PHILADELPHIA — Over 150 people representing a wide range of organizations packed the hall for a press conference at the AFL-CIO headquarters here Jan. 12 to launch the Pennsylvania Transit Coalition.

The first task is to block a threatened hike in the base fare on a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) bus or subway in the city. The proposed fare increase from $2 to $3 represents a 50 percent increase and one that would put public transit out of reach of many of the people who need it most — working people, seniors and students. The transit agency is also threatening to cut 20 percent of its service by eliminating some routes altogether and reducing the frequency of buses on other routes.

The coalition’s second task is to ensure long-term funding for public transportation in Philadelphia and across the state of Pennsylvania. SEPTA said the fare hikes and service cuts are necessary to fill a $62-million funding gap immediately, but that it needs an additional $282 million annually. The agency said the cuts would take effect Feb. 27 if no solution were found.

Labor groups represented at the press conference included the Alliance for Retired Americans, AFSCME District Councils 33 and 47, UNITE-HERE and the Transport Workers Local 234. Also represented were the Black Clergy of Philadelphia, the Sierra Club and many community groups. Former Gov. Mark Schweiker, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, addressed the crowd. “We are talking about the economic well-being of our city and region,” he said.

Philadelphia AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding, who played a key role in bringing the coalition together, told a meeting of Central Labor Council delegates, “The house of labor is quarterbacking this thing.”

The coalition aims to build for a statewide rally in Harrisburg Feb. 14. In response to the growing public outcry, legislators and the governor have begun to come forward with various plans for funding mass transit, including raising the real estate transfer tax and motor vehicles fees.

bikerbenn@aol.com.

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