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Get Help for Your Commute

Get Help for Your Commute

You’ve probably noticed it’s getting increasingly difficult -- and expensive -- to get to and from work in a reasonable amount of time. But your employer may offer help through a commuter-assistance program. These are important programs, and you can get your company to pitch in. 

The Benefits of Commuter-Assistance Programs

“When employers care enough to put transportation programs in place, employees feel valued,” says Carole Arndt, president of HR placement firm The Human Resource Edge. “They are able to get more of a work/life balance. It might reduce their expenses -- and that most often increases employee commitment, job satisfaction and general attitude when they come into work every day.”

In addition, some transportation plans can be offered on a pretax basis, thus reducing employee taxes. For 2012, workers can take up to $125 each month for transit or van-pool commuting costs as a tax-free benefit or up to $240 a month in tax-sheltered payroll deductions for parking.

Alternatively, employers can share these costs by paying part of their employees’ monthly commuting costs and letting workers pay the balance using pretax dollars. Either way, both employers and employees can save money by participating, says William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

Commuter-Assistance Possibilities

While every company can’t afford to implement every option, there are numerous commuter-assistance programs you could get your company to consider, such as:  

  • Partnering with the local public transportation organization to set up a commuting plan or assisting employees with developing commuting plans.
  • Holding a commuter fair where employees can meet with local transit experts, such as transportation management associations, regional ride-sharing organizations and public transportation providers, to get ideas on improving their commutes.
  • Selling public-transit passes onsite.
  • Participating in a public-transit discount program.
  • Offering payroll deductions for reduced-fare bus or rail passes.
  • Offering compressed workweeks, such as four 10-hour days, so workers can avoid commuting every day.
  • Reducing parking costs for those who carpool.
  • Providing bike racks or storage space for bikes as well as shower facilities for bikers or walkers/runners.
  • Participating in regional events, such as Bike to Work Day.
  • Designating a company commuter benefits coordinator or employee transportation coordinator to be responsible for commuting information, implementing programs and serving as the organization’s liaison with external organizations.
  • Recognizing employees who use commuting options.
Make Your Case

If you’re interested in getting your company to implement a commuter-assistance program, get management approval to explore some options, Arndt says. Survey employees about their commuting habits and needs. Bring a group of interested employees together to come up with a list of low- or no-cost ideas.

Teresa Wernecke, executive director of the Downtown Minneapolis Transportation Management Organization, suggests assembling your case for commuter-assistance benefits based on what’s important to senior management. Speak their business language, and research what other companies are doing.

“Management always wants to know what others are doing, especially their competition,” Wernecke says. “Keep track of issues or situations where better transportation could have helped employer or employees. Keep handy these examples with a list of why it is important to your company. At every opportunity, repeat why it is a good thing to do and cite examples. Be sure to share results of activities and program progress with senior management to help gain and maintain support.”

While employers don’t often like to hear about problems, Arndt says, “when accompanied by possible solutions with minimal cost, they usually listen.” 

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