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SEPTA budget proposal: No fare increases or service cuts

SEPTA's proposed new operating budget calls for a 3.3 percent increase to $1.13 billion, with no fare increases or service cuts.

SEPTA's proposed new operating budget calls for a 3.3 percent increase to $1.13 billion, with no fare increases or service cuts.

Five public hearings on the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 are scheduled for next month, one in each of the Southeastern Pennsylvania counties served by SEPTA.

The budget must be approved by the SEPTA board; a vote is expected in May.

The biggest anticipated cost increase is for labor and benefits, which SEPTA projects will go up $40.5 million - 5.4 percent - to $792.5 million. SEPTA is currently negotiating with Transport Workers Union Local 234, the transit agency's largest union, whose contract expired March 15. Other contracts expire in early April for about 720 employees in the Suburban Transit Division.

SEPTA anticipates its labor force will grow 49 people, from 9,401 to 9,450, primarily because of the budgeted hiring of 46 additional bus and rail operators.

Other expected increases include a 5.4 percent increase in costs for materials and services, a 5.7 percent increase - to $37 million - for injuries and damage claims, and a 3.7 percent rise in the cost of electric-propulsion power. Because of lower fuel prices, SEPTA expects its fuel bill for buses and other vehicles to drop 31 percent, to $39.5 million.

On the income side, SEPTA expects passenger revenue to rise $16 million, to $414 million, because of an anticipated 2.7 percent rise in ridership. And it expects its subsidy from the state to grow 4 percent, to $555 million, and the subsidy from the local counties to grow 3.7 percent, to $75 million.

Subsidies make up about 59 percent of SEPTA's revenue.

The state subsidy faces "growing uncertainty," general manager Joseph Casey said in a letter accompanying the budget sent to board members Thursday.

"Sales tax revenues have been declining as a result of decreased economic activity, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has been unable to obtain approval of the Federal Highway Administration to begin tolling Interstate 80," Casey wrote.

Without money coming in from tolls on I-80, subsidies to Pennsylvania public transit agencies will drop $150 million a year, starting in July 2010.

Budget Hearings

Delaware County: April 14, 6 p.m., County Council Meeting Room, 201 W. Front St., Media.

Philadelphia: April 15, 11 a.m., SEPTA boardroom, 1234 Market St.

Bucks County: April 15, 6 p.m., Free Library, 150 S. Pine St., Doylestown.

Montgomery County: April 16, 2 p.m. Human Services Center (formerly Sacred Heart Hospital), community room, 1430 DeKalb Pike, Norristown.

Chester County: April 17, 2 p.m. West Chester Borough Hall council chambers, 401 E. Gay St.