Earlier this month, the City of Philadelphia officially became the newest participating member of the SEPTA Key Advantage program through an appropriation in the city’s FY 2024 budget. The city’s participation is a win for city employees and SEPTA. At a time where a challenge such as filling vacant spots exists, the Key Advantage program seeks to rebuild ridership on the system, encourage transit ridership, and build upon sustainable transportation in Philadelphia. This bold-forward looking policy choice by city officials becomes a step in trying to solve the challenge.
About the SEPTA Key Advantage Employer Program
SEPTA Key Advantage is a universal transit program where participating institutions purchase monthly all-access SEPTA passes for all of their employees. Through universal participation, employers can purchase the pass at a reduced price point, existing riders receive a valuable benefit, and new riders are introduced to the system. The program launched in May 2022 and includes major private employers like Penn Medicine, Drexel University, Wawa, and FMC.
The Key Advantage program has been a crucial part of SEPTA’s ridership recovery strategy, as the agency adapts to changes in travel demand brought about by the increase in worker flexibility in the post-pandemic environment. For participating employers, the program allows them to provide a valuable employee benefit at a time of increased competition for labor, to encourage sustainable commuting, and a means to support their efforts to encourage the return to in-person activity.
City of Philadelphia Employees
The City of Philadelphia included participation in Key Advantage in the FY 2024 budget proposed by the Mayor and it was approved by City Council. As of September 2023, all-access passes are available to about 22,000 city employees at no cost to them. This new benefit comes at a time when the City is struggling to attract and retain workers, with approximately 1 in 5 positions unfilled. Providing transit access will enhance the city’s attractiveness as an employer, while also encouraging transit use and reduced car travel among the city workforce.
Additional Key Advantage Programs
In addition to City employees, Philadelphia has launched a zero-fare pilot program through Key Advantage that will benefit an estimated 25,000 residents living in poverty. Residents living up to 150% of the poverty line will be randomly selected and offered all-access passes at no cost, with a research and tracking program in place to assess program impacts on economic and quality of life outcomes.
SEPTA has also launched a UPass version of Key Advantage to enable colleges and universities to provide all-access transit passes to students. This fall, Swarthmore College joined as the first participating institution. This program will help to build greater familiarity with the SEPTA network among college students, potentially increasing lifetime ridership among the many college students who stay in the Philadelphia region post-graduation.
SEPTA is not alone in developing universal pass approaches, with similar programs operated by peer agencies in regions like Seattle, Minneapolis, and Boston. In 2020, at the nadir of ridership, SEPTA asked ESI to research peer city programs, analyze pricing models, and provide strategic recommendations and implementation support for the Key Advantage program. As the program has evolved, ESI has continued to support SEPTA with analysis, implementation support, and development of additional program models.
During the initial employer pilot, SEPTA and ESI quickly discovered that the logistics of providing information and support to help a large-scale workforce to register for the program was one of the greatest challenges to program success. To address this crucial step, SEPTA engaged Jawnt, a Philadelphia-based technology platform, to serve a benefits administrator. Jawnt’s technology solutions provide support for employers and employees in signing up for and managing the program over time, greatly reducing frictions in the ability of employees to capitalize on the benefit.
ESI and Jawnt’s engagement in Key Advantage extends beyond our consulting work: ESI is one of the founding participants in the Key Advantage small business program, working in concert with Jawnt as our transit benefits administrator.
Looking to enroll in Key Advantage? Visit jawntpass.com/key-advantage to learn more about the program and how your organization can participate.
Ethan Conner-Ross is a Senior Vice President and Principal of ESI. His practice areas include public policy, transportation, tourism, economic development, and strategic planning. Mr. Conner-Ross is an experienced project leader who brings cross-disciplinary skills and a public sector perspective to his engagements. He has led a range of projects for ESI helping governmental, quasi-governmental, and private sector organizations maximize and articulate public benefits.
Leo is the Customer Success Manager at Jawnt. Over the last year, he and Jawnt have helped thousands of Philadelphia employees enroll in SEPTA’s Key Advantage program, in addition to Jawnt’s other fleet of transit benefit offerings (Indego, PATCO, NJ Transit, Amtrak, etc.). Leo also contributes to Jawnt’s blog, where he enjoys telling the story of Philadelphia’s transit system through the lens of the humans that ride it every day. He loves riding his bicycle, catching painted turtles, and watching the Minnesota Timberwolves play basketball.