FAQ: Commuter Benefits, Transit Benefits

People in Car Driving to WorkWhat is a pre-tax commute benefit?

The IRS Code, section 132(f), allows employees to use pre-tax salary towards their transit and vanpool commuting costs.

Commuter benefits, or transit benefits, are an employer-provided package that helps offset the cost for employees to get to work. Like a Health Savings Account, retirement plan and other benefits, commuter benefits are a tax-savvy, morale-boosting, mobility-centric way for employees and employers alike to choose smarter commute options and save money.

Commuter benefits include parking benefits, transit benefits, vanpool benefits and bicycle commuting benefits.

How does it work?

When an employee enrolls in a pre-tax commuter benefits program, they will provide the amount of their monthly commuting cost for transit and/or commuting-related parking up the monthly limits.

The tax-free commuting dollars are provided to the employee in a product, such as a voucher, smart card, debit card, etc., to cover all commuting options. Currently, employees can use up to $270 a month for transit, and the same amount for commuter-related parking.

Can this benefit the employer too?

Yes! By offering employees a pre-tax commuter benefits program, the cost of commuting deducted for employees reduces the amount of payroll being taxed.

What qualifies as transportation fringe benefits?

  • Commuter transportation in a commuter highway vehicle
  • Transit passes
  • Qualified parking
  • Qualified bicycle commuting expenses.

Is this a tax write-off?

No, it’s not.

Is the pre-tax transit and vanpool benefit the same as a transit or vanpool subsidy?

No. The pre-tax transit and vanpool benefit uses the employee’s own salary before taxes to pay toward the commute funding. A transit or vanpool subsidy is when the employer provides employees with a transit or vanpool benefit above and beyond the employee’s salary.

Are there benefits for cycling?

Earlier this year, a revamped Bicycle Commuter Act was introduced in the US House of Representatives. It would ensure bike commuters get pre-tax commuter benefits similar to those who drive and park or take public transportation to work.

In 2017, Congress eliminated a tax credit for bike commuters which allowed employers to reimburse workers as much as $20 per month, pre-tax, for bike commuting expenses.

If the bill passes, it will make the benefit a pre-tax benefit, allow employees to receive a bicycle benefit of up to 30% of the parking benefit, allow the bicycle benefit to be used in concert with the transit and parking benefits and add bike-shares as eligible for the benefit, clarifying that e-bikes are eligible.

What is vanpooling?

Vanpool is a perfect way to get to and from work for those who travel more than 15 miles to work one-way. Passengers share a ride in a van that seats five to 15 people and pay a monthly fee that covers the cost of fuel, insurance and vehicle maintenance.

Vanpooling helps reduce the number of vehicles on the road!

Is there a pre-tax benefit for vanpooling?

Yes! The IRS allows employers to withhold a set amount of employee’s pre-tax income for vanpool commuting costs. This lower’s the employee’s taxable income, which puts more money into their pocket.

Employees may also provide a monthly fare subsidy as part of the qualified IRS Transportation Fringe Benefit, under section 132(F) of the IRS tax code.

What are the tax benefits for Boulder County residents?

  • The University of Colorado-Boulder offers a $25 monthly incentive for employees who vanpool.
  • The City of Boulder offers a $20 monthly incentive for Boulder residents or employees who vanpool.
  • Boulder County offers a $70 monthly incentive for Boulder County employees who chose to vanpool as well as offering priority parking.
  • For vanpoolers within the North Front Range, and use VanGo, can receive up to $260 for commuting costs. The cost will be taken out of the paycheck prior to taxes.

What are the tax benefits for Broomfield County residents?

The City and County of Broomfield offers voluntary pre-tax savings plans to full-time and eligible part-time employees for health, dependent care and transportation expenses.

  • Broomfield County offers up to $225 per month, with no annual max, for vanpool or bus passes for its maximum annual contribution. Employee contribution is up to $225 per month.
  • For vanpoolers within the North Front Range, and use VanGo, can receive up to $260 for commuting costs. The cost will be taken out of the paycheck prior to taxes.

 

Commuting Solutions can help your business get started with a vanpool! For more information, contact us at info@commutingsolutions.org.

Resources:

Internal Revenue Service Taxable Fringe Benefit Guide

132(F) of the IRS tax code

24-Hour Flex

Vanpool? More Like VanCool!

Are you getting tired of driving alone during your long commute? It’s time to get your out of your car and into a vanpool! Commuting Solutions, in partnership with Way to Go, Commute with Enterprise and GO Boulder/City of Boulder is excited to announce their newest program: VanCool! Register for a vanpool and receive $20 a month for the rest of the year towards the cost of your vanpool!*

The VanCool program was inspired by our mission to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality throughout the Denver Metro region.

Vanpools are the perfect solution for commuters who travel more than 15-miles one-way to work. Passengers share the ride in a vehicle – which contrary to the name, isn’t always a van – that seats 5-15 people. Participants pay a monthly fee that covers the cost of fuel, insurance and vehicle maintenance.

The benefits of vanpooling are never ending. When traveling along US 36, vanpools have access to the US 36 Express Lanes for free as a High Occupancy Vehicle.** Participants in vanpools also don’t have to worry about making time to bring their vans in for maintenance: the maintenance crew will come to your workplace so you don’t have to lift a finger.

Still not sold on vanpools or have some more questions? Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions about vanpools.

FAQ

How much will a vanpool cost?

Every vanpool is different. The cost is determined using a formula that takes into consideration the distance of your commute, the number of participants, how many days a week your traveling, the cost of gas and more. The cost of the vanpool will cover:

  • 30-day agreements
  • Full administrative support by a local staff
  • All maintenance and repairs covered
  • 24-hour Emergency Roadside Assistance, including free loaner van as needed
  • Guaranteed Ride Home – In an emergency you can take a free cab ride up to 100 miles one was
  • $1 million insurance policy with no deductible.
  • A one-time $60.00 CO State Road Fee charged on first invoice

How do I find people to vanpool with?

We will help you! Vanpools can be created a handful of different ways. Vanpools are primarily created through employer vanpool matching events. We will create a dot map of employee addresses and determine potential vanpools based on clusters. We can also use the My Way to Go network to match you with existing vanpools.

When and where will I meet up with my vanpool?

That’s up for you and your pool to decide! As a vanpool, you’ll need to establish ground rules ahead of time, such as a meeting place, departure times and how long the van will wait for a late passenger. Park-n-Rides are popular meet-up locations as well as a great place to store the van.

Do I have to drive?

Not if you don’t want to! Each vanpool must have at least two drivers listed and covered by insurance. It’s up to the vanpool to decide who the drivers will be.

What happens if I need to get home in the middle of the day or unexpectedly change my schedule?

If anything unexpected comes up, the Guaranteed Ride Home program is available to all our vanpool participants. All you’ll need to do is call their number and schedule a ride.

Can I bring a bike?

Sure, just tell your vanpool coordinators ahead of time and your vehicle can be retrofitted with a bike rack!

So sign up, help decrease traffic congestion and save a little extra money while you’re at it. Now that’s a cool idea.

Ready to get registered? Click here, fill out the form and we’ll be in touch!

*This offer is valid to those who qualify as a new vanpool in the Commuting Solutions region. New vanpool must be registered by 5:00pm on September 30, 2019. Management reserves all rights. New participants who commute into/out of Boulder, Colorado will receive an additional $20 per person, per month through December 31, 2019.

**Driver must have switchable HOV pass in vehicle.

 

Top 8 Reasons We Love Transit in the Northwest Metro Region (And You Should Too!)

There are so many reasons to love where we live. The unparalleled access to nature, the booming economy, the amazing local culture… the list goes on. One of the lesser mentioned reasons is that we have an amazing and varied transit system. While we are primarily served by the Regional Transportation District and their services, we benefit from local services in Boulder, the FLEX service by TransFort and so much more. Take a look at why we love transit in our region!

The Flatiron Flyer:

There is no easier, quicker or relaxing way to go from Boulder to Denver or vice versa than the Flatiron Flyer. Between the schedule-free service, the comfortable seats and the US 36 Express Lanes, there is no longer any reason to deal with driving alone on US 36. Another perk of the Flatiron Flyer? With ample parking available at the stations along the corridor, you no longer have to worry about finding a parking spot at your final destination, which for those of us who hate parking in Denver is the most invaluable perk of all.

SportsRide: BuffRide, BroncosRide & More:

When planning to attend any major sporting event, professional or college, there is the inevitable discussion surrounding who’s going to drive and where to park that won’t cost an arm and a leg. With RTD’s variety of game day services, the only question that needs to be asked is what time are we catching the bus. It’s a great way to enjoy the region’s diverse sporting activities without worrying about how you’re going to get there.

The On-Demand FlexRide Service:

One of the best services that RTD has to offer in the northwest metro region is the FlexRide service. It’s RTD’s reimagining of the former Call-n-Ride service. You can now order a ride up to 10 minutes in advance or schedule a regularly occurring trip. All of the vehicles are fully accessible, and the service continues to provide seamless connections between services and final destinations.

 

RTD & Innovation:

We are fortunate to be served by RTD, an organization that wants to bring the best and newest innovations to its users. That’s why this year alone RTD has announced partnerships with Lyft and Uber, that will allow users of the app to see transit options in the Lyft and Uber This will make it easier to plan and pay for multimodal trips throughout the region. RTD has also launched its first Autonomous Vehicle (AV) pilot program to work on integrating the new technology into their service offerings.

SkyRide to DEN:

Next time you have a trip planned, let RTD take care of getting you to the airport. The AB, AA, AT and A-Line services connect travelers from all over the Denver metro region to DIA with ease. For the northwest metro region, there is no faster way to get to the airport than by hopping on the AB service and letting RTD do the driving. You get to avoid traffic and paying for parking. Plus, you are dropped off right at the terminal. It couldn’t be easier!

The B-Line:

The B-Line is the first commuter rail service to connect Union Station in Denver and Westminster Station, constructed as part of the RTD FasTracks project. Westminster Station is located at 69th Avenue and Grove Street with the station and transit plaza designed to be the central hub within the surrounding 135-acre transit-oriented development area. The service serves nearly 1800 riders a day and is an easy way to commute into Denver.

FLEX Your Commute:

Another great service available to commuters in the northwest metro region is the FLEX route which connects Fort Collins to Boulder. The bus comes equipped with WiFi, charging ports and only cost $1.25 one-way! The route stops in Loveland, Longmont and Berthoud. For your next trip between the two cities, give the FLEX a go!

Bustang on I-25:

The Bustang is CDOT’s Interregional Express (IX) bus service, connecting commuters along the I-25 corridor from Fort Collins all the way to Denver on its North Line. Each Bustang coach is equipped with a restroom, bike racks, free WiFi, power outlets and USB ports.

 

Remember What Fast Feels Like With Casual Carpool

For the better part of the last year, the Commuting Solutions team has been building from the ground up Colorado’s first casual carpool program that will operate on the US 36 corridor. As part of preparing for this program, our team has extensively researched existing examples nationwide, particularly in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. With the launch of our Casual Carpool on US 36 program, we want to share all that we’ve learned with you so you can join us in our excitement to pilot Colorado’s first casual carpooling program for the US 36 Express Lanes.

What is Casual Carpool?

Casual carpool is a mutually beneficial concept for drivers and riders alike. Drivers pick up riders so that they can travel in the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes at a reduced cost or no charge at all. Riders receive an easy and affordable ride to work.

How Did Casual Carpool Get Started?

Casual carpool, also known as sluglines, is a concept that began in the 1970s in Washington D.C.  during the Oil Embargo. The embargo created shortage of fuel which led to massively inflated gas prices. Driving alone was no longer a feasible or affordable option. Commuters needed a way to form quick and easy carpools give them free access to the HOV lanes. This need led to the creation of casual carpools, also known as sluglines. It was a grassroots movement that addressed the high costs of gas and toll charges.

Sluglines are a free mode of transportation created by people searching for a ride and drivers in need of additional passengers to utilize the HOV lanes. It was a simple enough concept. Those in a need of a ride would line up at a meeting point and drivers searching for passengers would pull up and signal how many riders they needed to drive in the HOV lanes and where they were going. Even with the advent of new technology and the end of the oil crisis, slug lines are still a popular commute option. The casual carpool trend spread across the county and can be found in several major metropolitan areas. Two of the largest programs can be found in Washington D.C. and San Francisco, with over 10,000 commuters a day using casual carpools in each city.

Why Casual Carpool on US 36?

US 36 connects Boulder to Denver via I-25 and is one of the busiest commuter corridors in the Denver metro area. Following the 2017 completion of the US 36 Express Lanes, 15 percent of the travelers have been carpoolers. As our region continues to grow, it’s important that we continue to increase the HOV usage of these lanes for many reasons. The introduction of casual carpooling to the corridor presents an innovative opportunity to alleviate current congestion, maximize usage of the express lanes and improve the air quality of the region.

 

Casual Carpool on US 36 builds on the casual carpool models of Washington D.C. and San Francisco by using technology to connect riders and drivers along the corridor. The program will utilize the technology platform of Waze Carpool, Waze’s on-demand carpool app that launched nationwide in October 2018. The app allows users to connect ahead of time and meet at pre-determined locations to start their carpool.

Is it Safe?

While the idea of carpooling with a stranger may give you pause at first, Casual Carpool on US 36 is designed to be a safe program for both the riders and drivers. By allowing carpools to match through the app ahead of time, the driver and riders have an opportunity to chat through the messaging feature to get to know each other before hopping in the car with each other.  If during these conversations, something doesn’t feel right, all users have the right to politely decline the ride.

Riders and drivers have the right to opt out of the carpool at any point. If you show up on the day of your carpool and you get a gut feeling that makes you uneasy, as a rider you can not get in the car and as a driver, you have the right to not pick up your passenger.

The Waze Carpool app also includes the MyCompany program, which allows your company to create a group on the app where employees can match exclusively with their coworkers.

By having pre-determined pickup locations, riders don’t have to share their personal addresses.

Since Casual Carpool on US 36 operates as a mutually beneficial program, we encourage all involved to be respectful towards each other and to create a safe environment ensuring the integrity of the system.

What are the Rules?

Since casual carpool isn’t a formal system with any kind of governing body, there are no official rules. However, over the years, participants across the city have created an unofficial unspoken agreement about the code of conduct for casual carpools.

  1. Follow the Golden Rule: Treat others (and their car, belongings, etc.) how you would want to be treated.
  2. Remember: just because it’s casual, doesn’t mean there aren’t definite boundaries when it comes to riding in someone else’s car
    1. Don’t eat in the car without checking in with the driver first.
    2. Follow up to a. – don’t drink anything but water in the car. Save your morning joe for the office.
    3. Don’t apply your makeup in the car.
    4. Save all calls for once you’re out of the car.
    5. Make sure you don’t smell bad or bring any offensive odors into the car.
  3. Drivers, there are rules for you too.
    1. Clean up your car before picking up riders.
    2. Don’t play your music too loud.
    3. An amendment to rule b: keep your music/radio selection appropriate and non-offensive.
    4. Drive safely. This isn’t the Fast and the Furious. Now is not the time to show off how well your car handles fast turns.
  4. Safety. Comes. First. Whether you’re a rider or a driver, do you best to make the ride to work safe for everybody.
  5. We’re not all morning people so keep the conversation to a minimum. You can always use your Casual Carpool on US 36 as a way to make friends but read the mood of carpool first.
  6. There may be bumps in the road so if a disagreement occurs during your Casual Carpool on US 36 just stay calm and finish the ride.

Give it a go!

Now that you know what it’s history and why you should use it, the only thing left to do is give it a go! Download the Waze Carpool app on your smart phone and start arranging your first ride. Casual Carpool on US 36 is a pilot program which will continue through December 2019 and is made possible through a federal grant administered by the Denver Regional Council of Governments. We appreciate the support of RTD, DRCOG and our local government partners along US 36 to join us in testing this innovative project.

 

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Commuter to Watch: Tyler Beam

Tyler joined an existing vanpool because it was easy and it helps him save money on his commute from Denver to Broomfield. If he needs to stay late or leave early from work, he has flexible options both ways. So what’s it like for him to cruise with his van mates in the US 36 Express Lane? “You know that feeling you get when you put socks on that just came out of the dryer? It’s like that.” Tyler invites you to van up and get that same warm and fuzzy feeling.

Commuter to watch: Martha Brown

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Once or twice a week, Martha commutes to Boulder from Arvada by carpooling with a neighbor and co-worker. With access to the Express Lane, her carpool can bypass traffic, saving about 30 minutes each way. Adds Martha, “A few weeks ago there were a lot of accidents on the road and traffic was horrendous. It was really great to be able to bypass it all and still get to work on time!” Martha invites you to become a fellow carpooling co-worker hero.

Carpool Buddies Wanted.

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Are you driving solo during your daily commute and watching in envy as carpoolers cruise by in the US 36 Express Lanes?

Sure, you’ve considered carpooling–it  saves time, money and you can enjoy being a passenger every once in a while. But where do you start? Commuting Solutions is your trusted transportation resource, and we’ve helped hundreds of local employees find their carpool matches.

With the HOV (that’s High Occupancy Vehicle) rules changing on January 1, 2017, current twosome carpoolers will soon be searching for another buddy. The new HOV 3 rules mean that in order to travel for free in the US 36 Express Lanes, there must be at least three passengers in the vehicle.

Whether you’re looking to make your carpool a threesome or you want to just get started, here are a few ways other carpoolers have found their match:

1. Recruit from your network
This may be obvious, but you’d be surprised at who you’ll meet by just putting the word out there. Let your co-workers and friends know you’re looking for a carpool buddy – email or post within your company, post on Facebook, LinkedIn or Nextdoor.

2. Register your trip on MyWayToGo.org
MyWaytoGo.org can help you find registered users who are either part of an existing pool or are looking for a buddy. When you register on MyWaytoGo.org, you become part of a regional database with over 10,000 users. To post your interest in carpooling, enter your starting location, ending location and the details for when you would want to meet. The site will then show you existing carpools and potential carpool buddies you can contact. And, when you “favorite” your trip, others searching for a buddy can find you.

And, better yet, from now until the end of January 2017, Commuting Solutions is offering cash incentives for new carpools. Yes, you can earn up to $75 just for carpooling! Incentives are also available for vanpooling and transit. To receive your incentive, fill out this short application and track eight carpool trips using MyWayToGo.org.

Short of hitchhiking, there are many ways to find a buddy or three and make for a more enjoyable commute. The more solo drivers we can get into carpools, the less congestion we’ll have on our highway, and that’s good for us and our environment.

Still need help? Feel free to drop us a line at info@commutingsolutions.org.

Happy Travels!