January 13 — 6:49 pm, 2012

District axes TransitChek program

septa token 0 Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindseywb/3690885606/

Thanks to the School District of Philadelphia’s budget cuts and staff reductions teachers like myself and my blog mate Timothy Boyle (we are both avid SEPTA riders) will not be able to benefit from the TransitChek program any longer. 

TransitChek is a commuter benefit program that offers pre-tax benefits for workers who use public transit. I received a notice in the mail from the School District Employee Benefit office that the District will no longer participate in the program. With the TransitChek program, workers selected the amount from their paycheck to go toward their commute. That amount was deducted before taxes and vouchers were sent directly from the TransitChek program.

This was a win-win for the District and workers. Workers saved money on taxes, while the District saved money on payroll taxes.  

I contacted Paul Billbrough at the employee benefits office to inquire if the District considered other alternatives to maintain the TransitChek benefit. He indicated that staffing reductions made it difficult to continue the program for teachers. However, he noted that employees at the District headquarters would maintain their benefits through a separate transit check debit card program.

When I asked why the TransitChek debit card could not be provided for teachers, Billbrough indicated that the benefit was provided to teachers as part of their Philadelphia Federation of Teachers contract, which does not govern benefits for central administration staff. 

I understand that the budget cuts have impacted many facets of the way the District does business. But dropping a eco-friendly program that benefits both workers and the District seems shortsighted. 

Most of the 9,000 plus teachers in the District drive to work in their own cars. At my school, there is only one other teacher who commutes to work using SEPTA. Billbrough noted that only around 200 teachers were using the TransitChek program. With less than 5 percent of teachers using TransitChek it is a pretty expendable benefit. 

The District  and SEPTA could have done more to promote the TransitChek program.

I have participated in the District’s TransitChek program for close to two years. Most teachers I told that the program was being cut, had no idea about the benefit in the first place. So few workers participating in the program after two years indicates that the promotion was lacking or ineffective. Then again, maybe the pre-tax savings, the high cost of gas, and improving our eco-foot print is not quite enough to wean folks away from driving cars to work.

With all looming budget woes, I understand why the TransitChek program was put on the chopping block. But if District headquarters’ workers can receive transit debit cards, why can’t other District employees “get on the bus"?

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