Nearly everyone agrees that alternatives to driving alone to work can save them time and money while offering the added bonus of having a positive impact on the environment. However, not everyone may know that programs are available that can make their transit dollars go further. The Commuter Choice Tax Benefit offers employers and employees a win-win commute proposition.
Based on Section 132(f) of the federal tax code, the program allows employers to offer employees a variety of financial incentives for the use of alternative commute modes, including buses, trains, and vanpools. Employers can offer the benefit in one of three ways: in addition to compensation, in lieu of compensation (allowing employees to set aside pre-tax dollars to pay for the transit or vanpool costs), or as a combination of these two methods (employers subsidize part of the commuting cost and allow employees to pay for the remainder of the cost, up to the monthly limit, with pre-tax dollars). Using the program literally means commute alternatives can be used at a discount as the dollars used toward the alternative come tax free.
To help inform commuters and the organizations that they work for about the details of the Commuter Choice Tax Benefit program, the Tri-Valley Resource Team on Clean Air has put together an informational publication that explains the ins and outs of the program. The publication includes tables to compute savings, steps to follow to implement the program, and a list of organizations able to provide expertise in the creation and execution of the benefit. Providing real-world contacts for those who are trying to get information about the program is an important part of the publication. "One of the main features of the piece is to give people mentors," says Sarah Goldberg, team facilitator for the Tri-Valley Resource Team on Clean Air. The electronic version of the publication provides email links to mentors who have agreed to offer information and advice about the program. The idea is to give those interested in the Commuter Choice Tax Benefit program access to mentors in organizations that are similar to their own. For example, a small non-profit organization can refer to someone who has implemented the program in another small non-profit. Likewise, someone interested in implementing the program in a large corporation can get practical information from someone who has offered the program on a similar scale.
The Tri-Valley Resource Team on Clean Air is a local group of representatives from the public and private sectors working together to improve air quality in the region. Collectively, the group, under the auspices of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), assists with the implementation of the Spare the Air program, provides resources to assist in air quality improvement efforts, and acts as an information development and deployment source on matters relating to air quality. As automobile emissions represent one of the primary causes of air quality degradation, the Resource Team has frequently found itself involved in efforts to promote the use of alternative commutes. To that end, the group has spent the last several months working on the development of the information guide on the Commuter Choice Tax Benefit.
This information piece provides timely guidance, as the Commuter Choice Tax Benefit increased from $60 to $100 as of January 1, 2002, and will increase again in years to come. The Commuter Choice Tax Benefit program informational publication is available online at: www.baaqmd.gov or by contacting the Hacienda Owners Association at (925) 734-6500. For information on the Tri-Valley Resource Team on Clean Air contact Sarah Goldberg by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (415) 975-2955 Ext. 2.
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