigieg to prioritize SEPTA funding
Pennsylvania lawmakers wrote to the Biden Administration urging continued federal investment in SEPTA to prevent cuts and drive improvements amid state funding challenges.  Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, United States of America/Wikimedia

In a letter addressed to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Senators John Fetterman and Bob Casey along with Representatives Dwight Evans, Mary Gay Scanlon, Madeleine Dean, and Chrissy Houlahan urged the Biden Administration to continue investing in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) as it faces a “critical juncture.”

The lawmakers emphasized that “without strong, sustained support at all levels of government, Pennsylvanians risk losing access to transit and all its benefits.” However, they argued that “Pennsylvanians deserve a world-class transit system that is efficient, fast, safe, and comprehensive.” They asked Secretary Buttigieg to “prioritize SEPTA and Pennsylvania’s transit systems” as the Department of Transportation works to improve transit nationwide.

The letter notes that SEPTA provides over 700,000 daily trips across a five county region, calling it “essential for the entire southeastern PA region.” The lawmakers stressed that “a high-quality transit system is essential to maintain growth and economic vitality, both downtown and throughout the region,” and is key to reducing congestion and emissions. They pointed to upcoming major events in Pennsylvania, like the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026, that require a functional transit system.

While applauding Federal Transit Administration support so far, the letter urges continued investment in SEPTA infrastructure upgrades and replacement of aging rail vehicles. Without this, maintenance costs will rise and service will suffer. The lawmakers want FTA to help SEPTA “enhance and expand its system” to truly deliver top-tier service for Pennsylvanians.

The letter warns SEPTA could be the first transit agency in Pennsylvania to face “draconian service cuts and significant fare increases” due to the national transit fiscal cliff. Cuts would decrease ridership and spur a downward spiral. The lawmakers say service reductions would disproportionately impact low-income riders, harming the regional economy. They voice support for the Biden Administration’s exploration of operating assistance for large transit agencies like SEPTA whose recovery has lagged.

In closing, the letter emphasizes the need for partnership between federal, state, and local governments to address SEPTA’s fiscal cliff and provide matching funds for federal grants. The lawmakers say they “will continue to work in Congress to explore federal strategies” to invest in and improve public transportation in southeastern Pennsylvania.