Metro to postpone SmartBenefit changes
The changes that would have affected transit benefits for many thousands of riders will be delayed for a year, according to Metro officials.
The revisions, which caused widespread confusion among riders and among the employers responsible for administering the benefits, were to take effect in January.
Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. had signaled that the transit authority was rethinking whether to go ahead. During an online chat Nov. 6 on Metro's Web site, he said: "Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard a lot of comments from customers about this change in SmartBenefits. I've decided that we need to rethink the changes that we are making." This morning, the iMetro blog reported that Catoe had said at a Wednesday night meeting in Prince George's County that the changes would be postponed.
The transit authority said the changes were necessary to comply with IRS guidelines on how to protect the benefit system from misuse. The revised system would have required that riders tell their benefits administrators how much to set aside for transit rides and how much for transit parking. Starting in January, those benefits would have been downloaded directly to the riders' SmarTrip cards when they swiped them at the fare gates, the bus fare boxes or the exit gates in transit parking areas.
The provision that drew the most concern: At the end of each month, unused benefits would be returned to the employer. That particularly riled up private employees who set aside a portion of their salary for a pre-tax allocation to SmartBenefits. That's our money, they said. Why is that being returned to our employers?
Many other questions were raised, as you can see from my Nov. 9 online chat during which Metro's SmarTrip director, Cyndi Zieman, fielded readers' inquiries and comments about the changes.
Employers clearly did not know ahead of time about the postponement. Just before posting this blog entry, I got an e-mail from The Post benefits office explaining the impact of the now-postponed changes on those of us who take advantage of the pre-tax deduction. Now, we'll have a year to figure it out.
November 19, 2009; 11:15 AM ET
Categories: Metro , transit | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, SmarTrip, SmartBenefits
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