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San Francisco Workers: Got Commuter Benefits?

San Francisco's Department of Environment will soon begin enforcing the city's mandatory commuter benefits program for the first time since the law's inception in 2009. Fines up to $500 may be levied for noncompliance after warning notices are sent.
August 10, 2014, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Close to one out of three workers in San Francisco works for a company that is enrolled in a transit commuter benefit program, most commonly the deduction of pre-tax wages to provide transit passes, or provides other commuting benefits such as vanpool subsidies or operates a shuttle bus according to The Examiner's Joshua SabatiniEmployers with less than 20 or more workers nationwide are exempt from the program, he adds.

Those businesses enrolled in the San Francisco program had 90,723 employees, a 27 percent participation rate, taking advantage of the pretax commuter benefit.

One setback to the program, for both employees and employers who also benefit from the tax break, was the failure of the federal government to reauthorize the transit benefit at the $245 monthly rate. On January 1, 2014, the rate was reduced to $130 per month while the parking tax break increased to $250.

Staff from the Department of the Environment is working to bring more of the estimated 6,200 businesses in compliance with the local law. As of this spring, 1,800 businesses reported being in compliance. But those who are not can expect to receive warning notices in the mail shortly.

The main purpose of the program is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which may explain why the Department of Environment rather than a transportation entity is enforcing the rule. 

"If we are ever going to reduce greenhouse gases, we are going to have to get people out their cars," she said. "And in order to get people out of their cars, it's going to take some hammers, it's going to take some carrots."

The program, proposed by the Board of Supervisors in 2008, has been so successful that it is being emulated regionwide in a pilot program administered by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) that begins Sept. 30.

As a result of participation in the commuter benefits program, analysis by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority and MTC show "a possible 7 percent increase in transit ridership next year among workers whose employers are impacted by the mandate," adds Sabatini.

[Hat tip to Stan Parkford of Streetsblog SF.]

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Published on Thursday, August 7, 2014 in San Francisco Examiner
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