Philly businesses would have to offer pre-tax SEPTA passes under new City Council plan - BillyPenn

Potentially saving workers hundreds each year

Backers say the idea could boost ridership, improve safety, and increase transit equity.


As SEPTA struggles to coax more commuters back onto its trains and buses, City Council is putting forward a plan that would require businesses to help out while providing a potential tax break for workers.

MARK HENNINGER / IMAGIC DIGITAL
MARK HENNINGER / IMAGIC DIGITAL

Under a proposed law Councilmember Helen Gym is introducing today, Philadelphia companies with more than 50 employees would have to offer a transit benefit: letting workers pay for SEPTA passes with pre-tax salaries.


This could cut employees’ federal income tax bill by an average of $200 to $250 a year, according to Gym — and hopefully encourage more people to ride the system.


“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 told Billy Penn.


SEPTA currently sees about 530,000 passengers daily, just over half its pre-pandemic volume. The lack of riders has been costing the agency nearly $1 million a day in lost revenue.


Having more people on station platforms and vehicles can help address concerns about safety and cleanliness, plus improve SEPTA’s long-term financial viability, Gym said. A wave of “vulnerable populations” taking shelter in stations during the pandemic has made some riders uncomfortable, leading the agency to boost social service offerings and to close exits in some downtown stations.


By encouraging commuters to leave their cars at home and take a train, trolley or bus to work instead, Gym and other supporters say, the bill will also help reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and street congestion, plus support the city’s Vision Zero initiative to prevent traffic deaths. Traffic fatalities in Philadelphia soared to 156 in 2020, the most in over two decades. Last year’s count fell just slightly to 133, according to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.


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