SEPTA Fails to Accommodate Philadelphia Students


A SEPTA Weekday Student TransPass, meant to be “affordable” for K-12 students in the Philadelphia School District, costs $3.84 per school day or $19.20 per week. If a student travels via SEPTA on each of the 180 days of attendance mandated by the PhilaSD, their total travel bill will come out to $691.20. 

This Student TransPass, which is distributed in weekly passes, allows students to ride on buses, subways, and trolleys. Students can also receive a free bus pass if they live a certain distance from their school. However, SEPTA Regional Rail is not paid for by any student pass even though many private, magnet, and charter school students ride regional rail during their morning commute. Students can upgrade their pass to include regional rail for $10.30 a month, but the process of upgrading is time consuming and ultimately still costs the student $370.80 per year.

The Philadelphia School District has long supported charter schools. One argument many Philadelphians make in support of charter schools is that they provide free opportunities for better education outside of a student’s district. If these charter schools do not provide buses, their students must find another way to get to and from school every day. For schools in center city, specifically those near SEPTA’s 30th Street Station, Suburban Station, or Jefferson Station, the simplest way for these students to get to school is via regional rail. However, SEPTA discourages students from taking the most convenient route by overpricing their services. This could possibly prevent some families from sending their children to charter schools that might be the best fit for their students. Ultimately, SEPTA may defeat the purpose of charter schools for some students. 

Considering most of SEPTA’s regional rail customers are adult commuters, the cost of giving free RailPasses to students would not be catastrophic. Additionally, senior citizens ride all SEPTA platforms for free; why are students charged for their commute while seniors, who have worked for decades and set aside savings accounts, ride free? Unfortunately, this is likely reflective of that senior citizens make up the city’s largest voting block, a larger problem all together. The question of affordability should also lead to a larger discussion on the pros and cons of income based fare pricing.

Along with charter schools, Philadelphia boasts multiple magnet schools, like Julia R. Masterman School and Central High School, which are open for application to all city residents. Many of the students in these schools come from neighborhoods like Roxborough, Mt. Airy, and Northeast Philadelphia, which are hard to reach via bus or subway. For these students, the most convenient mode of public transportation into school is SEPTA regional rail. A bus or subway transfer could add upwards of 15 minutes to a student’s morning commute compared to their fastest regional rail option. Considering many Philadelphia area school districts have implemented or are considering later school start times, the omission of Regional Rail from student passes seems to counter progress. Although these magnets are supposedly free, RailPass coverage for the whole school year currently costs $864. In Philadelphia, where the average annual family income is $39,759, full school year RailPass coverage for one student would cost over 2% of the family’s full earnings.

Students, whether they attend public, private, or charter schools, should be given free access to SEPTA regional rail for this reason: SEPTA and the city of Philadelphia should not discourage their youth from seeking out the best education possible. In a city where 25% of all residents live below the poverty line, making access to education more difficult is shameful. By encouraging great education, the city could ultimately benefit from increases in civic participation and economic production.