Want to try transit? Fairfax Co. program offers local employees free $50 SmarTrip card

This content is sponsored by The Fairfax County Department of Transportation Commuter Services Program.

The SmartBenefits Plu$50 program in Fairfax County, Va., presents an opportunity for local employers such as businesses, nonprofit organizations and associations, to enhance employee benefits while simultaneously contributing to broader sustainability and transportation initiatives in the region. Developed in conjunction with WMATA, the SmartBenefits Plu$50 program is a free commuter benefits program.

It’s a program that gives local employees $50 just to try transit.

Employees can get involved with the SmartBenefits Plu$50 program through their company’s human resources department or benefits manager.

All they need to do is enroll in their company’s monthly commuter benefits program.

Once they do that, their company representative will reach out to the county, and the employee will receive a $50 SmarTrip card so they can ride the Metro system or Fairfax Connector.

It can serve as a big help for someone who is new to transit or is exploring a new route because of workplace or home changes, and it can be particularly important in places such as Fairfax County where the roads can get extremely crowded during rush hour.

Fairfax County government employees, federal government employees, those currently enrolled in a SmartBenefits account and current vanpool and transit users are not eligible.

How it benefits businesses

A commuter benefits program is a workplace initiative aimed at encouraging employees to use alternative modes of transportation, such as public transit, for their daily commute with the goal of reducing traffic congestion.

That’s a major priority at MITRE, a nonprofit organization headquartered near Tysons, Va., which operates federally funded research and development centers and has about 4,000 employees at its McLean campus.

One of the ways MITRE has enhanced its employee commuter solutions is by working with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation to deliver more than 855 free $50 SmarTrip cards to employees in recent years through the SmartBenefits Plu$50 program.

“It’s very important for us to be able to offer as many alternatives as we can so employees don’t have to be driving on the road, especially during rush hour traffic,” said Chris Boynton, senior manager at MITRE.

MITRE employees have access to, among other things, pre-tax SmartBenefits, employer-paid subsidies for carpool and vanpool participants, showers and lockers for active transportation commuters and secure bike storage.

The organization also runs a free interoffice shuttle for employees, including stops at the nearby McLean Metro station and Wegmans. Riders can manage their trips by tracking the shuttle in real time.

“We have an annual survey where we reach out to employees and try to get an understanding of any obstacles they face, whether it’s problems with bus routes, bike lanes or Metro,” Boynton said. That feedback has helped inform changes to MITRE’s commuting program, along with advocating for safer commuting infrastructure around McLean.

Offering commuter benefits such as SmartBenefits Plu$50 demonstrates a company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility and community engagement, and is an important part of MITRE’s overall sustainability efforts.

Such a commitment often enhances a company’s reputation and attracts environmentally-conscious employees, customers and partners.

The impact on personal lives

One of the primary advantages of participating in the SmartBenefits Plu$50 program is its potential to improve employee retention.

Alleviating the burden of commuting can lead to increased loyalty, productivity and overall job satisfaction.

Boynton called the program “a great recruiting tool,” that gives businesses an edge in attracting top talent.

In the D.C. region’s highly competitive job market, prospective employees are increasingly drawn to employers who offer attractive benefits packages that align with their values.

By participating in the program, businesses can differentiate themselves from competitors.

“We’ve tried to create options for everyone,” Boynton said. “We try to create an environment in which they can have different commuting opportunities.”

According to Boynton, that became a higher priority as the community and the nation recovered from the COVID pandemic when there was significantly less traffic on the roads.

“Everything is getting back to normal these days, so it’s even more important than it was in the past,” said Boynton. “Overall, we’re always looking to enhance that experience for employees.”

For employers who want to learn more about the SmartBenefits Plu$50 program or would like assistance in establishing a company commuter benefits program, company representatives are encouraged to contact the Fairfax County Department of Transportation Commuter Services team by calling 703-877-5900 or by emailing DOTCommuterServices@fairfaxcounty.gov.

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