Opportunities for students to travel into Philadelphia cost-free are currently more limited than usual due to the absence of the SEPTA lottery. The future of the lottery is uncertain — its original funding source ran out and changes to the SEPTA system itself make buying tickets more difficult for the Office of Student Engagement. Conversations are currently taking place between the OSE, Student Government, and the Student Budget Committee to determine where funding will come from, who the lottery will serve, and logistics of its implementation.
The SEPTA lottery was introduced in September of 2017 by the Office of Student Engagement. The OSE’s goal was to make Philadelphia more accessible to students by distributing Independence Passes to a limited number of students on a biweekly basis.
The program differed from other initiatives designed to increase student access to the city, such as those offered by The Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility and SwatDeck, because the request for passes did not have to be for a specific reason; students could enter just for the sake of getting off campus.
Kat Capossela ’21, current SGO president, explained the history of the lottery system and the significance of SGO providing additional tickets through a separate system in order to reach Swarthmore’s low income population.
“The [original, OSE] SEPTA Lottery, which was open to all students, was based off of a grant of $15,000 that the [OSE] received [from the President’s Office and the Dean of Students Office]. It sent students to Philly every week, but we found it did not serve the low-income student population very well, and SGO identified them as being the most in need of the tickets,” she said.
As a result of that discovery, SGO decided to create a different lottery in which only low income students could enter.
“So, last year, we secured $20,000 for the last year and this year to fund a low income lottery in addition to [OSE’s] general SEPTA Lottery. The [low-income lottery] was funded by the SBC and SGO but was implemented by the OSE, just because SGO can’t see who’s low-income.”
An article from the Daily Gazette, stated that starting in Fall 2017, 80 SEPTA Independence Passes would be distributed to students every two weeks.
By the Spring of 2018, the number of passes distributed per every two weeks rose to 95, according to a Phoenix article.
The number of tickets distributed by the OSE was then more than doubled because of the additional funding provided by SGO. 105 additional passes were distributed specifically for low-income students as part of a separate lottery system.
The original $15,000 grant money the OSE received from the President’s Office and the Dean of Students Office has since run out. This is part of the reason for the reevaluation of the SEPTA lottery. Rachel Head, associate dean and director of student engagement, outlined how the OSE is moving forward with the original funding now gone.
“The original funding for that pilot program was only for the first few years, and now that the pilot program has ended, we need to review the program, its overall implementation, and identify next steps moving forward. The OSE is committed to providing some supplemental funding to keep the lottery going at least through the Fall semester, and we’re planning to get the lottery program running after Fall break,” Head wrote in an email to The Phoenix.
While the OSE and SGO are both committed to having a SEPTA lottery back up and running after Fall break, the way it will be implemented and who it will be available to is still uncertain.
According to Capossela, Andrew Barclay, director of student activities, is interested in obtaining funds from SGO and the SBC to continue a SEPTA lottery that is available to all students regardless of income, but Capossela expressed concern that this may not align with SGO’s priorities.
“OSE is looking to SGO and SBC to fund the [lottery that is open to everyone] but we’re already funding $20,000 for the low-income initiative serving essentially the same purpose, probably even better of a purpose. And so we need to have a conversation about whether we want to pay for [a lottery anyone can apply to],” said Capossela.
No concrete decision about whether the grant money will be put towards tickets for all of the student population has been made yet. There is no indication of when the decision will be made.
In addition to conversations about who the SEPTA lottery will serve, conversations regarding the logistics of buying and distributing the passes are taking place as a result of changes to SEPTA itself that are beyond the college’s control.
SEPTA is currently in the process of phasing out their use of paper tickets and passes, adding new complications to the OSE’s process of buying tickets. Head also discussed how SEPTA’s change in policy is further complicating the lottery
“An additional limitation to the lottery program is SEPTA integrating the ‘SEPTA key’ program (passcard). With the introduction of the ‘SEPTA keythe online SEPTA store is no longer operating — which is where we previously purchased the passes in bulk (approximately 150-200 at a time). Unfortunately, we now can no longer make those purchases. To address this issue, the college (along with many other local colleges and universities ) is working in partnership with SEPTA to figure out some greater integration of our systems,” Head wrote.
In the meantime, SGO and the OSE are still supporting the Arts in Philly program, which sends fifteen students to Philadelphia every month for art-related events, and student groups can purchase passes funded by SGO or the SBC. According to Head, the process just takes more time.
“OSE remains committed to supporting the SGO Arts in Philly initiative and we are also continuing to support student groups who need to purchase passes funded by Student Government or SBC. Unfortunately, with the closure of the SEPTA store, this process just takes a bit more notice from student groups now because we have to go physically buy the passes instead of ordering them online,” she assured.
Regardless, students can expect to see some form of the SEPTA lottery return after Fall break.