NBC10 Responds

Working From Home: How to Get a Refund for Your Pre-Paid Commuter Fare

Plus why some SEPTA customers are experiencing refund delays

NBC Universal, Inc.

NBC10 is one of dozens of news organizations producing BROKE in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

With COVID-19 raging on for months, so many of us are working remotely from home, including mathematics professor Ellen Panofsky.

She typically commutes from Conshohocken to Philadelphia using SEPTA Regional Rail. And she pre-pays for those trips through WageWorks. The company allows users to pay for their commute using pre-tax dollars.

In Ellen’s case, she receives her pre-paid tickets in the mail.

So when we initially shut down, I just held on to them because they're good for six months,” said Panofsky. But when she realized she wasn’t going back to work anytime soon, she got in touch with SEPTA about a ticket refund.

She told NBC10 Responds: “I just asked, how do I how do I apply for a refund. They gave me an address. They said send the tickets to this address, write a little letter as to why you need a refund.”

She thought that was that. Weeks later she received a check in the mail. But the math professor sensed something didn’t add up.

“I get a check in the mail for $79 when I had a month and a half a tickets, which which totaled $253. No correspondence came with the check. Nothing at all. Nothing written in the memo of the check for me to understand why it was only a partial amount.”

Ellen called and emailed SEPTA about the problem, but said nobody was able to get back to her as why she received less money than expected.

So, she wrote to NBC10 Responds.

What Went Wrong

SEPTA said a processing error led to the issue of a partial refund in Ellen’s case. SEPTA corrected the issue after hearing from NBC10 Responds, and sent Ellen the remainder of her refund.

The transit authority told NBC10 Responds it typically processes refunds within 7 to 10 days. But in 2020, two major events caused the delays.

“The first was the unprecedented number of refund requests that were made following the COVID-related shutdowns in March. Since March, SEPTA has processed approximately 40,000 refunds – compared to 4,500 during this same time period in 2019,” said a SEPTA spokesperson. “The sheer volume of requests has presented significant challenges, and we are continuing to work through them.” 

Malware Attack

SEPTA suffered a severe malware attack in early August which resulted in network issues that have had impacts across the transit authority. This includes the efforts to resolve outstanding refunds, according to SEPTA. SEPTA says it is still working to resolve network issues.

How to Get Your Money Back

If you pre-paid for your commute through WageWorks, SEPTA wants to hear from you directly. Customers who are seeking a refund for unused tickets should mail them to SEPTA at:

SEPTA Refunds
Sales Department
1234 Market St., 9th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107  

Include your name, mailing address, and a copy of the WageWorks insert received with your pass. And be sure to take a picture of the tickets and the letter for your records.

Credits or Cash Back

According to SEPTA: “For customers returning Monthly Passes, SEPTA is able to identify them back to their point of sale based on the serial number printed on each pass. In those cases, SEPTA processes the refund as a credit to their WageWorks pre-tax account.”

However, if you purchase 10-Trip Tickets as Ellen did, they are issued by quantity, and SEPTA cannot readily identify the point of sale, according to the transit agency. In these cases, the customers receive checks.

If you use WageWorks for other transit systems, you can view their refund policies here.

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