Even with the remote work revolution, plenty of people still travel daily to a job site or office. With transportation prices continuing to rise, commuter benefits are always welcomed.
This article explains commuter benefits and how employees can use them along with answers to common questions about this valuable job perk.
Commuter benefits are a simple way for both employers and employees to save money. Put in place to encourage the use of public transportation, these programs allow employers and employees to use pre-tax dollars to pay for a variety of commuting expenses.
For employers and employees, benefits that qualify as transportation fringe benefits are not a part of an employee’s taxable wages. These commuter benefits are exempt from federal income and payroll taxes.
Under federal law, qualified transportation fringe benefits consist of:
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) set the 2024 federal monthly maximum for qualified transportation fringe benefits at $315 per month for commuter highway vehicle transportation and transit passes and $315 per month for qualified parking.
Employees can set aside pre-tax income for commuter benefits up to the federal maximum.
Depending on how an employer offers transportation benefits, funds can be delivered to and used by employees in numerous ways:
NOTE: Employers may also be eligible for state income and payroll tax incentives for commuter benefits. Some cities even require employers to provide commuter benefits for their employees under the law.
Since understanding every facet of a work benefit is essential to getting the most out of it, we’ve compiled an FAQ that covers the most important aspects.
Employees can generally use commuter benefits funds to pay for parking their personal vehicles on or near their employer’s business premises.
Eligible parking expenses can include parking meters, fees at mass transit facilities, and commuter highway vehicles.
Airfares aren't typically recognized as eligible expenses under this job benefit.
Employees can’t use commuter benefits funds to take a taxi. However, some employers allow commuter benefits funds to pay for Lyft Shared and Uber Pool rides.
Generally, employees can’t use commuter benefits funds to pay for tunnel, bridge or highway tolls (E-ZPass).
Generally, no. Commuter benefits are most often used only for travel between home and work—not for expenses related to traveling from an office to another business or client meeting.
Employees can usually use their commuter benefits funds to pay for passes, tokens, fare cards, vouchers, or similar items for their own transportation on mass transit. Mass transit can include buses, trains and ferries.
Employees usually can’t use commuter benefits funds to pay for fuel, mileage or other costs related to their vehicle.
If an employee paid for an expense that’s covered by their commuter benefits, they can submit a claim to their commuter benefits administrator for cash reimbursement. A couple of examples of this would be if their card was declined at a parking meter or station, or if they accidentally left their card at home.
A commuter highway vehicle is any vehicle with a seating capacity of at least six adults, not including the driver.
A vehicle can qualify as a commuter highway vehicle if it's used 80% of the time for transporting employees between their homes and work and if the number of employees it transports for such purposes is, on average, at least half of its adult seating capacity.
If you’re an employee:
Employees can enroll if their company has a commuter program. Ask your HR department for details.
If you’re an employer:
Employers have potential options for taking advantage of pre-tax commuter benefits, based on their preferred levels of contribution and involvement. Depending on your location, you can:
Setting up commuter benefits yourself can be time-consuming. If you’re doing it alone, think about whether you have time for setup and administration or if you’d rather use an outside service to manage it.
On the day the employee is let go:
Once an employee has been terminated, they have up to 90 days from their termination date to submit any expense claims.
There really is no downside to offering a commuter benefits program. In addition to reducing your company's carbon footprint, they lower the taxes of your employees and lower your payroll taxes. These programs are legally required in some locations. For example, you must offer commuter benefits if you’re an employer:
Companies and employees everywhere can reap the rewards of a pre-tax commuter benefits program.
While most states follow federal law, a handful of states treat commuter benefits a little differently for state income tax purposes. For instance:
Employers and employees can use commuter benefits to their advantage. Paying with tax free dollars helps save money and reduce overall transportation costs.
TriNet helps organizations like yours offer commuter benefits alongside other benefits accounts like FSAs (flexible spending accounts). Let's connect to talk about how easy it can be to add commuter benefits to your employee benefits package.