Article published on 11/15 on Philadelphia Business Journal: https://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/news/2022/11/15/jawnt-septa-commuter-benefits.html
Philadelphia startup Jawnt has long range ambitions of creating a universal transit pass, but in the short term is positioning itself to take advantage of the city's new commuter benefit law going into effect in 2023.
The law, introduced by Democratic Councilmember At-Large Helen Gym, will mandate employers with 50 or more full-time employees in Philadelphia to offer benefits toward covering mass transit or bicycle commuting expenses. That's where Jawnt comes in. Launched in 2021, the company operates as a platform that assists companies in setting up such programs for employees. It has partnerships withSEPTA, Indego and PATCO locally.
Jawnt, for example, worked with SEPTA to roll out the pilot of its SEPTA Key AdvantageProgram which allows companies with over 500 employees discounted all-access transit passes for all modes of public transportation. Now, it wants to workwith other transit agencies and smaller employers on similar programs —especially with the commuter benefit law taking hold in less than two months.
Co-founder and CEO Jeff Stade said the company has been busy working with human resources departments to help employers set up programs for their workers to receive discounts on transit spending in accordance with the legislation. The law allows employees to take out pre-tax money from their paycheck to set aside for transit, or an employer can offer a direct benefit like a SEPTA Key Card.
Stade, who co-founded the company with Will Sanderson, said that many employers don't currently offer transit benefits or don't know where to start in setting up a program. The same goes for transit agencies, which have long-standing business models of focusing their sales on individual purchases, rather than business to business sales.
"Historically transit agencies haven’t done a lot of B2B sales," Stade said. "A lot of it is directly to riders, so we're helping them to discover how to do that." He added that for employers located in multiple cities, Jawnt can help them scale benefits across different transit agencies.
That would require partnerships with public transit organizations outside ofPhiladelphia. Jawnt is already working with transit agencies in other cities and has plans to expand further in 2023, Stade said.
His motives for launching the platform two years ago was to encourage people to return public transportation and create a more seamless experience. The pandemic caused ridership on public transportation to drop off as both transit agencies and downtown office buildings have suffered from the effects of remote work.
In that way, both transit agencies and employers are determined to get people back to their regular commutes, and Stade looks at Jawnt as a sort of needed middleman to connect the two entities.
"They're looking for ways to help increase ridership and local businesses and institutions are looking to get people back in the office as well, so we want to help with those partnerships," he said.
Jawnt is confident that with new commuter benefits laws and partnerships already in place, it can succeed in Philadelphia. It doesn't want to limit the programs to large employers though, and hopes to connect with small and midsize businesses.From there, Stade hopes to replicate that model in other cities.
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