Due to recent updates to the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program (the “Program”), we wanted to explain steps you may need to take in the next several months. The Program requires all employers with 50 or more full-time employees in the Bay Area to provide commuter benefits to their employees. By September 30, 2014, employers must: (i) select at least one of four commuter benefit options; (ii) notify employees of the benefit; (iii) designate a Commuter Benefits Coordinator; and (iv) register with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (the “District”).
A covered employer is any entity that employs an average of 50 or more full-time employees (excluding seasonal and temporary employees) each week within the Bay Area. The Bay Area is defined as Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, southwestern Solano and southern Sonoma counties. A full-time employee is an employee who worked an average of at least 30 hours per week in the prior calendar month.
If an employer is a covered employer, it must provide commuter benefits to all covered employees. Covered employees are those who worked an average of at least 20 hours per week in the prior calendar month in the Bay Area.
Commuter Benefit Options
All covered employers must offer at least one of the following options to their covered employees:
- Pre-Tax Option. Covered employees are allowed to elect to exclude from taxable wages the costs incurred for transit passes or vanpool charges, up to the maximum amount allowed by federal law.
- Employer-Paid Benefit. Covered employees are offered a subsidy to offset the monthly cost of commuting via transit or vanpool. The subsidy is subject to adjustment annually. For 2014, it is the lower of the monthly cost of commuting via transit or vanpool or $75.
- Employer-Provided Transit. Employers provide transportation by vanpool or bus to employees at no cost or low cost.
- Alternative Commuter Benefit Program. Employers can propose and seek approval for an alternate commuter benefit from the District. The alternative must provide at least the same reduction in single-occupant vehicle trips as the above options.
Covered employers must notify their employees of their right to commuter benefits. The notice can be given using any “appropriate means” such as email, bulletin board postings or publication in company newsletters. The notice must address which commuter benefit option(s) the employer will offer, how employees can apply for and receive the commuter benefit, and give employees a point of contact who can provide them with additional information. This notice must be given to new employees upon hire. In addition, employees must be re-noticed once a year.
Commuter Benefits Coordinator
Covered employers must designate a Commuter Benefits Coordinator who is responsible for implementing and complying with the commuter benefit program. There is no need to hire an employee to fill this position—it may be assigned to an employee who already handles payroll and/or benefits.
Initial Registration & Annual Reporting
Covered employers must register with the District by September 30, 2014 and annually thereafter. Among other things, registration requires the following:
- Number of full-time employees and covered employees in the Bay Area
- Location of each worksite in the Bay Area
- Number of full-time employees and covered employees at each worksite
- The commuter benefits option elected