With ridership down on the MBTA and congestion returning to the highways, Rep. Steven Owens has filed legislation that supporters say would put more people on public transit and save commuters money.

Owens, a Watertown Democrat, has filed a bill (H 2036) requiring Massachusetts employers with 20 or more employees to offer a fringe benefit to non-union workers that would allow them to use pre-tax wages to pay for public transportation fares.

The bill, according to backers, would actually save employers because they would not have to pay payroll taxes on the pre-tax income, and employees could cut their own tax burden. Employees would be allowed to use up $270 on fares, van pooling, bicycles or other forms of transit, supporters said.

Pete Wilson, a long-time legislative employee who now advises Transportation for Massachusetts, said he took advantage as a state employee of the program, which is recognized by the Internal Revenu e Service.

“Employers must do their fair share,” Wilson said, adding, “The great thing about these is that if your employee doesn’t take these benefits there’s nothing the employer has to do.”

Many employers, including the federal government, already offer the benefit to workers, and Wilson said cities like Seattle and New York and states such as New Jersey have either enacted laws or are considering policies requiring the benefit to be offered to workers.

Brian Kane, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, said the board voted in March to back the legislation, and considered it an important tool to help the MBTA bring riders back to the system and generate fare revenue that will be necessary to avoid deficits in future years.

Joe Barr, director of traffic parking and transportation for Cambridge, said his city has had success with the program for its municipal employees, helping to take cars off the street, and he encouraged passage of a statewide program.

(Copyright (c) 2021 State House News Service.

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