SEPTA is calculating the costs of yet another financial strain — the cancellation of large events in Philadelphia, to which it would carry riders, until next year.
Anticipating at least a $300 million loss of revenue through June 2021, the transportation authority knows it will likely need to adjust its outlook as the region continually adapts to the coronavirus pandemic. Teleworking won’t go away soon, while the cancellation of events like the Thanksgiving Day Parade and Broad Street Run means fewer travelers.
”I can’t say at this point whether or not we know if it’s definitely going to be additional losses,” said SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch, “but we know that we need to factor in some things that have come up more recently that are impacting our region, and things outside of our region that are starting to have an impact as well.”
City officials announced the event ban Tuesday as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, likely until a vaccine is developed. Retailers, restaurants, and hotels also are bracing for what the cancellations will mean for business.
While events and sports games boost fare revenue, SEPTA is keeping its eye on what new habits riders will adopt and when, Busch said. Once the Eagles are able to welcome fans, will they come to Lincoln Financial Field? When offices reopen, who’s to say employees will return after months of working from home?
“The bigger factor that we’re looking at is that there’s a lot of uncertainty right now with people in terms of knowing when they’re going to be getting back into something resembling a more normal routine,” Busch said. “Same thing with people going out to places in the city and the region in general.”
Eagles games are “a big driver” when it comes to ridership, he said. By the end of last season, SEPTA saw 17,000 to 19,000 riders per game heading to NRG Station, the closest Broad Street Line stop to the stadium complex.
The authority sometimes waives post-game fares home, thanks to sponsorships that cover costs it would otherwise see from riders.
“Obviously, [there’s] nothing for us to go to sponsors with, because we don’t have any events,” Busch said.
City officials clarified Wednesday that Eagles fans may be able to attend games, depending on when they could ease social distancing restrictions. Fans will not be able to watch the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
SEPTA did not immediately provide increases it sees from events like the Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The authority provided a million trips daily before the pandemic, now down to about 300,000, said SEPTA General Manager Leslie S. Richards during a recent “virtual rally” with other transit leaders calling for $32 billion to $36 billion in additional federal relief funding.
The authority received $644 million in CARES Act funding to stem losses but will need more “to preserve our ability to provide safe and critical service now and in the future,” she said.
SEPTA depends heavily upon fare dollars to make up its operating budget — about $481 million comes from passenger revenue and $780 million from state subsidies. Less sales tax revenue, plus extra costs like enhanced cleaning, are contributing to SEPTA’s money woes.
Board members passed a $2.2 billion operating and capital budget earlier last month, as well as changes from SEPTA’s latest fare restructuring proposal. While some adjustments like free children’s fares and a free transfer kicked in July 1, the authority has postponed increases to help passengers through the pandemic.
“We’re not sure we’ll ever really get back to the levels of pre-COVID19, definitely not for a few years,” Richards said, “so we really have to look and see on the severity of what happens, and what happens this fall.”