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Local News

Transit stakeholders urge Senate to pass funding increase for public transportation

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
May 8, 2024

Transit agency officials and lawmakers came together Wednesday to urge the state Senate to support of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposal to direct an additional 1.75% of state sales tax revenue to public transportation by emphasizing the statewide impact that it would have. 

“Access to public transit is an essential connection to our jobs and our quality of life. And here in Pennsylvania, each and every county is served by public transportation, whether that is in a rural town, a suburb, or a metropolitan area,” said Sheila Gombita, executive director of Freedom Transit in Washington County.

Transit funding is an issue that has historically highlighted the divide between lawmakers from urban and rural parts of Pennsylvania. 

Shapiro’s plan to increase transit funding comes as the state’s largest transit agency, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which serves Philadelphia and its suburbs, warned that it would be forced to cut services without additional help from the state.

The proposal would increase the amount of sales tax revenue transferred to the Public Transportation Trust Fund by $283 million. The fund provided nearly $2.5 billion in grants to public transportation systems in the 2023-24 budget.

“So we know that our largest system is facing an immediate crisis. The rest of the transit systems are in a different stage of crisis. We’re all headed towards a fiscal cliff, just at different stages. So it’s a really big deal,” said Richard Farr, legislative chair at the Pennsylvania Public Transportation Association and executive director of Rabbit Transit which serves Cumberland County.

House Democrats passed language to put Shapiro’s transit funding plan into motion as an amendment to Senate Bill 654, which allows owners of land being mined or drilled for gas and oil to take a tax deduction for depletion of the resources. The bill passed with a bipartisan vote of 106-95 on March 20, but has not been put up for a concurrence vote in the Senate.

“We have a tremendous amount of pressure to expand services in different areas and we don’t have those resources to do that,” Farr said, adding that it was the association’s goal to illuminate the importance of transit for lawmakers who will vote on the funding plan.

State Rep. Maureen Madden (D-Monroe) said that in addition to providing 39,000 jobs across the state and more than $5 billion in overall economic impact, transit is a lifeline for older residents to be able to live rich and dignified lives.

“We’re talking about bringing seniors to the farmers market on Saturday and Sunday — things folks probably did all their lives until they couldn’t drive or their circumstances brought them somewhere else,” Madden told the Capital-Star.

Madden, who is chairperson of the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, said the state Department of Aging recently completed a plan in collaboration with a number of aging-related groups aimed at ensuring the health and well being of Pennsylvania seniors. It includes four elements focused on enhancing public transportation across the state to better serve older people:

  • Ensuring access to safe, convenient, and autonomous transportation options to allow seniors to remain in their home and remain independent and engaged with their communities;
  • Improving access to public transportation for people with disabilities by enhancing compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and employee training;
  • Coordination between transit stakeholders and local planning authorities to facilitate the development of retirement communities near essential services and make rural and suburban transit systems more efficient and accessible; and
  • Acknowledging limitations of traditional transit systems by increasing the availability of paratransit and accessible rideshare vehicles to serve rural and underserved populations.

“Understanding that we have gaps and we need to fill those gaps, that our seniors’ lives just don’t continue because they don’t drive anymore or get around as well as they used to — that should be important to us all whether we’re in the House, the Senate or Republicans or Democrats,” Madden said.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.