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SEPTA to get $252 million in additional federal COVID-19 relief

The transportation authority received $644 million in CARES Act relief this spring.

A SEPTA rider at the Market Frankford Line's 15th Street Station. Ridership continues to be down significantly during the pandemic.
A SEPTA rider at the Market Frankford Line's 15th Street Station. Ridership continues to be down significantly during the pandemic.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

SEPTA will see about $252 million in additional federal relief to stem losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, spokesperson Andrew Busch said Tuesday.

The funds will help pay for operating expenses, such as labor and maintenance, as the virus continues to keep fare-paying riders off public transportation. The $252 million comes in addition to $644 million SEPTA received from the CARES Act in the spring.

During a virtual rally last month with transit leaders calling for additional relief, SEPTA general manager Leslie Richards said the authority expects an operating budget shortfall of at least $622 million through the end of fiscal year 2023.

“It’s great assistance, and it’s absolutely what is needed,” Busch said, “but obviously we know that for us to be viable and sustainable moving forward, that we have to have ridership returning, and that we have to be raising the revenue through those streams.”

» READ MORE: It’s all on the line for SEPTA and its riders, from service cuts to layoffs

On Monday, the Federal Transit Administration announced $14 billion in funding to help public transportation across the country. The funds come as part of the latest COVID-19 relief effort. Agencies received $25 billion in COVID-19 relief for public transportation in April.

Over the past months, public transit agencies and advocates rallied for much more — at least $32 billion as the pandemic continued.

“This additional $14 billion in transit infrastructure grants will help ensure our nation’s public transportation systems can continue to serve the millions of Americans who depend on them,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a statement Monday.

» READ MORE: A year without a commute for many in the Philadelphia region

The lion’s share of SEPTA’s current operating budget comes from $481 million in passenger revenue and $780 million in state subsidies. Ridership is just a portion of pre-pandemic levels, down about 65% on transit and 85% on Regional Rail.

The authority has said it’s considering service cuts, layoffs, and fare increases without funding to help it through the pandemic, as well as solutions to long-term financial challenges it faced previously.

“We still do have to look at everything,” Busch said. “This is a lifeline, there’s no doubt about it. This helps us get through an extremely difficult period of time. But in that period of time, we are going to need to see some movement somewhere in terms of growth of ridership.”