…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…
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.
Now, he and I differ on the exact minutiae of how we should tax our own land, but he’s absolutely right that as long as we are at the mercy of Harrisburg, we’ll always be a crayon shortage away from disaster. This is no way for a proud people to live. SEPTA provides a lot of real economic value to this region, which we would miss if it went away. Harrisburg should let us put our own money up as an investment on our own future.
The subject line comes from The Stranger’s take on an ongoing transit-funding standoff between Seattle and the Washington State Legislature, where the dynamics are very different than what you find in Philadelphia, because Seattle and King County have local taxation power to keep King County Metro afloat in the face of a suicidally hostile state.