Can Commuter Benefits Help People Return to the Office?
The pandemic changed how we live and work in so many ways — not the least of which was the daily commute. But now, after years of working remotely, many employees are returning to the office at least a few days each week. That’s why employer-sponsored commuter benefits are on the rise again.
No matter what an employee’s work schedule may be, this kind of support eases the transition to onsite and hybrid work. It gives employees the flexibility to choose the transportation options they prefer. And by demonstrating a commitment to employee wellbeing, this kind of program also contributes to workforce recruiting and retention.
What Are Commuter Benefits?
Daily travel to and from the office can be a significant source of stress. Commuting can be time-consuming and expensive, especially if you drive your own car. Gas prices are hovering at an all-time high, and the cost of maintaining a vehicle adds up over time.
Commuter benefits are designed to help ease this financial burden. Plans typically include funds to cover public transportation costs and parking fees. These are pre-tax dollars employees can set aside to pay commuting costs, up to $300 a month in 2023.
Employers assign this money to a specific account for employee mass transit or parking expenses. And employees can contribute additional funds to both accounts if they elect to do so. Any unused funds carry forward from one month to the next, and employees can adjust or stop their elections anytime.
Why Offer Commuter Benefits?
There are many reasons to offer this kind of program. Let’s take a closer look:
1. It’s a Great Way to Attract and Retain Top Talent
In today’s competitive job market, employees prefer working for companies with comprehensive benefits packages. Flexible commuting plans can help improve the employee experience by demonstrating that you care about workforce wellbeing, no matter where people need to work or when they need to travel.
2. It Helps the Environment
This kind of program is ideal if your organization is committed to sustainability or formal ESG goals. Here’s why:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that gas-powered transportation causes 28% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Encouraging less fuel-intensive commuting methods can help you reduce the number of cars on the road as well as the level of emissions they produce.
You can provide incentives for employees who choose public transportation, such as transit pass subsidies or reduced parking fees. In addition, you can promote ride-sharing options, such as carpooling or vanpooling programs. And with the rise of lightweight electric scooters, bicycles, and mopeds, you can offer post-tax reimbursement for these alternatives, as well.
Ultimately, these efforts can help your company reduce its carbon footprint.
3. It’s a Smart Business Move
Commuter benefits help reduce your payroll taxes because your employees are saving money tax-free to cover their commuting costs. On average, these programs can save employers about $40 per person, per month. For a business with 50 employees enrolled in the program, that translates into savings of $24,000 a year.
Why Employees Love Commuter Benefits
There are several reasons employees also love this kind of program. For instance:
- They gain better access to transportation options they prefer.
- They can improve their local community and the global environment. Choosing mass transit — including ridesharing and cycling options — helps reduce traffic congestion and pollution.
- It helps them save money. This is especially true for pre-tax commuter benefits because employees can set aside money before taxes are applied.
- Participation is easy. Commuter benefit plan funds accrue monthly. Any unused balance automatically rolls forward. And there’s no year-end “use-it-or-lose-it” penalty. In addition, enrollment choices automatically renew each year until an employee requests a change.
- With custom plans, employees can enjoy additional travel perks that typically aren’t included in standard commuter programs.
Beyond Covid: Supporting a Better Work Commute
Over the course of the pandemic, many members of the workforce grew accustomed to working from home. And before the virus threat faded, most people feared returning to an office environment, let alone commuting on public transit.
But now, for employers who are ready to move forward with a successful mix of onsite and remote work, this is the ideal time to rethink the transportation benefits you offer. A creative mix of pre-tax and post-tax options can help get employees back on the road and back to work whenever they need to be onsite.
Not only does this help ease the financial burden of commuting for existing employees, but it also shows prospective employees that your company is committed to the “greater good” by making work-related travel as environmentally responsible as possible.
Providing a thoughtful commuter benefits plan is a win-win for both employers and employees, alike. Your employees save on transportation expenses, while your organization reaps the rewards of improved productivity and morale.
No doubt, investment in offering stronger commuter benefits is a wise strategy for any employer that wants to address the near-term interests of employees who need to return to the office. But ultimately, it’s an investment that can pay off over the long term with improved workforce productivity and engagement.