SEPTA OKs $300 million in spending

PHILADELPHIA - Christmas came early for SEPTA on Thursday.

The transit agency's board of directors authorized nearly $300 million in vehicle purchases and construction projects. Also, it approved a $1.36 billion operating budget and $535 million capital budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1st.

Separately, the board approved a new advertising policy to prohibit political ads, following a federal court ruling earlier this year that required SEPTA to accept bus ads featuring Adolf Hitler.

The big-ticket spending items approved by the board Thursday included:

The budget includes no fare increases. SEPTA anticipates a state subsidy of $658 million, up by $29 million from the current spending plan.

  • Up to $154 million for 18 Regional Rail locomotives, to be delivered in 2018.
  • $29 million for a new rail station and an 895-space parking garage at the existing rail station in Lansdale.
  • $26.8 million for five years of paratransit services in Delaware County, to be provided by Community Transit of Delaware County.
  • $20.2 million for reconstruction of the Levittown train station.
  • $17.6 million for 232 minibuses, for paratransit service.
  • $10 million for a roof replacement at SEPTA's Berridge Bus Overhaul Facility and Second and Wyoming office in North Philadelphia.
  • $8.3 million for upgrades at the Exton rail station.
  • $6.7 million to rebuild the Morton power substation.
  • $6.5 million for a new building at the Frankford Transporation Center.
  • $4.6 million for rehabilitation of the Margaret-Orthodox station on the Market-Frankford line.
  • $1.3 million for train-control equipment.
  • $0.9 million for improved lighting for Broad Street Subway and light-rail stations.

Much of the money will come from the $535 million capital budget approved by the board Thursday. The capital budget, for major construction projects and vehicle purchases, is about 6.4 percent less than the current capital budget but nearly double the capital budgets in place before 2013, when the state increased its financial support for transportation.

The board approved SEPTA's annual operating budget, at $1.36 billion. Rising labor and health-care costs are the biggest drivers of the 2.84 percent increase in the operating budget. The $1.36 billion budget calls for 70 more employees - mostly in safety and construction-support positions - and would make permanent the all-night subway service on Fridays and Saturdays that began as an experiment this year. The budget includes no fare increases. It anticipates a state subsidy of $658 million, up by $29 million from the current spending plan.

The board also approved a new advertising policy, following a March 11 ruling by U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg that SEPTA had to accept a controversial bus ad featuring Hitler because the agency had previously accepted other political and controversial ads on public issues. The new policy prohibits political ads or any ad that expresses an opinion about political, economic, religious, historical, or social issues, or disparages any person or group, or that could incite lawless action, or prompt a lawsuit for defamation or invasion of privacy. Also, no ads may promote the sale of tobacco or guns.

The policy also will require an advertiser to agree to pay the cost of any legal challenge or any physical damage caused by reactions to an ad. The controversial ad, which stated, "Islamic Jew-Hatred: It's in the Quran," was paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization underwritten by a Jewish activist, Pamela Geller, an outspoken critic of Islam.

 Fung Wah may shutdown permanently

BOSTON (CBS) - Discount bus company Fung Wah was unable to reclaim its Boston location, likely meaning the company will go out of business, a spokesman said.

A spokesman for United States Transit Funding, Inc., the group that represents Fund Wah Bus Transportation, said the company was unable to secure a pickup and drop-off location in South Station after losing it because of regulatory action in March 2013.

Pei Lin Liang, president of Fung Wah, told Chinese-language newspaper The World Journal that not having Boston as a site for bus service likely would mean the end of the company’s operations.

In 2013, inspectors found multiple equipment and engine problems on Fung Wah buses. An I-Team report prompted federal officials to stop the company from operating. The U.S. Transit Funding spokesman claims the company has discovered information through the Freedom of Information Act that “may shed light on the abuse of power and abuse of office leading to the targeting of Fung Wah Bus Transportation, Inc. since November 2014 and based on historical insight by state and federal regulators.”


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