New Castle News

Closer Look

February 5, 2013

Corbett to request more mass transit funds

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett’s transportation plan will include a request for an additional $250 million in funding for mass transit, according to details provided to lawmakers last week.

A western Pennsylvania lawmaker who objects to raising a gas tax to pay for mass transit said the sum could be generated by modest increases in fares.

The increased funding for mass transit is just a portion of the transportation spending. A copy of the governor’s proposal given to lawmakers indicates Corbett also is planning to devote $1.2 billion for the Department of Transportation to fix roads and bridges, $200 million for local roads and bridges, and $75 million for “multi-modal” transportation including rail, aviation and port.

The increased funding is expected to be paid for by lifting the cap on the oil company franchise tax, a move that will generate close to $2 billion, but will likely lead to an increase in the price of gas at the pump.

Rep. Brad Roae, a Republican from Crawford County, said there is too much questionable spending involved in mass transit, so he does not believe any of the new investment ought to be used to further subsidize those systems.

PennDOT estimates state and federal subsidies provide about $500 million to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority each year, roughly the same amount provided by local revenue. In comparison, smaller transit authorities tend to depend more heavily on state and federal aid.

Federal and state subsidies accounted for almost $100 million to “other urban” transit authorities, while local support chipped in $39 million. In rural transit agencies, federal and state subsidies provided $19 million, compared to just over $4 million in local funding, according to PennDOT.

Roae said information on the SEPTA web site indicates bus drivers receive 10 percent raises each year. Roae added a county transportation system in his district recently spent $3 million to build a new office and now wants to spend another $1 million for a new garage.

“I do not support raising the gasoline tax so that SEPTA can keep giving 10 percent raises to new bus drivers for four years in a row or the Crawford Area Transportation Authority spending millions of dollars to build buildings they do not need,” Roae said.

The executive director of a statewide transportation advocacy group countered it would be unfair to and unwise to diminish funding for mass transit or increase fares on mass transit.

“The question shouldn’t be: ‘Who should pay more?’ It should be: ‘How can we all contribute fairly to the costs of the services we need?’” said Pete Javsicas, executive director of PenTrans, based in Philadelphia.

“Every time you cut back on mass transit, people who drive are tremendously inconvenienced because of the gridlock,” Javsicas said. “That’s why I say we are inter-dependent.”

PennDOT data shows more than half the riders using urban mass transit are workers or students. Rural mass transit riders tend to be senior citizens and those using the system for transportation to medical appointments.

(Email: jfinnerty@cnhi.com)

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