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Should employers have to offer help for workers’ commute costs for transit, cycling, and carpools?

By dcuff
Thursday, July 21st, 2011 at 9:58 am in Carpooling, driving, Environment, global warming.

A bill sent to the governor aims to reduce greenhouse gases and auto congestion by giving regional governments the authority to require employers to offer subsidies to workers who commute by bus, rail, bicycle, carpool and other low-emission means. Bay Area public transit and regional governments backed the bill, but it was opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce. Click here to read a story on the bill.

Supporters of the bill contend it offers a low-cost, flexible way for employers of at least 20 workers to offer employees an incentive to use commute alternatives to driving alone to work. If regional transportation and air pollution agencies passed a commute benefit ordinance, companies could comply by offering workers a chance to get some of their compensation in pre-tax pay, as federal policy allows.  Using this option could actually save employers money because they would pay less in payroll taxes, more than offsetting any cost of any new paperwork to meet the new rule, says staffers at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

If employers didn’t like option number 1, they could choose to offer their workers another form of subsidy such as a $75 per month payment for public transit tickets on BART, AC Transit, or Capitol Corridor. Or employers could offer their workers free bus service to worker, such as Google does with its plush bus service with wireless access.

MTC officials say they favor a bill that emphasized flexibility in compliance because they recall the business backlash against a Bay Area trip reduction mandate in the early 1990s that required employers to take expensive measures to achieve pollution reduction in their workers commuting. The state Legislature intervened, effectively wiping out the authority to carry out the trip reduction rule.

Under the commute benefit bill passed last week by state lawmakers, employers in metropolitan areas that passed the ordinances would not be held responsible for hitting emission reduction targets. Offering a subsidy to workers would achieve compliance, MTC staffers say.

Still, the California Chamber of Commerce and California Manufacturing Association opposed the bill, which awaits a decision by Gov. Jerry Brown.

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