Commuters reap benefits of stimulus money

March 26, 2009 7:12:19 PM PDT
There is a little known benefit in the federal stimulus package that could put more money into the hands of commuters. It has not received a lot of publicity, but if you take public transit to work, your monthly costs could be reduced by as much as $230.

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Whether you get to work by train, by bus, or by BART, there is something in the stimulus package that affects you. You could get up to $230 a month from your employer to pay for your commute.

"We've all heard things about how big corporations and large agencies are benefitting from the stimulus package, and this is a way that the individual worker can realize an immediate benefit," said Christina Dunn with Caltrain and SamTrans.

Employers will now be able to offer their workers up to $230 in transit passes every month. The employer benefits because it can be deducted as a normal business expense, and obviously commuters benefit because they get free money.

"I think that's great. I love using my commuter tax benefits for work," said Lea Harthe of San Francisco. "It saves me a lot of money and if it can promote public transportation, it's a wonderful thing."

The previous maximum allowance used to be $115, but under the stimulus package, that's doubled.

"My commute is more than $115 a month," said Paul Cordova of San Carlos. "I use approximately $180, so it works well for me."

Employees who don't get transit passes from their employers can still benefit. They can deduct money from their paychecks and avoid paying taxes on up to $230 in commute costs each month.

The bottom line -- everyone saves money and the environment benefits, too.

"People who take public transportation save up to 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline every year and they reduce carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons," said Dunn.

If you are not already taking advantage of this benefit, you should check with your human resources department.

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