State-Specific Information

Larger Employers in SF Bay Area must Offer Commuter Benefits by Sept. 30

ACTION REQUIRED by Larger Employers in the San Francisco Bay Area:
Sept. 30, 2014 Deadline to offer Commuter Benefits to Covered Employees

A new rule under the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program was approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) on March 27, 2014.  This new rule requires that, by September 30, 2014, all “Covered Employers” must offer and implement at least one of the commuter benefit options listed below for all “Covered Employees.”  A “Covered Employer” is one with an average of 50 or more full-time employees who perform work for compensation within the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties listed below.  A “Covered Employee” is an employee who worked on an average at least 20 hours per week during the previous calendar month within the nine counties listed below.

Even if an employer already offers one or more of the listed commuter benefits, the employer must register with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (Air District) and the MTC and must designate a Commuter Benefits Coordinator who should access the Program’s website at http://www.511.org and register.

This article provides additional details on the requirements of the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program.

Background  

The Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program was enacted September 30, 2012 as California Senate Bill 1339.  It was unanimously approved by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (AQM District) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and in March of this year the two agencies approved a new rule (Regulation 14, Rule 1).   The legislation and the new rule require employers to provide financial incentives to employees to encourage them to use some form of public transportation for commuting to work, rather than driving alone. The law does not require employees to change their behavior, but only requires employers to offer incentives.  Employee commuter expenses include transit passes, vanpool costs, and costs of commuting by bicycle.

What Employers must Offer Commuter Benefits?

All “Covered Employers” must offer commuter benefits.  Covered Employers are those with an average of 50 or more full-time employees who perform work for compensation within the following nine San Francisco Bay Area counties:  Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, Solano, Sonoma, Marin, Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco.  SB 1339 does not specify how many hours per week constitute “full-time” employment.

What Commuter Benefit Options must be Offered?

A “Covered Employer” must offer at least one of the following commuter benefits choices:

  • Pre-tax Option:  Allow employees to exclude their transit or vanpooling expenses from taxable income, up to $130 per month.
  • Employer-paid Benefit:  Provide a subsidy to reduce or cover employees’ monthly transit or vanpool costs, up to a maximum of $75 per month.
  • Employer-provided Transit: Provide a free or low-cost transit service for employees, such as a bus, shuttle, or vanpool service.
  • More Generous Alternative:  Provide an alternative commuter benefit that is as effective in reducing single-occupancy commute trips as options 1, 2, or 3 above.

When Must Employers Offer A Commuter Benefits Program?

By September 30, 2014, “Covered Employers” must offer a Commuter Benefits Program to eligible employees.

Which Employees Must be Offered the Commuter Benefits Program?

The program must be offered to all “Covered Employees” – defined as those employees who worked (for pay) on average at least 20 hours per week during the previous calendar month within the nine Bay Area counties listed above.

What’s the Next Step for Employers Who Already Offer Commuter Benefits?

Covered Employers who already offer one or more of the listed commuter benefits, must register with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (AQM District) and the MTC and must designate a Commuter Benefits Coordinator who should access the Program’s website at http://www.511.org and register.

What’s the Next Step for Employers Who Do Not Already Offer Commuter Benefits?

Covered Employers who do not currently offer at least one of the listed commuter benefits should review the four commuter benefit options listed above and decide which one or more of the options to offer to Covered Employees by September 30, 2014.  Such employers also must designate a Commuter Benefits Coordinator and register at the Program’s website at http://www.511.org.

What is Required for Registration?

Once you are on the 511.org website, click the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program button – it looks like this:

Commuter

The following information is needed to complete the registration:

  • Your Company Code. If you are a Covered Employer, you should have received a letter during the first week of April from the AQM District. The letter includes your Company Code. If you do not receive this letter you should go to the Program’s website at http://www.511.org   to get your Company Code.
  • The name and contact information of your designated Commuter Benefits Coordinator.
  • The commuter benefit option(s) that you currently offer (option 1, 2, 3, or 4).
  • The number of full-time employees you had in the nine counties listed above.

If you Need Additional Information

Click on the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program button from the “511” website at http://www.511.org. The website includes a Program Overview, Employer Guide, FAQs, a list of commuter benefit providers, a Fact sheet to give to employees, Employee Case Studies, and other materials to help employers implement the Commuter Benefits Program.   A copy of the legislation, SB 1339, can be downloaded from: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201120120SB1339.

 

PDF of this article:  Bay Area Commuter Bens by Sept 30