San Francisco could require employers to help workers commute

And the employers actually don't seem to mind too much.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a proposal by city officials to require businesses with 20 or more employees to help their workers commute via public transit.

Surprisingly, the plan is meeting little opposition from businesses, who stand to save some money.

The proposal, put forth by Ross Mirkarimi, a member of the city's Board of Supervisors and a co-founder of California's Green Party, would require employers to take one of three options:

• Pay for workers' transit fares. Employers could opt to offer their workers free passes on public transit or reimbursement for vanpool expenses.

• Provide door-to-door shuttle buses to and from work.

• Set up pretax commuter accounts. Using an existing voluntary federal program, workers would be able to use up to $115 per month in pretax wages to purchase transit passes or vanpool rides. Under this plan, employees would save 40 percent on their commute costs, and businesses would save 9 percent on payroll taxes. Under the proposal, such accounts could not be used to pay for parking.

The first two options would cost businesses money; the third one, according to the Chronicle, would be cost-neutral or a possible money-saver. Employee participation in any of these programs would be voluntary.

The law would be the first of its kind in the country, but many employers are already trying to help workers cope with high gas prices. A study by the executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that 57 percent of employers offer some type of commuter-relief program [PDF], such as expanded telecommuting opportunities, public transit subsidies, car-pool programs, or, the most popular option, a compressed work week.

This is not the first time that San Francisco has considered an innovative plan to reduce traffic congestion. The city is trying out 'smart' parking meters whose prices rise and fall with demand. The Monitor's Horizons blogger, Chris Gaylord, reported that the parking meters can interface with smartphones.

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