More enforcement of Bay Area commuter benefits program on its way

Unregistered employers with 50 or more workers could face violations

Enforcement of the Bay Area's commuter benefits program is being stepped up and unregistered employers may be fined and face violations, officials with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said Tuesday.

The 2016 law requires Bay Area employers with 50 or more full-time employees to register at and provide benefits to their employees.

Employers have four options for providing benefits. Employees can exclude up to $255 of their transit or vanpooling costs each month from their taxable income.

Employers can provide a subsidy of up to $75 a month to reduce or cover employees' transit or vanpooling costs.

A free or low-cost transit service such as a bus or shuttle can be provided to employees.

Or an alternative that is as effective in reducing single-occupancy commuter trips can be provided.

Air district officials said employees can save as much as 40 percent on their monthly transit or vanpool costs by setting aside pre-tax money for commuting.

Air district officials will be in touch with employers who must participate in the program. Employers can get assistance from specialists by calling 511 and saying "commuter benefits" at the first prompt.

Information is also available on the 511 website by clicking on Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program. Employer requirements and other details can be found here.

"Employees are more likely to change their commuting behavior if it is encouraged and promoted by their employer," air district Executive Director Jack Broadbent said in a statement.

As of Aug. 31, 4,100 employers had signed up for the program and about 1.3 million employees were receiving benefits.

The law aims to reduce greenhouse gases and traffic congestion by encouraging employees to commute or use another way to get to work besides driving alone.


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2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2017 at 8:16 pm

I really despise this. Its an economically destructive way to try and coerce people into certain behaviors to save the environment.

I'm all for saving the environment, but I don't think government should take punitive measures and arbitrary solutions to do so. There is no guarantee that it will work. "more likely to change behavior" doesn't justify punitive legislation and higher fines.

In my opinion, government has no business meddling in people's private transportation choices. This is definitely a field where free market solutions can alleviate traffic congestion & pollution without being economically destructive. It should be win-win for both sides.

4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 17, 2017 at 9:17 pm

"This is definitely a field where free market solutions can alleviate traffic congestion & pollution without being economically destructive."

Obviously the free market has failed us. It's time to emulate the most successful nation on earth: China. China does not go for this free market dogma; it's approach is highly practical.

12 people like this
Posted by Business Registry! Finally
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 17, 2017 at 9:26 pm

Good. It's about time that Palo Alto employers rather than Palo Alto residents start paying for employees to commute.

Why Palo Alto employers thought they should be exempt when big employers like Google and small employers have long been subsidizing their employees' transit costs one can only wonder.

Shame on the City Council and the city manager for trying to stick us with paying for commuters to over-run us. Now maybe they can use the money for something useful like buying our Post Office.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2017 at 10:08 am

Now about more cooperation between these businesses. For a business with just over 50 employees when they commute from all points of the compass, it would be hard to make arrangements for things like shuttles for just one or two employees.

There should be a way that small businesses in the same area could partner with each other to jointly arrange a shuttle from say a Caltrain station, etc. or carpool from 280 park and ride lot.

If the City really wants to businesses to do a better job then supplying more carpool/park and ride lots near 280 and 101 for employees to share rides and parking would be useful. If they City could make the permits in garages transferable between cars, that would be useful too.

At present, it isn't lack of businesses doing their part, but the City and other authorities not providing the tools to make these ideas work.

4 people like this
Posted by Business Registry! Finally!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 18, 2017 at 10:50 am

@Resident, if you're too small to organize your own shuttles, then pay your employees extra to offset their transportation and parking. Just don't make ME pay for it like the City and the TMA want residents to do.

Yes, the city could do a lot more to organize shuttles etc. like coordinating them with school pickup and dropoff times. But that would require them to think seensibly and creatively to respond to real needs in a timely, cost-effective manner.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2017 at 11:47 am

If you want small businesses to pay more to their staff to offset commuting costs then you will be paying for it every time you eat out, get your hair cut, visit the dentist, or get your taxes done. The customer pays in the long run.

Small businesses are in a very competitive market and their costs have to be passed on to the customer.

Like this comment
Posted by allen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2017 at 11:57 am

This city has too many jobs. If this enforcement causes companies to leave Palo Alto, we will all be the better for it. If it causes a decline in traffic, we will all be the better for it. If it causes fewer cars to park in our neighborhoods, we will all be the better for it. But basically, the city should have an anti job policy. We need more of our business real estate serving the needs of our citizens with shops and less housing spooks sitting at desks packed together like sardines plotting the next cyber whatever.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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