As SEPTA's July 1 doomsday - 31 percent fare hikes, 20 percent service cuts - bears down on the Philadelphia region like a runaway train, Mayor Street joins other local officials today at Suburban Station to ask for dedicated funding for the state's 73 mass-transit systems.

At news conferences across Pennsylvania, political leaders, including Gov. Rendell, will send the same message to the Legislature in Harrisburg.

The immediate challenge here is how to plug SEPTA's $129 million budget hole without slashing service and raising fares so drastically that the transit agency says it will lose 40 million of its 200 million annual rider trips.

"Mayor Street chose Suburban Station for the news conference because there is a pathway directly into it from the new Comcast tower," said mayoral spokesman Joe Grace. "As the tower goes up, we anticipate it will create 5,000 new mass-transit riders a day.

"The tie-in between our business community, our workforce and mass transit is clear."

From the mayor's perspective, Grace said, "mass transit is such an important part of the economy because it transports workers to work on time and it transports them home.

"That's why organized-labor officials and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce will be part of this call for dedicated funding," he said.

Echoing Rendell's inauguration speech, Grace said, "We see it as an issue whose time has come. We join the governor in wanting to see it at the top of the legislative agenda in Harrisburg."*