The way you and your employees commute depends on where your business is located. Each region in the United States has its own unique situation and this shapes the type of reimbursement programs available for workers. To help you get prepared, we're analyzing the circumstances in every region. In this part of the series, we're looking at Southeast commuting expenses.
Commuting in the Southeast
The Southeast has the smallest share of people who regularly commute using public transportation. Even in major cities like Atlanta and Miami, fewer than four percent of workers take public transportation. In most other areas, the percentage is negligible, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Because driving to work typically costs more than taking public transportation (according to The Simple Dollar's calculations), the average total Southeast commuting expenses are a little higher than other regions because nearly everyone drives. However, driving commutes are shorter as traffic in Southeastern cities is not as bad as in other parts of the country. No Southeastern cities rank in the top 10 for having the worst traffic, according to 24/7 Wall Street. As a result, drivers pay less for gas and maintenance because they spend less time on the road compared to drivers in other parts of the country.
The most popular way for employers to help with commuting expenses is through the commuter benefits tax reimbursement program. Under this program, your employees are able to pay for commuting expenses out of their pretax earnings, as Forbes describes. All you have to do is set up this program with your payroll department and your employees can get a tax deduction on up to $255 a month of eligible commuting expenses.
The problem is that this program only applies to certain commuting expenses such as bus passes, metro passes, and parking fees. It doesn't apply to gas or tolls. If none of your employees take public transportation, and parking by your office is free, your employees, unfortunately, may not get much of a benefit out of this program. It's more useful in regions where employees use public transportation. The IRS has some useful explanations of these benefits and how they are applied.
As of 2016, there are no government programs in the Southeast that require employers to set up the commuter reimbursement program. While local and state governments in other areas are making a push to make these programs mandatory for employers, the Southeast is not.
Chances are, you and your employees won't qualify for too much government help for your commuting expenses, but on the bright side, at least you have some of the shortest commutes. If you'd like to see how your situation compares to commuters in other regions, be sure to check out the rest of our ongoing series.