Affordable work-commute options always are appreciated. But they perhaps are never more important than they are today in the midst of the pandemic, as many businesses are struggling to keep costs down and their doors open.

Judi Brown, owner of Tacoma Trophy, found one cost-cutting measure that has worked for her and her employees: Pierce Transit’s ORCA (One Regional Card for All) for Business program.

Brown was the first small business to sign up for the Business Passport program in 2020.

As a longtime bus rider herself, she said it’s her preferred mode of transportation. When her company recently hired a new employee who also solely rides the bus, Brown began to ponder if it would be affordable to add ORCA passes as an employee benefit.

“When I was looking into that, I was then introduced to the Passport program and really was quite blown away by the fact that when looking at the numbers I was able to afford to get regional transit passes for everybody who works here for less than I would have been paying by just giving monthly passes for two or three of us that might be using it on a regular basis,” Brown said in a Pierce Transit Youtube video in March. “It was a no-brainer.”

Small business owners with fewer than 100 employees may be eligible for a 50 percent rebate through ORCA Business Passport or Business Choice programs through June 2021.

Though the discounted programs launched before the start of the pandemic, Penny Grellier, Pierce Transit’s community development administrator, said it was an additional benefit that the offer was available during this time.

“It’s kind of reinvented how we reach out to businesses,” Grellier said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Grellier said there has been more interest in the programs. “It’s a great way to introduce the benefits to employees,” she said. “I think employers saw this as an opportunity to offer their employees a more cost-effective mode of transportation.”

The two discounted programs, Business Passport and Business Choice, offer employers and employees different benefits.

Business Passport is an annual program only available through employers. “It provides an unlimited-trip ORCA pass to all benefits-eligible employees, including vanpool and van share options as well as Pierce Transit’s Emergency Ride Home,” according to Pierce Transit’s website.

Business Choice allows employers to load a specific dollar amount or a variety of local or regional pass options onto their employees’ ORCA cards at retail pricing on a monthly basis. “This option allows the employer the flexibility to subsidize as much or as little of their employee’s transportation costs, for as few or as many of their employees as they want,” according to Pierce Transit’s website.

ORCA is accepted for travel on Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, King County Metro Transit, Kitsap Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit, and Washington State Ferries. To learn more or to determine business eligibility, visit orcasmallbiz.com.