Startups

Tech-enabled transit startup Jawnt is partnering with SEPTA on its Key Advantage rollout for Philly employers

"We've had a long vision of a universal transit pass," Jawnt cofounder and CEO Jeff Stade said.

Technologists Jeff Stade and Will Sanderson had known for a while that they wanted to go into business together to serve urban spaces, but it wasn’t until the two idealized a tech-enabled transit business that they took the plunge in 2021.

The pair, along with Head of Engineering Amanda McDermott, are behind Jawnt, a platform for Philadelphians to get easy access to every buses, bikes, subways and trains — all in one place.

Stade is passionate about transit and mobility, and had been studying at University of Pennsylvania’s urban spatial analytics program. He and Sanderson were both interested in how tech can be used in traditionally underserved industries, and knew that SEPTA was undergoing a revamp of its system amid a pandemic-time decrease in ridership. They each left their full-times roles as product managers to work on the startup early this year.

“Employers are thinking about return to office and riders themselves have more options to get around,” Stade told Technical.ly. “All of these are reasons we should be investing in transit and bringing these stakeholders together. We’ve had a long vision of a universal transit pass.”

So Jawnt was born as a unified platform for employers to offer direct transit benefits to their employees. It currently operates in Philadelphia with SEPTA and Indego bike service, and recently partnered with SEPTA on its Key Advantage program which enables employers in Philadelphia to offer all-access SEPTA passes to eligible employees.

In the pilot phase of the program, SEPTA worked with Penn Medicine, Drexel University and Wawa. The companies each purchased six-month all-access passes for all of their eligible employees, and since the program rolled out in May, more than 7,500 people have signed up for the benefit, the transit authority told The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this month. Jawnt has also been working alongside Econsult Solutions, a Philly-based economic consultancy that helped launch the SEPTA Key Advantage pilot.

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“One of the great things about running a pilot is that you get to test assumptions, see what works, and learn how to improve the process,” Tiffany Hudson, a senior analyst at Econsult, said of the project in a statement. “We appreciate the trust, patience, and dedication of our partners to use this pilot to build a better, more streamlined product for employers in the region, and we’re excited about the value jawnt can help provide.”

Organizations customize their Jawnt pass with available mobility options, and the Jawnt team takes care of the rest: managing the purchasing and distribution of discounted passes, integrating into HR and payroll systems, and providing members with support like commute planning and rewards.

The Jawnt team (from top) Amanda McDermott, Jeff Stade and Will Sanderson. (Courtesy image)

The Jawnt team is made up of Stade as CEO, Sanderson as cofounder and McDermott as head of engineering, along with a small team of contractors. They deliberately started with employers as their main customers, they said.

That market was already growing in Philadelphia with SEPTA’s Key Advantage plan and has been popular in other cities like Boston and Seattle.  They might explore the B2C transit market eventually, the cofounders said, but they’re more focused on replicating this model in other cities. They’ve currently got eyes on San Antonio, the country’s seventh-largest metro, which relies a lot on driving.

“They’re seeing a big parking crunch, it’s getting really expensive for people to park downtown and companies are moving out of city centers,” Sanderson said.

Getting people downtown on alternate modes of transportation to keep the downtown economies thriving is of chief concern for these mid-sized cities. Sustainability efforts are a close second, Sanderson said.

“The SEPTA Key Advantage program is the first of its kind for the region, and we’re thrilled to be working with SEPTA on it. It will provide a meaningful benefit to a wide range of employees,” Stade said. “SEPTA is committed to making this program widely accessible, and we believe it can be a model for other transit agencies across the US.”

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