How to get your employer to enroll in Commuter Benefits

Reset San Francisco How To'sAre you an employee of a San Francisco-based business? Are you currently not receiving commuter benefits? Are you tired of seeing so much of your take-home pay go to MUNI?

Well, you should be… but there is a solution!

As of January 2009, all employers with a business registration certificate and with twenty or more employees working in San Francisco (including employers with employees contracted through a collective bargaining agreement, and of course, also including public agencies) are required to provide Commuter Benefits for employees. San Francisco’s Commuter Benefits Ordinance exists chiefly to encourage employees to use mass transit. Through the program, employers can save up to nine percent on payroll taxes, and employees save up to 40% on their transit costs. Learn more.

A federally approved program, Commuter Benefits allows up to $230 per month employee pre-tax deductions to go to transit and vanpool expenses. Eligible San Francisco employees work full-time, part-time, or temporary basis, and they work an average of at least 10 hours a week for the same employer within the previous calendar month. 

The transit benefits can take the form of one of the following:

1. Pre-tax Transit: employees make monthly pretax deductions to purchase transit passes or vanpool rides;

2. Employer-Paid Subsidy: the employer pays for workers’ transit fares on any of the SF Bay Area transit agencies and reimburses workers for vanpool expenses (reimbursements must be at least worth the purchase price of the SF Muni Fast Pass);

3. Employer Provided Transit: the employer provides free shuttle service for employees on a company funded bus or van.

So, to get the ball rolling…

The data show most Commuter Benefits programs start at eligible places of employment because employees ask for the program. This hurdle can be overcome by:

Talking with your boss or HR manager about the San Francisco’s Commuter Benefits Ordinance

Giving your employer a copy of the Employer's Guide to SF Commuter Benefits

Garnering the support of other employees, or your union, for the program

Place a note in a suggestion box at your workplace 

If an employer refuses to start a program, the fines are $100 for a first violation, $200 for a second violation within the same year, and $500 for each additional violation within the same year. To report noncompliance, contact the Clean Air & Transportation Program at SF Environment by emailing CommuterBenefits@SFGov.org or calling (415) 355-3727.

In brief, just so you know: to start the program, employers must, first post a certificate of compliance to inform employees they are participating, decide what sort of program to offer (paying employees directly for specific transit passes, transit debit cards that can be used for all transit agencies, using a third party distributor, etc), and decide how to enroll employees. The onus is also on the employer to educate employees about the program.

Happy transiting!

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137