Published October 24, 2016
Volume 24, Number 10




The Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program, originally enacted as a demonstration project in September, 2012, was made permanent last month with bipartisan support in the state legislature and final approval by Gov. Jerry Brown. Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, the author of the bill, called it, “a great day for the environment, a great day for commuters, and their employers.”
The bill, which passed unanimously, authorizes the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to jointly continue the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program, a program that requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees in the Bay Area to offer commuter benefits to their employees. Most employers subject to the program are required by law to register via the program website, select a commuter benefit, and offer their program to their employees. However, Hacienda tenants which are subject to the law can comply with the guidelines simply by making the park’s extensive commuter benefits packages available to their local employees.
Hacienda’s vast program includes a variety of options which include a free WHEELS Ecopass, which allows use of local transit; “try a trip” passes for a number of nearby rail and other systems; free carpool or vanpool match lists; a free Guaranteed Ride Home for those using a commute alternative; walking and bicycling support services; and much more. Hacienda commute offers are available through Hacienda's Special Offers program. You can find these by going to www.hacienda.org/special-offers/special-offers and selecting Commute from the menu on the left. Additional information on Hacienda’s programs is available by accessing www.hacienda.org, choosing “Employees/Residents” under the Amenities menu, and then selecting “Commute Solutions.” 
“With the Bay Area’s expanding economy and growing population, it is critical that we promote the use of commute alternatives such as transit, carpooling and cycling to decrease single occupancy driving on Bay Area roadways,” said Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Air District. “The Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program encourages regional companies to help their staff look for and try alternatives to driving alone.”
The goal of the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion by incentivizing commutes on transit and means other than driving alone. This is done by making them less expensive using the federal tax code which allows for the use of transit and other approved commute alternatives to be funded with tax free dollars; a savings which can amount to a significant reduction off their normal cost.
While Hacienda businesses can simply refer employees to the park’s programs in order to comply with the law, the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program also gives employers the flexibility to offer one or more of the following commuter benefit options to their employees:
• Option 1: pre-tax benefit - Allow employees to exclude up to $255 of their transit or vanpooling expenses each month from taxable income.
• Option 2: employer-provided subsidy - Provide a subsidy to reduce or cover employees’ monthly transit or vanpool costs, up to $75 per month.
• Option 3: employer-provided transit - Provide a free or low-cost transit service for employees, such as a bus, shuttle or vanpool service.
• Option 4: alternative commuter benefit - Provide an alternative commuter benefit that is as effective in reducing single-occupancy commute trips as options 1, 2 or 3.
When employees choose the pre-tax benefit option, the reduction in taxable income allows employers to reduce their Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. Employees can save as much as 40 percent on the cost of their monthly transit or vanpool expenses by setting the funds aside pre-tax.
Regardless of which program each business chooses, research shows that employees are more likely to consider alternatives to driving alone if they are encouraged by their employer. Employers can reduce vehicle trips to worksites by promoting alternative commute modes, such as transit, carpooling, bicycling, walking and telecommuting. As of August 31, nearly 4,100 employers were enrolled in the program and approximately 1.3 million employees were receiving commuter benefits, primarily via pre-tax dollars. Close to 57 percent of enrolled employers had offered no commuter benefits to their employees prior to the program’s existence.
“MTC is grateful for the legislature and administration’s support of our regional commuter benefits program, the first such program nationwide,” said Randy Rentschler, MTC Director of Legislation and Public Affairs. “This program is a true partnership with employers, recognizing the critical role they can play in helping to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions in our vibrant region. At a time when residents are struggling with ever-growing housing costs, it also plays a key role in lowering transportation costs.”
Employers subject to the Commuter Benefits Program will be notified by the Air District and must register at 511.org. Assistance is available through MTC’s 511 Regional Rideshare Program to help employers comply with the program. Employers can visit 511.org and click on Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program to get more information or call 511 and say “commuter benefits” at the first prompt to connect to employer outreach staff. Detailed information about the Commuter Benefits Program and employer requirements can also be found in the “Employer Guide” at 511.org. For details on Hacienda's nationally recognized program of commute alternatives, contact the Hacienda Owners Association, info@hacienda.org or (925) 734-6500.

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