“At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling to stretch their hard-earned dollars, we are saving them hundreds every year and encouraging a greener way to travel,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, who handed out fliers to commuters on Monday morning. “Through powerful advocacy on the local and federal level to support our city’s straphangers, NYC employees and employers alike will feel the benefits of this law in their pocketbooks.”
The law, which de Blasio signed on October 20, 2014, requires employers with 20 or more full-time, non-union employees to offer a commuter benefits program to allow employees to use pre-tax income to purchase monthly transit passes. It's estimated that more than 450,000 workers in New York City will be able to save up to $800 annually in commuting costs.
The pre-tax money is eligible on MTA subways and buses, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak, as well as some ferries, commuter bus services and Access-A-Ride.
Senator Charles Schumer joined de Blasio in Brooklyn on Monday morning to inform commuters of the new program.
"It is rare that by filling out a simple sheet of paper you can save over $800 a year,” he said. “We worked very hard to double the mass transit deduction for commuters, and now it is up to them to take advantage by asking employers how to sign up.
“This is easy to do and costs the employer nothing,” he added. “It is getting more and more expensive to commute, and this now permanent benefit provides some real relief.”
The more employees who sign up for the program, the more money employers can save by reducing payroll taxes. All eligible employers must be enrolled in the program by January 1, 2016, or four weeks after an employee begins full-time work.
The law also provides a grace period of six months before the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) will begin issuing violations.
DCA has been involved in outreach to inform employers about the specifics of the new law. They mailed information to approximately 365,000 businesses and emailed another 11,000 to inform them of their responsibilities.
“The commuter benefit program is a win-win for both employers and employees,” said DCA Commissioner Julie Menin. “We will continue working with employers across the five boroughs to ensure that its implementation is as smooth as possible, and to encourage employees to sign up for this cost-saving benefit.”
The second phase of the DCA's outreach plan will launch in the spring. So far, they've participated in approximately 450 events and workshops, distributing 30,000 pieces of material to inform business owners of key city labor laws, including the commuter benefits and paid sick leave laws.
The new law was praised by transit advocates as a big relief for New Yorkers who rely on public transportation in every day life.
"Signing up for transit benefits is a no-brainer for New Yorkers who want to save hundreds of dollars a year on commuting costs,” said John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance. “With this new law, hundreds of thousands more New Yorkers will have access to a valuable tax break, which is a quick and easy way to make public transit more affordable.”