SEPTA board tables awarding contracts for Conshohocken parking garage

As reported earlier, SEPTA’s board was scheduled to vote today on awarding just over $25 million in contracts in connection to the construction of a parking garage in Conshohocken at the regional rail station.

However, during the meeting, the agenda item for the garage was tabled. A representative of SEPTA shared with that the agenda item was pulled to “provide more time for SEPTA staff to provide further data and other information to the Board.”

During the public comment period of the meeting Daniel Trubman, MMP, who tweets about “Urban finance, governance, land-use, and transit,” offered the following:

04/27/2023 SEPTA Board Public Comments

Re: Conshohocken Parking Garage
Hello, my name is Daniel Trubman.

This afternoon I’d like to ask this Board to not vote to spend tens of millions of dollars for the construction of a new parking garage at SEPTA’s Conshohocken train station. At the very least given the $10 million increase in the projected cost of this parking garage in the new FY24 Capital Program, this Board should at least table this motion until riders and local residents have had a chance to give feedback on this massive piece of automobile infrastructure through the upcoming budget process.

One of the smartest moves General Manager Leslie Richards made upon assuming her current position is pause planning and spending on additional parking infrastructure at SEPTA’s Regional Rail stations. SEPTA’s commuter rail lines have had the weakest ridership recovery of any modes, and in fact the system’s existing parking spots are so severely under-utilized SEPTA is literally giving away parking, with no plans of reinstituting parking fees anytime soon. Frankly there’s no reason why Conshohocken station should be treated any differently, especially given there’s already significant SEPTA parking facilities at the station.

With the Reimagining Regional Rail project SEPTA is wisely moving beyond the outdated commuter rail model that frankly did not make sense even before COVID. The highway engineers at PennDOT can pretend they’re working on a “smart corridor” project, but this garage is just another extremely expensive park and ride facility that will generate next to no ridership for a tremendous cost. Does this Board actually believe each day literally hundreds of people already in their car are going to pull into this parking garage at the spur of the moment to catch a once an hour train? Should SEPTA really be spending tens of millions of dollars to induce the riders who currently arrive at the station by foot to instead drive?

Sure, a small fraction of the cost of this project will be supported by CMAQ funds, but it will still require millions of dollars of SEPTA’s own capital dollars to complete. With SEPTA’s maintenance backlog up to $5.1 billion (including a staggering $500 million increase in just the last year) and a whole series of important transit infrastructure projects still lacking full funding, it simply does not make sense for SEPTA to be spending transit dollars on infrastructure for cars.

Does this Board really believe this garage is more important than all of the other under-funded SEPTA priorities like acquiring new rail vehicles, modernizing the trolley system, or speeding up ADA accessibility projects?

I challenge the Board to go visit the Conshohocken Station one weekday morning. If SEPTA’s own ridership numbers are to be believed there’s no evidence of massive pent up demand for parking at the station. That’s why you’re literally giving the parking spaces away after all!

This Board should have the courage to admit that what may have made sense before COVID and when this project had a significantly smaller budget doesn’t necessarily make sense now. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the KOP Rail project where the Board kept throwing good money after bad because it was unwilling to assert its independence and question flawed assumptions.

Put a pause on this Conshohocken station parking garage for now, and I assure you riders will tell you over and over again during the budget hearings that they have other priorities for SEPTA’s limited capital budget dollars.

Thank you.

Trubman’s tweets about the garage sparked’s recent articles about the garage and likely also led to its inclusion in an opinion piece from The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board which questioned how SEPTA’s funding priorities.

More to come.