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Just a few weeks ago, Transit Forward Philadelphia called on the City of Philadelphia to do its part in supporting dependable, accessible transportation in the city. And in last week's budget address Mayor Jim Kenney delivered, with a proposal for $80 million over two years toward two new programs for public transportation as part of FY2024.
The new money is split between two programs: enrolling city employees in the SEPTA Key Advantage program for bulk purchase of transit passes, and providing free passes to those in the city earning at or near the federal poverty line.
Taken together, these investments underscore the need for shared investment in our transit system as we face the end of federal COVID recovery money, which will begin to run out in FY 2025.
SEPTA Key Advantage soft-launched in March 2022, allowing large employers to purchase unlimited transit passes directly from SEPTA, to be distributed as a benefit of employment. With initial uptake of nearly 50% among eligible staff at the initial three employers - Drexel, Wawa, and Penn Medicine - the program expanded in the summer to companies with more than 500 employees, with offerings to companies with more than 50 employees coming this year. The City of Philadelphia's enrollment would add up to 25,000 people to the pool of potential riders - a critical weight in regenerating transit ridership lost to the pandemic and changing transportation patterns.
Even more meaningfully, Mayor Kenney's proposal pushes $31 million its first year into free transit for Philadelphia residents at or near the poverty level. Locally, 22.8% of city residents fit this definition as of 2021, including over 28% of Black residents and 36% of disabled residents. This makes the proposed program not only a boon getting impoverished residents access to jobs, housing, and cultural institutions, but also a push toward racial and disability justice.
Adding this free transit program, Philadelphia would join areas as diverse as Seattle-King County, New York, Tucson, AZ, and Minneapolis-St. Paul in prioritizing transit justice for all.
While SEPTA pursues Bus Revolution, city government is increasing its stake in the resilience of our regional public transportation system. A system with more riders has greater perceived and actual safety, and lays the groundwork for larger, more sustainable investments in SEPTA at the local and state level.