smart spending

4 ways employers can cut commuting costs

Offering financial incentives to employees who purchase fuel-efficient vehicles may be the next big thing. While still relatively uncommon, several employers nevertheless provide thousands of dollars in reimbursements when employees buy these gas sippers.

Some employers take an even more unconventional approach to cutting commuting costs.

HotBox Pizza, an Indianapolis pizza chain, has purchased an 8-foot-long Smart Fortwo car -- with four more on order -- so that drivers can use it for deliveries, reducing their fuel bill and wear and tear on personal cars.

Owner Gabe Connell felt obligated to explore ways to decrease dependence on gasoline.

And it's become a great marketing strategy too; Hoosiers take pictures, and request that the Smart Car deliver their pizza.

Convincing your boss

How can you convince the boss to help trim employee commuting costs?

Success depends on many factors, Flood says. These include the office location, the employee's job function and the corporate culture. Sometimes, outside events -- such as a sudden spike in gas prices -- will convince an employer to consider options ruled out in the past.

Before lobbying your boss, check with the human resource department to determine whether you might benefit from an existing incentive plan. Companies with "green" attitudes often implement fuel-saving programs even before employees ask for them.

If your corporate culture isn't there yet, try reaching out to transportation advocates or local "green groups." Either may be able to offer suggestions or contacts that can help you build a case for change.

Usually, you'll be more persuasive if you can show the employer how cutting commuting costs also can benefit the company. For example, make a point of emphasizing the tax benefits an employer may accrue by using certain programs.

And remember that not all cost-cutting is equally attractive to your boss. A May 2008 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that a large percentage of employers (42 percent) prefer one particular response to increasing gas prices: raising the mileage reimbursement to the 2008 IRS maximum of 50.5 cents per mile.

Other attractive options include offering a flexible work schedule (26 percent of employers), which allows employees to skip gasoline-sucking rush-hour traffic, telecommuting (18 percent), discounts on public transportation (14 percent) and rewarding employee performance with a gas card (14 percent).

Very few (only 2 percent) of surveyed employers offered a cost-of-living raise prompted by gas prices or stipends to employees with long commutes. However, in the end, some employers decide that a salary increase is the simplest way to combat higher fuel costs.

Cyndi Nieto, CEO of the Los Angeles recruitment firm Elite Placement Group, is one of those employers.

"For the first time in all my years in the staffing business, temporary employees are asking us to place them on assignments within 5 miles of their homes," Nieto says.

She tries to do so, "but my job is to match the very best candidate with my clients." So she raises their hourly pay to make up for out-of-pocket mileage when she can't find a 5-mile fit.

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