The latest news from benefits trailblazing city San Francisco -- land of mandatory paid sick leave and allowing same-sex marriages -- is that mayor Gavin Newsom has signed into law an ordinance that requires employers to offer workers at least one of three transportation benefit options.

The law, the first of its kind nationwide and effective Sept. 22, applies to employers with more than 20 workers and who work at least 10 hours per week. Employers must:
* Allow workers to make pretax contributions for transit or carpool passes, up to $115 a month (the federal maximum allowed).
* Offer reimbursement for transit or vanpool charges.
* Provide door-to-door shuttle service at no cost to employees.

The law gives employers a break on payroll taxes and -- in the face of high gas and transit prices -- employees likely will leap for joy. It seems like a (to use the cringeworthy cliche) win-win. I especially like the door-to-door service option. Pretty sweet.

For all of the political debate about what to do about rising fuel costs -- drilling versus not, tax breaks and incentives to be green versus tax penalties for carbon emissions -- maybe we needed this crisis to spur a little ingenuity and can-do spirit. The higher costs have gone, the more employers have embraced nontraditional solutions to give workers a hand -- telework options, shorter work weeks with extended hours, gas cards, transit subsidies or discounts and incentives to purchase hybrid cars.

And while I certainly don't cheer for prices to climb any higher, I'm glad the situation has heightened employers' awareness and willingness to make employees' lives a bit easier -- something that in the current economic environment is easy for them to forget.

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