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Improving Access to Work for Shift-Based Workers in Philadelphia

Improving Access to Work for Shift-Based Workers in Philadelphia

Shift-based workers in Philadelphia, whether they work in healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, or another industry, face distinct obstacles when it comes to getting to work - and these are the people who rely on transit the most. 

John Holmes
February 24, 2023

At Jawnt, we find most of the organizations that are interested in subsidized transit benefits for their employees fit into one of two groups: either office-based workers who are trying to make the return-to-office process easier, or shift-based workers that need to travel to do their job in-person.

Shift-based workers in Philadelphia, whether they work in healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, or another industry, face distinct obstacles when it comes to getting to work - and these are the people who rely on transit the most. 

Take Sophia, for example. She lives along the Regional Rail lines and relies on SEPTA to get to her early shifts in the city. But the infrequent early morning train times over the years have taken a toll on both her health ("I cannot run for any train, bus,… too much stress and I am too old for that 63 years and I have been hustling for the transportation to work and working…all through this pandemic") and her paycheck ("most of the week the train has a late arrival to 30th street sometime causing me to miss 2 hours of pay").

More frequent, reliable service and affordable fares. That's what Sophia and riders like her want, and that is what transit providers like SEPTA and Jawnt are working towards.

The shift to ‘lifestyle’ transit networks

Bus and train schedules have historically been designed with 9-5 commuters in mind, and service is often less frequent during times that shift-based workers need it. In Philadelphia, SEPTA’s strategic plan, SEPTA Forward, is centered around the vision of creating a ‘lifestyle’ transit network; one that can be easily used for all kinds of trips, not just 9-5 commuting. That means better service for shift-based workers.

SEPTA's lifestyle network vision
SEPTA's lifestyle network vision

And that’s a big deal because shift-based workers use transit much more frequently than other kinds of workers. 32% of the city’s service workers (including those in healthcare support, emergency services, personal care, and hospitality) use transit to get to work, compared to just 21% of all workers in Philadelphia.

Service workers use transit 52% more frequently than the overall workforce in Philadelphia.

Helping with the cost burden

Creating the lifestyle transit network is part of the solution; however, it doesn’t address the high cost of commuting. A 2019 report from Pew compared Philadelphia to 7 peer cities and found that the cost of transit was more burdensome here than in any other cities. Philadelphians pay the highest percent of their incomes for transit relative to the other cities.

“Since inflation is so high this benefit is a great help!”

Shift-based service workers in Philadelphia feel this pinch even more acutely - their median income was 38% less than that of all workers (~$26,000 for shift-based vs ~$42,000 for all workers in 2021). Transit commuters may be able to save on transportation expenses if they purchase weekly or monthly passes, but fronting the money for these passes is not always viable.

Of the eight US cities with the largest number of transit commuters, Philadelphians pay the highest percentage of the city’s median income for a year’s worth of transit fares.

This is where employers can come into play. By offering discounted transit passes as an employee benefit, companies and organizations can make commuting less of a burden for their shift-based employees, improving employee happiness and retention.

In Philadelphia, SEPTA has launched SEPTA Key Advantage, which provides deeply discounted, unlimited SEPTA passes to participating organizations, as part of their benefits package. Offering this benefit to employees allows them to keep more money in their pockets and more reliably get to work.

“This program is amazing and the best thing that ever happened. It is saving me a lot of money, and I truly appreciate my company for choosing your company to work with us.” - Shift-based worker in Philadelphia receiving transit benefits through Jawnt
“So easy and one less thing I need to worry about during busy weeks of work!”

One employee recently reached out to us and let us know that they got an exciting new job, but they did not want to say goodbye to their transit benefit: "Is this program eligible to other people… not just company employees?" they asked, saying they plan to ask their new employer if they can offer such a benefit through Jawnt. "It has been great for me."

As an employer, one of the best things you could offer your employees is a benefits package that is difficult to leave. This is true for all, but especially for shift-based workers.

Shift-based workers perform many of the most necessary tasks in Philadelphia. They work in hospitals, provide groceries, keep our city clean, serve up your morning coffee, and much, much more. Employers can continue to positively impact their employees in the wake of the pandemic by helping them keep money in their pockets and get to work worry free. We’re here to help.


About Jawnt

Jawntis a Philadelphia-based technology company focused on helping more people access their cities through public and shared transit. Jawnt partners directly with transit and mobility providers to increase the ease of purchasing and using transit. The Jawnt platform enables employers to offer better, unified transit benefits for their entire workforce and includes HR/benefits integrations, commute planning tools, analytics, and ongoing support. The city is yours again – with Jawnt. For more, visit

📸 by our Customer Success Lead, Leo Walsh

John Holmes

The Jawnt blog

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