Monday, November 9, 2009

SmartBenefits Handled Stupidly


Remember those big, confusing changes that were coming to SmarBenefits? To the nearly quarter of you who chip in pre-tax money to help offset the price of commuting on Metro, they rightfully created more than a little angst.

Well, apparently, Metro was just kidding.

According to Metro GM John Catoe on his Friday chat:
"I've decided that we need to rethink the changes that we are making. At this point, I do not have any new details to share. I hope to be able to provide more detail about the program in the coming weeks that will be able to clarify these sorts of questions. Rest assured, I have heard what people have to say and your comments will be taken into account as we develop the plan moving forward."
Wait a minute! We thought Metro had to implement these new rules because of IRS regulations. Guess not.

Apparently, according to the Greater Greater Washington blog, David Alpert reports Metro will:
"... put a band-aid on the problem of SmartBenefits going back to the employer at the end of the month by letting employers opt out of the new SmartBenefits arrangement and stick with the current system."
Sike! (Psych!)

This whole thing was mishandled from day one. We're not sure when the skeletal outlines of the changes were posted on the WMATA Web site (without fanfare), but we reported about them first on Oct. 20, just about two months before these potentially wrenching policies were to go into effect--less than that for employers who were going to have to scramble for new internal mechanisms to return unused SmartBenefits money to their employees.

Secondly, the information posted by Metro created more questions than it answered. Just have a look at the comments. In an attempt to disseminate information, Metro held lengthy seminars to help organizations come to grips with the new rules, but in the end what did we get?

A punt, with the promise of more information in the coming weeks.

Apparently, Metro just wanted to yank your chain. OK, to be fair, it was probably incompetence rather than utter disregard for customers, although today's article in the Post makes you wonder. Regardless, the net effect of this botched policy flip flop was to give already frustrated riders more reason to to blame Metro for additional and unnecessary stress in their lives.

Well done. The more Catoe says "rest assured," the more nervous we get.

Other items:
Examiner's take on SmartBenefits
Once again, the lack of regulation enforcement leaves riders/Metro employees as victims (WaPo)
Our posts on the lack of Metro regulation: here and here
NY Times on subway grooming

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

My guess is this whole thing came about because the federal gov't decided that too many of their employees are taking too much transit benefit. In order to crack down on this it's possible that they specifically targeted WMATA and said "you need to make your benefits work so that people can't take too much benefit" and told them to make the leftover funds go back to the employer at the end of the month.

It was clearly designed to serve employers who give their employees a transit benefit. And clearly they didn't think about the people who do pre-tax.

Scott Gentzen said...

Is "rest assured" the new "let me be clear"?

Let's get Metro Fixed said...

Sorry A. Smith (http://www.blogger.com/profile/10542810587986768786) Accidentally rejected your comment.

I handle mail in my office. WMATA sent out notices to employers months ago. Probably back in the summer.

I only skimmed the document, but I recall being VERY confused by what I did read. That document did suggest these were changes being made because of IRS regulations.

Why WMATA would claim IRS regulations were "making them do it" but then go back on that is concerning. They need to get it together (wishful thinking, I know)

Anonymous said...

No Scott, Metro's "rest assured" is the equivalent of, "I did not inhale!" ;D

And "taken into account" does not mean they are listening to ya, it means they are taking it into account - your increased fares into their banking account.

Joshua Davis said...

My question is, how does this "purse" know when you are commuting and when you are using Metro for some other reason?

ksu499 said...

Sike!? Do you perhaps mean "Psych!"

Let's get Metro Fixed said...

Sorry. Just refering to a fave cartoon.

http://e19760127b.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/sike.jpg

Anonymous said...

@Joshua Davis:

It doesn't know when you are commuting and when you aren't. It's just splitting the money into benefits/personal buckets, and then it deducts from the benefits bucket until that's gone, regardless of the trip.

Anonymous said...

Hey folks! I just heard from my accounting dept they got a notice from the county that this change is still on. It also mentions that they will have to ask staff to detail what portion of smart benefits goes to rail/bus as compared to parking at metro - parking is apparently not part of the deal or is somehow considered separately.

Heaven help us all.

Anonymous said...

Howdy again! Same anon as last post here. Check this out. New news yet again...

http://www.wtop.com/?nid=600&sid=1818528

Metro is asking IRS for a one-year delay on our behalf. Why, thank you, Metro. (How nice to be able to say thanks...)

Anonymous said...

Another article in today's Wash Post.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/19/AR2009111903469.html?hpid=newswell

I now need to comment on their article and let people know there's a better blog out there too. ;D

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