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Center Identification Number: 473-08

Project Title:Expanding Commuter Choice Tax Benefit Options 

Principal Investigator:
Chris Hagelin 
813-974-2977
Hagelin@cutr.eng.usf.edu

Institution:
Center for Urban Transportation Research
University of South Florida
Tampa, Florida

External Project Contact:Michael Wright, Program Manager, FDOT

I. Project Objective

The Commuter Choice Expansion project will provide:

  • an evaluation of the current level of awareness and use of Commuter Choice among employers; 
  • an examination of the availability of tax data to determine the level of participation in Commuter Choice programs; and
  • an exploration of how Commuter Choice Programs can be expanded to provide maximum utility to employers.

II. Project Abstract

There are three primary goals associated with this project.  The first goal is to assess the current level of awareness and use of Commuter Choice among employers.  CUTR will use a literature review and possibly a survey of employers to obtain this data. The second goal is to examine how tax data can be used determine the level of participation in Commuter Choice programs. The final goal of the project is to explore how Commuter Choice Programs can be expanded to provide maximum utility to employers beyond what is currently offered to employees. 
 

For example, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Mark Foley (R-FL) recently introduced legislation that would allow employees who bike to work to receive the same financial incentives as car-poolers and public transit users.  The Bike Commuter Act, would extend the Transportation Fringe Benefit of the tax code, which currently provides a tax-exempt benefit of $175 for employees participating in qualified parking plans or $65 for transit, car-pool, and van-pool expenses, to bicyclists who chose to bike to work. 

For according to Congressman Earl Blumenauer, "Bicycling is one of the cleanest, healthiest and environmentally friendly modes of transportation that exists today. Common sense dictates that people who bike to work should have the same financial incentives as those who car-pool or who participate in a qualified parking plan." 

III. Task Descriptions

Task 1: Literature and Program review

CUTR will conduct a review of available current published literature and projects on Commuter Choice benefits.  CUTR will also focus attention in this review on the operations of programs that are designed to take advantage of Commuter Choice regulations, including but not necessarily limited to Commuter Check and Transitchek.  CUTR will also examine the results of an ongoing TCRP project studying Commuter choice, being currently conducted by ICF consulting.

Task 2: Preliminary Investigation into availability of tax information

The purpose of this task is to determine whether a significant amount of resources should be spent in trying to recover information about the use of commuter choice through reported tax data.  CUTR will investigate the availability of information related to use of the Commuter choice tax benefit.  CUTR will coordinate this effort with members of USF faculty who are experts in the area of federal taxation data.  CUTR will inquire with local, state, and federal authorities as to the availability and format of this data.  CUTR will also identify companies that have used this type tax benefit and use their expertise to investigate the manner in which Commuter choice tax is reported by corporate users of this tax benefit.  
 

Task 3: Assessment of results of Task 2

Upon the complete expenditure of funds allocated for Task 2, CUTR will make an assessment of the value of the results produced and the likelihood that further investigation will result in solid, useable data on the actual current level of use of Commuter Choice benefits. The assessment will be done in cooperation with the FDOT project manager.   

  • If it is determined that there is a good probability that the tax data will yield functional results, Tasks 4a (complete compilation of tax data) and will be conducted and Task 4b (survey of companies to determine extent of use of commuter choice) will not be conducted. 
  • If it is determined that there is a poor probability that the tax data will yield functional results, Task 4b (survey of companies to determine extent of use of commuter choice) will be conducted and Task 4a (complete compilation of tax data) will not be conducted.  

Task 4a: Complete assessment of tax information available 
(Contingent on favorable assessment of results of efforts in Task 2)

CUTR will continue gathering data from federal, state, and local levels as applicable on the use of commuter choice as a benefit for commuters.  Particular emphasis will be placed on major employers in Florida and major metropolitan areas in Florida.  CUTR will attempt to profile use of commuter choice benefits by geographic area and by size of employer.

A report will be prepared to assess the current level of use of commuter choice in employers across the country.  The results of the TCRP project (mentioned in Task 1) will be used in combination with the data gathered here to determine whether it is more important to focus on increasing awareness of commuter choice or improving the ways in which commuter choice is delivered to employers.  

Task 4b: Survey of employers
(Contingent on unfavorable assessment of results of efforts in Task 2)

CUTR will develop and distribute a survey to major employers (100 or more employees) across the United States, with a special emphasis on employers in the state of Florida.  Up to 2,500 surveys will be distributed.  The survey will cover elements such as awareness of Commuter Choice, background in using commuter choice, form in which benefits have been offered, and any problems that have been encountered in using commuter choice.  An Internet html version of the survey will be created and posted on the CUTR website as well.

Results of the survey will be key-entered and tabulated.  The results of the TCRP project (mentioned in Task 1) will be used in combination with the data gathered here to determine whether it is more important to focus on increasing awareness of commuter choice or improving the ways in which commuter choice is delivered to employers.  Recommendations will be made as to whether it is more important to focus on increasing awareness of commuter choice or improving the ways in which commuter choice is delivered to employers.  

Task 5: Develop recommendations

Using the results of either Task 4a or Task 4b, in combination with the literature review, CUTR will develop recommendations for improving the performance of Commuter Choice programs.  This task will include discussion groups involving local (Tampa) employers and sessions involving the use of the lateral thinking techniques developed by Edward de Bono.  The focus of the task will either be increasing awareness of the program of improving its use in prospective employers through new approaches or streamlining of procedures.  The discussion groups will be used to help augment the data collected in the TCRP project (see Task 1) and to identify difficulties employers have in using the program; or alternatively in determining how the program could be more effectively promoted and designed.

IV. Student Involvement

Graduate student assistants would be used to provide technical assistance on the project and would receive approximately 500 hours of paid employment.  Furthermore, there would be an opportunity for graduate students to use the collected data and/or the procedural techniques for the purpose of preparing a thesis.

V. Relationship to Other Research Projects

This project will complement TCRP Project H-25, Strategies for Increasing the Effectiveness of Commuter Choice Programs, in which CUTR is currently involved.  The TCRP project aims to identify and solve problems associated with current Commuter Choice programs through in-depth interviews with employers.  Therefore, this proposed project will provide a vision to expand future Commuter Choice Programs once current problems are identified and solved.

VI. Technology Transfer Activities/Peer Review

Coverage

The project will cover employers across the entire nation but will have a special focus on large employers located in Florida, and on employers in major metropolitan areas in Florida.

Transfer Methods

The primary method for technology transfer would be a combination of a presentation/ discussion of the results with the Florida-based commuter service agencies, and with members of the FDOT Public Transit office. A final report covering all aspects of the project would be prepared for the FDOT Public Transit office.  

Results and methodologies used will be prepared for publication in transportation publications including CUTR's Journal of Public Transportation, the FDOT-sponsored TMA Clearinghouse Quarterly.  Results will be submitted for publication and/or presentation consideration by the Transportation Research Board, Association for Commuter Transportation, and APTA.

VII. Potential Benefits of the Project 

The findings of this project will provide a vision for future Commuter Choice Programs which will expand the commuting choices available to employees through the country.  Economic incentives, such as subsidies and parking cash out, often serve as the catalyst in choosing to use an alternative to the single-occupant vehicle and helping to alleviate traffic congestion in our cities.

In addition, the investigation of tax records to identify current levels of Commuter Choice Programs may evolve into a methodology that serves to eliminate costly surveys of employers.

VIII. TRB Keywords

Commuter choice, TDM, Transportation Demand Management, Transportation Fringe Benefit

 

National Center for Transit Research at the Center For Urban Transportation Research University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Ave., CUT100 Tampa, FL 33620-5375 (813) 974-3120 (813) 974-5168 www.nctr.usf.edu Comments: webmaster@cutr.eng.usf.edu