FEDERAL WORKERS ON AGENCY TRAVEL CAN USE RIDE-SHARING SERVICES, GSA SAYS

Federal employees traveling on official business are eligible for reimbursement when they use ride-sharing services, the General Services Administration said in a recent bulletin.

“In recent years, a new kind of transportation service provider, known as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), have begun operation across the United States and the world,” Troy Cribb, associate administrator for government-wide policy, wrote in the July 27 bulletin. “TNCs connect paying passengers with drivers for hire via websites and mobile apps. TNCs are a form of special conveyance and, when permissible under local laws and ordinances, may be an efficient and cost effective alternative to taxis or rental cars.”

The GSA put it more plainly in a blog post the same day.

“The simple answer is that: yes, as a federal employee traveling on official business, you can be reimbursed for rideshares in accordance with your agency procedures and local laws,” the post from the “GSA Blog Team” said.

Federal agencies should review and update their policies to ensure that they are in accord with existing regulations, which generally permit the use of ride-sharing services when employees are traveling for work, the blog added.

“Each agency determines and manages the final authorization and approval of travel expenses based on its mission and its internal agency policy,” the blog said. “Agencies should review their internal policies regarding the use of special conveyances for employees on temporary duty/official travel and ensure their employees are authorized ground transportation options based upon efficiency and cost effectiveness in accordance to local laws and ordinances.”

What About Local Use?

The bulletin means that federal workers on business trips can use commercial ride-sharing services such as Uber, provided that their agencies' policies or local laws don't bar them from doing so.

However, the bulletin doesn't discuss federal employees' use of ride-sharing services when they aren't traveling on business.

Employing agencies' internal policies govern these types of transportation expenses, the bulletin said.

“Employees should check with their agency procedures for information of whether or not their agency reimburses for use of TNCs for work purposes in the local area,” according to the GSA's blog post.

How About Surge Pricing?

Surge pricing by ride-sharing companies isn't addressed at all in the bulletin or the blog, but reimbursement for it doesn't appear to be permitted under federal travel regulations.

The regulations state in part at 41 CFR §301-10.420(a) that “your transportation expenses in the performance of official travel are reimbursable for the usual fare plus tip for use of a taxi, shuttle service or other courtesy transportation.”

The term “usual fare” in the regulations has been interpreted by some agencies as prohibiting reimbursement for surge pricing.

“Taxicabs do not charge separate ‘surge’ or ‘peak hour’ surcharges as a usual practice, so ride sharing service surge or peak hour surcharges are not usual and not eligible for reimbursement,” the Program Support Center, a federal shared service provider hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services, says in a “Transportation Technical Bulletin” on its website.

The PSC provides services to the HHS and other federal agencies in the areas of administrative operations, real estate and logistics, financial management and procurement, and occupational health, the agency's website says.

Ashley Nash-Hahn, a spokeswoman for the GSA, told Bloomberg BNA July 28 that her agency generally recommends that federal agencies “use the most prudent and economical form of transportation.”

“Agencies make the determination for what they will reimburse,” Nash-Hahn said.

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