Unlimited access to Philadelphia's network of subways, trolleys, and buses should come included with tuition or employment at all of the city’s colleges and universities*. Elected officials should work to encourage SEPTA and academic leadership to embrace the model established by the University of Pittsburgh and the Port Authority of Allegheny County, in which heavily discounted transit passes are automatically included in tuition and compensation packages for students and university employees, respectively.
(UPDATE: SEPTA Youth Advisory Council launched a petition in September 2015 asking for SEPTA and all regional universities to commit to this goal.)
University of Pittsburgh students pay about $180 a year, as part of tuition, for unlimited access to the region's transit system — radically less than what students pay for taxis or what students with cars pay for gas, insurance, parking, and other associated costs. If SEPTA and local colleges and universities can keep the annual transportation fee down to a few hundred dollars a year, students could save thousands of dollars by leaving their cars off campus (this policy would also have the added benefit of improving on-steet parking availability for permanent residents). And depending on the discount applied, the policy could infuse as much as $60 million annually into SEPTA’s City Transit Division. That could be used to pay for transit improvements like free transfers, extended weekday subway hours, or better bus service.
With SEPTA Key already set up to work with the chip in Penn’s new university cards, now is the perfect time to discuss the option of bulk fare purchases. The next Mayor should hire a temporary full-time coordinator to negotiate bulk fare agreements between Philadelphia’s large universities and SEPTA. The public benefits - greater connectivity, transportation affordability, and the fiscal health of the transit system - are far too important for this to be anything other than an immediate priority.
*These are the local college and universities we would like to see participate in this program: Community College of Philadelphia, Temple, Drexel, University of Pennsylvania, Saint Joseph's University, La Salle University, University of the Sciences.