Major SmartBenefits® changes to begin January 1, 2010
Internal Revenue Service mandate will cause changes to transit program
Beginning January 1, 2010, Metro’s SmartBenefits® program will change and enable employers to comply with a new federal mandate that requires transit benefits to be disbursed and monitored separately from other value stored in their employees’ SmarTrip® cards. Under the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) mandate, transit benefits and parking benefits will be stored in two distinct accounts in a central location that will be accessible system-wide through the SmarTrip® card. The card itself will store only value directly added by the employee.
In addition, area workers enrolled in the SmartBenefits® program will no longer need to take an extra step to load their transit benefits onto their SmarTrip® cards at a vending machine. New monthly benefits, stored centrally, will automatically load when the card is tapped at any SmarTrip® target, including targets on bus fareboxes and rail faregates. Upgrades to the SmarTrip® card will enable customers to pay as they go, because value will be added to their cards similar to a bank debit card. The maximum personal stored value by the employee will continue to be $300. Transit and parking benefits will be limited to $230 each in addition to the stored value limit.
Due to the importance of complying with the federal IRS mandate, Metro has had to delay additional upgrades to make bus and rail passes available on the SmarTrip® card and to allow customers to add value to their SmarTrip® cards online. These features will be implemented by fall 2010. They originally were expected to be in place by the end of 2009.
The new application for administering transit and parking benefits limits employee claims to actual usage during the calendar month, instead of pre-claiming the authorized amount in advance of using it and then keeping unused benefits on the card. Metro will continue to credit unclaimed benefits to the employer on a monthly basis. Employers who provide the transit benefit as an employee benefit view this very favorably. Some employers and third party administrators who provide the benefit pre-tax have raised an administrative concern with the new application rules. Metro is holding meetings with the federal and private sector employers and third party administrators to provide an overview of the changes, and will provide assistance and guidance as employers administer their SmartBenefits® program.
Metro’s SmartBenefits® program allows employers to electronically administer the transit benefit program and directly load the benefits to their employees’ SmartBenefits® accounts. Federal and other area employers can use the transit benefits on Metrorail and Metrobus, on regional bus systems including ART, CUE, DASH, George, Ride On, Fairfax Connector, Loudoun County Transit, PRTC, The Bus and the DC Circulator, and registered van pools. Employees can use their SmartBenefits® parking benefit to pay for parking in Metro facilities. There are 3,839 SmartBenefits® employer accounts and 207,000 SmartBenefits® employee participants with Metro.
For more information about Metro’s SmartBenefits® program, visit http://www.wmata.com/business/employer_fare_program/. Area federal and private employers also are invited to attend a free SmartBenefits® seminar to learn about the transit incentive program on November 4, December 2, 2009 or January 12, 2010. The seminars will take place from 8:45 a.m. to noon at Metro headquarters, 600 Fifth Street, NW. Employers wishing to participate in the seminars may register by clicking on SmartBenefits® at MetroOpensDoors.com.
Media contact for this news release: Bessy Guevara or Lisa Farbstein at 202-962-1051.
For all other inquiries, please call customer service at 202-637-7000.
News release issued at 11:52 am, October 27, 2009.