Philadelphia students can put away their bicycles, skateboards and running shoes, because SEPTA and the School District of Philadelphia say they're close to figuring out a way to preserve SEPTA TransPasses that were slated for slashing under the district's recent budget-butchering.

The district earmarked its public-transit costs for cuts when officials in March announced measures to close a $629 million budget gap created in part by drastically decreased state and federal funding. Under those measures, 45,000 public- and private-school students would lose their free rides to school, saving the district more than $26 million. Adding in cuts to bus transportation would boost savings to more than $50 million, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

But parents protested that taking away the passes would drive up dropout and truancy rates and limit students' ability to participate in extracurricular activities.

Yesterday, officials declined to detail how the cuts would be averted.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia, said yesterday that he hoped the situation could be resolved quickly.

"This issue impacts not only public-school students but also those in eight Archdiocesan high schools," he said.

"Eliminating transit passes would place a tremendous financial burden upon families. . . . This possibility also presents safety concerns, as some of our young people would need to walk great distances and to cross heavily traveled roads."