Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym introduced a plan on Thursday to the Philadelphia City Council that would require companies with more than 50 employees to provide a tax break on employee SEPTA passes, granting relief to the city’s commuters amid inflated gas prices.
The proposal would allow workers to pay for SEPTA passes with pre-tax salaries, lowering their federal income tax bill by an average of $200 to $250 a year, according to Gym.
Gym said that the cost of the tax break to businesses — which is already voluntarily employed by several companies across the city — would eventually zero out, as businesses would have to pay less in payroll taxes.
SEPTA is currently operating with 50% of the ridership it saw pre-pandemic, agency spokesperson Andrew Busch told WHYY in February. The drop in ridership costs the transportation agency nearly $1 million every day.
Earlier this spring, SEPTA announced a new program for businesses to provide free SEPTA passes to some of their employees. Penn Medicine — one of the city’s largest employers — was amongst the program’s earliest participants, buying 10,000 passes last month.
“We’re lucky that we’re one of the few cities in the nation that has a transit system that reaches into a lot of places, but its sustainability only depends on riders,” Gym said. “And without riders that system cannot continue in the way that it has.”
Gym’s proposed plan comes as SEPTA attempts to employ its Five Year Strategic Plan to boost public transportation ridership. The agency has rolled out several incentive programs aimed at local employers and their workers, including free tickets for riders under 12 and special discounts over the past year.
“The health and well-being of public transit relies on its usability by everyday, ordinary Philadelphians who are purposeful about getting to work, to school, to recreational opportunities, and more,” Gym said.