Commuter Choice Program Offers a Number of Pre-Tax Benefits for Employees

Throughout Hacienda, employers and employees alike are discovering the benefits of Commuter Choice, a U.S. Department of Transportation program begun in 1998 that creates economic incentives for the use of mass transit.

The plan allows employers to offer employees a pre-tax option to commute to work by alternate transportation such as public transit on buses, trains or ferries and in vanpools.

It doesn't stop there, however. The program also allows for employer parking reimbursement, which aids those who drive to work and must pay for parking, or vanpool operators who pay for vanpool parking.

Right now, employees can receive $65 each month to purchase transit passes or pay for fares on registered vanpools or subscription buses. The monthly amount will increase to $100 on January 1, 2002. They can also receive up to $175 per month for paid parking expenses.

Best of all, the program offers these options as pre-tax benefits, which means that both employers and employees can save money.

Chimane Rhodes is vice-president of Employee Benefit Specialists, Inc, a Hacienda company that has been administering commuter and transit benefits since 1995.

She notes that employees and companies like the Commuter Choice plan because it's very easy to implement.

"Employees like pre-tax savings and employers are trying to be more conscientious about benefit choices," she says. "No one minds taking a little off their tax bill they have to pay each year. Plus, the plan encourages employees to use mass transit and that's important."

Employees in the plan elect to have an amount they choose deducted from their paycheck on a pre-tax basis, reducing their tax liability. The amount set aside is reimbursed to the employee in the form of a voucher, such as Commuter Check, which can be used to pay for transit fares. Vouchers can be used for vanpool and subscription bus expenses as well.

Rhodes notes that the Commuter Check voucher system is accepted by transit agencies throughout the Bay Area.

Contact your company's human resources department for more information. To find out about qualifying for Commuter Choice, contact the Hacienda Owners Association at (925) 734-6500 for a complete program guide.

Another resource is RIDES for Bay Area Commuters, the free local source for all things transit. Jackie Peay, the Alameda and Contra Costa County representative for the Commuter Choice program, can be reached at (510) 273-2064 or via e-mail at .

Chimane Rhodes may be reached at Employee Benefit Specialists, Inc. (925) 460-3910.

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