Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

At Harrisburg rally, Pa. public transit activists call for proposed $282M funding

People stand in a crowd while holding signs reading "Transit for all PA!"
Ben Wasserstein
Advocates and politicians, including Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, rally for public transit funding outside the Capitol fountain on April 30, 2024.

Hundreds of millions of riders use Pennsylvania’s public transit system each year, but the American Rescue Plan funds that help keep them running will exhaust this year.

Some activists and lawmakers are calling on the legislature to approve the $282 million for public transit that Gov. Josh Shapiro seeks in his budget proposal. The money would come from a 1.75% allocation from existing sales taxes.

At a rally in Harrisburg Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Austin Davis said the funding helps the entire state.

“Without transit, Pennsylvania’s economy would come to a screeching halt,” he said. “Investing in transit is key to our economic competitiveness and our economic future.”

Davis adds that 64% of Pennsylvanians using fixed-route transit say they have no option.

“We can’t leave these folks standing alongside the road waiting for a bus or a train that might not come,” he said.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

Revenue for public transit has dropped since the pandemic. Despite recent upticks in riders, it remains notably lower than before.

And fewer riders means fewer people to help share the overall costs.

But some opponents say they don’t want the entire state to pay for problems in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia area is home to one of the nation’s largest public transit systems: the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, or SEPTA.

Democratic Rep. Ben Waxman lives in Philadelphia and is a regular rider on SEPTA, frequently posting pictures of himself aboard or waiting for a train.

Waxman said public transit is a lifeline.

“It is not something that should be seen as something to be relegated to the side,” he said. “It should be seen as something that is central to how we move people around this commonwealth.”

Rep. Josh Kail, R-Beaver, said problems with SEPTA create a disproportionate share of the burden. He said taxpayers across the state should not have to carry the weight of that troubled system.

“Public transportation is critical to certain communities in Pennsylvania, but the use of public transportation is decreasing and there is concern about its safety and reliability,” he said. “We need to properly assess mass transit needs and infrastructure before we allow for a bailout of the poorly managed Philadelphia public transportation.”

SEPTA has had problems with delays, scheduling and staffing since the pandemic.

Public transit across the state has declined since 2016, going from around 400 million riders per year to 230 million in 2023, according to PennDOT.

Its lowest point was during 2020-2021, with 141 million riders.

Rep. Paul Takac’s district near State College relies on the Centre Area Transit Authority.

In recent years, CATA has cut back service due to stagnant state and federal funding.

“They have had to reduce their own workforce,” he said. “They’ve had to defer fleet and equipment upgrades and much more and as has been noted that, of course, hurts those that rely on those services the most. Working people, the elderly, the disabled, those on fixed or limited incomes. And believe me, folks locally have noticed.”

Kelda Gorman is a disabled rider of Pittsburgh Regional Transit.

She said she would not be able to make it to medical appointments, buy groceries or do many other things without public transit.