Pay for SEPTA Station Maintenance With Air Rights

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Christine Fisher says SEPTA’s stinky Center City subway stations are owned by the city, not SEPTA as you might imagine.

The city is in the process of selling them back to SEPTA, but what if we sold or leased them to private companies to maintain instead? If city can’t even keep these places from being scary and smelling like pee, what makes us think that a 5-county board where the city is badly underrepresented will allocate more money to station maintenance?

What if instead we created bonus air rights on the city blocks where the stations are, that could be used by developers to build taller buildings on the land next to subway stations? They could either buy the air rights and give us money to maintain the stations, or they could enter into some kind of public-private ownership or lease agreement where they’d have to use some of the increased profits on the building to maintain the public subway facilities up to code.

This would benefit the city in a few important ways:

1. the taller buildings around subway stations would grow ridership on the transit network,

2. we’d get more property tax revenue from taller buildings (albeit on a 10-year lag from the tax abatement),

3. we could use the city code to set the standard that the facilities must be maintained to, and fine the building owners if conditions are sub-par.

Not sure what I think about whether the stations should be publicly or privately-owned (leaning private because 3, or some kind of public-private ownership agreement like you see with some privately-maintained waterfront esplanades).

Another option would be to draw TRID districts around these stations, and levy a special property tax on the properties within a half mile to make capital improvements to the subway station and the bike and pedestrian infrastructure in the area. These are a relatively new tool in PA and for some reason very few municipalities have used them yet.

Maybe people find one of these options more politically palatable than the other, but it’s the same basic idea – make nearby property owners pay for the station improvements and maintenance, instead of subway riders. I prefer the first option because it would be paid for out of some new economic growth, as opposed to just redistributing money from the existing building owners.

This entry was posted in Land Use, Transportation.

2 Responses to Pay for SEPTA Station Maintenance With Air Rights

  1. Tim says:

    What you’re describing isn’t quite “air rights” – unless we’re talking about building above property/buildings that SEPTA or the City owns.

    I think the TRID example, or value capture more generally, is a better way to describe it. Probably an easy way to implement would be to upzone and funnel the property tax increment into transit facility upgrades.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      The idea is that people could demolish shorter buildings near some stations, and be allowed to build taller than the FAR or height limit allows, in exchange for maintaining stations.