Chart: Why PA Transit Can’t Have Nice Things

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Screen shot 2014-02-09 at 6.29.04 PM

(image courtesy of Randy Simes)

Click to embiggen, and you’ll see that Philadelphia and Pittsburgh’s transit funding is excessively dependent on both state funding and fares.

For political-geographic reasons, our transit authorities will never receive generous funding from the state. No, this is not a coordination problem between state reps. There just aren’t enough transit riders to make growing transit ridership a political priority for a sufficient number of people at the state level. So for as long as we continue to depend on the state, we’re going to have mediocre transit.

Also, as long as we continue to depend on fares to fund transit to an excessive extent, we’re going to be deterring people from using the transit network. Many transit authorities spend almost as much on collecting the fares as they actually collect in fares. We should be looking to shift away from fares as much as possible, maybe even going so far as to make the local bus system free to riders.

Where should most of the money come from then? We need a local option tax, to raise more of the money from local sources. And that local source should be the land values around transit stations.

State lawmakers need to give us the option to choose to tax ourselves, via ballot initiative, by assessing a tax on land within the walkable half-mile radius around transit stations. Everybody in the 5-county SEPTA region, and in the Allegheny County region, would vote on this, and the majority decision would prevail. We would use this tax to finance operations, and network expansions, and fare cuts.

We need lawmakers to give us this power. We need them to give it to us right now.


This entry was posted in Land Use, Transportation.

7 Responses to Chart: Why PA Transit Can’t Have Nice Things

  1. Michael Noda says:

    Great post. Really nailed it.

    I will again register my objection to only levying the LVT on station catchments; the existence of transit benefits everyone by reducing car traffic and reducing pressure on land use. I would instead just have a high standard per-acre exemption, which ought to hold a farmer in way-far-away Chester or Upper Bucks Counties nearly harmless, while still properly assessing the marginal benefits of SEPTA to Center City Philadelphia.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I’m confused by this proposal. Can you elaborate? I’m not sure I’ve heard this argument.

      • Michael Noda says:

        I swear I’ve talked to you about it before. Maybe in a comment here that didn’t go through? Ah well, things happen.

        Basically, I think it’s too much of a pain to try to identify every parcel within 1/2 mile of a station to levy a SEPTA LVT on, instead of just identifying entire jurisdictions, which are already pre-existing. (It also perverts SEPTA’s incentives in terms of keeping underperforming stations open and restoring service on sprawl-enabling exurban branches, which isn’t all bad, but not really what I’d want to see the end-results of.) (It perverts the incentives of landowners, too, who might now want to subdivide lots in order to get parcels out of the catchment radius.) Instead, we exempt landowners from paying the millage on the first $N.00/acre of value, where N is set at roughly the floor value of land with minimal infrastructure and services in the Mid-Atlantic United States. The value above N can be thought of as the value that the existence of SEPTA contributes to.

        The idea being that land far away from SEPTA service would barely be worth more than $N/acre, and so would pay virtually nothing, while land near dense SEPTA service would be worth *so much more* than $N/acre that the deduction would be negligible.

        If this is considered insufficient protection for places like Perkasie that truly lack service, I’d include a provision that allowed whole municipalities to “bail out” if they truly had no service within a certain distance of their borders (no rail stations within 1/2 mile, no bus stops within 1/4 mile). But any service that ran on a fixed route with sufficient frequency would be counted for that (and also eligible for funding from the revenue), so that would encompass PART and SCCOOT and all the other contract services I can’t remember right now.

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  4. Patrick says:

    Transit funding provided by the Federal Government cannot be used for operating expenses Local Transit Agencies should be permitted to use federal dollars on operating expenses

    • Michael Noda says:

      Great, then we can be at a constant structural disadvantage in *two* sclerotic legislatures!

      (The change to Federal law we need is to let free Federally-funded Interstate Highways be tolled after their Federal contribution has depreciated to zero.)