Are you on board with the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program? Today’s the Day!

Just a reminder that today is the day that Bay Area employers must get on board with the Commuter Benefits Program.

You probably already know that getting commuters out of single occupancy vehicles can significantly reduce carbon emissions. That’s the best reason for this blog entry.

September 30, 2014 is the day covered Bay Area employers are to register with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. In essence, the rule is that employers with 50 or more full-time employees within the nine Bay Area counties (Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, Solano, Sonoma, Marin, Santa Clara, San Mateo, and San Francisco) must offer certain commuter benefits to eligible employees.

A “covered employer” is: “Any public, private, or non-profit entity (person, corporation, partnership, business firm, government agency, special purpose agency, educational institution, health care facility, etc.) for which an average of 50 or more full-time employees per week perform work for monetary compensation within the geographic boundaries of the District. . . The term excludes seasonal/temporary employees.”

A “covered employee” is an employee “who performed an average of at least 20 hours of work per week within the previous calendar month within the geographic boundaries of the District, excluding a seasonal/temporary employee.”

A covered employer must:

1. Offer Commuter Benefit Options. The employer must offer one or more of the following commuter benefit options to eligible employees by September 30, 2014:

a. Pre-Tax Option. Under this option, an employer allows employees to elect to exclude commuting costs incurred for transit passes or vanpool charges from their taxable wages (this must also be consistent with IRC 132(f)). These are basically “commuter checks.” Vendors can provide these to you and help you manage the program – email me if you need suggestions!

b. Employer-Paid benefit. For this option, an employer offers employees a subsidy equal to the monthly cost of commuting via public transit or vanpool, or $75, whichever is lower. Employers may also choose to provide a subsidy for bicycle commuting costs.

c. Employer-Provided transit. You can have your own Google bus! For this option, the employer must give employees at no or low cost (as determined by the Air Pollution Control Officer) a vanpool, bus or similar multi-passenger vehicle operated by or for the employer.

d. Alternative commuter benefit. Finally, an employer can be creative and provide a pre-approved alternative employer-provided commute benefit that is as effective as getting employees out of single occupancy vehicles as the other options (AKA the wild card!).

2. Notify eligible employees of the options available and how to take advantage of them

3. Designate a Commuter Benefits Coordinator and register. The Coordinator (you, lucky reader?) must register with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District through the commuter benefits program website (I fixed the link!).

So. . .a reminder of your obligation to give your employees options to encourage commute alternatives, thus improving air quality, is my primary reason for this post.

The second best reason? It lets me link to an old Onion article: “Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others.” Makes me laugh every time.

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