Commuter affordability talks paused

SEPTA, Temple Student Government and the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council have stopped discussing the creation of a $350 TrailPass for commuters.

A man boards onto an Elwyn-bound Regional Rail train at the Temple University station. SEPTA, the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council and Temple have halted their negotiations to lower the cost of trail passes to benefit commuter students. | KYLE THOMAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Because Temple Student Government’s director of grounds and sustainability has left the university and no replacement has been made, all negotiations between SEPTA and TSG for a more economical option for commuter students have been halted indefinitely.

TSG’s former Director of Grounds and Sustainability Aaron Weckstein told The Temple News in February that he was meeting with SEPTA to negotiate a $350 TrailPass that would greatly reduce the cost of travel for commuters and lessen the amount of students who drive to Main Campus.

Each organization involved in the talks — SEPTA, SEPTA’s Youth Advisory Council led by college and high school students and TSG — had a different solution to lessen commuter rates.

In Spring 2017, TSG proposed the TrailPass, a new option for commuters, to SEPTA. This program would give commuters the opportunity to have unlimited rides across all transit zones for the academic year at a cost of nearly $350.

Student Body President Tyrell Mann-Barnes will meet with Kathleen Grady, Temple’s director of sustainability, this week to discuss the negotiations and learn how TSG can help, TSG’s Vice President of Services Kayla Martin wrote in a statement.

“On our end, we want to make SEPTA is affordable for Temple students and are certainly willing to work with SEPTA to make this happen,” the statement read.

Currently, the only SEPTA-Temple partnership is for the University Pass program, which is a subset within the larger SEPTA ComPass program. Costs range from around $346 to $736, with the $736 pass covering unlimited use of all Regional Rail zones.

The University Pass program is shared with other Philadelphia universities like Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. This program gives commuters a 10 percent discount off their fare, with passes being issued on a semester basis and costs a maximum of $736 per semester.

Kim Scott Heinle, SEPTA’s assistant general manager for customer service, said the University Pass usually functions with SEPTA providing a  5 percent discount that the university matches to allow students a total 10 percent savings. Some schools exceed their share, but Heinle said he did not know Temple’s contribution.

Heinle said that SEPTA has long-term plans to evolve the University Pass program to use the SEPTA Key. He was unsure of how that would affect commuters at Temple, citing how early the idea is.

“We’re trying to come up with a program, once we fully roll out [SEPTA Key] on the railroads, and we have the institutional portals set up, then we can accommodate a program that would improve on ComPass but hopefully be better than ComPass,” Heinle said. “We are committed to keep fares low, but we’re also committed to do everything we can, as cost-effectively as we can, so that everybody benefits no matter where you are.”

Grady said she can’t comment on the prior negotiations, but reaffirmed her office’s commitment to commuter students.

“The Office of Sustainability is committed to making it as easy as possible for Temple students to be able to use alternative forms of transportation that have lower greenhouse gas emissions,” Grady said. “We will continue to pursue all strategies that are available.”

Many commuter students were unaware of the past transit negotiations, but said affordable transportation is important to them.

“I don’t know too much information about [the negotiations], but it would be great news if anything works to lower the cost,” said junior marketing major and commuter Matt Roth.

Will Herzog is the executive chair of the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council, which represents student-commuters in Philadelphia and communicates their concerns to SEPTA. Herzog expressed his group’s desire to continue to lobby for affordable transit options for Temple students.

The council has proposed a plan called the Student Fare Discount Initiative. This would give all students unlimited access to transit as a part of their cost of attendance, similar to the level of access all students have at university fitness centers.

“Our Student Fare Discount Initiative, aims to solve the main barrier for Temple students using SEPTA, which is affordability,” Herzog said. “So we are working with SEPTA, and area universities, such as Temple, to try and ensure that implementation [of a program like this] goes smoothly, and that Temple students’ interests are at the table.”

Herzog was critical of the University Pass program in regards to its accessibility and level of coverage. He said that his organization will continue to champion “using a bulk discount program” like the current proposed discount initiative, which would have Temple purchase the passes for all its students to increase discounts.

“The YAC echoes the concern that [the University Pass program] is beyond comprehensive, and only suits the needs of a small portion of the population, those that commute to Temple, rather than a residential college student who seeks to become more engaged with their community and their city,” Herzog said. “It’s also outdated and overpriced, and not within the budget of a commuter student at Temple.”

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