Transportation Subsidy Program - Policy and Procedures via FAQs



QUESTIONS

  1. What is the Transportation Subsidy Program?
  2. How does the Transportation Subsidy Program work?
  3. Who is eligible for this program?
  4. How do I sign up for the Transportation Subsidy Program?
  5. Can I receive federally subsidized parking and also participate in the Transit Subsidy Program?
  6. What are qualifying transportation expenses?
  7. Are parking expenses considered a qualifying transportation expense in the Transportation Subsidy Program?
  8. Can I participate in the Transportation Subsidy Program if I carpool to work?
  9. Can I participate in the Transportation Subsidy Program if I use qualifying public transportation less than 5 days per week?
  10. Are vanpool riders eligible to participate in the Transportation Subsidy Program?
  11. Is the vanpool owner/operator eligible to participate in the Transportation Subsidy Program?
  12. Is the value of the Transportation Subsidy Program transit passes I receive taxable?
  13. What is the standard number of days per month for calculating my monthly commuting expenses?
  14. How do I account for my transit benefits when I have been on official travel, training, leave or did not commute using qualified modes of transportation all the days that I indicated on my Transportation Subsidy Application?
  15. If I am a new employee, should I wait for the start of a new distribution period before signing up?
  16. Is the DOI SF-1164 (Claim for Reimbursement) an acceptable means of compensation for commuting expenses, which qualify under the Transportation Subsidy Program?
  17. How and when are transit passes distributed?
  18. * How and when are transit passes distributed in the Washington Metro Area (WMA)?
  19. * What do I need to do in order to pick up my transit passes at the quarterly distribution for the WMA?
  20. * How can I receive my transit passes if I miss the quarterly distribution date in the WMA?
  21. If I am an active Transportation Subsidy Program participant, can I receive retro–active transit passes covering past time periods?
  22. Am I allowed temporary parking while enrolled in the Transportation Subsidy Program?
  23. May I have intermittent motorcycle and/or bicycle parking while enrolled in the Transportation Subsidy Program?
  24. When I leave the Department, what do I do with my unused transit passes?
  25. At the time I exit clear from my bureau or office, am I required to reimburse the Department for unused benefits I placed on a SmartTrip® card or return the remaining balance of transit passes if I do not have my transit passes with me?
  26. * Are there plans for DOI in the WMA to participate in SmartBenefits®, a program designed for Metro rail and Metro bus users, where benefits are downloaded at Metro kiosks on a monthly basis using the SmartTrip® cards?
  27. * What are the requirements for participating in the SmartBenefits® SmartTrip® Card Program? 
  28. * Is it important to register your SmarTrip® card?
  29. * Does DOT need my authorization to verify my information in the SmartBenefits® Program?
  30. * When participating in the SmartBenefits® Program, how often can I get my Transportation Subsidy Benefit and where can I pick it up?
  31. * If I lose my SmartTrip® card or it is stolen, what happens?
  32. * Can my SmartBenefits® be used for parking?
  33. * Can you transfer Metrochek and Metrorail fares to my SmarTrip® card?
  34. * If I am a senior citizen or disabled Metro rider, do I need to do anything differently to join SmartBenefits®?
  35. * Will I receive the discounted fare onto my Senior Citizen or Disabled SmarTrip® card for SmartBenefits®?
  36. What do I need to do if my address or commuting costs change?
  37. Am I allowed to use (spend) my transit benefits in excess of my qualified monthly commuting costs?
  38. What happens to me if I fail to comply with the separation clearance procedures and/or reimburse the Department for the pro-rated value of my unused or overspent transit benefits when I transfer to a different bureau/office or leave the Department? 
  39. Can I participate in the “Eco-Pass” or “Annual Pass” program currently offered in cities such as Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Denver? This type of pass entitles program participants access to public transportation 24/7, and does not differentiate between workplace commuting costs and personal travel.
  40. Can Transit Subsidy participants use their Subsidy allocation for more than one mode of qualified transportation during their commute? 

* Applies only to the WMA

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1. What is the Transportation Subsidy Program?

The Transportation Subsidy Program is a program of financial incentives designed to encourage employees to use mass transit for commuting to and from work.

The Transportation Subsidy Program originated with the Federal Employees Clean Air Incentives Act of 1993, (P.L. 103-72), and was later expanded to include a pre-tax provision, after the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (P.L. 105-178) was passed.

In April, 2000, Executive Order 13150 mandated that all Federal agencies in the National Capital Region (NCR) implement a Transportation Subsidy Program by October 1, 2000. On July 26, 2000, the Department adopted the policy of making the Transportation Subsidy Program available to all qualifying Department of the Interior (DOI) employees nationwide.

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2. How does the Transportation Subsidy Program work?

If you incur qualifying transportation expenses commuting to and from work, you will be eligible to receive a transit pass (media such as Metrochek, voucher, SmartTrip® download in the Washington Metropolitan Area or monthly/annual pass to cover these expenses. The maximum amount is up to $130.00 per month, and the transit passes are purchased by bureaus and offices using their appropriated funds.

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3. Who is eligible for this program?

All DOI employees who incur qualifying transportation expenses and are not receiving federally subsidized workplace parking benefits from DOI or any other federal agency, are eligible to participate in this program (Exception: see Q&A #’s 9 & 10).

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4. How do I sign up for the Transportation Subsidy Program?

You will need to complete the following forms, have your supervisor approve/certify them, and submit to your bureau or office transit coordinator for approval and processing by DOT.  

  1. Public Transportation Subsidy Program Application
  2. Commuting Expense Worksheet

Both forms can be found here.

You must also take the online Transit Benefit Integrity Training course and provide the certificate of completion to your office or bureau transit coordinator.  This training can be found at: http://www.doi.gov/doilearn/

To access the course:

  1. Log in to DOI LEARN at http://www.doi.gov/doilearn/.
  2. Click on "Course Catalog" > "Catalog" and search for the title of the course.
  3. Click on the course title and apply for the course. Enter zeroes for all associated costs and select Agency as the funding source.
  4. Once successfully enrolled in the course, click on "My Courses" > "Online Courses" and the title of the course to begin.
  5. You will need to successfully pass the post assessment with a score of 100% to receive a completion certificate for the course.

For help with technical difficulties, please contact the DOI LEARN helpdesk at 866-466-1998 or doilearn@geolearning.com.

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5. Can I receive federally subsidized parking and also participate in the Transit Subsidy Program?

No, you cannot receive parking and be enrolled in the Transit Subsidy Program.
(Exceptions: See Q&A #22 and #23)

In addition, vanpool riders are eligible providing that:

  • The vanpool vehicle meets the IRS criteria for a Commuter Highway Vehicle (see Q&A #4); and
  • The vanpool is registered with the local transportation authority and accepts transit passes as payment.
  • The vanpool owner/operator is eligible for a federally subsidized parking space, if the space is provided by DOI.

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6. What are qualifying transportation expenses?

Qualifying transportation expenses are defined in the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. Section 132-9), and include:

  • Use of mass transit facilities (subway, rail, bus) or other similar public transportation mode.
  • Use of a Commuter Highway Vehicle (having a seating capacity of at least 6 adults not including the driver), and which is used for transporting employees to and from work for at least 80% of the mileage. Vanpools would typically satisfy the criteria for vehicles of this type – while carpools would not (see Q&A # 10 for additional requirements).

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7. Are parking expenses considered a qualifying transportation expense in the Transportation Subsidy Program?

No. Parking expenses are not covered by the Transportation Subsidy Program and must not be included in your estimated monthly commuting costs.

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8. Can I participate in the Transportation Subsidy Program if I carpool to work?

No. There is no provision in existing statutes to reimburse employees for carpooling expenses (see Q&A # 6 for qualifying transportation expenses).

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9. Can I participate in the Transportation Subsidy Program if I use qualifying public transportation less than 5 days per week?

Yes, providing that you have an established commuting pattern, which may consist of using a vanpool and/or public transportation on a regular basis. Occasional or sporadic use of public transportation does not qualify.

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10. Are vanpool riders eligible to participate in the Transportation Subsidy Program?

Yes, providing that:

  • The vanpool vehicle meets the IRS criteria for a Commuter Highway Vehicle (see Q&A #6); and
  • The vanpool is registered with the local transportation authority and accepts transit passes as payment.

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11. Is the vanpool owner/operator eligible to participate in the Transportation Subsidy Program?

No. However, the vanpool owner/operator is eligible for the federally subsidized parking space, if the space is provided by DOI.

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12. Is the value of the Transportation Subsidy Program transit passes I receive taxable?

No.

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13. What is the standard number of days per month for calculating my monthly commuting expenses?

The standard, which is consistent with DOT policy, is 20 days. If your qualifying transportation expenses are less than 20 days, (i.e., excluding Flexible Work Schedule day off and Telecommuting days) then calculate your daily expenses by the actual number of commuting days.

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14. How do I account for my transit benefits when I have been on leave, flexible work schedule, telecommuting, official travel, training, or did not commute using qualified modes of transportation all the days that I indicated on my Transportation Subsidy Application?

You MUST deduct any days you were on leave, flexible work schedule, telecommuting, official travel, and/or training status when you receive your next benefit distribution or reimburse your bureau or office with a personal check or money order. For example, if you pick up your transit media for your $330 benefit on a quarterly basis, you would subtract 3 days for travel, 3 days for leave, and 4 days of using the “SLUG” lines, and your next quarterly pick up would be $285 because you MUST deduct $45 for the days you did NOT use qualified mode(s) of transportation to travel to and from work.

* WMA ONLY: For SmartBenefits® Program participants, you MUST deduct any days you were on leave, flexible work schedule, telecommuting, official travel and/or, training status when you receive your next monthly benefit download by using the minus key at the SmartBenefits®/SmartTrip® Card kiosk. For example, if you download $110 of benefit, subtract 4 days for travel, 3 days for leave, and 2 days for carpooling, your next monthly download would be $65 because you MUST deduct $45 for the days you did NOT use qualified mode(s) of transportation to travel to and from work.

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15. If I am a new employee, should I wait for the start of a new distribution period before signing up.

No. You can sign up at any time, and your benefit will be pro-rated based on the date that your supervisor signs the application, as long as it does not exceed one quarter (3 months).

An exception would be if you are enrolled in the SmartBenefits® program. You must enroll by the 10th of the month, to receive your benefit for the following month.  Unfortunately, retro-active subsidy cannot be downloaded.

Applications from new participants outside the Washington, DC area will receive their benefits via mail. DOT will make every attempt to ship the benefits during the first week of the month after the application has been received and processed.  Unless the new participants’ Bureau/Office Transit Coordiator requests otherwise, the subsidy will cover the remainder of the quarter starting with the month after the application was received.  For example, if the application is received on April 5, the mailing will be shipped during the first week in May and cover May and June.

Refer to question #18 for more information.

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16. Is the DOI SF-1164 (Claim for Reimbursement) an acceptable means of compensation for commuting expenses, which qualify under the Transportation Subsidy Program?

No. You may only use the Public Transportation Subsidy Program Application to receive benefits.

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17. How and when are transit passes distributed?

The Department of Transportation has been administering the Transportation Subsidy Program in major metropolitan areas for a number of years and has the necessary experience and infrastructure to efficiently provide the required administrative support for DOI and other federal agencies. The purchase and distribution of transit passes at the local and national levels are handled by DOT under a DOI Customer Agreement with each bureau and the Office of the Secretary. This is accomplished by physical distribution, automated downloading of subsidy at WMATA kiosks, Regional Transit Coordinators or express mail as determined by DOT and the Office of Facilities and Administrative Services (OFAS).

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18. * How do I know when transit passes will be distributed in the WMA?

A LAN email message will be distributed to all employees in the WMA prior to the quarterly distribution. The message will include the dates, times and locations for picking up your transit passes. The quarterly distribution schedule can be found here, and is also included in subsequent LAN email messages. In some cases, transit passes may be distributed by DOT via the mail.

SmartBenefits® program participants will receive their media by downloading from any of the WMATA kiosks.

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19. * What do I need to do in order to pick up my transit passes at the quarterly distribution for the WMA?

In addition to being enrolled in the Transportation Subsidy Program, you must present your DOI identification card or driver’s license to the DOT agent and sign a Transit Subsidy Certification form. If you are a SmartBenefits® Program participant, you MUST instead download your benefit onto your SmartTrip® card each month at any of the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority kiosks.

(See Q&A # 18 for additional information about receiving transit passes).

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20. * How can I receive my transit passes if I miss the quarterly distribution date in the WMA?

You have three options:

  1. You may acquire and complete the “Authorization for Third Party Pick-up of Transit Subsidy” form available in room 1420 – MIB or on the Office of Facilities and Administrative Service website (OFAS) website at http://www.doi.gov/ofas/support_services/upload/Authorization_Third_Party_pickup19-26-12.pdf, and have a co-worker pick-up your transit passes for you. A co-worker may only pick-up transit passes for ONE person.
  2. You may come to the make-up day which is scheduled for the week following the quarterly distribution date. The date, time and location for the make-up day are published in the LAN email message announcing the quarterly distribution.
  3. You may go directly to the NEW DOT headquarters building located at 1200 New Jersey Ave., S.E., Ground Floor, West Wing, 3rd Street entrance, in the Navy Yard Station, Washington, D.C. on government workdays from 8:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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21. If I am an active Transportation Subsidy Program participant, can I receive retro–active transit passes covering past time periods?

Occasions in which it would be necessary to receive retro-active transit passes should be rare and unusual, as there are multiple opportunities and methods to acquire your transit passes.  If warranted, active program participants may receive no more than one quarter (three months) of retro-active transit passes, and must submit their justification in writing, through their supervisor, to their bureau or office Transportation Subsidy Program Coordinator.  If request is approved, the Transportation Subsidy Program Coordinator shall authorize retroactive transit passes, in writing, to the DOT.

An exception would be if you are enrolled in the SmartBenefits® program. As stated in the answer in question 15, retro-active subsidy cannot be downloaded onto the SmartTrip® card

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22. Am I allowed temporary parking while enrolled in the Transportation Subsidy Program?

You are NOT allowed to have a federally-subsidized parking space while enrolled in the Transportation Subsidy Program. However, you may receive temporary parking for no more than five days in any one month, and no more than 30 days total per fiscal year, and comply with parking policies and procedures. You MUST ensure that you reduce your next transit benefit amount or reimburse your bureau or office to reflect the days that you received temporary federally-subsidized parking.

(See Q&A # 14 for example of how to calculate deduction of monthly transportation expenses).

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23. May I have intermittent motorcycle and/or bicycle parking while enrolled in the Transportation Subsidy Program?

Yes, provided you do not exceed five days in any one month and 30 days total per fiscal year, and comply with parking policies and procedures. You MUST ensure that you reduce your next transit benefit amount to reflect the days that you received federally-subsidized Temporary Motorcycle and/or Bicycle parking. If it is necessary to exceed the frequency above, you must either modify your Public Transportation Subsidy Program Application to accurately reflect your monthly commuting costs, or return the pro-rated amount of unused transit passes, or reimburse the Department by personal check or money order made payable to one of the following, as appropriate:

  • The Department of the Interior, Office of the Secretary (OS) for OS and Interior Business Center employees.
  • The Department of the Interior, Bureau (i.e. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, etc.) for bureau employees.

(See Q&A # 14 for example of how to calculating deduction of monthly transportation expenses).

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24. When I leave the Department, what do I do with my unused transit passes?

As part of the Exit Clearance Process, you are required to complete and return the unused transit passes to your bureau or office coordinator, or reimburse the Department, as you certified in Section D of the Transportation Subsidy Program Application. Checks or money orders must be made payable to one of the following, as appropriate:

  • The Department of the Interior, Office of the Secretary (OS) for OS and Interior Business Center employees.
  • The Department of the Interior, Bureau (i.e. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, etc.) for bureau employees.

Additionally, you must complete and submit a de-enrollment form and give it to your Bureau or Office Transit Coordinator.

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25. At the time I exit clear from my bureau or office, am I required to reimburse the Department for transit passes I placed on a SmartTrip® card (or similar card), or return the remaining balance of transit passes if I do not have my transit passes with me?

Yes, as part of the exit clearance process, you MUST complete a de-enrollment form, and provide a personal check or money order for the pro-rated amount of unused transit passes.  A personal check or money order should be made payable to the Department of the Interior, Office of the Secretary or appropriate bureau as you certified in Section D of the Transportation Subsidy Program Application. Unfortunately, funds cannot be removed from your SmarTrip® card once added; therefore, the SmarTrip® card or similar cards may not be returned in lieu of a check or money order.

Monthly calculations for reimbursement will be made on a 20 day per month average, unless your qualifying commuter expenses on record are less than 20 days, in which case reimbursement calculations will be made based on your actual number of commuting days claimed.

(See Q&A # 14 for example of how to calculate deduction of monthly transportation expenses).

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26.* Are there plans for DOI in the Washington Metropolitan Area to participate in SmartBenefits®, a program designed for Metro rail and Metro bus  users, where benefits are loaded at Metro kiosks on a monthly basis using the SmartTrip® cards?

Yes. As of October 1, 2007, participation in SmartBenefits® has been MANDATORY for all federal workers in the WMA enrolled in the Transportation Subsidy Program who utilize Metro rail, Metro bus and other modes of transportation that accept the SmartTrip card.  Participants who use commuting modes that are not included in the SmartBenefits® Program, such as VRE, MARC train, and commuter buses will continue to receive Metrocheks/Vouchers until such time as these services come online with SmarTrip® Card readers.

For further guidance please see our website at: http://www.doi.gov/ofas/upload/Smart_Benefits_Presentation_DOT_5-31-07.pdf

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27. * What are the requirements for participating in the SmartBenefits® SmartTrip® Card Program?

All Federal employees who participate in the Transportation Subsidy Program, and use ALL of their benefits on Metrorail, Metrobus, Metro-authorized van pools,  Fairfax Connector, Ride On or DASH are required to participate in the SmartBenefits® Program. You must attach a legible enlarged photocopy of the back of your SmarTrip® Card to your application.

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28. * Is it important to register your SmarTrip® card?

Yes.Without a registered SmarTrip® card, there is no way to apply your benefit to your SmarTrip® account. Participants must provide the serial number of a Metro Registered SmarTrip® Card when applying for SmartBenefits®.  If you have not registered your card or are unsure that it is registered, you must do so by calling WMATA at (888) 762-7874, or online at: https://www.smartrip.com/streg/streg.entryfm.

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29. * Does DOT need my authorization to verify my information in the SmartBenefits® Program?

All Federal employees who participate in the SmartBenefits® Program must authorize the Department of Transportation (DOT) to verify the accuracy of the name, last four digits of their social security number, and registered card number assigned to their SmarTrip® Card.

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30. * When participating in the SmartBenefits® Program how often can I get my Transportation Subsidy Benefit and where can I pick it up?

SmartBenefits® are provided to recipients on a monthly basis.  SmartBenefits® may be picked up at any time during the month by adding the benefit to your SmarTrip® Card at Metro Passes/Fare Cards machines located in Metro Stations. Once downloaded, existing balances will remain on your card and can not be removed until you use them.  However, unclaimed benefits for a given month may not be claimed once the month has passed. SmartBenefits® not claimed between the first and last day of the month are credited back your Bureau/Office.

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31. * If I lose my SmartTrip® card or if it is stolen, what happens?

The SmarTrip® card can be replaced without losing any of the fare value on the card at the time reported missing with a simple phone call to WMATA at (888) 762-7874, by providing the number of the missing card and paying a $5.00 replacement fee using your own personal money. Your transit subsidy CANNOT be used to purchase a replacement SmarTrip® card.

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32. * Can my SmartBenefits® be used for parking?

No. You CANNOT use Transit Benefits added to a SmarTrip® card to pay for parking at Metrorail parking lots. A good idea would be to add extra personal money to your SmarTrip® card to cover the parking fees.  It is against Transit Program Policy to include any amount you spend on parking, so DO NOT include parking costs in your monthly estimate for transit expenses.

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33. * Can you transfer Metrochek, Vouchers, and Metrorail fares to my SmarTrip® card?

Yes. You can transfer any Metrochek , Voucher and Metrorail farecard value to your SmarTrip® card account, including remaining value on partially used fair cards.

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34. * If  I am a senior citizen or disabled Metro rider, do I need to do anything differently to join SmartBenefits®?

Yes. You must purchase a Senior Citizen or Disabled SmarTrip® card with a valid Metro ID before enrolling in the SmartBenefits® Program, and   register the card.

(See Q&A # 28 for details).

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35. * Will I receive the discounted fare onto my Senior Citizen or Disabled SmarTrip® card for SmartBenefits®?

Yes. The Senior Citizen or Disabled SmartTrip® cards are encoded to charge the discounted fare.

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36. What do I need to do if my address or commuting costs change?

If your address or commuting costs change, you MUST complete a revised Public Transportation Subsidy Program Application and Commuting Expense Worksheet.  Your supervisor must approve/certify the forms, and submit the completed application and Expense Worksheet to your bureau or office coordinator for approval and processing by DOT.  The forms can be found here        
 

Reminder: You must check the “Revised Application” box at the top of the application.  

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37. Am I allowed to use (spend) my transit benefits in excess of my qualified monthly commuting costs?

No. You may not, in any given month, use more of your transit benefits than the amount of your qualified monthly commuting expenses. You must use your own funds for any transportation costs in excess of that amount rather than using the Government-provided transit benefits intended for use in a future month or the remainder of the current month.

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38. What happens to me if I fail to comply with the separation clearance procedures and/or reimburse the Department for the pro-rated value of my unused or overspent transit benefits when I transfer to a different bureau/office or leave the Department?

Your exit clearance form will not be signed off by the Transportation Subsidy Program Coordinator. Your paycheck may be held until restitution is made, or your wages may be garnished.  Additionally, you may be subject to disciplinary action. 

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39.Can I participate in the "Eco-Pass" or “Annual Pass” program currently offered in cities such as, Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Denver? This type of pass entitles program participants access to public transportation 24/7, and does not differentiate between workplace commuting costs and personal travel.

Yes, as long as you incur qualifying commuting transportation expenses and complete a Public Transportation Subsidy Program Application, Commuting Expense Worksheet, and successfully complete the Transit Subsidy Training.

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40. Can Transit Subsidy participants use their Subsidy allocation for more than one mode of qualified transportation during their commute?

Yes. Transit Subsidy participants who use more than one mode of transportation during their commute may use multiple qualified transportation vendors with the understanding that the total accumulative cost may not exceed $245.00 per month, or the maximum amount the participant is authorized to receive from the program.

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* Applies only to the WMA