Transit benefits: a prescription for commuters, the new Kings and Queens of Pain

That’s The Police, circa 1983, pictured above. 1983 as the year when Sting was the King of Pain. That was the title, of course, of the hit song he wrote, one of the tracks on the album Synchronicity – the last and greatest Police album.

The story goes that King of Pain was a very personal song for Sting. He had recently separated from his first wife and was not getting along with the other two members of the band. Sting wrote the song in Jamaica at the house where Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond books. Fleming called his house in Oracabessa, Goldeneye (available for your next vacation, and not exactly where you would expect to see "a little black spot on the sun today").

Now some 26 years later, employees commuting back to work after the Labor Day weekend are the new Kings and Queens of Pain. That’s the findings of the second annual IBM Commuter Pain survey released last week. The survey indicates that the recession is taking its toll on urban motorists, who have become significantly more sensitive to gas prices and are looking for ways to spend more time with family and friends.

IBM has compiled the results of the survey into a Commuter Plan Index that ranks the emotional and economic toll of commuting in each city on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most onerous. Here’s how the cities stack up ranking those with the highest commuter pain index first:

  1. Los Angeles
  2. Washington, D.C.
  3. Miami
  4. Chicago
  5. Boston
  6. New York
  7. Atlanta
  8. San Francisco
  9. Dallas-Ft. Worth
  10. Minneapolis-St. Paul

To deal with the problem, the IBM survey concludes that:

Commuters too, will have to do their part. Continued use of public transportation, carpooling, vanpooling, and alternate forms of transportation like walking or biking will help ease the burden on our roads.

Employers can, in fact, help employees do their part by offering a Commuter Transit Benefit, the link to which will take you to the blog posts I’ve written on this topic. It’s an increasingly popular program that allows employers to offer employees the opportunity pay for certain transportation expenses on a pre-tax basis under Internal Revenue Code Section 132 and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).

In 2009, employees may reduce their salary or receive up to $230 per month for transit passes, transportation in a commuter highway vehicle, or parking expenses.

Employees can also receive up to $20 per month tax-free for the reasonable expenses they incur during a calendar year for the purchase of a bicycle, for bicycle improvements, and for repair and storage if the bicycle is regularly used for travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment.

A Commuter Transit Benefit may not take all the pain away from commuting, but it’s better than simply taking two aspirins. 

Nuff said. Now let’s roll the video and scroll the lyrics. 

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