Transportation Spending Account suspended


Ian Lituchy/The USD Vista

Ian Lituchy/The USD Vista

Similar to many other institutions and universities, employees at the University of San Diego were given an incentive each month to use public transportation, whether that be the trolley system or the bus.

After a decision made by human resources, the Transportation Spending Account (TSA) account has been suspended. This account allowed USD employees to purchase public transportation tickets, pre-tax dollars, which ultimately lowers the cost of using public transportation.

After being made aware of the suspension of the account, employees drafted a letter to human resources, expressing their concerns, as well as encouraging the reinstatement of the account.

“USD takes pride in having 150 employees using public transportation,” the letter said. “We have witnessed an increase in the number of employees using public transportation to commute to USD over the past 10 years.”

After the letter, the department of human resources hosted a meeting late last month to discuss the matter further as well as answer any remaining questions.

Hélène Citeau is an instrument specialist in the Chemistry and Biochemistry department at USD. Citeau is one of the authors of the letter who attended the meeting. Citeau herself uses public transportation to commute to work.

“I take the bike, then the train, and then the bike,” Citeau said. “If I was to drive it would take me twenty minutes, door to door. And then there is parking on campus. But when I take public transportation it takes me an hour door to door. So round trip I spend two hours commuting, rather than forty minutes.”

Citeau, while a huge advocate of the account, realizes why the account was suspended.

“A number of faculty were telling me, ‘I didn’t know about this’,” Citeau said. “The information is inadequate. For those who know don’t realize they can use it and that it is very easy to use.”

Karen Briggs is the assistant vice president and chief human resources officer at USD. Briggs explained that there were a few reasons the account was expunged.

“The Transportation Spending Account was suspended for two reasons,” Briggs said. “First, the vendor that was managing the program informed us that they would no longer being offering that service and that, if we wanted to continue this benefit, we would need to implement a system with a new vendor. Based on this information, we evaluated the usage of the program and found that only about 11 employees (less than 1 percent of benefit-eligible employees) regularly used Transportation Spending Account in 2015. With such low utilization, it was decided to suspend this type of benefit until either more interest could be generated or until we could find a vendor that could manage this benefit at a reasonable cost.”

Briggs explained that while those are the reasons the account was suspended, there is a possibility to reinstate it.

“Yes, absolutely [there is a possibility for the account to be reinstated]. We are currently gathering information about different vendors to assess cost and implementation feasibility,” Briggs said. “If we can find an appropriate solution that matches the interest level, we would like to be able to offer the program again.”

Briggs also confirmed that if they can obtain 20 to 25 employees that sign up for the TSA program, the account will be reinstated. Citeau and her colleagues have been obtaining signatures.

The authors of the letter to HR, cited Pope Francis and his message on the environment, as one of their reasons for why the account should be revived.

Debbie Finnocchio, a chemistry professor at USD, believes that in accordance with USD’s commitment to sustainability, the TSA should be offered again.

“It’s a benefit that the University should offer,” Finnocchio said. “We claim to be sustainable and we promote sustainability. And in helping with incentives […] it is a really significant thing to do. It sends a message that we care about this and we are trying to do our best.”

Briggs responded to the sustainability concerns.

“In alignment with Pope Francis’s message about the environment, we are fully committed to sustainability,” Briggs said. “We are continuing to explore options that would both encourage employees to consider alternative transportation and be cost sustainable as well.”

Finnocchio explained that similar to Citeau and other employees, she too uses public transportation. She has been using the service since 1997. Citeau explained that although it cheaper to use the account, she bikes to work for more than the financial incentive.

“Just because I think it is the right thing to do, for me, and for the environment,” Citeau said.

Both Citeau and Briggs hope that more awareness can be raised for the account. The last letter to HR had over 45 employees listed in support of the account, more than twice the amount needed. While HR is looking for a new vendor, the employees behind the TSA hope to encourage HR to reinstate the account. The next meeting between HR and employees will take place in December.