‘NO SMARTRIP -6480’
courtesy of ‘Joe Tresh’
WMATA’s press release about SmartBenefits talks a little about how some changes will be made to the SmarTrip behavior to comply with new IRS rules but leaves the really interesting thing for last. A sizable percentage of people in the area might get transit subsidies from their employers but here’s the real news for all SmarTrip users: no passes or online refilling of cards till Fall 2010.
WMATA blames this delay on the complexity of implementing these changes to meet IRA rules, but it’s hard to give this much credence given how horribly overdue they are in implementing this feature. IRS transit mandates might be why they couldn’t fit it into 2009, but what’s the reason they didn’t have it in 2004 or 2005?
How bloody hard is it to update the system for online refills? That’s just unacceptable. It really isn’t that hard, people.
They didn’t have it in 2004 or 2005 because they’re basically locked into using the vendor they originally chose to handle SmarTrip transactions. Technically, they *could* switch to another vendor, but the time and cost involved are prohibitive. So, effectively, the vendor has a monopoly and they can be as crappy as they want and WMATA can’t do much about it. Why get a new feature out quickly when they can spread the work out over a number of years?
That’s not the big story. The big story is that even if you have used your own pre-tax funds to add SmartBenefits to your card, any unused SmartBenefits balance will be refunded to your employer at the end of each month. And according to WMATA, your employer is not obligated to return those funds to you.
I’m sticking with my position. There’s about 4000 employers doing SmartBenefits for about 207,000 employees. In April of this year there had been 1.6M SmarTrip cards that were used at least once in the previous six months. That means 8 times as many people are impacted by the inability to do online reloads.
The pre-tax deposits and refunds are certainly a concern, however I would say two things with regards to that. One, this is unfortunately not a terribly unusual sort of side effect in pre-tax contributions. Anyone who has used any sort of flexible spending account for health costs has dealt with this – you set aside pre-tax dollars and at the end of the year if any is unused, you lose it.
Second, I wouldn’t be taking my legal advice from WMATA. Whether or not an employer is obligated to return those funds is a decision for the legal system or/and the IRS. Unless WMATA is quoting a reliable source there I wouldn’t take this statement on face value.
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