Despite the region's sluggish economy, SEPTA carried more riders in the last 12 months than it had in any of the 22 previous years.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30, SEPTA's buses, subways, trolleys, and trains had about 334 million passengers, up 4 percent from the previous year and the most since 345 million in fiscal 1989.
SEPTA officials credited service improvements, higher gasoline prices, Center City population growth, and a growing use of transit by young adults.
"Our surveys show that we get a positive reaction from our new riders. . . . When they do try our system, they like it, and they come back," said general manager Joseph Casey, who will present the positive numbers to SEPTA's board of directors Thursday.
Casey said he hoped new funding from Harrisburg would allow SEPTA to repair aging infrastructure and continue to attract more riders.
A Corbett administration transportation-funding panel, set to issue its report Monday, is expected to recommend about $400 million more annually for Pennsylvania's mass-transit agencies as part of a $2.7 billion increase in transportation funding. Typically, SEPTA gets about 65 percent of the state's mass-transit funding.
To pay for the increase, the Corbett commission voted this month to urge raising wholesale taxes on oil companies, raising fees for vehicle and driver registration, and dedicating a fraction of sales taxes to mass-transit needs.
SEPTA has a wish list of $700 million in construction projects that it is ready to start if it gets additional state funding, chief financial officer Richard Burnfield said. The projects include passenger stations, bridges, power lines, and electrical substations.
The increase in passengers, coupled with a fare hike last July, boosted SEPTA's annual passenger revenue $43.5 million, or 11 percent. That more than offset the $37 million increase in operating costs.
Ridership improved despite the fare increase, an especially bitter winter, and regional unemployment that was worse than at any time in the previous two decades.
Andy Sharpe, communications director of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, attributed much of the increase to "the realization among many people that high gas prices are likely here to stay." He also credited traffic in Center City and SEPTA's "recent emphasis on customer service."
Train ridership was up less than bus, subway, and trolley ridership, but the Regional Rail system still came close to setting a SEPTA record with 35.4 million riders. The record remains 35.5 million in fiscal 2008.
The rail line with the biggest increase in daily passengers - 16 percent - was the Lansdale/Doylestown Line, from 16,158 to 18,717. The Airport Line suffered a 9 percent decline, from 7,454 riders a day to 6,750.
Casey said new Silverliner V railcars slowly being added to the fleet would increase Regional Rail capacity and reliability, with noticeable improvements by winter.
SEPTA has received 32 of 120 Silverliner V cars, which are being made in a South Philadelphia factory by Hyundai Rotem, a subsidiary of South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co.
SEPTA's improved ridership and revenue allowed it this month to put about $20 million back into a rainy-day fund that was depleted by the costs of bad weather and a bus drivers' strike in 2009.