MTA offers more reasons to ride

County transit eager to take advantage of state's program offering tax incentives for commuter passes

January 27, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Harford County Transit hopes to take advantage of a state tax incentive program for commuters to boost ridership.

The Maryland Transit Administration offers a tax credit, known as the commuter choice program, for those who leave the car at home and join a van pool or ride the bus or the rails for their daily trek to work.

Participating companies make passes or vouchers available to their employees, who can save as much as $2,000 annually on the cost of getting to work. The program allows businesses a tax credit on the cost of providing commuter benefits of up to $50 per month for each employee.

"I don't know of any Harford companies that do participate, but I will find out what we need to get started," said Michael Hannan, administrator of Harford Transit Service, the county's public transportation agency. "There are many major companies along our bus routes who could take advantage of this program. Even if only one or two of them use it, it will be worth the effort."

The program includes several options. A company can purchase a monthly ride pass, worth $64, give it to an employee and take a federal and state tax deduction. Employees can also purchase the passes through a pre-tax salary deduction. A third option has employers and employees each paying a portion and receiving similar tax benefits.

Baltimore has about 350 participating companies and Washington has more than 3,000, said Buddy Alves, MTA's chief of marketing, who described the benefits for members of the Harford County Transportation Management Association on Tuesday.

Fewer than 5 percent of these companies across the state take advantage of the incentive program, Alves said.

Carl D. Kilhoffer, association chairman and owner of Custom Direct Inc. in Joppa, said he would gladly offer the program to his 275 employees. But no public transportation is available at his printing company in a Route 7 industrial park, and there is only minimal carpooling among employees who work on the three-shift operation, he said.

"We are still struggling to get bus service, and we will get it eventually," Kilhoffer said. "This commuter program is a great incentive. Once we have a bus, I would absolutely use the program."

For the third consecutive year, ridership has increased on Harford County's public transportation system, rising to nearly 300,000 passengers. Many are clamoring for more and longer routes and expanded hours -- a demand the agency hopes to meet. The service operates nine bus routes, predominantly in Harford's southern and central areas.

Public transportation will play a significant role in the coming influx of jobs and families to Aberdeen Proving Ground, as part of the nationwide base realignment known as BRAC, officials said.

"For jurisdictions facing BRAC, these passes and vouchers will be important to those using buses, rails and van pools," Alves said.

BRAC may increase ridership and lead to more cross-county routes, said Kevin Racine, a public transportation advocate and Havre de Grace resident. Reduced fares for employees can only add to the numbers, he said.

"People will find that they can get on the bus and get to a better job," he said. And for a reduced fare, Alves added.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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