Despite Penn’s proximity to the heart of Philadelphia, a large majority of Penn students choose to eat, party and stay on campus.
But the SEPTA Student Fare Discount Program, an initiative started by the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council, promises more students the chance to break out of the "Penn bubble."
The discount program is still in the works, but if successfully adopted, it would offer an unlimited annual student pass at a 50 to 75 percent discount. The price would be included in the cost of attendance at Penn and would be eligible for financial aid coverage if it is beyond one’s Expected Family Contribution. Though a price for Penn students has yet to be agreed on, the annual fee for the program at Pittsburgh schools is around $180, said Engineering and Wharton senior Jeff Kessler, the executive chair of YAC.
Kessler hopes to facilitate talks between SEPTA and Penn administration before the end of SEPTA’s fiscal year in June so that the discount program’s implementation can take place by the next academic year.
To show SEPTA and the Penn administration that students are interested in seeing this proposal become a reality, the YAC launched an online petition four days ago, with 519 signatures to date.
Because of its diverse student population and central location, Penn is one of the YAC’s initial target schools, though Kessler envisions this discount program eventually being implemented in the entire Philadelphia region.
Kessler points to the success of a similar discount program for students in Pittsburgh as a model. Before, students attending schools in Pittsburgh, like Carnegie Mellon University, would just stay on campus and only occasionally go to the downtown area, similar to students at Penn.
“Today, you can’t go through a single tour at a school in Pittsburgh without an administrator or student talking about the wonders of being able to just show student ID and go to the downtown area," Kessler said. “We want to repeat that here.”
Kessler argues that the discount program would be a win-win for both SEPTA and Penn students. Even at the discounted price, SEPTA would generate a huge revenue, and students would get easy access to the city.
“Even though the cost of a SEPTA token is not expensive at all, the cost makes people consider whether they really want to leave campus,” Kessler said. “But by removing the cost barrier, it makes spontaneous trips possible. Students can go out and about and enjoy all that Philadelphia has to offer. If you want to go to Trader Joe’s to buy just one item, you can do that. If you want to go to Rittenhouse Square for lunch, you can do that.”
Kessler has teamed up with Wharton and Engineering sophomore Kanishka Rao, who is a member of both the Undergraduate Assembly Dining, Sustainability and Facilities committee and the Sophomore Class Board, to bring this to the attention of Penn students and administrators.
“Penn sells itself on Philly when prospective students visit Penn, but when students actually get here, we’re not giving them adequate access to the treasures inside the city,” said Rao, a Philadelphia native. “I hope to leverage my unique access to the student body and administration to show each side that the other is also interested in making this happen.”
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