Bus pass costs UVic employees more than they may realize

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UVic’s employee bus plan (E-Pass) program is promoted as “more than 50 per cent off the regular price” for most employees who live off-campus and do not own a parking pass — mainly to encourage them to switch to more sustainable forms of transportation. However, this half-price strategy costs employees more than they might think: participation in UVic’s subsidized E-Pass program is considered a taxable benefit that is deducted from salaries.

“Based on Canada Revenue Agency’s regulations, the employer-paid portion of the bus pass is considered a taxable benefit — subject to income tax and CPP deductions. The amount that each individual pays for taxes due to the bus taxable benefit is directly linked with their individual income tax brackets,” wrote Klaudia Fetcas, payroll manager for UVic’s department of accounting, in an email to the Martlet.

The total cost of the bus pass is $76.50. However, the split between what  employees pay and what UVic pays seems unclear. In her initial interview, Fetcas said both sides pay $38.25 for the bus pass. According to Patrick Seward, the transportation and parking co-ordinator at Campus Security, the employee pays $38.50 when they purchase a pass at Campus Security, and UVic pays $38 (Fetcas later confirmed Seward’s figures). In other words, employees pay 50 cents more than the university. Depending on their tax bracket, employees pay between $7 and $20 in addition to the $38.50. After several Martlet inquiries, UVic accounting stated that, effective Dec. 1, the taxable benefit base would be based on $38 (previously, it was based on $38.25).

Some employees think that UVic is not clear enough about the cost of the taxable benefit.

“In August 2012, I noticed my paycheque had decreased slightly from previous cheques,” wrote Katie Gerritsen, administrative assistant at the partially UVic-run Island Medical Program, in an email interview with the Martlet. “I contacted UVic accounting, who informed me that this was due to my purchasing a staff bus pass that month. I was told that, in addition to the $38.50 we pay at Campus Security for our bus pass, we are also deducted a further $8–$12 from our pay as a taxable benefit. This then made my staff/faculty bus passes cost a total of $50.50 per month, which is noticeably more expensive than the $40.23 per month that a full-time parking pass costs.”

Gerritsen is referring to the annual general employee parking pass, which costs $482.72. She also says that her colleagues were as surprised as she was when they found out about the extra cost due to the E-Pass being a taxable benefit, leading some to choose their cars over the bus.

“A parking permit, if you divided it by 12 months a year, is less expensive than the employee bus pass by a bit per month — approximately $10 when you factor the tax in as well,” said Seward in an interview with the Martlet. “But what you’ll want to factor in also is the cost of operating the vehicle.” He admitted that, because of many recurring purchasers, Campus Security might not always explicitly communicate all the costs to every purchaser. There is the assumption that everybody knows already.

Depending on the faculty or staff member’s personal situation, a parking pass could be more economical than the bus pass, but Seward stresses that gas, repair and maintenance of the car should be considered as well.

“Regardless of any taxes on UVic employees, or the cost of a UVic parking pass, I would not choose a car over the bus. I live downtown and the public transit system is wonderful,” wrote Christine Forster, a professor in the Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies in an email statement to the Martlet.

One way to recoup some of the costs for the bus pass is to claim the employee’s portion of the pass on one’s individual income tax. “If the employee pays for some of the cost of buying public transit passes (in UVic’s case, since December 2012, the amount is $38.50 per month), he or she may be able to claim the Public Transit Tax Credit when filing his or her individual income tax and benefit return,” wrote Fetcas.

Gerritsen would like to see more clarity about the actual E-Pass costs. “The biggest disappointment is that we are constantly reminded by UVic that the reason parking prices are so high is to encourage us to use the more economical option of the bus, thereby promoting sustainability on campus,” she wrote. “Staff/faculty should be informed each time they purchase their bus pass that UVic accounting will be contacted and an additional fee will be taken from our pay, so that we can then make an educated choice about our transportation and budget accordingly.”

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