What is the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program and what does it require of employers?
The Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program (Program) is a program designed to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion by increasing the number of employers that provide commuter benefits to their employees.
The Program is run by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). The Program covers the following nine counties located within the BAAQMD: Alameda; Contra Costa; Marin; Napa; San Francisco; San Mateo; Santa Clara; Solano; and Sonoma.
The Program applies to all private, public and nonprofit employers that have 50 or more full-time employees working within the geographic boundaries of the BAAQMD.
Only employees working an average of at least 30 hours per week are counted toward the 50-employee threshold. Independent contractors are not counted, nor are seasonal or temporary employees working less than 120 days per year and “field employees” (employees whose primary job responsibilities are at a temporary job site and who do not report to the employer’s home office or other permanent job location).
Under the Program, covered employers must provide eligible employees with commuter benefits. Eligible employees are defined as those employees working an average of 20 hours or more per week.
Commuter Benefit Options
The Program identifies four possible commuter benefit options from which employers may choose:
• Option 1: Pre-Tax Benefit. Allow employees to exclude a portion of their transit or vanpooling expenses each month from their taxable income.
• Option 2: Employer-Provided Subsidy. Provide a subsidy to cover or reduce employees’ monthly transit or vanpool costs.
• Option 3: Employer-Provided Transit. Provide a low-cost or free shuttle, vanpool or bus service for employees to use.
• Option 4: Alternative Commuter Benefit. Provide an alternative commuter benefit that would be as effective as Options 1, 2 or 3 in reducing single-occupancy commuter trips and/or vehicle emissions.
To comply with the Program, employers must:
• Select a commuter benefit;
• Designate a Commuter Benefits Coordinator;
• Register online at www.511.org;
• Notify employees of the benefit provided and how to use it; and
• Keep records showing compliance with the Program’s requirements.
Employers also are required to update their registration annually.
Employers that don’t comply with the Program’s requirements may be subject to financial penalties.
Employers can find more information about the Program at 511.org/employers/commuter/overview. Resources include an Employer Manual and Frequently Asked Questions.
Employers also should be aware of local commuter benefit ordinances that may apply to their businesses.
For example, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Richmond have their own commuter benefit ordinances. Although the requirements of the local ordinances are similar to those of the Bay Area Program, the ordinances have lower employee-count thresholds so they may apply to employers that don’t have enough employees to be subject to the Bay Area Program.
Employers with employees in those areas should consult with their local governments to ensure compliance with applicable local ordinances.
The Labor Law Helpline is a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.