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SEPTA, Uber team to ease suburban parking crunch

This summer SEPTA’s testing whether partnering with Uber can boost ridership and mitigate a parking crunch at some of its busiest stations.

This summer SEPTA's testing whether partnering with Uber can boost ridership and mitigate a parking crunch at some of its busiest stations.

Riders taking Uber to or from 11 Regional Rail stations in the four counties surrounding Philadelphia will get 40 percent off the cost of their Uber ride. The discount can be no more than $10 per trip. The discount, a pilot program for what could become a permanent arrangement, will be in effect from Memorial Day to Labor Day and will give SEPTA insight into how ride sharing could affect ridership.

"We will be studying it this summer," said Erik Johanson, director of Business Innovation. "People are already doing this so we know there's a market for it."

The agreement is not costing SEPTA anything, officials said. SEPTA began exploring the possibility of a partnership in January, and met with Lyft as well, but decided Uber had more drivers and a greater reach than the other ride-sharing business.

Johanson described SEPTA's Regional Rail stations as "parking poor," with far less parking spaces than comparable networks in Boston and Chicago. The pilot program is designed to test whether that lack of parking is suppressing ridership. It's possible, SEPTA officials said, traveling to a train station by Uber will make them more inclined to ride the train.

Uber spokespeople described the deal as one of the most significant partnerships between the company and a transportation agency in the country. Uber will share data on trip times and lengths with SEPTA, though that information will not be made public due to a nondisclosure agreement. Used in conjunction with ridership data, SEPTA will be able to determine how far people are willing to travel to use public transportation, and whether ridership will grow outside of peak commuting hours, officials said.

The 11 stations being used for the pilot program frequently see their 3,950 collective parking lots filled by 7:30 a.m., SEPTA officials said. Some stations like Lansdale and Exton are getting more parking, but others are locked in by geography and development to the lots that exist now.

The 11 stations — Glenside, Jenkintown-Wyncote, Elkins Park, Melrose Park, Warminster, Doylestown, Lansdale, Woodbourne, Swarthmore, Wayne and Exton — reported 2.8 million passenger boardings in 2015.

Along with limited parking three of them — Exton, Swarthmore and Lansdale — will be affected by significant construction over the summer.