It may be 2020, but SEPTA’s eyes are on 2021.

The transportation authority held two open houses Wednesday to seek public input as it develops its fiscal 2021 capital budget and a 12-year capital program, ahead of public hearings planned in April and a board vote expected in May.

Project and development managers circled the meeting room to share information on a variety of goings-on at SEPTA, including projects of “regional significance” like trolley modernization, electric multiple-unit rail cars, and the King of Prussia rail extension. While those may draw some of the most interest, funding will be a sticking point.

“We have to find nontraditional funding sources for these projects of regional significance, because they’re just over a billion each, and we have a constrained amount of funding every year,” said Cathy Popp-McDonough, director of SEPTA’s capital budget and grant development department.

Liz Smith, assistant treasurer of strategic initiatives, who attended Wednesday’s open house to discuss trolley modernization, echoed the sentiment.

“All of the projects of regional significance are in the same boat right now, in that we do not have enough funding within the region to be able to support the majority of the money that’s needed in order to move them forward,” she said.

It’s a subject on their minds as well as that of new SEPTA general manager Leslie S. Richards, who said transit funding was at “a real precarious point” during a recent interview with The Inquirer.

SEPTA’s capital budget for the coming fiscal year is projected to see an increase from the $675 million one approved last year.

A chart documenting SEPTA's capital budget, both approved and projected, presented at an open house on Jan. 29, 2020.
SEPTA / Courtesy
A chart documenting SEPTA's capital budget, both approved and projected, presented at an open house on Jan. 29, 2020.

The focus moving forward is still on “state of good repair” improvements and “maintaining the momentum” SEPTA saw after the passage of Act 89 in 2013, the state funding bill for public transportation that allowed the agency to double its capital budget, Popp-McDonough said.

Information on upgrades to 30th Street Station, Elwyn to Wawa Regional Rail service restoration, electric buses, and SEPTA Key, the authority’s card payment system, were also presented Wednesday.

Those attending gave a variety of reasons pertaining to curiosity about developments within one of the nation’s largest transit agencies, including the Key.

Tom Fluck, 59, of Downingtown, a Regional Rail rider and enthusiast, wanted to hear about the Key’s adoption onto Regional Rail.

“That’s not really working out great for the railroad,” he said. “It’s good for buses and subways and the trolleys, but if you’re an occasional rail rider, the Key card is not the best thing in the world.”

The Key has not been fully rolled out onto Regional Rail. The ability to add Travel Wallet funds, allowing riders to pay by trip, is expected later this spring. Open payment, which would let riders pay with applications like Apple Wallet, is also on the Key’s to-do list.

Latoya Maddox, 36 of West Philadelphia, said she attended to “be a voice for the disabled community," advocating for issues like accessible trolleys.

Maddox left Wednesday’s meeting feeling “encouraged to keep [her] radars up with SEPTA. ... to keep coming to their meetings, public meetings, attending as many things SEPTA-related things as possible, just so that everybody knows that the disabled community is here, and we have the same needs as everybody else that rides SEPTA.”