If you've been thinking about abandoning the solo commute in your car in favor of a transportation alternative to Hacienda, you'll be happy to know that many area counties offer excellent incentive programs that can save you money, and, in some cases, pay you to use transit.
These incentive programs are designed to make your commute easier, cheaper and less stressful. Sounds good? It gets even better. If you live and work in two different counties you may qualify for incentives in both. Check out these terrific opportunities.
Commuters to Hacienda all share one of the best tools available. When you need commuter and transit information, the first place to call is RIDES for Bay Area Commuters. This private, nonprofit corporation is funded by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and has been providing transit information and ride matching services since its founding in 1977. The staff can help you over the phone to identify the best alternative commute for you and your unique schedule using buses, trains, BART, biking, telecommuting and more. RIDES also offers free carpool and vanpool referrals from its database of over 12,000 commuters. Call RIDES at 1-800-755-POOL or visit rides.org for details.
RIDES is also one of the best sources for information about the many county transit programs offered in the area. Here is a compilation of programs available now:
Guaranteed Ride Home - Employees who work in Alameda County and who use any alternative to driving alone to work, can receive a free taxi ride home in case of an emergency such as illness, family crisis or unscheduled overtime. For companies with 100 or more employees, the employer and employees must pre-register in the program. For information call Diana Teisch (415/284-1544) or Lori Huddleston (415/284-1543) at Nelson/Nygaard, the consulting firm that administers the program for the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency. (See article, page 7, for more information.)
ACE Train riders - Monthly pass holders of ACE Rail train tickets can receive a ride home in case of an emergency between the hours of 6:00a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Contact Denise Jefferson, ACE Rail, (800) 411-RAIL, or visit acerail.com for information.
Vanpool riders - New vanpool riders who live in Contra Costa County and who have not been in a registered vanpool for six months are eligible for 50 percent off vanpool fare for the first three months. Contact Countywide Commuter Program at the City of San Ramon, (925) 973-2601 or access www.traks.org .
Vanpool drivers - If you are a driver of a new vanpool originating in Contra Costa County you can receive $1,000 for starting and maintaining a vanpool for one year. Contact Countywide Commuter Program at the City of San Ramon, (925) 973-2601 or visit traks.org .
Carpool incentive program - Commuters who live in Contra Costa County who start a carpool, or add another person to their existing carpool, may receive $20 worth of gas coupons given out over a two-month period. Contact Countywide Commuter Program, TR@KS Smart Traveler Programs, (925) 671-5247 or traks.org .
Transit incentive program - If you live in Contra Costa County and currently drive alone, you can receive complimentary transit tickets to try a commute alternative by contacting Countywide Commuter Program, TR@KS Smart Traveler Programs, (925) 671-5247 or browse traks.org .
Solano Commuter Information is a public agency providing free information and services about alternative transportation in Napa and Solano counties and surrounding areas. This year, they offered a vanpool passenger incentive program sponsored by CalTrans for those who rode vanpools along the I-80 corridor from the Hercules/Rodeo area toward El Cerrito, Berkeley or beyond that gave eligible passengers gas cards valued at a total of $100 for proof of having participated in a new vanpool for at least two months. The agency offered several programs for 1999, all of which focused on commuters using the I-80 corridor, but they have now expired. New programs are expected in January 2001 but no information will be available until their funding is secured. Call 1-800-53-KMUTE for details.
San Joaquin County Commute Connection, the regional rideshare program, is part of the San Joaquin Council of Governments. Like RIDES for Bay Area Commuters, it's an information and referral service about transit alternatives offering commuter ridesharing and employer services.
Guaranteed Ride Home - Buy a monthly ACE Rail pass and you are eligible for a ride home in case of an emergency during the hours of 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. For information, call Denise Jefferson, ACE Rail, (800) 411-RAIL, or www.acerail.com
Carpool riders - Registered carpoolers at participating Commute Connection worksites also may be eligible for the Guaranteed Ride Home program, which gives carpoolers a free ride home in emergencies. Employers can register for the program by calling 1-800-52-SHARE.
Vanpools - Commute Connection offers subsidies for new and existing vanpools originating in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. Existing vanpools are eligible for a subsidy each month that vanpool has an empty seat on a month to month basis, not to exceed six months. New vanpools are eligible for the subsidy on a yearly basis on a declining scale, and in the sixth month, the new vanpool will receive a bonus for remaining on the road six months. Call 1-800-52-SHARE or visit commuteconnection.com for more information.
New rider bonus - A new rider joining an existing vanpool may receive $50 after completing three months of vanpooling. Call 1-800-52-SHARE for more information or visit commuteconnection.com
New Rider Finders Fee - A current vanpool member will receive $25 for each new rider referred to the Commute Connection vanpool program and the rider must stay in the vanpool for three months. Call 1-800-52-SHARE for more information or visit commuteconnection.com
New Coordinator Bonus - New vanpool coordinators will receive a bonus of $500 to offset costs by meeting requirements that include maintaining 60 percent ridership in the vanpool. Call 1-800-52-SHARE for more information or visit commuteconnection.com
Current Coordinator Bonus - A current vanpool coordinator will receive a bonus of $250 to offset costs with a ridership of at least 60 percent that is maintained for six months. Call 1-800-52-SHARE for more information or visit commuteconnection.com
Vanpool riders - New riders in vanpools originating in San Mateo County may receive 50 percent off the vanpool fare for the first three months. Contact the Peninsula Congestion Relief Alliance, (650) 994-7924 or commute.org .
Vanpool drivers - Drivers of new vanpools originating in San Mateo County may receive $250 for keeping the vanpool on the road for a year. Peninsula Congestion Relief Alliance, (650) 994-7924 or visit commute.org .
ACE Train riders - Monthly pass holders of ACE Rail train tickets can receive a ride home in case of an emergency between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Contact Denise Jefferson, ACE Rail, (800) 411-RAIL, or acerail.com .
Vanpool riders - New vanpool riders who have not been in a registered vanpool for six months, and commute from Santa Cruz County in a participating vanpool are eligible for a $50 vanpool incentive. Contact Commute Solutions in Santa Cruz, (831) 429-POOL.
Vanpool drivers - Drivers or new vanpools commuting from Santa Cruz County with a minimum 40-mile round trip can receive $500 for starting and maintaining a vanpool for one year. Contact Commute Solutions in Santa Cruz, (831) 429-POOL.
If you commute by carpool, vanpool or transit over a bridge, you could save over $500 a year on bridge tolls. At selected commuter hours, you can cross for free every Bay Area bridge including Antioch, Benicia-Martinez, Carquinez, Dumbarton, Golden Gate, Richmond-San Rafael, San Francisco-Oakland, and San Mateo-Hayward. For details visit rides.org or call (800) 755-POOL.
Commuter Choice is a great way for commuters to receive tax-free commute benefits and employers to increase their benefits packages while reducing their payroll taxes. The program is sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, fta.dot.gov. It is flexible in that benefits can be paid for by the employer, the employee through a pre-tax salary deduction, or a combination of both.
Options for employees include receiving $65 each month to purchase transit passes or pay for fares on registered vanpools or subscription buses. Employees can also receive up to $175 per month for paid parking expenses. This benefit can be received along with a transit or vanpool subsidy to cover parking expenses of an employee who drives to a paid lot to take transit. With parking cash-out, employees can receive up to $175 per month for a space the no longer use when they vanpool or take transit.
A Commuter Choice program can be designed and implemented like a flexible spending or "cafeteria" plan. To find out about qualifying for Commuter Choice, contact the Hacienda Owners Association at (925) 734-6500 for a complete program guide.
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