The SEPTA Youth Advisory Council is pressing to add unlimited SEPTA student access added to tuition.
The council’s Student Fare Discount Initiative would offer a transit pass paid for through a student’s tuition. Yasmine Hamou, a senior political science major, was recently added to the nine-member organization.
“It would be game-changing,” Hamou said. “There’s already a thing where we can get a 10 percent discount, but that’s not enough.”
Will Herzog, the executive chair of the YAC, said the Student Fare Discount Initiative was proposed in 2011. They hope to implement the initiative at several Philadelphia colleges.
In 2016, the council met with SEPTA and other stakeholders to discuss cost structure and implementation, but this was the latest progress of the initiative listed on the YAC’s site.
“We started this project with a lot of resistance from SEPTA,” said Herzog, a senior growth and structure of cities major at Haverford College. “They weren’t too happy about it. But now they’re helping develop it.”
In a 2011 survey of SEPTA riders ages 14-22, the council found that more than 66 percent of those surveyed would be “much more likely” to access SEPTA if it offered a discounted youth pass.
Herzog and other members of the YAC see the initiative as important not only for students’ wallets, but also for the economic future of the city.
A 2014 survey by Campus Philly, a nonprofit organization that encourages students to live and work in the city showed that 64 percent of recent Philadelphia college graduates live in the city immediately after graduation.
Philadelphia is at a point where young people need to remain in the city to guarantee its economic viability, Herzog said.
“The statistic that one in [seven] of all Philly graduates are from Temple makes it that much more important that Temple students get this,” Herzog said. “It would include every single mode of public transportation that SEPTA operates. If students could use it just by tapping their student ID cards, it would be great.”
Jeff Doshna, the chair of the Department of Planning and Community Development in the Tyler School of Art, said this initiative would increase sustainability and reduce emissions from vehicle congestion, which could improve the community’s health.
“It is a thing we could do to make North Philly relationships better and get cars off the street,” Doshna said.
“Students’ cars are occupying the road,” Doshna added. “There’s a reason why emissions are so much higher in congested areas. I think that this makes it harder for students to feel like they’re respecting the community.”
Some regular commuters, however, like sophomore computer science major Abdullah Jandali, who travels from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, to Main Campus every day, are hesitant about the idea of putting SEPTA fares into tuition.
“Some people don’t commute, and they live here or somewhere nearby,” Jandali said. “They would be paying for someone else’s transportation, and I don’t think that would be fair.”
“Regardless, someone would have to pay for it,” he added. “I paid for my SEPTA pass separately from my tuition. If it would be discounted, that would be great, but I can’t imagine it being by much.”
A successful program would include other schools like Haverford College, Swarthmore College, Bryn Mawr College, Jefferson University and Temple, Hamou said.
The YAC was founded in September 2009 as a spinoff of SEPTA’s Citizens Advisory Committee, created by the state legislature in 1967.
For Hamou, the YAC serves two purposes: to promote SEPTA to young people and give them a stake in public transportation improvements. She became a member of the council after attending a meeting for 5th Square, a Political Action Committee for transit and urban planning in Philadelphia.
Hamou said that Jon Geeting, who co-founded 5th Square, reached to her after he saw her active political commentary on Twitter. He invited Hamou to a 5th Square meeting with the president of SEPTA where she was encouraged to fill out YAC’s online application for the program.
“I graduate in May, I want to have [the initiative] set up by then,” Hamou said. “It’s on my radar and my No. 1 goal. …Of course, this is still an ongoing conversation between SEPTA and the university.”
Hamou is currently engaged in two unpaid internships. She said that a University Pass would allow more students to take professional opportunities, as transit costs would not be a factor.
Evan Wise, a 2018 community development alumnus who is a YAC member and a Rutgers University city and regional planning graduate student, lives in Yorktown, a neighborhood near Main Campus.
Wise joined the organization during his sophomore year after being told about it by a professor. He is now the vice chair of the council.
“Universities across the country have programs that allow for free rider access,” Wise said. “We could do a lot better. There’s a lot of upsides there for students.”
“Transportation is something we can all get behind,” Hamou added.
Editor’s Note: Yasmine Hamou is a freelance reporter for The Temple News. She played no part in the reporting and editing of this story.