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Workers to Be Offered Free Transit Vouchers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Free trips are usually reserved for TV game show winners or airline customers with frequent-flier mileage. But congestion-weary Southland commuters may get free bus and train rides soon as part of a new bid to get solo drivers out of their cars.

The Southern California Assn. of Governments on Thursday is scheduled to announce a new program in which participating employers will distribute free travel vouchers to their workers. The employees can use the vouchers for bus and Metro Rail Blue Line trips, SCAG spokesman Cesar Vargas said. The vouchers are tax deductible for the employer up to $21 a month per employee.

The 18-month pilot project will involve bus service throughout Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties, the area served by SCAG. It also will include the Metro Rail Blue Line, but so far does not involve any Amtrak trains, officials said.

SCAG officials believe that companies will want to participate in the program because it will help them avoid fines under stringent solo-trip reduction requirements issued by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

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Also, a private firm, the Voucher Corp., based in Los Alamitos, will relieve corporate transportation managers of the administrative burden of running such a program, SCAG officials said.

Many large employers already subsidize bus or rail fares for their workers, typically reimbursing 30% to 50% of the cost. However, backers of the program note that it is simpler and can reduce administrative costs.

Under the plan, participating employers can purchase any amount of vouchers--called TransitCheks--from the Voucher Corp.

Nearly every transit operator in the five-county area, including the Southern California Rapid Transit District and the Orange County Transit District, has agreed to accept TransitCheks and will convert them to passes or tokens.

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TransitCheks cannot be converted into cash.

The program is scheduled to begin in the next few weeks, officials said.

Officials declined to provide complete details--such as the financial arrangements involving the Voucher Corp., employers and transit agencies--until Thursday’s news conference, which will feature officials from SCAG, the RTD, the Orange County Transit District and Commuter Transportation Services (formerly Commuter Computer), a firm that specializes in ride-share matching and transportation management programs.

A spokeswoman for the Voucher Corp. said that no companies have yet signed up for the program but several have asked for more information and indicated a “strong willingness” to participate. Those firms include Bank of America, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, A T & T and Pacific Bell.


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