Commuter checks move on to board's agenda

San Francisco workers are in line for a transit treat.

Employers with 20 or more employees could soon be forced to offer transportation benefits to their workers, which transit advocates say would boost Muni ridership and reduce carbon emissions.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has introduced legislation requiring employers to offer one of three pro-transit programs to any employee who works 10 hours or more per week. Not doing so could result in penalties of up to $500.

Among the options is a program offered by the federal government since the 1980s that allows employers to provide employees the benefit of deducting up to $115 of pretaxed wages for a commuter check, which an employee can then use to purchase monthly transit passes.

“Now, after 20 years, the time has come that all employees have access to that benefit,” Mirkarimi said. He estimated that as many as 50,000 city and private workers take advantage of the program, a number that he said “pales in comparison” to the number of workers who could be using it.

Department of the Environment Director Jared Blumenfeld said employers save up to 9 percent in payroll taxes while employees save up to 40 percent on their monthly transit cost. For example, he said, after one year, a $45 monthly Muni Fast Pass would cost the employee $27 per month. He said that the payroll tax savings would defray any cost of hiring a third-party vendor to administrator the program.

“There really is no better incentive than money saved to get people to change their behavior,” Blumenfeld said.

To meet the requirement, businesses could also offer to simply pay for a monthly Muni Fast Pass, or the cost of another transit ride of equal cost, for each worker. The employer could also provide free transportation.

Jim Lazarus, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president for public policy, indicated his support Wednesday.

The law would authorize the Department of the Environment to enforce the program.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee voted 3-0 to send the bill to the full board for a vote Tuesday with recommendation for approval. It would go into effect 120 days from adoption.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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