SEPTA teams up with businesses to offer six months of free rides for workers

A SEPTA rider passes through the turnstile at the 8th and Market station. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A SEPTA rider passes through the turnstile at the 8th and Market station. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

SEPTA is teaming up with three major employers to give their workers six months of free rides. The goal is to help the workers get around while reinvigorating mass transit in the region.

The “SEPTA Key Advantage” will give businesses SEPTA Key Cards that have universal access to all bus, train, and trolley routes for six months, SEPTA’s Andrew Busch said.

The goal of the program is to bring back ridership to a system that has been struggling to win the confidence of riders since the pandemic.

Drexel University, Penn Medicine, and Wawa will be the first three businesses in the pilot program, paying $140 for each employee that will receive the card for free.

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The money generated from the employers is designed to cover their existing workers who are already riding the system.

“We looked at what our existing ridership is, existing pass usage is with people who work at these three institutions. And that’s what we based the pricing on,” Busch said. “It’s revenue-neutral.”

The plan is similar to ones in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Chicago that have helped boost ridership, said Busch.

Another goal of the program is to reduce traffic congestion and increase mobility in the region as the pandemic recovery continues.

Keith Kasper, Chief Financial Officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, said they have committed to purchase about 10,000 passes as part of the program.  He said Penn is concerned about the environmental impact of its employees commuting, adding that bringing more people to mass transit could help everyone in the region.

Kasper said most employees have been driving to work, and that’s causing congestion issues along with parking shortages, two problems the move back to using mass transit could help ease.

Even though the pilot program is only for a six-month period, Kasper hopes to negotiate a reduced rate for their workforce going forward if the test is successful.

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The program could also be expanded if the pilot is a success, Busch said.

A formal establishment of the special rate has to go through the transit agency’s tariff process, and employers will begin reaching out to their workers about pass availability in the coming weeks. The official kick-off is set for May 1.

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