Penn helps ease SEPTA fare increases with commuter discounts

On July 1, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, or SEPTA, increased the prices of its fares and passes, and revised its Regional Rail zones.

Cash fare for most city buses, subways, and trolleys increased from $2 to $2.25 (exact fare required; SEPTA operators do not give change), and the price for tokens rose from $1.55 to $1.80.

Weekly TransPasses, which previously totaled $22, now cost $24, and monthly TransPasses, which were $83, now run $91. The price of Regional Rail TrailPasses varies, depending on the zone.

Penn has a number of commuter options for faculty and staff that can help ease the SEPTA price increases.

Through an agreement with SEPTA, full-time University employees can purchase TransPasses and TrailPasses at a 10 percent discount. PATCO and N.J. Transit riders receive a 5 percent discount.

The discounted SEPTA passes are paid for by payroll deduction. Faculty and staff can sign up at any time during the year, but there is a six-week processing period. The cutoff is the 20th of the month, two months prior, so the cutoff for receiving a September pass is Saturday, July 20.

Penn’s Commuter Program is an online, self-managed process operated by ADP Commuter Services. To sign up, visit the Penn Commuter website. A PennKey is required.

ADP sends SEPTA passes and commuter checks through the mail, and employees can choose where they want their pass delivered. PATCO riders have their Freedom Card automatically reloaded. Brian Shaw, director of the Business Services Division, which oversees the Commuter Program, says most employees receive their passes between the 21st and 25th of each month.

“It’s designed to make getting a transit pass as convenient as getting parking, so it’s simple for people to participate,” Shaw says of the Commuter Program. Faculty and staff can opt-out for summer months, if they desire.

Penn does not sell SEPTA tokens directly but full-time employees can purchase tokens at a reduced price by signing up for the Commuter Check Card Prepaid MasterCard, which comes with a 5 percent discount.

Faculty and staff can, for example, put $50 on the Commuter Check Card and purchase tokens at a SEPTA sales location. With the University’s 5 percent discount, employees will only be deducted $47.50 for the $50 card.

Shaw advises all Regional Rail riders who use the Commuter Program to make sure their recurring pass reflects SEPTA’s recent changes. For example, some former Zone 4 stations have become Zone 3 stations.  

Full-time employees who use SEPTA parking lots can, in many cases, have the cost of parking in the lot paid pre-tax through the transit benefit program.

Shaw says the University’s commuter benefits are part of Penn’s overall goal of reaching a 50/50 balance between employees who drive and employees who take another mode of transportation to campus.

“It’s better for the environment,” he says. “It’s better for the city’s ability to function from a traffic standpoint, and it’s safer to have fewer cars in and around campus for people who walk and bike.

“Most employers don’t do this,” he adds. “It’s actually pretty unique and a real benefit that we do have this here at Penn.”