(image courtesy of Randy Simes)
Click to embiggen, and you’ll see that Philadelphia and Pittsburgh’s transit funding is excessively dependent on both state funding and fares.
For political-geographic reasons, our transit authorities will never receive generous funding from the state. No, this is not a coordination problem between state reps. There just aren’t enough transit riders to make growing transit ridership a political priority for a sufficient number of people at the state level. So for as long as we continue to depend on the state, we’re going to have mediocre transit.
Also, as long as we continue to depend on fares to fund transit to an excessive extent, we’re going to be deterring people from using the transit network. Many transit authorities spend almost as much on collecting the fares as they actually collect in fares. We should be looking to shift away from fares as much as possible, maybe even going so far as to make the local bus system free to riders.
Where should most of the money come from then? We need a local option tax, to raise more of the money from local sources. And that local source should be the land values around transit stations.
State lawmakers need to give us the option to choose to tax ourselves, via ballot initiative, by assessing a tax on land within the walkable half-mile radius around transit stations. Everybody in the 5-county SEPTA region, and in the Allegheny County region, would vote on this, and the majority decision would prevail. We would use this tax to finance operations, and network expansions, and fare cuts.
We need lawmakers to give us this power. We need them to give it to us right now.