PHILADELPHIA— Today, City officials and program partners provided an update and additional information about Zero Fare, a new City-funded transit access pilot program that uses automatic enrollment to eliminate barriers for residents with low incomes in accessing this public transit benefit.
Zero Fare was launched in August of 2023 as a two-year pilot program developed and managed by the City’s Managing Director’s Office in partnership with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and community-based partners.
Mayor Kenney first announced the program while presenting the proposed FY24 budget in March of 2023, as one of several programs and investments designed to offer relief to households with low incomes and promote equitable growth and opportunity. City Council approved $62 million in the budget to develop and implement the pilot program.
In a recent City community needs assessment, 39 percent of Philadelphia residents in poverty cited transportation as their biggest obstacle to finding and sustaining employment.
At today’s press conference, Mayor Kenney addressed this concern. “We hope this new benefit – Zero Fare – will help Philadelphia residents with low incomes access any support or service needed without worrying about the cost of the trip to get there.”
“The benefits of this program are wide-ranging with the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for many Philadelphia residents,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “We anticipate that Zero Fare pilot program participants will have better access to healthcare, social services, and employment opportunities. We also hope that they will be able to visit family easier and enjoy all the benefits that Philadelphia has to offer.”
Zero Fare is funded to serve at least 25,000 residents and participants are being selected in two ways:
- 90% of income and age-eligible Philadelphia residents will be randomly selected to participate and automatically enrolled in the benefit program. Residents are not able to apply for this benefit at this time.
- An additional 10% of income and age-eligible participants will be enrolled through partner community organizations that primarily serve immigrant and refugee communities in Philadelphia. These participants will receive a Zero Fare Key card from the organization they visited or in the mail if enrolled by phone. These partners are Esperanza, ACANA, New World Association, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, Puentes de Salud, and SEAMAAC.
While the City knows many more Philadelphians are eligible for Zero Fare than the anticipated 25,000 participants apart of this two-year pilot initiative, it can only serve as many as the funding allows. Random selection of eligible residents allows the City to distribute the benefit equitably while setting up a robust program evaluation to understand what worked well and what might be improved upon to create the best possible program.
“I am excited about the new Philadelphia Zero Fare Program, and it is the most expansive transit access program for riders with low incomes in the country,” said Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (Second District), Chair of City Council’s Transportation and Public Utilities Committee. “This new two-year pilot program will support free SEPTA transit for 25,000 residents with low incomes and that will help program participants throughout Philadelphia have better access to healthcare, social services, and employment opportunities. I hope this Zero Fare pilot program is successful so it can be expanded to include more Philadelphians in the future.”
Automatic enrollment is a new approach to benefits distribution in Philadelphia and essential to the design of the Zero Fare program. There are often many barriers to accessing income-based benefits and services, including the cost of transportation.
“The goal to make it easy and reduce the burden on the Zero Fare pilot participants so they can spend more time doing what matters,” said Philadelphia City Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr (Fourth District), Oversight Board Member of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO). “We are pleased the Zero Fare team developed this benefits distribution approach to automatically enroll participants and mail those individuals pre-loaded and activated Zero Fare Key cards.”
“Zero Fare is one of the best examples of how MDO departments and our partners came together to find innovative solutions to access problems for our residents living in poverty,” said Managing Director Tumar Alexander. “Our staff is bringing their expertise and innovative ideas to the table – it’s a team effort and I’m proud of how everyone worked across City departments and identified the best external partners to launch this pilot program in such an efficient and effective way. By covering transportation costs, the City is helping to provide financial relief and promote well-being.”
SEPTA has been a key partner in the development of the City’s pilot program to ensure that the Zero Fare Key cards work across the entire system – bus, subway, trolley, regional rail, and CCT ADA paratransit for cross-eligible riders.
“SEPTA is proud to partner with the City of Philadelphia on one of the most robust and far-reaching zero-fare initiatives in the country,” said SEPTA CEO and General Manager Leslie S. Richards. “Our transit system plays a critical role in getting people to their jobs, medical appointments, and other day-to-day activities. This program is going to make it easier for thousands of people to make those essential trips.”