vanpool | 511 Contra Costa

Green Commute Contest: Win a $20 BART Ticket

Enter for a chance to WIN a $20 BART ticket!

If you skip driving alone and walk, bike, carpool, take transit, or vanpool to work from Contra Costa, posting a photo of your green trip gives you the chance to win a $20 BART ticket.

Just post with the hashtag #511CCgreencommute and you’re entered to win. Full contest rules and details available at

I-580 Express Lanes Now Open (2016)

580 express lanes
Click to enlarge image

The I-580 Express Lanes through Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore are now open! Here’s what you need to know to use them:

  • needFlexPassAll drivers will need a FasTrak® or FasTrak® Flex toll tag and valid FasTrak account to use the lanes.
  • The Express Lanes will be toll-free for carpools, vanpools, eligible clean-air vehicles, buses and motorcycles with a FasTrak Flex toll tag.
  • Solo drivers will have the option of paying to access the Express Lanes using a standard FasTrak or FasTrak Flex toll tag set to ‘1’.
  • The Express Lanes will look and feel like carpool lanes, allowing motorists to enter and exit almost anywhere along the corridor.
  • The Express Lanes will operate Monday through Friday, from 5-8pm. Outside of these hours, the Express Lanes will be open to all vehicles at no charge and with no toll-tag requirements.

For more information, visit Alameda CTC’s I-580 information page.

Five Reasons Why You Should Change Up Your Commute (BTWD 2016)

You’ve probably noticed that traffic congestion in the Bay Area is as bad as it’s ever been, starting at 5 o’clock each morning. Congestion isn’t expected to get better anytime soon and is increasing faster than population and employment. So if you’ve been considering making the switch from commuting alone by car, now is the perfect time!
Here are 6 great reasons to make this the month you change up your commute:
#1: ‘Drive Less’ Commuter Incentive: Make the switch from driving alone to carpooling, taking transit, bicycling or walking for your commute even one day a week and 511 Contra Costa will give you a cash reward as part of the Drive Less Commuter Incentive Program. Get all the details here.
#2: Get There Faster: Transit, carpooling and vanpooling speed up your commute by granting you access to HOV lanes, while biking and walking help you bypass the backup of vehicles almost entirely.
#3: Alternative Commuters Are Healthier & Feel Better: Studies Show riding the bus or train to work is associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and being overweight. Research also shows commuting on foot or by bike is better for people’s mental health than driving.
#4: Tax Break for Taking Transit: Did you know you can set aside $255 per month in pre-tax dollars to pay for public transportation? You’ll save money by getting transit tickets & passes tax-free. Ask your employer for details on how to take advantage of this program.
Tri Delta Transit 2015 top logo#5: Free 20-ride Pass from Tri Delta Transit: The easiest way to find out if commuting by transit is for you is by giving it a try. Right now, Tri Delta Transit will let you do it for free. Let them know you want to commute by bus and they’ll send you a free 20-ride Pass, while supplies last. (Deadline to apply: February 14)
We want you to have the best possible experience while trying transit, so make sure to take advantage of all the resources available on the 511 Contra Costa website, with information on taking public transit, participating in vanpools, locating park-and-ride lots and much more. Happy commuting!

Photo: Eric Risberg, Associated Press

Transit and Vanpool Commuter Benefits to be Reduced in 2014

Fireworks in Pinole, CA in Contra Costa CountyTransit riders and vanpoolers who take advantage of pre-tax commuter benefits with their employer will find that their maximum monthly limit decrease to $130 starting January 1, 2014 from $245 in 2013.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (HR 8) restored the pre-tax transit and vanpool commuter benefits to be on par with the qualified parking benefit temporarily for the 2013 calendar year. That parity ends December 31, 2013.
At this time, the 2014 monthly limits for qualified monthly transportation benefits are:

  • up to $130 per employee per month for public transportation and vanpool
  • up to $250 per employee per month for qualified parking, or
  • up to $380 per employee per month for both public transportation and qualified parking

Qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements will remain unchanged at $20 per month in the new year.
Congress will have to pass legislation to make any changes to the 2014 transit and vanpool limits.
See the IRS Bulletin regarding the new monthly limits.
For more information about Transportation Fringe Benefits, visit the Internal Revenue Code Section 132 (F), as amended by TEA-21, Title IX, Section 910.

Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program Public Workshop (2013)

The staff of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (Air District) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) will conduct public workshops to present, discuss, and receive comments on draft Regulation 14, Rule 1: The Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program.
What is the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program?
California Senate Bill 1339, signed into law in fall 2012 created the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program (Program).  Employers with 50 or more full-time employees in the Bay Area are required to provide commuter benefit options to their employees.

  1. Employers can select one of the following four commuter benefit options to offer to their employees:
  2. The option for employees to pay for their transit or vanpool expenses with pre-tax dollars, as allowed by current federal law;
  3. A transit or vanpool subsidy to reduce, or cover, employees’ monthly transit or vanpool costs;
  4. A low-cost or free shuttle, vanpool, or bus service operated by or for the employer; or
  5. An alternative method that would be equally as effective as the other options in reducing single-occupant vehicle trips (and/or vehicle emissions).

Building on the success of similar programs adopted in the cities of San Francisco, Berkeley and Richmond, as well as the San Francisco International Airport, the Program facilitates a regional approach to encourage the use of sustainable commute modes, such as public transit, ridesharing, bicycling and walking, in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality.
In the Bay Area, where these programs are already in place, most employers have chosen the pre-tax option (option 1 above), which can provide economic benefits to both employers and employees through tax savings.  Employers can reduce payroll taxes (approximately 9 percent of subject wages), and employees can lower their commute costs by up to 40 percent.
Plan Implementation
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission are currently developing plans for adopting and implementing the Program, and will conduct public workshops to present, discuss and receive comments on the Program.  View dates and locations of upcoming workshops.
See also New Bay Area Commuter Benefit Policy

How Do You Actually Get Commuter Benefits?

Bike to Work Day at the Mid Market Energizer Station
Bike to Work Day 2010 in San Francisco. Photo credit: Bay Area Fair Trade Coalition
In an earlier post here at 511 Contra Costa we noted that commuter benefits for vanpooling and public transportation had been restored through the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (HR 8) to be on par with the qualified parking benefit

For the 2013 calendar year:

  • up to $245 per employee withholding per month for vanpool and all public transportation
  • up to $245 per employee withholding per month for qualified parking, or
  • up to $490 per employee withholding per month for both public transportation and qualified parking

This is great news but how does one go about setting aside pre-tax income for a commute benefit? Here are some steps you can take to get started.
First, make sure you’re using a qualifying commute alternative. The benefit is available to commuters who commute to work in a vanpool, use public transit, or pay for qualified parking. (Carpooling does not currently qualify for pre-tax benefits.)
Next, ask your employer if commuter tax benefits are offered; typically Human Resources or Benefits department will know.  If your employer isn’t aware of the benefit, share the IRS Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits  with them.
Step three is to set up a payroll withholding for the qualified commute benefit you use. Keep in mind, your employer must have this benefit set up as a pre-tax withholding option in the payroll system.
There is also a benefit for commuting by bicycle though the process is slightly different because unlike other pre-tax commuter benefits the bicycle benefit cannot be withheld from your pay.  See the full tax code here
Note: Withe the passage of California Senate Bill 1339, employers in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Are with 50 ore more employees will be required to offer some sort of commuter benefit – one of the options is to offer employees to withhold pre-tax income for vanpooling, transit or qualified parking.  Look for more information on the roll-out of this bill in summer of  2013.  The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission are developing the Rule.

Commuter Benefits Raised for 2013

6629120915_556a318093_zThe American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (HR 8) has restored the pre-tax transit and vanpool commuter benefits to be on par with the qualified parking benefit. For the 2013 calendar year:

  • up to $245 per employee per month for vanpool and all public transportation
  • up to $245 per employee per month for qualified parking, or
  • up to $490 per employee per month for both public transportation and qualified parking

The effective date for the revised limits above allows for retroactivity back to January 1, 2012 if an employer so chooses under Sec. 203.
In 2012, the IRS Transportation (Commuting) Benefits rolled back to pre-2009 levels of $125 per month (adjusted for inflation) for vanpool expenses and public transit passes. The maximum was temporarily raised to $230 per month under The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 and extended under the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 to equal the monthly qualified commuter parking limit.
Qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements will remain unchanged at $20 per month in the new year.
By offering pre-tax commute benefits to employees, employers can save on paying FICA payroll taxes  and employees can take advantage of saving on federal withholding and FICA taxes on the amount deducted. Find out more from these third-party commute benefit administrators: Benefit Resource Inc., Clipper Direct, TranBen, TransitCenter (TransitChek), and WageWorks.

Image Credit: 401(K) 2013