Tax-Free Transit Benefits In Canada

Action Alert

17 December 2007


By Todd Litman

Victoria Transport Policy Institute


I have long been a supporter of employer-based incentives for public transit (often called “tax-free transit benefit” or “tax-free transit passes”). This is one of the "Win-Win Transportation Solutions" (, which are market-based reforms that provide multiple economic, social and environmental benefits.

There is now a promising opportunity to have this policy established in Canada’s tax code, and your support for this provision could be very influential. I encourage you to send a letter to Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Federal Minister of Transport Lawrence Cannon. Templates are posted at (HTM format) and (MS Word format).  

Research by myself and others indicates that transit benefits significantly increase transit ridership and provide large net benefits (see ). Federal government sponsored research indicates that this policy is very cost effective overall (IBI, 1999, Tax Exempt Status For Employer-Provided Transit Benefits, Transportation Issue Table, National Climate Change Process and Transport Canada ( ). In fact, it ranked as the most cost-effective transport emission reduction strategy of dozens evaluated (Transportation Climate Change Table, 1999, Transportation and Climate Change: Options for Action, Transport Canada).

US experience summarized in a National Academy of Science study (Analyzing the Effectiveness of Commuter Benefit Programs, TCRP Report 107, ) reported that transit benefits typically cause transit use to increase by approximately 25%, and sometimes by 100% or more. Tax-free transit benefits began in the US with 1984 legislation, when the benefit was limited to $15 per month, and subsequent changes have raised this to $115. Employers of all sizes and types in the public, private and non-profit sectors participate. About 2 million US employees now use the benefit. A similar policy was recently implemented in Great Britain.  
Canada now has the opportunity to establish a world-leading, multi-dimensional transit incentive strategy, with the employer-provided incentive a highly cost-effective element. The transit benefit would complement the annual federal tax credit now available to Canadian transit riders. Employer-based incentives target auto commuters at the worksite, and are “seen” every month, not just when the annual tax return is filed. Transit benefits encourage all commuters to try and use transit. Experience shows many non-transit riders become occasional riders, and occasional riders become more regular users. Employers as well as employees enjoy tax savings from the transit benefit; this means the transit benefit also captures employer support in the promotion of transit use, which is very potent. 

There is a very good possibility that the 2008 Budget will include this measure, if we can continue to demonstrate broad public support. In response to a request from the House of Common’s Finance Committee, which received written testimony on this topic in August, oral testimony was provided earlier this month. Interest is strong within the Government as well as with MP’s. The Canadian Urban Transport Association (CUTA) is lobbying for it  ( ), as is Al Cormier, a former CUTA CEO, and Richard Oram, founder of Commuter Check (  
Please send letters to the Finance Minister, The Honourable Jim Flaherty, and to the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, asking them to implement this policy change. A template is posted at (MS Word format) or (HTM format). Sending letters on your organization's letterhead is especially valuable. You can simply print the letter as is and sign and mail one to each Minister, or make modifications to reflect your own knowledge and feelings about this issue, who your organization represents, etc.  Personalizing will make it even more effective.    
Please note -- it is very important that Al Cormier receive a copy of your letter(s), so that we can be sure all appropriate government officials see them. Thus, please forward your letters to Al Cormier by fax to 905-858-9291 or by e-mail to .   If your letterhead will not appear electronically, please use fax. 

Please contact me (250-360-1560 or, or Richard Oram (201-280-8444 or if you have any questions or comments. Thank you!

Todd Alexander Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute (
Phone & Fax 250-360-1560
1250 Rudlin Street
, Victoria, BC, V8V 3R7, CANADA

“Efficiency - Equity - Clarity”