The Translink card — a multi-decade source of malaise — has lately defied the skeptics by successfully lurching into our existing transit infrastructure. Its latest point of penetration: pre-tax commuter benefits, those employer programs that let you bypass the grabby government by funnelling a bit of your paycheck towards transit. Yup, that’s right — tax sheltering isn’t just for the criminally wealthy. You too can withhold money from government services while simultaneously taking advantage of them.

The Translink card, despite being in the works for years and years, is only just now learning to interface with such programs as Commuter Check and WageWorks. And since all journalists are legally required to write a lighthearted article about tax law on April 15, here’s an overview of your options for getting tax-free Translinking.

We’re particularly interested in how riders can get monthly Muni passes on their Translink card, since that’s how most SF commuters ride to work. Can you get a monthly Muni pass on your TL card? Can you “set it and forget it,” that is, sign up for a monthly deduction that keeps refreshing your Translink card with new monthly passes? Translink claims to have relationships with a bunch of benefit programs, but does it actually work? The answer is yes, sort of, not yet, and soon.

Your safest bet for getting a monthly Muni pass on a Translink card: those “add value” machines in Muni stations. They’ve been selling montly Muni passes since December; so even if your employer has stupidly failed to arrange a commuter benefits program, you can still just buy a monthly pass with a plain old credit card. You do need to go down to a station once a month to refresh it — yes, conducing commerce in person! Like it’s the 1800s!

Speaking of credit cards: some commuter benefit programs, such as Benefit Resource’s eTRAC, give riders a special card every month that works just like a Mastercard, except that it can only be used to buy transit-related stuff. And according to company spokesman Andy Musolino, eTRAC cards can be used to buy a monthly Muni pass at the Add Value machines — in fact, he says, he’s done it himself. Have you? Let us know your experience in the comments. It sounds relatively painless.

But getting to an Add Value machine is a bit of a schlep if you don’t live or work downtown. To the rescue comes Commuter Check, which boasts a one-time setup for automatically reloading monthly Muni passes onto Translink cards. We haven’t tested this ourselves, so we can’t personally vouch for it — have you?

WageWorks is one of the larger providers of transit benefits, and they’re almost nearly not quite making the Muni-Translink connection. Currently, WageWorks users with Translink cards can only buy monthly passes on AC Transit. (Have you ever met anyone who’s ridden AC Transit? We haven’t.) But WageWorks is beta-testing monthly Muni passes on Translink; and they’re expecting the program to fully launch Juneish, in time for riders to load up on July passes. Given that “Translink” has become synonymous with “delayed,” we’ll believe it when we see it.

There’s loads of other pre-tax commuter benefit programs out there, so if your employer isn’t currently offering one, frankly they’re making you look like a bit of a chump. Hope you like paying taxes! We’ll just be over here, enjoying this city park that you helped pay for. Chump.

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  • Greg Dewar

    Wow you did a great job rounding up the info!

    one thing I keep wondering is how someone who is self employed can take advantage of this, I should really hire someone to do my taxes anyway and I’m sure experts can weigh in, but I wish they’d make it easier for self employed folks.

  • Greg Dewar

    Wow you did a great job rounding up the info!

    one thing I keep wondering is how someone who is self employed can take advantage of this, I should really hire someone to do my taxes anyway and I’m sure experts can weigh in, but I wish they’d make it easier for self employed folks.

  • Rita

    I’m on Wageworks and haven’t had any trouble getting a FastPass on the Translink — I get the Wageworks credit card, and then I go to the Translink online site and have them automatically bill the credit card every month for the FastPass. (I use the same credit card billing system for my BART EZ RIder pass too.)

    The main problem I have is that the Translink FastPass doesn’t work on Bart within SF, though, so I’m thinking about switching back to plain old paper FastPasses, but that’s not Wageworks’ fault.

  • Rita

    I’m on Wageworks and haven’t had any trouble getting a FastPass on the Translink — I get the Wageworks credit card, and then I go to the Translink online site and have them automatically bill the credit card every month for the FastPass. (I use the same credit card billing system for my BART EZ RIder pass too.)

    The main problem I have is that the Translink FastPass doesn’t work on Bart within SF, though, so I’m thinking about switching back to plain old paper FastPasses, but that’s not Wageworks’ fault.

  • Akit

    The big advantage of using pre-tax commuter check style funds on a Translink card is that you are not stuck with using it on one transit system.

    For example, on Commuter Check:
    The old way: Get a transit check, cash it at certain locations for tickets, and you can use it for that particular agency only. You can request for multiple checks, but you have to send your butt to each transit agency’s ticket office or authorized outlet to buy each agency’s media.

    The slightly new way: Claim the “check” electronically by telling Commuter Check to mail you a set of tickets for each agency (depending on your allowance you set).

    The new way: Have the check transferred to Translink e-cash automatically and be allowed to use it with available agencies. Right now, Commuter Check online doesn’t allow you to purchase electronic passes onto your Translink account.

  • Akit

    The big advantage of using pre-tax commuter check style funds on a Translink card is that you are not stuck with using it on one transit system.

    For example, on Commuter Check:
    The old way: Get a transit check, cash it at certain locations for tickets, and you can use it for that particular agency only. You can request for multiple checks, but you have to send your butt to each transit agency’s ticket office or authorized outlet to buy each agency’s media.

    The slightly new way: Claim the “check” electronically by telling Commuter Check to mail you a set of tickets for each agency (depending on your allowance you set).

    The new way: Have the check transferred to Translink e-cash automatically and be allowed to use it with available agencies. Right now, Commuter Check online doesn’t allow you to purchase electronic passes onto your Translink account.

  • Steve

    Also the limits recently went way up thanks to the federal stimulus package. Before the stimulus package, we were only able to dodge $120 each month now it’s up to $230. For more info on how to participate BART has recently added an information page to its website: http://www.bart.gov/guide/taxbenefits.aspx

  • Steve

    Also the limits recently went way up thanks to the federal stimulus package. Before the stimulus package, we were only able to dodge $120 each month now it’s up to $230. For more info on how to participate BART has recently added an information page to its website: http://www.bart.gov/guide/taxbenefits.aspx