New law boosts Sonoma County commuters (w/video)

  • Dave Grossman prepares to board the carpool van at Medtronic, in Santa Rosa on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The MTC, which has jurisdiction over nine Bay Area counties including Sonoma County, is implementing the commuter benefit program.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District will enforce the law. Companies that don't offer commuter benefits by Sept. 30 could face monetary penalties, the district said.

The law expires after 2016, at which time the program will be reevaluated, MTC officials said.

San Francisco, Richmond and Berkeley have city ordinances requiring companies to offer commuter benefits. The state law was modeled on those ordinances.

To comply with the law, companies can choose one of four options:

--Companies can allow employees to exclude up to $130 of their transit or vanpooling expenses each month from taxable income. This option is the least financially onerous on employers and could even save businesses money in payroll tax, the MTC said.

--Employers could provide a tax-free subsidy of up to $75 per month to cover transit costs. In this option, companies would likely give employees transit vouchers or something similar such as a pre-paid Clipper travel card. This benefit could help companies recruit and retain employees, the MTC said.

--A business or group of businesses could provide a free or low-cost bus or shuttle for employees. Some tech companies, such as Google, provide buses for employees that live in San Francisco and work in Silicon Valley.

--A company could propose a package of different benefits that encourages alternative commuting. Some options include installing secure bike parking, showers and lockers and offering a subsidy for commuters who bike to work, implementing telecommuting, providing preferred parking for carpoolers and promoting carpooling programs such as Carma.

In Sonoma County, about 600 employers are now required to offer the benefits to 70,000 employees, which observers say could help nudge commuters into changing their behavior.

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