Deadline approaches to change your BART commuter benefit
If you’re one of the 240 UCOP employees who use the pre-tax commuter benefits program, say goodbye to BART high-value tickets in paper form starting with the October benefit month.
Commuter Check Direct (CCD) will no longer offer BART high-value paper tickets to UCOP employees through the commuter benefit program beginning in October. If you currently have an order for these paper tickets, you must cancel your existing order and place a new order by Sept. 5.
The change has roused some confusion, so we’d like to explain your options:
Under the first option, you can sign up for a Commuter Check Card Prepaid MasterCard on the CCD website, link it to your Clipper card’s autoload program and buy the high-value tickets electronically.
If you choose this option, be sure to sign up for the MasterCard now; otherwise you won’t be ready for October. The card won’t arrive in the mail until the end of September, and you still need time to link it to your Clipper account and electronically load funds onto your Clipper card, a process that takes three days.
This is the only option for continuing to get the BART high-value tickets, which offer a $64 value ticket for $60 and a $48 value ticket for $45. Visit the iCommute website for step-by-step instructions.
Seasoned users say it’s a challenge to go through the set-up, but once you have your account in place it’s more convenient than other options and does save you money.
Alternatively, you can order Clipper E-Cash or commuter check vouchers, which can be redeemed for Clipper E-Cash, to buy BART fares. Under these two options, you do not have the ability to buy BART high-value tickets.
To read more about the three options and instructions on how to sign up, read the Aug. 9 Link story or go to the iCommute website.
Here are some frequently asked questions that employees have raised and the answers:
Q. The instructions say to order a Prepaid MasterCard to cover your monthly commute, but isn’t only the first $120 covered as pre-tax?
A. No, the maximum pre-tax amount allowed is $230 a month for public transportation and $230 a month for parking. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law in 2009 raised the tax-exempt and pre-tax limit for public transportation from $120 per month to $230 per month. The increase has been extended through 2011.
Q. Can I buy multiple BART high-value tickets each month?
A. Yes. But remember that, if the balance on your Clipper card drops below $10, the Clipper autoload program will automatically pull funds from your MasterCard to load the same product you previously ordered. Calculate the amount you need each month to cover your entire commute, and make sure you have enough money on your MasterCard to buy all the tickets you’ll need. For example, if you need three BART high-value tickets ($64 value for $60) every month, be sure to have $180 on your MasterCard.
Q. Do we need to put some of our own money on this MasterCard? Why can’t we just use our own credit card?
A. The Commuter Check Card Prepaid MasterCard is a method for the cardholder to move funds from payroll deduction to the Clipper card and still keep the BART high-value discount and pre-tax benefit. Using the MasterCard also means you won’t have to pay the $2 a month service charge that Commuter Check Direct charges to load cash value onto the Clipper card. You can use your own credit card to load funds onto your Clipper account, but you cannot get the payroll deduction to pay for charges on your personal credit card.
Q. Don’t I also need to get an EZ-Rider card so that I can connect all this with my parking? There was no mention of that and I am confused.
A. Yes. If you park at the BART station, you need to have a separate account for parking as required by the IRS. You need to obtain a separate Commuter Check Card Prepaid MasterCard for parking. To fund your BART EZ-Rider parking account with the pre-tax commuter benefit, go to the iCommute website for step-by-step instructions.
Q. Under the current system, I receive pre-tax benefits and a monthly discount on my ticket, with funds automatically deducted from my paycheck. Which of the new options comes closest to matching those benefits?
A. The MasterCard gives you all these benefits, but you must do the work of setting up the card. Seasoned users say it’s a bother up front but that it is convenient once you have it set up.
Q. Can you continue to use Commuter Checks or Clipper E-Cash to load cash value onto a Clipper card, without a MasterCard?
A. Yes, but in both cases, you don’t have the option of buying the high-value BART tickets. Once you receive your commuter check vouchers, take them to a BART window or participating retailer to exchange them for tickets or have the funds loaded onto your Clipper card account. With Clipper E-Cash, funds will go directly to your Clipper card account and you pay a $2 monthly service fee.
Q. Can you load set-value (i.e. high-value BART tickets, Muni Fast Pass) funds and cash-value funds on a single Clipper card?
A. Yes. You should calculate how much you need for your total commute and order that amount each month. You can use the card on any of the public transit systems that accept Clipper, including SF Muni, AC Transit, and Golden Gate Transit. Remember that if the balance on your Clipper card falls below $10, Clipper automatically pulls funds from your MasterCard to load the same fare product, so make sure you have enough funds on your MasterCard.
Q. I’ve seen some people have trouble getting their Clipper to read at the turnstile. What causes that and how can you prevent it?
A. There could be several reasons for this. Some people might be swiping their Clipper card so quickly that the sensor does not have time to read the card. Hold your Clipper card steady over the sensor for about 2 seconds until you hear it beep, then the fare gate will open. If it gives you a “See Agent” error message, wait a few seconds for the message to disappear and then try again. Another reason people may have trouble at the turnstile is that their Clipper card is short on funds. The fare gate won’t open if your card doesn’t have enough money to pay for the ride.
Q. When you get the MasterCard, does CCD run a credit check on you?
Q. I tried to order the MasterCard and the CCD website won’t accept the transaction. What did I do wrong?
A. If you have used the CCD website to order paper tickets before, you need to click on the button that says “delete entire order” to cancel your existing order for paper tickets. (The CCD refers to these as “passes.”) Then you can order the MasterCard.
Q. I’m on the CCD website trying to order a Commuter Check Card Prepaid MasterCard and I’m stuck on what I’m supposed to select on the page that asks for my “provider.” Which one do I pick?
A. Pick “Commuter Check Card Prepaid MasterCard,” not BART or Clipper.
If you still have questions or need someone to help you walk through the process, call Commuter Check Direct at 888-235-9223.