SB 1339: The Commuter Benefits Program

Bruce Naegel, Enrique Sterling, Lucrecia Rivera     April, 2014
An exciting pilot program is being put into place in the Bay Area to significantly reduce traffic. According to Senate Bill 1339, by September 30th, 2014, employers with 50 or more employees must be offering commuter benefits. 
Employers will be able to choose from four different benefit schemes:
Option 1 — Allow employees to exclude their transit or vanpool costs from taxable income, to the maximum amount, as allowed by federal law (currently $130 per month).
Option 2 — Offer, employer-provided transit or vanpool subsidy up to $75 per month.
Option 3 — Offer employer-provided free or low cost bus, shuttle or vanpool service operated by or for the employer.
Option 4 — An alternative employer-provided commuter benefit that is as effective as in reducing single occupant vehicles as Options 1-3.

The Case for Mandated Commuter Benefits

SB1339-Graph1As those who commute in the Bay Area know, we have a significant traffic problem on our hands. Already-congested roads easily become snarled traffic jams if the slightest occurrence diminishes capacity. And if sitting in traffic for hours weren’t bad enough, there are multiple side effects to congested roads, including increased air pollution, added stress and loss of productivity.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): 
- Over 90% of the fuel used for transportation is petroleum based, which includes gasoline and diesel.
- Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have increased by about 18% since 1990. 
- The number of vehicle miles traveled by passenger cars and light-duty trucks increased 35% from 1990 to 2012. The increase is attributed to population growth, economic growth, urban sprawl, and low fuel prices during the beginning of this period. 
- 60 percent of U.S. transportation emissions come from cars and light trucks.

Other statistics show that:

Around 3% of American adult workers are “extreme commuters” (taking 90 minutes or more each way).
More than 75% of all commuters drove to work in single- occupancy vehicles in 2009. 
Research has shown that commuters are less likely to do exercise or eat home-cooked meals, while being more likely to suffer from insomnia and joint pain.


As a road becomes congested, traffic speed slows down; a problem that worsens traffic saturation. For instance, if a roadway flowing at 85% capacity increases to 95% capacity, traffic moving at 50 MPH would slow down to 10 or 15 MPH. Further increases would lead to so-called "terminal gridlock", where cars would be stranded on the roads at a complete standstill.
Since it won’t be easy to increase the capacity of our road infrastructure, especially given that the Bay Area population is on the rise, the only way to keep traffic flowing is to find mechanisms to put more commuters into fewer vehicles. This is especially true on major highways like 101.
Although there are many commuters that take advantage of bike lanes, mass transit, ridesharing and commuter apps, this number is extremely low, compared to the 75% of single-occupancy commuters on our roads. This pilot program offers a compelling incentive for medium and large companies to drive innovative solutions, as they move to offer these benefits to their employees. 
Sustainable Silicon Valley is in the process of rolling out an STI (Sustainable Transportation Initiative) designed to educate companies and, municipalities about their commuting options. More on SB 1339 and options for commuters will be detailed in coming articles.

More Information

The following links show information on SB 1339 in more detail:
Here's to a better commute, coming soon!
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1 comment:
On Apr 23, 2014 marianna.grossman said: Great summary of very important legislation! Let's show how it can work in the Bay Area so it can be rolled out statewide. 40% of GHG comes from transportation (more for some Bay Area cities).