SEPTA considering alternative discounts for students

The School Partnership Program may be partially paid for by tuition dollars.

Educational institutions in the Philadelphia-area could offer discounted SEPTA rates, after a recent online petition.

SEPTA’s Youth Advisory Council proposed the SEPTA School Partnership Program on last month.

YAC is a Philadelphia-based advocacy organization that advocates for the needs of the 22-and-under demographic to SEPTA leadership, as well as representing those leaders to youth.

The initial idea of the program began in September 2012, and the planning process took off last month, said Jeff Kessler, executive chairman of YAC.

The SEPTA School Partnership Program has the potential to follow one of two models.

The first is annual unlimited transportation passes, purchased by the university at a discount set by SEPTA and provided to all students. The alternative is that SEPTA sends student usage information to the university, which then pays SEPTA for the accumulated student fares at a discount.

The University of Pittsburgh has implemented a similar program where students and faculty can tap their university IDs to “ride fare-free on all Port Authority buses, trolleys and inclines within Allegheny County.” The pass costs $180.

There are also different cost structures for how universities would be able to pay for the program. The petition claims the passes would be funded from school budgets, financial aid and university tuition dollars.

“It depends on the individual school and how they plan to finance it,” Kessler said.

He added schools can pay for the program with endowments, but general funds are the most likely way to finance it.

“The cost goes to the university and however the university decides to cover the costs on the back end is up to them,” he said.

Kessler said any additional charges beyond a student’s expected family contributions is covered by a school like the University of Pennsylvania.

“Anything that impacts general funds is typically negligible,” he added. “Individual cost to the student is kept minimal.”

YAC is currently bringing university and SEPTA leaders to discuss structure and design a program to get schools on board, Kessler said.

Although the proposal is not yet naming a specific structure for the program, Kessler said the aim is to “maximize what everyone, students, universities and SEPTA would like to see.”

“[YAC] is not the decider of the final program,” he added.

The program must go through a process of public hearings to be approved by SEPTA, before schools can sign on. Kessler said he hopes the program will be instituted this fiscal year.

SEPTA evaluates their budget and structure every three years. Their last review was three years ago, Kessler said.

“Now is the time to get a program like this in the works,” he added.

Student ID compatibility to integrate payment technology and replace tokens would make the program more convenient for students.

SEPTA fares would accept swiping with the magnetic strip on the back of the student ID card to pay the fare, as well as tapping with contact magnetic chips other cards may have.

All Temple representatives on YAC have graduated and moved on and YAC is “highly interested in recruiting members from Temple,” Kessler said.

“At this point, given Temple’s size, we want to make sure we have representation from Temple on the committee,” he added.

Junior management information systems major Nick Bui, commutes from Olney. He frequently used public transportation in his freshman and sophomore year, but he now has a car.

“[The program] would not affect me as much,” he said. “It would be a waste of money, having a car is more useful. I wouldn’t take public transportation over a car.”

Jacky Huynh, sophomore engineering major, also has a 30-minute drive from Bensalem, Pennsylvania.

“It’s a good idea in general, but it sounds like a step back because people in dorms will start complaining,” he said. “It should be more selective for people who need it.”

As of Oct. 26, the petition currently has 1,091 signatures out of the required 1,500.

“The petition gives us quantifiable numbers to show interest exists,” Kessler said.

Lian Parsons can be reached at or on Twitter @Lian_Parsons.

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