Alaska Airlines said it would continue to encourage employees to take advantage of a federal law that allows them to use pretax dollars to pay for transit access.
Alaska Airlines will eliminate a $60 monthly subsidy it has long provided to employees to buy passes for public transit for their commutes.
The change, effective Jan. 1, is essentially a pay cut for employees who commute to work by public transit. In the Seattle region, it’s also a change that goes against an increasing trend of employers nudging their employees away from driving alone to work, as a way to combat stifling traffic congestion.
About 8 percent of Alaska’s workforce nationwide used the subsidy and the company spent about $1.2 million annually on it, said Ann Johnson, an Alaska spokeswoman. In the Seattle area, 435 employees used the benefit which was first offered in 2011, Johnson said.
Alaska has about 7,700 employees based in Washington state.
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Johnson characterized the cut in benefits as a pause, not a permanent stop. She said the company was working on “a more comprehensive commuting benefit” but offered no details or timeline.
She said the company would continue to encourage its employees to take advantage of a federal law that allows them to use pretax dollars to pay for transit access.
“We reviewed the program and found the benefit was really not working as it was intended,” Johnson said. “We’re committed to finding useful, cost-conscious ways to provide alternative transportation options.”
A longstanding state law requires metro areas in Washington to adopt plans to reduce the number of commuting trips made by employees at large workplaces.
Companies with more than 100 employees must complete surveys on how their employees get to work and must make a “good faith effort” to reduce solo car commutes by doing things like subsidizing ORCA cards, providing bike facilities and facilitating carpools and van pools.
About 85 percent of Alaska Airlines’ employees at its SeaTac offices and operations drive alone to work, according to the company’s most recent survey. In SeaTac overall, about 73 percent of employees at big companies drive alone to work.