The Quest for Sustainable Public Transit Funding: SEPTA’s 2013 Capital Budget Crisis (Sequel)

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  • Product Description

    Abstract:
    Designed for a course in public finance or in transportation, this case describes the financial crisis that, in 2013, loomed over the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the transit system serving Philadelphia and four surrounding counties. The difficulties were predominantly in the system's long-inadequate capital budget, which funded maintenance, repair, and replacement costs for the aging legacy system, but these problems were severe enough that they were threatening day-to-day operations. SEPTA had been forced to delay needed reinvestment in the system for so many years that, absent significant new funding, the SEPTA board and general manager warned that they would be forced to shrink its system dramatically over the next 10 years, reducing service in the city of Philadelphia and nearly eliminating suburban commuter rail service. To ground the discussion, the case provides political and structural background about SEPTA, alongside the recent financial history of both operating and capital budgets, allowing students to understand the nature of the funding difficulties that had historically beset the authority. The case also provides enough information on transit finance to support a more general conversation. Case exhibits include demographic and commuting data for the five counties served by SEPTA; fare and subsidy information by mode of transport; fare elasticity by mode of transport; sources of subsidy in both operating and capital budgets; information about the tax burden in Pennsylvania; the projected consequences of abolishing SEPTA for commuting costs, jobs, and property values; and pros and cons of using different kinds of state funding to finance transit. A brief 2-page sequel describes how proponents were eventually able to win legislative approval for additional funding, and what the legislature ultimately chose as its revenue source.

    Learning objective:
    The case, designed for a course in public finance or transportation, allows students to probe issues inherent in funding an expensive, capital-intensive, primarily urban public service. It supports a discussion of criteria for assessing different funding options, including different notions of equity, economic efficiency, revenue adequacy, political acceptability; the best level of government to provide subsidy funding; and the relative merits of taxes vs. user fees as a funding source.

  • Other Details

    Publication Date: October 7, 2015
    Teaching Plan: Available with Educator Access
    HKS Case Number: 2047.1
    Case Author: Pamela Varley
    Faculty Lead: Jose Gomez-Ibanez and Jay K. Rosengard
    Pages (incl. exhibits): 2
    Setting: United States
    Language: English
    Funding Source: Funded in part by a grant from the New England University Transportation Center, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration
    _year: 2010-2015
    _pages: 1-15
    _geography: US & Canada
  • Warranty Information

    /review/2047.1.EducatorCopy.pdf, /teachingplan/2047_2.pdf

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