SEPTA announced a 14-week pilot program with Uber to provide discounted rides to and from 11 of SEPTA’s regional rail stations.
The transportation providers held a press conference today at SEPTA’s Jenkintown-Wyncote Station, which was still getting the final touches on recent rehabilitation work.
Riders who take Uber either to or from certain SEPTA regional rail stations will receive a 40 percent discount on their trip (up to a maximum discount of $10 per trip), which will be applied after the trip ends. The stations in the promotion are: Glenside, Jenkintown-Wyncote, Elkins Park, Melrose Park, Warminster, Doylestown, Lansdale, Woodbourne, Swarthmore, Wayne and Exton. In exchange, SEPTA is providing Uber with advertising space in its stations and on its trains. No money is exchanging hands.
For Uber, the real promotional value in this partnership is the 40 percent off discount itself. It’s a teaser rate to get commuters hooked on what they call a more convenient form of travel. Taking Uber from Warminster to Center City would be ridiculously expensive, but a short jaunt to the train station plus a monthly pass? That might be on par with gas and parking costs.
Getting consumers hooked on a cheap product then jacking up the price can sound nefarious—it’s the drug dealer’s business model, after all—but if it allows commuters to drive less, or even give up their cars entirely, it’s tough to fault Uber for making a buck after the promo ends.
This isn’t the first such partnership for Uber, which listed similar promotions with Atlanta’s MARTA, Dallas’s DART, and two smaller public transportation authorities in Florida, according to a press release provided to PlanPhilly.
But Uber’s General Manager for Pennsylvania, John Feldman, described this partnership as the first in the northeast and “perhaps the most expansive Uber has launched.”
SEPTA and Uber limited the promotion to suburban stations in part because Uber’s subsidiary, UberX, remains illegal in Philadelphia, although a bill working its way through Harrisburg may soon change that.
Ridership on regional rail has gone up 50 percent since 1999, said SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel, putting a strain on station car parking. The 11 stations were chosen in large part because of the parking crunch they currently face.
“Right now, we’re parked out,” said Knueppel.
A SEPTA chart detailing the parking situation at the 11 stations showed that out of 3,950 SEPTA and municipal spots available at those stations, car counts showed 3,917 were filled during the daily commute, a 99% occupancy rate. SEPTA has built new parking lots to alleviate the crunch, most recently in Lansdale, but both space and money are limited. Officials hope that, by encouraging riders to take Uber instead of their own cars, the situation will improve.
Knueppel also said he hopes this will encourage more commuters to abandon their drives into the city, opting to take Uber and then SEPTA instead. Uber will “complete the trip” by providing the last mile link between the station and the commuter’s home.
Uber’s Feldman noted that ride-hailing services make it possible for some to forego even owning a car. “For most american families, cars are one of the most expensive assets they own, yet we use them for just 4 percent of the time,” said Feldman. “In other words, the average cars is sitting as an unused hunk of metal every day, taking up valuable space, for 23 out of every 24 hours.”
Neither SEPTA nor Uber would say what would happen after the promotion ended after Labor Day.