By Jim Bongiorno
With Metro’s Silver Line servicing customers all the way to Wiehle-Reston East, and construction of the Phase 2 extension into Loudoun County more than 75 percent complete, now is the perfect time to start learning about Metro’s SmartBenefits® commuter benefits program.
SmartBenefits® is Metro’s free commuter benefits program, which offers an easy way for employees to save on commuting costs and employers to save on payroll taxes. The program allows employees to save thousands annually by paying for transit with pre-tax dollars. Think of it like a healthcare flexible spending account (FSA), but for transit.
Cut your tax bill with Metroís SmartBenefits®
For employers, SmartBenefits® is a simple, no-fee way to reduce your payroll taxes while allowing your employees to commute tax-free. You can offer SmartBenefits® as a direct employee benefit, a pre-tax deduction, or a combination of both.
Whether you have one employee or thousands, every company in the National Capital Region can benefit from SmartBenefits®. It’s a powerful tool for helping you recruit, retain and motivate employees. Plus, you can save hundreds per employee each year on payroll taxes. That means the more employees that sign up, the more you save! Over 260,000 commuters receive SmartBenefits every month.
For employees, SmartBenefits® is an easy way to save on commuting costs. Employees can use SmartBenefits® to pay for transit and parking anywhere Metro’s SmarTrip® card is accepted, including Fairfax Connector, Loudoun County Transit and Metrorail parking lots. With SmartBenefits®, they’ll have the option to set aside up to $260 for transit and $260 for parking at Metro lots each month using pre-tax funds from their paycheck. If an employee maxes out these benefits, they could save more than $1,600 in income tax each year!
Using SmartBenefits® is simple. Employees that already ride transit just keep on riding like they currently do – they can even keep their same SmarTrip card. You just need to enter their card and benefit amount into Metro’s SmartBenefits® system. At the beginning of each month, the SmartBenefits® will automatically activate. It’s that easy! And for employees that have never ridden transit, SmartBenefits® provides the perfect opportunity to start. All they have to do is purchase and register a SmarTrip® card and they are ready to ride.
If you’d like to learn more about SmartBenefits® or are interested in opening an employer account, send an email to email@example.com or apply at wmata.com/SmartBenefits and a Metro representative will get in touch with you shortly.
Metro’s dedicated SmartBenefits® account representatives are prepared to answer all your questions and guide you each step of the way.
Enrolling is easy, and remember, Metro doesn’t charge a fee to participate in SmartBenefits® so there’s no risk to signing up!
Jim is Director of SmartBenefits® & Business Sales for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority – Metro.
DATA doesn’t “take it for granted” that behavior change is easy, and is always seeking innovative ways to get commuters to consider choices like ridesharing or taking transit. Through grants funded by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, DATA encourages commuters to live more by commuting less. Here’s an update on how we’re doing!
It’s how DATA rolls at special events in support of its Live More Commute Less: FOCUS! grant. We’ve reported on the Believe It! community created through this grant in previous issues. According to Grant Manager Sarah McGowan, the community now numbers almost 300 motivated Reston employees, employers, and residents interested in trying biking (or walking) to cover that “last mile” between their home or workplace and the Reston Metro or a transit stop.
Pedals and Pizza was held on the Plaza at Reston Station and featured bike experts who demoed different bikes (including one from Capital Bikeshare) and helped interested bikers plot safe travel routes on a super-size Fairfax County bike map. There were giveaways, a raffle…and, of course, pizza!
Other engaging events for the Believe It! folks included two “sold-out” Capital Bikeshare rides from the Wiehle-Reston East station to DATA partner Oracle where riders were rewarded with a box lunch and a Believe It! t-shirt…and a new appreciation for how little time it takes to bike the trip. The riders actually arrived back at the Capital Bikeshare docking station before DATA organizers traveling in a van.
In early April, DATA will sponsor another event at Reston Station featuring the Beeline, a mobile bike tune-up van from Reston Town Center cycle shop The Bike Lane. A social media- driven contest in March will give commuting and recreational bikers a chance to win one of six free tune-ups.
Check livemore.us/believe-it/ later this month for details or follow @BelieveItReston on Twitter and Believe It, Reston on Facebook.
SchoolPool? Dive In!
Have a child who attends a private or magnet school that provides little, if any, transportation for its students? DATA is promoting Commuter Connections’ SchoolPool program, which helps parents whose children attend the same school share driving responsibilities by forming carpools.
It’s easy to start a SchoolPool and DATA’s already interested nearly half a dozen schools in participating! First, a school enrolls in SchoolPool. Parents register online and SchoolPool creates a personalized “matchlist” with the names and contact information of other parents interested in carpooling. Only the parent’s contact information appears on the matchlist, ensuring the safety and anonymity of the children. The parents arrange to meet to see if SchoolPool is a good fit.
DATA helps the school promote the program by holding tabling events, addressing the PTO/PTA, creating promotional materials, and providing content for the school’s social media platforms.
For further information on SchoolPool,
contact Mobility Manager Karla Nativi (firstname.lastname@example.org) or
Grant Manager Sarah McGowan (email@example.com).
Isn’t every day Earth Day? It’s where we live. Its soil, weather, and atmosphere help provide us sustenance. Its beauty inspires art and poetry. More recently there are many concerns that Mother Earth is under increasing stress. However, we’re all about the earth…so how did a special day to celebrate our symbiotic relationship with the planet Earth finally come to be?
The “creation” of Earth Day was motivated by the emerging social consciousness embodied in widespread anti-Vietnam War protests and partially inspired by the international popularity of Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking ecological exposé The Silent Spring, published in 1962. During an era seemingly oblivious to the effects of leaded gasoline and unregulated manufacturing on air quality, a true bi-partisan effort to protect Mother Earth emerged.
In 1970, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson – shocked by the devastation wrought by a massive oil spill the previous year in Santa Barbara – convinced conservation-minded California Congressman Pete McCloskey to join him in sponsoring a “national teach-in on the environment.” Denis Hayes, now president of the Bullit Foundation (dedicated to preserving the natural environment of the Pacific Northwest), became national coordinator. Hayes marshalled a staff of 85 to promote the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
Over 20 million people nationwide participated in Earth Day activities. Friends of the Earth came from all walks of life, from both political parties, from blue collars to blue bloods. And that was just the beginning.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts all trace their origin to the success of that first Earth Day.
By 1990, more than 200 million people in 141 countries “celebrated” Earth Day, leading to Senator Nelson receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in protecting the environment.
Despite occasional setbacks prompted by lobbyists, a sometimes apathetic public, and cautious politicians, what is now the Earth Day Network has grown April 22 into the largest secular observance in the world, involving 22,000 partners, 192 countries, and more than a billion people in activities that reach far beyond a single day of observance.
With history in mind, the Earth Day Network has set amazing and achievable goals to celebrate the 51st Anniversary of this monumental day. Learn more about how you can be part of the 2020 celebration at www.earthday.org.
After all, the Earth belongs to all of us. And we belong
Have you had enough of these February weather swings? Ready to get outdoors more often? Perhaps get rid of some cabin fever? Fortunately, with Earth Day and spring just around the corner, there are numerous opportunities to visit and participate in some local festivals. Below is a sampling of some in our region. Go ahead, get out there and live a little more!
28th Annual Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival
April 21 – 22. Downtown Leesburg, Virginia. Contact: Ida Lee Park Recreation Center at 703-777-1368 or visit www.flowerandgarden.org.
Historic Leesburg will once again be in full bloom as lush landscapes and gorgeous gardens fill the streets. On April 22 and 23 over 120 vendors will be featuring landscape designs, gardening supplies, outdoor living items, plants, flowers, herbs and so much more! Stroll through the streets and take in the sights and sounds of springtime. Whether it’s gathering ideas for your new outdoor patio, stocking up on gardening supplies, or searching for a perfect gift for the avid gardener in your life, this event will have something for everyone! The event runs from 10:00am-6:00pm on Saturday and 10:00am-5:00pm
Festival goers can take a break from exploring the treasures vendors have to
offer by stepping inside the Beer and Wine Garden located on the Town Green. Here, they can relax and sample ice cold brews and wines from around Loudoun County and beyond.
The Flower and Garden Festival will also host two entertainment stages. The Main Stage, located on the Loudoun County Courthouse grounds, will feature acoustic performers all day on Saturday and Sunday. The music kicks
off on Saturday with local favorite, Gary Smallwood. This is a great place to sit under a tree, take in the tunes, and
savor a tasty treat from one of the many food vendors onsite.
The second stage is all about our younger festival attendees and is located in the Children’s Area. The Children’s Stage will feature interactive, live entertainment all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon. In addition to the entertainment, children can paint large wooden animal cut-outs, create a garden marker, or participate in one of the other crafts available in
91st Annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival
April 27 – May 6. 135 North Cameron Street, Winchester, VA 22601; Phone: 540-662-3863
The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, a six-day festival held annually in Winchester, Virginia, is known for its many guest celebrities and events. The festival was first held Saturday, May 3, 1924, and was originally celebrated as a one-day event (although not held in 1942-1945 due to World War II). Features include a Grand Feature Parade, Firefighters’ Parade (first held on Thursday, April 18, 1929), a carnival and midway, luncheons, races, walks, dances, and concerts, as well as a field show competition which formerly gave out the Queen’s Cup trophy to the winner, starting with the original Queen, Elizabeth Steck. Go to Thebloom.com to learn more about the scheduled activities.
April 21. The Sully Historic Site, 3650 Historic Sully Way, Chantilly, VA 20151; Phone 703-324-5471.
This is Fairfax County’s official Earth Day and Arbor Day event. Once again Clean Fairfax welcomes Fairfax County Park Authority’s Healthy Strides Expo–workshops, vendors and activities to help us be healthier and happier. ”Healthy People-Healthy Planet.” Over 75 vendors, exhibitors and food trucks will be at SpringFest–and admission is still FREE! Learn about the great work ladybugs do for our gardens; ride a pony; try a fun run; participate in environmental crafts; check out the bees and the trees; consult with Master Gardeners; buy plants for your garden and MORE!
Entertainment includes: Food trucks; The Recycling Pirates puppet show; petting zoo; Touch-a-Truck; and more!